The Positive Side of Corruption in Nigeria.

I honoured a dinner invitation, by a friend, for a family friend's elevation to the management board of a leading upstream oil giant recently. The event at the Rooftop Lounge was peopled by friends and friends of friends - managers of industry; some I was just meeting for the first time. With cocktail served, the talks, as usual, amongst the invitees at the pre-dinner chamber where we were served aperitifs, were about the state of the nation. The discussions were largely centred on the economy, lack of power and corruption in the land. The host introduced me as a straight-shooter and kickstarted the discussion when he asked if I still write. Of course, I still do.

More than half of the thirty-five or so guests thought that Nigeria is a lost case; that was the gist. I did not agree with that assertion, if you can call it that. I told them emphatically that Nigeria is too corrupt, for it to break up. Most of them were stunned, but within a minute or so, and on second thought, they all agreed with me. To me, at this time in our nation's history, this is the positive side of corruption - the glue that holds us together by default. We have, as a people, done everything in the books to precipitate a disintegration of the country. The endemic corruption that has soaked the society from the top to the roots is what is sustaining the apparent unity.

I once wrote that "corruption, in Nigeria, is a function of utilitarianism" - an eighteen century theory by Jeremy Bentham that the value of a thing or action is determined by its utility. It is the ethical theory that all actions should be directed toward achieving the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. Unwittingly, our deep-seated corruption is saving the nation from disintegration - unwittingly if you are so inclined. Settling a few Judas, in the society, is what is ordinarily needed to scuttle a negative or opposition movement that could cumulate into a break-up of a great country like ours.

Now you can see why it is difficult to tackle corruption in Nigeria; it has become a national drive that is welding up the cracks that manifest in our unpatriotic life. I will still borrow from Jeremy Bentham in his "ideas of the useful and the good." Jeremy concluded that, "Nature has placed mankind under the influence of two sovereign masters - pain and pleasure ...they govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think; every effort we can make to throw off this suggestion, will only serve but to demonstrate and confirm it." Corruption has become the only vehicle to prosperity in Nigeria, with its attendant recognition that honours consistently the very corrupt - both by the state and the ordinary man in the street. The only caution is "thou shalt not be caught," which is the 11th Commandment.

No amount of agencies, except being seen to do something, will put a dent in corrupt practices in Nigeria. With the level of corruption in Nigeria, the "key performance indicator" to show that we are serious about fighting corruption should have been a high number of high profile personalities behind bars (sent to gaol for a very long time). Alas, nobody is behind bars; instead they rule our lives - complicating an already complicated life. When I was growing up in Lagos, we children, used to tiptoe in front of a known smuggler or 419er's house; as if we could be smuggled ourselves. Today, this anti-socials rule the streets and their houses guarded by the state security - that's the might of the state. While the system secures the lives of outlaws, the law abiding citizens are laid bare - bereft of security.

We have seen the bad side of corruption; I have enumerated the good side of corruption, even if it is by default. We have spent too much energy trying to fight a war we cannot win. There are at least two schools of thought: do we impoverish, further, the already poor to fight corruption, or do we better the lives of the poor to fight corruption. What I believe is that the masses are the foot soldiers in any corrupt practices, and conversely, they could be the foot soldiers in the war against corruption anywhere in the world. The state, however, would need to provide an enabling environment for the poor to have easy access to the basics - food, clothing and shelter. With these things, the society would have won the masses onto the side of the war against corruption.The poor regard this basic standard of living as gold and would die to preserve them. The less privileged would always be on the side of who provides them these basic things - the state or the outlaws.

The dinner and the discussion were exhilarating; the food was good. I did have a swell time, but then the grumbling continues: when I got home there was no light - that's why. Well, well... what more can I say? While I lay in bed in the dark, my mind loomed to some incredible dimension on what we are being subjected. What a life! What does it take to dig us out of this quagmire? Somebody had said maybe it's corruption that would be used to fight corruption. Is he campaigning for corruption to be legalised? After all, some societies legalise cannabis. I don't know what that means, and I am not trying to understand. if corruption has a value, what is in it for me not to be corrupt? That is all I am asking. Tell me.

Samuel Akinyele Caulcrick

Lagos.