Last week I travelled to one of the Universities in the South-South of Nigeria on a ‘scoping’ visit. In the course of my trip, I had cause to use an ATMachine. I spent several minutes, perhaps around 45 minutes, waiting my turn on the rather long queue. I wondered why the queue dragged, even though there were only 15 or so people in front of me. However, I finally got to realise that the students in front were collecting ATM cards and pin numbers from their friends to collect money on their behalf!
This bizarre episode reminded me of our national life. Does anyone wonder why corruption, lack of meritocracy and bad policies (what is actually implemented) dominate our political and national life? It’s mostly about queues. By queuing, I mean the course of action where one follows due process, waits one’s turn and puts in the amount of work needed to achieve set goals. I will use two examples to illustrate this.
First, consider this scenario. An individual gets appointed to political office at a time when her/his gross annual salary on her/his previous job was 500 thousand nairas. Suddenly, s/he wants to ride the most expensive cars, live in the most expensive areas in town and travel first class to the most exotic destinations on holiday! The consequence of this is the likelihood of jumping the ‘queue.’ Doing whatever is possible, including bending to rules, to attain and sustain that lifestyle. This is the plague that our country suffers. Many leaders want to attain the best things in life, things that were previously only a dream to them. In the course, they put the lives, life chances and opportunities of all other citizens in jeopardy.
Secondly, and returning back to my ATMachine scenario. Just like the students’ behaviour (collecting ATM cards from behind the queue), many senior officials often ‘bring people from behind the queue’ – friends, brothers, cousins, church members, you name them. Once an opportunity is open, their first consideration is personal relationships, not merit, not equity, not the national good. This is why sometimes the best brains do not end up getting the position or securing the opportunities – because people bring their own from behind the queue. Sadly, the belief in one’s social capital has almost become as solid as spirituality. The sing-song is similar everywhere – do you know anyone there? or better put, ‘do you have any connection there?’
The ATM scenario also demonstrates that in fact corruption has become cultural, and I mean this in every sense of the word. It is almost as if it is inbred. People learn it in the environment, and it is so pervasive. Pupils should have done ‘handwork’ (carvings, drawings, a broom, etc.) at school, but the primary school teacher monetises it instead. Students are ‘helped’ with the answers in junior and senior level examinations. At University they ‘sort’ or are made to sort in cash or kind. In every corner there appears to be a ‘short cut’ – a way to avoid the queue. You pay ‘small something’ to hasten this or that application process. This is the bane of our national life. Corruption is involuntarily taught and learnt throughout one’s development. It is from this same species that our national leaders emerge and so it appears that who they are reflects who we are. No? (Yes. I thought I heard a ‘no way. Not me!’)
My theses here are that: our major national challenges start from our inability to ‘queue’ at a micro level; what people become is shaped by the nature of the society in which they find themselves (a corrupt society is likely to beget corrupt leaders); and (although marginally related to this article) consumerism precipitates our propensity to ‘jump the queue.’ These arguments are supported by relevant psychology and criminological theories.
Thus, in order to deal with our many challenges, particularly corruption, we must institute a culture of queuing, of ‘waiting’ one’s turn. We must promote a thrift culture. We must promote ‘faith with works’ culture at our religious institutions (and emphasise less the illusions of sudden wealth). We must inculcate the culture of meritocracy (let the best man get the job). We must frown at corruption or wrong doing of any kind regardless who does it (big man or small man) and in this regard, enforce the relevant laws when an individual is found culpable. We must resist and refuse to participate in anything that does not follow the set rules.
Although this seems like a simplistic view of our national problems, it does provide at least one significant perspective and certainly a recipe for how to deal with them. There is no doubt that dealing with corruption and this culture of refusing to queue is an important way to deal with many our bigger national problems.