By Tabia Princewill
The Big Brother Nigeria finale brought the entire country together, with public institutions, from state governments to banks, offering rewards and encouragement to different candidates for various reasons, based on their state of origin or popularity. Communities mobilised to make sure their members voted for particular candidates, using various tools to campaign and convince others to lend their support.

If only Nigerians could so easily galvanise each other to care enough about impacting the fate of their country. Nigeria is truly a fascinating place.

Long before the advent of social media, social networks, real, live linkages and public connections, have, through associations, family ties, memories and relationships, created alliances that acted as safety nets and economic capital.

In a country where government has been unable to provide even the most basic amenities for decades, many Nigerians learnt to survive on powerful ethno-religious networks whose solidarity and “team spirit” have either provided opportunities for advancement or guaranteed one a helping hand in times of need.

Self-interested coalitions

However, it is interesting to note that these self-interested coalitions rarely work for the greater good in Nigeria. Each group looks away and pretends not to see when another group is being harassed, belittled or cheated so that eventually, all groups find themselves attacked and diminished when each new government’s failed promises enable a shrinking economy and pervasive insecurity.

Then, the groups attack each other rather than band together to either force government to do right by them or attempt to push for their own members to seek public office and create change.

When groups do get their members into government, they pressure them into amassing money to be shared amongst said members rather than effecting the sort of change which could revolutionise the lives of the majority. Is civil society dead in Nigeria, killed by greed and selfishness?

“Social capital” is usually defined as an idea whereby people, through their relationships and connections within a group or society at large, are able to successfully access opportunities for advancement.

Different from nepotism, the Nigerian strain of social capital where real opportunities for growth are accessible only to some elite, many of whom have neither the competence nor the ability to justify amassing and cornering said opportunities, social capital, in modern societies enables groups to build broad, lasting coalitions where interests lie not just in the comfort of a few but in the well-being of the majority.

Groups form in Nigeria, to defend the powerful when they need it, to sing, dance and scream when a corruption charge is dropped but not to push for a society where individuals don’t need to resort to corruption because their needs are met, their futures are bright, their talents harnessed and hard work pays off.

Civil society is practically dead in Nigeria because social capital, the power of individuals to mobilise for the actualisation of both personal and wider communal needs has been turned on its head. We no longer trust or care for our fellow Nigerian, refusing to bond over our shared struggles or to mobilise to defeat those who are their instigators. Instead, we actively destroy bridges between different groups rather than build them, ensuring there is little consensus in our society on any issue, with each individual group agitating for its own survival with little consideration for any one else.

We have totally disengaged from the real business of governance, focusing instead on the wheeling and dealing of politics and patronage, culminating in the famous expression “stealing is not corruption”.

Student unions are usually at the forefront of civic engagement, of groups working towards the betterment of society. In today’s Nigeria, which has been pauperised beyond belief, student associations allow themselves to be used by politicians, all for quick money. The original sin of Nigerian politics and society was to no longer see the youth as the future or to prepare young people for leadership.

We prefer to see young people (and women) as eternal dependents, subservient beings rather than instruments of social progress and vibrant ideas. Too many people in Nigeria are silenced by the fear of being excluded from the corruption train when it comes.

Everyone wants to board and access elusive opportunities so we don’t raise our voices to defend truth or justice. We need to care about whether the next generation does better than we have.

Sabotaging other  people’s chances

Rather than sabotage other people’s chances, we need to provide each other with the tools to rebuild our society. It’s not about parties, or their leaders or who is running for president.

Those things matter but without the support of faceless millions committed to seeing a difference, determined to push for real change, then a President is only one man (or woman) who alone cannot make a difference.

We must stop seeing each other as victims lamenting the let-downs of governments whose failures we’ve enabled and supported with our own desperation. We must stop seeing ourselves as people who are taken advantage of or abused and instead fully take charge of our destinies.

EFCC and Ogbologbo lawyers

FORMER President Olusegun Obasanjo says the EFCC needs ogbologbo lawyers, meaning “seasoned” lawyers of a superior quality if it is to be successful in prosecuting cases.

The question of why the EFCC finds it difficult to gain any convictions isn’t new: the triad of improper investigations, poorly gathered evidence and the connivance of a corrupt judiciary have robbed both the Nigerian treasury and Nigerians themselves of considerable sums.

To reverse the trend, the EFCC need not be afraid of seeking help outside the organisation. The commission relies on poorly paid government bureaucrats while defendants have at their disposal highly incentivised private individuals who know the loopholes of the law and manipulate cases to the benefit of their clients.

Where does it end? This is where civic engagement comes in. Nigerians must simply refuse to accept for any high-profile case to be swept under the carpet.

We cannot keep talking about the same things, further desensitising each new generation to wrong doing and evil. What happened to the special courts for trying corruption?

The bill is rumoured to be languishing in the Senate where it enjoys little support for obvious reasons. No matter what any one’s personal feelings might be about Buhari, it is imperative that we do not relent in our support of the anti-corruption drive.

If we keep asking questions and raising important issues, the questions will be answered. If we appear to give up, the enemies of Nigeria will breathe a sigh of relief.

Yakubu Dogara

THE Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, made some surprising comments about the fight against corruption recently.

Given most people’s impression of parliament in Nigeria, perhaps the comments might not come as much of a real surprise after all. He was quoted as saying that it would be virtually impossible to eliminate corruption in Nigeria, because it exists in all countries around the world.

It is imperative that we correct this impression. There are very few successful countries where corruption is a way of life. If corruption exists at minimal levels in the US, the UK, etc. why can’t it be so in Nigeria if not because some individuals simply do not wish for such a situation to arise.

The Speaker said: “I lack the English word to describe anyone who thinks he would eliminate corruption. To eliminate it will amount to eliminating the totality of the human race, this is because no human being is clothed in perfection”.

I lack the English word to describe a system where politicians, elected officials who are meant to defend their people, champion their rights and ensure that public money is used for the public good and not for personal pursuits (which by the way defines corruption) prefer to offer weak excuses to mask what sounds like insincerity of purpose.

The “English word” we seem to be looking for to describe such a system is simply put a “fantastically corrupt” one.


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