Shunting, the ‘Nigerian factor’ and tackling Corruption

In my previous post I indicated that I believed shunting was a big national challenge. My main thesis was that many people didn’t want to stay on the queue and this was contributor to corruption in our country. This weekend, I had an interesting exchange with two colleagues over breakfast which brought this subject to the fore again.

Why do I believe shunting is such a big problem? Firstly, because it is the process by which people sub-consciously learn to break rules and over time and imbibe patterns of behaviours which make them perceive normative expectations as abnormal. Secondly, it becomes a pattern which is imbibed in their psyche, the so-called ‘Nigerian factor.’ ‘This is Nigeria!’ They say. The second problem was aptly described by one of my two colleagues as ‘inferiority complex.’ But it’s not just that, it’s much more. It’s an unconscious settlement for lower standards, for chaos and disorder, and half-baked adoption or adaptation of failed solutions to problems – ‘after all, it’s Nigeria.’ They say. It’s more like ‘we’re the lower specie; we shouldn’t expect any more of ourselves.’

In the case of the first, children are taught through various processes of socialisation – at home, in schools and religious places, that it’s okay to shove, to push one’s way to the front of the queue. Parents procure test answers to aid their kids’ success in examinations or bribe teachers to award them good grades. At school, particularly at secondary and tertiary level, teachers demand money or in-kind incentives such as sex, for grades. At religious institutions, testimonies of some miracles relegate hard work to the background and make following established processes seem like anti-faith and no-faith. It appears that these socialisation processes encourage everyone to be on the fast lane, with a promise of millions of naira and cars, and a praying clergy in tow.

Perhaps as a result of this sub-conscious behavioural pattern, the exception becomes the rule. Normative behaviour in other climes is seen as abnormal, unacceptable and even ‘criminal.’ ‘How can you be a Commissioner and not buy a house in America?’ they will ask. The aforementioned is often backed by the ever –present Nigerian factor. To stretch this a bit, it is interesting how this pre-eminent factor features in every aspect of our national life. Well-funded projects are delivered at mediocre level and yet people excuse it with ‘we’re trying’ or simply ‘this is Nigeria.’ Part of the problem is that many people want to acquire social and economic mobility at all costs and this pattern is implicitly endorsed by a significant many – tacitly or directly.

The Nigerian factor of settling for lower standards seems to me a big psychological problem or simply an aspirations deficit.  As a recent example, the Aviation Ministry has been celebrating its airports as being of ‘world-class’ or meeting global standards. Yet, many of them are still poorly equipped and do not meet even the most basic standards. At the Lagos international airport, the toilets are nearly always smelly, the roofs are leaky, the air conditioning doesn’t work and the lighting system doesn’t illuminate the airport sufficiently. This is world class?

But many of us seem to accept these conditions tacitly or consciously. Poorly done but manageable roads, poorly constructed but manageable government buildings or airports, poor mobile services which remain relatively expensive. You can add to that list. But we simply manage. We do not see reason to complain or to sue (I’m thinking class action) because this is Nigeria ‘where anything goes.’ What seems frustrating is that the middle and upper classes don’t seem to bother. It appears that some of them fuel and are fueled by the system – kickbacks, and all.

One of my two colleagues at breakfast asked an important question: what if we all attempt to bribe or do the untoward or even illegal to gain the front seats? One explanation is that the highest bidders will get the available seats. But this cannot continue for long before chaos breaks out. Simply put, it’s not sustainable. As our population is mostly young, there is good reason to act. Demographers have argued that around the mid-2030s, our youth, those of working age, will form the bulk of the population and they could be our gateway to economic prosperity. But at the current rate, where meritocracy is relegated to the background, the youth population could become our biggest nightmare in the 2030’s and beyond.

This is why the National Orientation Agency and the Ministry of Information need to engage in national campaigns aimed at value re-orientation. There might be lessons that we could take from our own national history of implementing the so-called war against indiscipline in the 1980s.  But more importantly, it requires the liberalisation of information, greater transparency of the government and strict compliance with information related – like the freedom of information act. The campaign could involve law enforcement agencies, notably the police, civil defense; the anti-corruption agencies – EFCC and ICPC; as well as religious institutions.

These institutions have varying roles. To promote the value of hard work, alongside the consequences of breaking the law and even more importantly, debunking the notion of the Nigerian factor. Government institutions must provide clear information on fees, procedures and contact persons for all services they provide to avoid the loopholes which foster exploitation and corruption. All legally available options in the delivery of public services need to be provided and people should have the chance to choose what options work best for them.

Our kids are growing up, and at every level we must show them the way. We must set good examples that will enable them imbibe a culture of waiting their turn. Of queuing. Of following the set out procedures. Of working hard to achieve their dreams or desired life outcomes. I believe firmly that achieving a future in which our young imbibe these beliefs and practices will go a long way to address many of our  current national problems and will be a meaningful approach towards tackling corruption and poor outcomes from ground to top.

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