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Rebranding: A fundamental orientation

By Myinag Ikpah

MARIJATA, in a back page comment in The Nation, on July 11, 2009, titled:  “Counting the Cost of Corruption,” dwelled on the performance of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) under its Chairperson, Farida Waziri in tackling “massive corruption by public officers”.

He took a swipe at Nigeria’s efforts at resolving the corruption problem. Referring to a particular corruption case, the author lamented over the amount of money a Nigerian steals from public coffers, and went on to make a very sweeping statement that “the corruption case . . . is only a tip of the ice berg as regards the colossal scale of this menace, its corrosive effect on the moral foundation of society and how it sabotages the developmental aspirations of the Nigerian State”.

To show how corruption is deep-rooted in our country, the news report says there are several on-going investigations such as “power sector scam, the Haliburton and Siemens scandals, the House of Representative vehicle procurement saga and the alleged irregularities surrounding the $1.2 billion oil block”.

Characteristic of every patriotic Nigerian, the author seeks a lasting solution to our national problem by suggesting that “perhaps the EFCC ought to obtain the services of seasoned sociologists and other social scientists to investigate the cultural and social roots of corruption and propose measures to help achieve fundamental behavioral change in this regard”.

The author seeks “fundamental behavioral change” because of people’s unparalleled desire to steal or do things that are contrary to societal norms. Nigerian news media are replete with examples of wrongdoing. On April 30, 2009, ThisDay reported of kidnappers who killed Miss Aniefon Anidi-Abasi after reportedly collecting a N10 million ransom for her freedom. The Daily Champion of Tuesday, June 9, 2009 carried a headline in which the EFCC was credited as saying that “Governors, Ministers and MPs Steal 285 Billion Naira”.

Further on finding a corruption solution, Marijata recalls Prof. Peter Ekeh’s theory of two publics. According to Prof. Ekeh’s theory, in the first public, an “African functions as member of his kinship and ethnic group which existed prior to the imposition of colonialism”. Any person, according to the esteemed Prof, who belongs to this first public will not or cannot or should not steal from it.

An “African dares not steal money from the group”. In support of that theory, the Professor and Honorable Minister of Information and Communications, Dora Akunyili, in a discussion with her staff on her birthday explained a situation in which people who stole from their communities were considered outcasts in their community, and their children and grand children ostracized for ever.

In fact, Prof. Akunyili went on to support her statement by saying that in most Nigerian communities today, chicken, goats and cows just roam the community without any person stealing the chicken or goats. On the other hand, the second public comprises of “migrated social structures” made up of our “civil service, the legislature, universities, parastatals, private enterprises, and other institutions established with the onset of colonial rule”.

In this second public, according to Prof. Ekeh, an African does not feel much or any affiliation or connection with any of these “migrated social structures” as he or she does with the first publics, will feel obligated to steal from it.

Communication Professor, Ernest Bormann, of the University of Minnesota , defines a theory broadly as “an umbrella term for all careful, systematic, and self-conscious discussion and analysis of communication phenomena”. The theory of two publics is, therefore, an interesting one.

According to this theory, the ideal is that an African dares not steal money or cheat his or her own people in any transaction. Yet, there are records of many distressed community banks because community members who helped themselves with funds belonging to people in their communities.

In some parts of Tivland, one of those banks that still operate as an exception is the Mbayion Community Bank which exists today as Micro Finance Bank in Gboko, Benue State. Yes, there could be many banks like this around, but the point is that that one belongs to a group and will not steal from that group sounds like a person trying to fetch water with a broken cistern.

We do acknowledge the difficulty in doing the right thing, but then ask: What could be so difficult with people just lining up when they want to get in a lift or buy petrol? What can be so difficult in driving and obeying traffic signs? For example staying in your own lane and overtaking only when the road is clear? What could be so difficult in just saying no to giving bribes or to taking bribes?

Why is doing the right thing so difficult? Does the difficulty arise because people feel they belong to the second group publics all the time? Could it be because people in Community A do not feel affinity with Community B? That rules from one community do not apply to them? One would think that each community (A or B) has rules that guide and direct its affairs. Could that be why based on Prof. Ekeh’s two publics theory people in one community may find it hard to obey what could be termed simple rules?

This difficulty could be why Marijata says “the EFCC ought to obtain the services of seasoned sociologists and other social scientists to investigate the cultural and social roots of corruption and propose measures to help achieve fundamental behavioral change.” To which respectfully I say the Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Akunyili, has already set in motion measures to help the fundamental behavioral change.

For instance, in an address on her assumption of duty on December 28, 2008, the Minister said “. . . there must be attitudinal and behavioural change among the information handlers in Nigeria , starting with this Ministry. However, we cannot operate optimally unless Nigerians work with sincerity of purpose under the rule of law.

It is easier to sell a good product, and we should ensure that Nigeria and Nigerians become “a good product” that we can easily sell to the world. . . we must first work on ourselves, because we need to believe in ourselves before we ask others to believe in us”. When Prof. Akunyili was commissioning the mobile phone anti-theft initiative January 27, 2009, she said; “Stealing of handsets has become very embarrassing to Nigerians. Many Nigerians are losing their mobile telephones on a daily basis. It is on record that more than two million mobile telephones are lost or reported stolen in Nigeria every year. . . The situation is so bad that even as we sit here to commission this anti-mobile phone theft initiative, one or two people may lose their handsets before we leave this venue”.

Social scientists and the like can research the roots of all our social evils but it may be difficult for them to do much more. Attitudinal change goes deeper than that. The other day, a preacher said that people’s hearts are desperately corrupt and wicked and wondered who can even understand the human heart. How else, one wonders, could Bernard Madoff alone commit a crime that cost his victims more than $13 billion  when he stole from both the rich and the poor alike?

Another person on the discussion group said that it was not that the human heart was just corrupt, but that people just do not want to do the right thing. She suggested that people who know what is right to do should insist that the right thing be done.

She went on to say that people should not just be sayers of things but they should be doers of things. For, according to her, it is when people put what they know into practice that we, as a community would begin to change the process. It may have to start with students (both female and male) refusing sexual or financial advances to avoid carry-overs to stealing one million Naira to billions of Naira. It has to start with the fundamental change of saying “No, I will not yield to evil”.

As simple as the phrase is, it may be the beginning of our societal-cum-attitudinal change. On the other hand, it may begin with the government raising the pay of our police men to a point that they may have to say “No, I will not yield to evil” when offered a 100 Naira note at a road block.

That Prof. Akunyili has started the Rebrand Nigeria Project—a process to weed corruption out of our fabric is very commendable and deserves the support of all Nigerians. Difficult as it is, we can do it with the right strategies she has put in place and is using.

As she says repeatedly, Nigerians must work on themselves first, because we must believe in ourselves before we can ask others to believe in us. It is therefore no wonder that Prof. Akunyili would begin the first phase of rebranding by wooing religious leaders to the project as she did with the 14th Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Enugu, saying that we should begin with attitudinal change, reorientation, revival of our cultural values and installation of renewed spirit of patriotism and hope in all citizens of the country. Yes, each of us can say “No, I will not yield to evil,” and stick to it. Once we resolve to refuse evil, we would have gone back to the fundamental orientation that will build us to refuse even the bigger evils in future.

Prof. Ikpah writes from Makurdi, Benue State.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.