By Saheed Ibrahim
In my first seminar paper for the Department of Communication and Language Arts, in fulfillment of part of the requirements for the award of a Master’s Degree at the University of Ibadan, I argued that every Nigerian, just like citizens of other countries, have tendencies to embrace social vices or virtues. No Nigerian is born to be uncultured, immoral or unrefined character-wise.
In the paper titled, “Where Does The Change Really Begin? Investigating Social Behavioural Change Campaigns in Nigeria Through Social Change Theories”, I argued that spending millions of dollars on social behavioural change campaigns, such as Mass Mobilisation for Self Reliance, Social Justice and Economic Recovery, Heart of Africa, Rebranding Nigeria and Change begins with me, will never make Nigerian pull off their stained moral fabrics.
You may ask, where have all the different social behavioural change campaigns led the country? Do we have a Nigeria better than before? Do we have the majority of Nigerians exhibiting exemplary behaviour? What is the country, together with her people, known for in the global community? Answers to these will tell you the image the country has. You may want to check Nigeria’s corruption index with Transparency International.
According to the 2022 global corruption barometer of the organisation, Nigeria ranks 150/180 among less corrupt countries with 24 over 100 scores. Forty-three per cent of people surveyed believed that corruption had increased in the previous 12 months, while 44 percent of public service users paid a bribe in the same period.
Don’t forget so soon that in 2016, the then British Prime Minister, David Cameron, called Nigeria a “fantastically corrupt” country. In a conversation with the late Queen Elizabeth, Cameron was overheard saying, “We’ve got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain. Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world,” multiple news outlets reported.
Don’t let us delve into incessant kidnappings and killings that have permeated every corner of the country. We should not bother about “Yahoo Yahoo” because it is gradually becoming an accepted source of making quick money by our youths. We should also pretend we do not notice an increasing rate of incest, rape and needless political killings.
Who cares about the traffic light and road signs, protection of public facilities and the general good? We have all become scavengers in the name of survival. Wither the social, behavioural change campaigns and the huge money spent?
But are Nigerians configured to be perpetually corrupt? Is it our innate ability to deviate from social norms towards callousness? The answer is a big no. In my paper, I questioned why Nigerians suddenly become law-abiding and morally upright whenever they touch down in Germany, the United States of America, the United Kingdom and other developed countries.
In my interaction with some of my contacts abroad, one sentence is common when anti-social behaviour is mentioned, “you cannot do that here.” Even those you know are terribly lawless will turn to be “Pope” in foreign lands. The reasons for the switch are plausible; these countries have systems bigger than any culture.
In my latest article, I wrote about the disreputable attitude of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria officers and airline workers who turned Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos into a beggars’ court and extortion centre. I had three flights to my destination, Syracuse, Lagos to Paris, and then New York before Syracuse. At the three other airports visited, the differences were vivid even to the blind.
You hardly see police officers, but every passenger at the airports coordinated themselves in manners that brought goose bumps to my skin. Officials at the airports were willing to render any help without expecting any gratification.
In the cities visited, traffic lights are keenly adhered to, whether the roads are free or not. There are visible road signs at every nook and cranny to aid navigation. I did not see police officers enforcing traffic regulations. As one of the “Uber” drivers I engaged explained, “No need to break the law here. You will be caught, and the fines or punishments are always huge”.
Grocery shops, public places, schools, communities, and public facilities are maintained by individuals that use them. The authorities in charge ensure resources needed are provided. It is expected of you to use the facilities as you should.
One of my Nigerian contacts studying here, Lekan, said, “Bro, why do you think people want to come here? America is a dream country for people. It is because things work here, the same for the UK. As long as you can work, you will definitely be fine.”
He continued, “You don’t want to risk being arrested by the police or sent to prison here. Whatever you need is there, just do as expected and you will be fined. These people do not care who is who?” With his last statement, I remembered my summary of the Nigerian judicial system two years ago – “Laws for the poor, justice for the rich.”
During a visit to the New York State Capitol in Albany, we interacted with the staff of the Assembly. We were made to understand that members and their staff must fill out a 20-page asset declaration form yearly, and every discussion with lobbyists must be reported. These and other measures were instituted to prevent or, at least, reduce the possibility of corrupt practices among Assembly members. Remember New York Governor, Andrew M. Cuomo resigned over allegations of sexual harassment in 2021. How many Nigerian Governors or public officials would resign over the same allegations?
In my paper, I concluded that the current heads over heels in Nigeria would remain if the political, social, economic and cultural sectors were not reformed. As we know, splashing millions of dollars on behavioural change campaigns is like painting lipsticks on pigs. “The interventionists must consider the context of the society in which they want to introduce a social change campaign. The change begins with my campaign, and the previous ones are targeted at individuals, without any consideration for the systems of Nigeria.”
In the words of a former Nigerian Inspector General of Police, Mike Okiro, “There is no way you can rebrand Nigeria effectively and successfully without re-branding the various sections that make up Nigeria; the various organisations, units, ministries, parastatals and the individuals, beginning with the Nigeria police.”
No Nigerian is born to be corrupt and unrefined. The countries we run to also have issues they battle with but they have systems to checkmate impunity. People want to exist in places where things work, resources are judiciously used and there is accountability. People want their lives to be valued and their sanity maintained. It will difficult to see a new Nigeria or Nigerians should poverty, underdevelopment, 41% unemployment rate, incessant ASUU strike, untamed corruption, devalued currency and senseless killings continue to highlight our individual and community lives. We must make the systems work.