Often, when we ask foreigners what they know about Nigeria, two subjects will come up. First is Nigeria’s entertainment industry - Nollywood and Nigerian pop music. The country’s entertainment industry is indeed something to be proud of. Unfortunately, the other subject that often surfaces is the issue of corruption - Internet scammers (yahoo boys) and corruption in politics and governance. This is evident from the many references to this in Hollywood movies and the glorification of the yahoo boy lifestyle in Nigerian popular music. Furthermore, Nigeria has continued to rank very low on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, created in 1995. Nigeria’s current ranking is 146th out of 180 countries in the world. A poor score of 26 percent.
Nigeria’s notoriety for corruption and financial crimes has been amplified in the past few weeks. Three high-profile cases in the media have got everybody concerned and talking. The first is the case of Raymond Abass AKA Hushpuppi, a so called “Instagram Celebrity” who is facing charges of conspiring to launder millions of dollars from his cybercrime activities. The second is the arrest and investigation of EFCC’s Ibrahim Magu on various corruption allegations. Magu is ironically the Acting Head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the leading anti-corruption body in the country. The third case is that of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). A public hearing is ongoing to investigate allegations of corruption and financial unruliness made by the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC.
In all these instances, the alleged gangs show up at investigative fact-finding probes, courts, and public hearings with intrinsic disdain for the rule of law. They make frantic efforts to dramatize the whole issue. While under oath, they act out their drama as if being under oath does not mean anything in Nigeria's own democracy. The sad part is that nothing seems to happen afterwards in the pattern of prosecution or closure. Nigerians are simply treated to comedic extracts from the unfolding drama - names of the characters become associated with contemporary 'abusive' lingo, and caricature expressions find their ways to merchandizing and memorabilia. We say things like "if you Magu me, I go Malami you" or "if you Nunieh me, I go Akpabio you" and we wear expressive T-shirts with captured moments all around town.
Professional integrity and institutional integrity are a rarity today. The EFCC and NDDC cases demonstrate this perfectly. In all these cases, there is a tendency to deliberately distract Nigerians from the deeper implications of these problems. Or perhaps, solving the problem seems overwhelming enough and we find solace in our burgeoning creative and comedy industry. Whichever way we look at it, the fact that citizens are not acting to correct and reject these corruption situations perpetuates the "boiled-frog syndrome", a condition of gradual adjustment to external events until survival is no longer guaranteed.
The Hushpuppi case reveals a lot about what young Nigerians value and how they view success. Prior to his arrest, the 37 year old Nigerian was an “Instagram celebrity”. What did he do to attract 2.4 million Instagram followers? He flaunted his lavish lifestyle wearing designer clothes and posing inside luxury jets, cars and mansions. What he did for a living was not important to his followers. The fact is, he was viewed as someone to be “followed” (emulated) and he was valued because he had the trappings of material wealth which many youths aspire to acquire. Indeed, is there any difference between what Hushpuppi did and what our leaders are doing? Hushpuppi is just the next generation of corrupt individuals building on the script he borrowed from his leaders. The script reads “Just get wealthy by any means necessary and you will be followed and valued.”
So how does a society that values material wealth above everything else, combat systematic corruption? Much of the literature on this matter focuses on building credible institutions to combat institutional corruption which is what we have in Nigeria - from local government to the highest level of power. Building these credible systems and processes does not happen overnight. Moreover, institutions are run by human beings. If the individuals are corrupt, the institutions will be corrupt also. We must therefore recruit a critical mass of professionals who have a track record of integrity and who will be quick to punish those who are corrupt.
To be sure, we have witnessed seemingly endless seasons of corruption in Nigeria. Not too long ago, we witnessed a similar drama between the Herman Hembe-led probe Committee and Arumah Oteh of the SEC. It is no gain-saying that since return to democracy, Nigeria has been bedevilled with a new character of corruption among her political elites. These ones have carefully studied the polity and simply weather the storm sometimes with unthinkable theatrics in a country supposedly governed by the rule of law.
Among thought leaders, there is hope that technology will be a saving grace in the fight to curb financial crime. If, for example, electronic platforms are built-in to manage aspects of government finances from salary payments to procurement activities, a digital paper trail will always be available as proof of transactions. It will provide a detailed account of how the transactions were conducted and by whom so that perpetrators can be identified. Supporting this will be the need to insert a solution on a foundation of acting together – where we the people takes on its rightful meaning, and where enough truly is what it means – enough.
Indeed, we must act now, or perish!