The word and context of “empowerment” has come to take on in interestingly corrupt or perverse meaning of its own in everyday Nigerian parlance. Unlike its real meaning in everyday day society or academia, it has by way of customary euphemism come to mean the “corrupt and preferential distributions of rents (public goods or public funds) through patronage networks to key political supporters and their dependents”. Empowerment by such an understanding has evolved in to a social bad.
A “social good” is a societal provision that is not only “good” in that it benefits the largest number of people in the largest possible way but is because it also customarily necessary. Genuine elections, clean water, universal free primary education, religious holidays, equality in the work place, good governance and personal savings are all social goods. Participating in the creation, delivery and consumption of social goods are also social goods.
Empowerment is simply a condition of participation in social goods and a social good in its own right. Full empowerment is the notion of full economic, political and social freedoms for individual or groups to independently participate in societal activities in the most capable way they can. A classic slogan for empowerment is found in the Chinese proverb “give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” Sounds good.
The version in question of the same slogan would read on the back of “empowerment” as “give a political client a one-off donation and he will surely betray you someday; give him a good stable rent and he will be willing to die for you always.” Many no longer use the word “empowerment” with the intended or textbook meaning provided. Empowerment in therefore now synonyms for ‘rent-seeking’ and ‘rent-offering’.
The irony is that while effectively improving empowerment for citizens leads to real (not paper) economic growth since more people participate in the economy as producers and consumers, rent-seeking invariably leads to economic decline because increasingly less people participate. Is this a case muddled thinking by the leaders of a nation so far behind but wants to be at the head of global affairs? Such thinking though politically expedient is dubious. It is more likely to be an invention of a euphemism by some clever individual(s) to legitimise rent-seeking by stealth. If it is, it is working very fine.
Nowadays, there are men and women especially those who claim to hate corruption with righteous indignation and who rapture at the mere mention of “anti-corruption” or “change”. It is very very bemusing to effortlessly observe these same men and women firmly support or even extol the dynamics, necessities and wisdom of “empowerment” with a strong passion and interesting arguments. The truth is “empowerment” in its new shade has made corruption in society more acceptable to so many.
Who said language does not have power?