Corruption is not stealing in Nigeria. That is what the great visionary, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, former president of Nigeria once said in a moment of inebriated inspiration.
He is right. Our people say it is what is in your mind when you are sober that comes trotting out when you are drunk on Orijin. Nigeria is not yet officially a rogue state but corruption is our way of life. It is the truth: If the punishment for corruption in Nigeria was the death penalty, we would all lose all our friends, our relatives – and our lives. Steal a banana in the market place and Nigerians will light you up and burn you to death. Get a job with the government and you refuse to be corrupt and Nigerians will light you up and burn you to death. Corruption is in Nigerians’ cultural and social genes, it’s the currency of all transactions. Stop it, yes but replace it with new currency.
Corruption is Nigeria’s primary infrastructure for getting anything done. The cellphone is right behind it in its ubiquity and utility. Corruption is Nigeria’s official currency, followed by the almighty dollar. Without corruption, modern Nigeria would grind to a fast shrieking halt. Corruption, official graft is Nigeria’s truly functioning mechanism for revenue allocation and business generation, the only taxation system that works.
Corruption is how we sustain ancient dysfunctions like the extended family system. The extended family system in the 21st century is an expensive and ultimately unsustainable enterprise – and like American capitalism can only be sustained by throwing loot at it.
Kill graft and if you don’t replace it with sustainable processes you have killed Nigeria. Go to any funeral or wedding and you will see that our politicians are the least of our problems. We are the problem. No one in Nigeria can and should survive on honesty and a paycheck, it is a structural problem. We all know many civil servants who don’t know how much they are paid. They survive almost exclusively from the proceeds of corruption. And they get away with it. Indeed, the only Nigerian that ever went to jail on account of Corruption was Obi Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe’s epic book No Longer at Ease. And that was fiction.
Soon, Nigeria will make honesty a crime punishable by death through hunger. Wait, it is already a crime. I do not know of any Nigerian alive that has not benefitted from corruption, not one.
Seriously, we have a problem, outside of America, no nation has been known to survive bearing corruption on its back. Our rulers are corrupt, government is a sick, corrupt hyena that keeps taking and taking and giving back nothing but grief. How do we get rid of our problem? What is the alternative? I have a brilliant idea. Walmart! Walmart! Walmart? Yes, we should outsource government to Walmart, the big American store, that ode to mindless consumerism! Yes. I love Walmart; it is a soulless place where you can pretend that the crap you are buying is a bargain. Walmart is capitalism baring its mean fangs at the dispossessed. But the sale of the soul is cheap. Walmart is the faux equalizer. Everything there is fake. Just like the originals they mimic.
I don’t know of any Nigerian that has the moral authority to lecture against Walmart coming to Nigeria. Those that go to Dubai daily to prop up the mother of all capitalistic excess wish to deny my mother access to Walmart. Those that steal Nigeria blind every day wish to lecture us on the new invasion. Those that refuse to teach our children, those who “teach” our children while their own children go to $60,000 a year universities abroad, wish to lecture us about the dangers of importation of all kinds of alien cultures and influences into Nigeria. It sounds patronizing; our people may be poor but they are perfectly sane and smart enough to choose between a Chinese calabash and an American calabash.
Walmart will bring water, roads and light to Nigeria. I say to Walmart, make my prophecy real; bring your big stores and sell us what the government du jour refuses to give us after stripping us of our money – roads, hospitals, schools, safety and security. Walmart, build a road for us, from my village to the big cities, a road that can take your big 18-wheerlers, a real road. And bring light that will last 24/7. And bring water to my village. Why, the rusty pumps in my village last worked in 1956 when the oil pumps started working in Oloibiri. You can do it. Ignore my thieving brothers and sisters. Did they not steal every penny that was budgeted for the roads? Did they not steal every penny that was budgeted for water, for light? Why do you think pot-bellied generals are fleeing Boko Haram? They stole the money meant for weapons. Walmart, come to Nigeria, to sell us good governance. On aisle 419. Just like the cell phones saved us from NITEL. I cannot wait for the second colonialism.
Obi Okonkwo? You don’t know him? You mean you have never read Achebe’s No Longer at Ease? Well, shame on you. Things did not end well for Obi Okonkwo in that lovely book. He left the shores of Nigeria as a black man, went to school in England and was raised in the ways of the white man and came back as a black white man. His clan, the members of the extended family that raised him and sent him to England did not understand this new person that hugged himself close and was reticent about doing whatever it took to take care of the clan. Eventually he succumbed to the call of the land, to help those who had scraped pennies together to train him. It was an expensive undertaking as a civil servant; he could not support his extended family on his income. He succumbed to the lure of corruption to satisfy his clan. And the white man sent him to jail. That was before Independence. The white man came with his accountability measures and left with them. Yup, Obi Okonkwo was the first and the last civil servant to go to jail in Nigeria. And that was fiction. Yup. Welcome to Nigeria.
Ikhide Ikheloa is a writer and literary critic. He is one of The Trent’s Elite Bloggers. He tweets from @ikhide.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.