“Welcome back oga” “Wetin you bring come for us?” “anything for us?” are typical phrases in pidgin that welcome you upon contact with an immigration officer at the port of entry into Nigeria. Lately, there is a buffer between officers and travelers so that close and personal interaction between the two is avoided.
Notwithstanding, the brazen manner in which immigration and custom officers elicit money from airport users is disturbing and sometimes irritating. A similar situation occurs in almost all other sectors, leaving one doubtless that the entire system is contaminated. “Gift seeking” or “gratification by an official” as described by the Nigeria anti-corruption law as ‘the driver of most forms of corruption’ in Nigeria.
This is only the tip of the iceberg however, as many government institutions groan under the weight of an overbearing plain ole bribery-before-service.
The ubiquity of this problem got me indignant. Recently, I saw a Chinese traveler retorting at a security agent when asked to open his bag, “you want money!?” You want money!?” he responded to the agent, who just wanted to make sure there is no prohibited item in the man’s bag.
A request to open suspicious luggage to investigate forbidden items onboard a plane is a norm in airports worldwide. We are all too happy to oblige when asked to open our bags when we forget to remove water bottles or similar items. So why does this traveler feels the need to berate this agent with an offer of money? Several reasons come to mind. 1, the reputation of public workers when it comes to bribery, demanding or begging for cash before doing their job. Or perhaps the Chinese traveler is himself a corrupt person who is eager to bribe his way out of every situation, and a Nigerian airport seems to be the perfect place for it. Whatever reason it was, it left me with a disconcerting feeling.
Corruption in the civil service sector is quite ubiquitous. It now seems like a permanent wrench in the wheel of the country’s progress. The practice of quid pro quo, or scratch my back I scratch yours, though acceptable in some form but not the extent where basic service is denied unless money is offered. A simple service request such as registering a business, filing for a certificate of occupancy, distributing scarce electricity to asking for a fair judgment in court, and encounters with customs and traffic police all have one form of corrupting effect or the other. The institutional contaminant is pervasive at all levels of the government.
Let us take a gander at the civil service established under section 206 of 1999 CRFN as amended. It refers to civil service as civilian employees charged with the responsibility of ensuring the smooth functioning of the government, from local and municipal government to the state and federal. One will be hard-pressed to see any aspect free of the corrupting influence that has wholly crippled government efficiency.
A report published by the International Journal of Innovative & Political Studies finds that not only politicians have been stealing the country blind, but civil servants who often rail against the government have also been neck-deep in the looting spree, and the rest of the country is right there to propel it.
From workers giving personal receipts after receiving cash instead of government-approved ones to offhand deals, bribes to fast-track files are the norm in any government office. Collecting kickbacks, over-invoicing, fraud, procurement scam, conversion and diversion of public fund, extortion, seeking and giving favors from bureaucrat’s friend, family or kinsmen, tribalism, nepotism, embezzlement, or outright emptying of the public till. The list is endless.
This grotesque antecedent behavior by the citizens and their compatriots in the public sector has led to the Nigerian nation’s unworkability and draining of its resources, leading to societal woes. It has exacerbated poor service, crumbling infrastructure, rickety institutions, abandoned projects, faithless judiciary, and the healthcare system. Other social deficiencies are leadership deficits, clumsy and ineffective leaders, mediocrity in government, sweeping unemployment, entrenched poverty paving the way for widespread criminality, and now utter breakdown in security and public safety.
These things all have causal relationships and are inextricably linked.
Jarringly, the citizens who lament under the weight of corruption are the propeller behind this venal behavior. Habitually and casually, they seek favors from civil Servants instead of waiting for their turn or allowing the process to run its cause, imposing ethical strains on government employees that often becloud their sense of rightness. And even when the civil servants try to do right, the citizen is ever too willing to grease his palms, whether as gratification for an undone service or to induce future favors.
For instance, before a police officer asks for driving documents at checkpoints, the citizen is already ready with Naira notes to hand out. Or when the citizen bribes the power distribution agent to record false meter reading or to allow illegal power connection to giving bribes to secure a driver’s license. Even brazenly to an immigration officer to alter the date of arrival or departure by backdating stamp on a passport, customs official to allow entry of illegal or contraband goods, and to giving bribes to prosecutors and judges to secure favorable rulings.
More scandalous is when citizens offer police money before the commencement of any criminal investigation. It is not uncommon to see a citizen and even “big ogas” walk in the police station with loads of cash requesting that police lock up his driver, maid, employee, or any ordinary citizen that may have wronged them. Often, the police is used as a weapon by anyone that has money to persecute one’s supposed enemy.
The tendency for an average Nigeria to bribe government officials is deep-seated from top to bottom.
Expectedly, money gotten from the abuse of official position is used to fund ostensible lifestyle, which the official later flaunts at the face of the citizens.
A survey by the national bureau of statistics (NBS) backed up by the United nation and European Union reported that “Nigerians pay six bribes per year or once every two months.” The report further revealed that “the total amount of bribes paid to public officials amount to $4.6 billion in purchasing power parity terms—the equivalent of 39% of the country’s federal and state budgets for education last year.” Imagine how the citizens have made their public servants rich while they groan under the weight of bad governance.
And these bribes giving by citizens and collected by public servants were all paid before service was rendered.
While corruption is endemic in all sectors across the board, it is apparent that it is the people that sustain its pervasiveness. When they say, “nothing gets done in Nigeria without bribing someone.” It is the people that fuel it; when they say the country is tumbling downhill, it is the people that are behind the wheels.
Too many Nigerians have become willing accomplices to the rot of the Nigerian nation.
A simple remedy to our mess
Because corruption in the country is cancerous, understanding the extent of this malignant scourge is the first key to fixing the problem, beginning with everyone accepting their complicity and admitting that each has a role to play in rebuilding the country’s crumbling state of affairs.
When a citizen refuses to give bribe to a low-level worker, and we all do the same, we begin to discourage the giving of money for a service government is already paying the public servant to render. If we do this, then, perhaps, the country may start to reverse this rot that has remained a canker at the heart of our nation. It all begins with our conscious decision to refuse to bribe our way even if it means delay of service.
Sadly, the Nigerian public sector is where the decay stems from; it is where we must begin the repair.