Why is it that institutional reform as touted by the international anti-corruption industry always fails in tackling the problem of corruption in Nigeria or elsewhere in Africa? One major problem is that the reforms are based on the foundations of Western institutions without giving adequate thought or attentions to institutional activities or development in Nigeria or anywhere else in Africa. We thus have to develop a new view of institutions in post-colonial nations like Nigeria.
Institutions that are not enforceable are mere declarations. Nigeria is saddled with mostly funded declarations in the name of institution. There are numerous instances of robust mutant forms of formal institutions found in the Nigerian society that may be characteristically overlooked or misunderstood by both indigenous and foreign corruption investigators and institutional reformers (Nane 2009). These institutions tend to deviate significantly from the expectations and forms found, say in Western Europe where they originate from, in their internal mechanism but appear conform to the same externally. Such institutions can be termed to be “contrary institutions”.
A contrary institution can be defined as “any institution which due to perverse or incomplete internal development delivers divergent or contrary outcomes to those it was originally intended”. When policemen engage in violent crime or rent / sell firearms to violent criminals the Nigerian Police Force becomes a contrary institution. A when national the respective legislators vote monies to alleviate poverty in given constituencies but the monies are pocketed with impunity by respective senators or representatives the ‘voting process’ is a contrary institutions.
A cluster of institutions established to serve the interest of the general public becomes contrary when it starts to serve the interests of a small group(s) of individuals. Or an array of institutions introduced into a sector to reduce corruption but actually increases the incidence of corruption significantly is contrary. Contrary institutions as dysfunctional entities can also adversely affect the functioning of properly developed enforceable institutions.
The prevalent existence of contrary institutions in Nigeria necessitates the proposition that the external mechanisms of institutions are procedural (i.e. systematic) but their internal mechanisms are volitional (i.e. praxeological). Procedures can be seen as impersonal mechanisms since they entail systems, methods, techniques, measures, practices etc. and their auxiliary paraphernalia. Volition is not so because it entails human action i.e. preferences, choice and decisions. Procedures are functions of volition i.e. procedure cannot exist or work without the human action agents. The goal of institutions is to make the volition of agents comply with standardised organisational procedures (Etzioni 1961 or goal-consistent ethical rules (Hodgson 2004; 2006).
Let us assume legitimacy has strong moral content since malfeasance cannot be morally justified. If the volition inputted by agents into institutions is legitimate the procedures can be also expected to be legitimate, except in cases where there is error (which can be duly correctable). An institution with internal legitimacy would invariable have external legitimacy and thus duly be enforceable, constantly and consistency. Conversely, if the volition inputted by agents into institutions is not legitimate the procedures cannot be legitimate either, no matter how well they are designed, structured or conducted. Institutions that lack internal legitimacy are not duly enforceable with constancy and consistency. This proposition gives credence to the necessity of morality in the understanding of corruption since it is based on the expectations of right actions (Dunsire 1988, Owusu 1996, Aluko 2002, Miller 2003, Hodgson & Jiang 2007, Rose-Ackerman 2007, Etzioni 2010). The internal mechanisms of institutions can be deemed to be dependent on the moral responsibility of agents (see Hodgson & Jiang 2007; Nane 2011). In Nigeria, the structural adjustment years saw severe economic conditions and uncertainty lead to the widespread compromise of the moral fibre of agents and hence the volitional component of institutions (Akande 2003; Owusu 1996).
The origin of contrary institutions in Nigeria like many recently post-independence nations is largely due to interaction between traditional indigenous institutions and colonial (and later global) institutions. In pre-colonial times societies, in what is now known as Nigeria, had robust enforceable institutions by which society was adequately organised (see Englebert 2000, Falola 2003; Falola & Heaton 2008). These institutions were customarily legitimate and the people embodied them without question. Trade, agriculture, marriage, religion, ceremonies, arbitration, property rights and the like were governed by legitimate d indigenous institutions (see Ayittey 1993). The arrival of the colonial power, Great Britain, ushered in by way of the transplantation and superimposition numerous European institutions that where intended to reorganise African society to meet the needs of their rule; indigenous institutions were largely left intact. This superimposition of alien institutions on colonial societies never really attained complete or even reasonable legitimacy even up to the time of independence in 1960 (Ekeh 1975). However, as long as these alien institutions satisfied the specific interests of the colonial power, they were deemed to suffice.
Rowley (2000) contends that colonial rulers in Africa deliberately kept colonial institutions to prevent colonial from building the capacity to kick them out. Rowley’s argument is however challenged by the suggestion that well-embedded direct rule was too costly for Britain. However, the institutional transplants of the colonial rulers created an intractable dilemma; local traditional institutions did not lose their legitimacy while colonial institutions acquired significant “visible” but inadequate legitimacy. In essence Nigerian society throughout the colonial era was operated with robust traditional institutions but colonial institutions barely sufficed. Put another way traditional institutions constituted the substance of governance while colonial institutions constituted the form. The internal mechanisms of Nigerian formal institutions were never developed sufficiently in the image or likeness of their progenitors in Europe hence the incidence of contrary institutions.
We can evidently see why current and past institutional reform fails woefully in Nigeria especially with regards to anti-corruption activities. A new institutional thinking is thus necessary to create the tools and approaches that will have both the capability and legitimacy to create the possibility of curing the problems of corruption in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa.
Culled from – Grimot Nane (2011), Do the Preferences of Corrupt Agents Evolve?, (A Paper prepared for the) 13th Conference of the Association for Heterodox Economics, Nottingham, 6th – 9th July 2011