New Directions in Fighting Corruption

A Speech by Grimot Nane

Something happened yesterday. In front of the university [London South Bank University] a [visiting] research student was asking me for some directions and information. Even though he was very white he did not sound like an Englishman. So we got chatting and he asked if I had studied here. I replied yes. He then asked what I do and I told him. He then [further] asked me what exactly did I study and I told development. Not being satisfied with my answer he asked what exactly did I study. I and I said corruption. He then replied, “Ah so you are into computer science, you deal with the corruption files?” To this I asked him if he was from Scandinavia to which he agreed but wanted to know what nationality had to do with it. And I said to him “[the incidence] of corruption is so low in your country that when corruption is being mentioned you do not think about corrupt politicians, you think about corrupt computer files.” We both laughed off my last comment and we went our ways.

So, I guess there is hope for countries that are willing to change. But change is not easy.

There many things to talk of about corruption. I have spent about half a decade studying it thoroughly and in all that time I learnt a few things. There are theories, definitions, mechanisms, models, incentives and all sorts of things related to corruption. But that is not what we are going to deal today. We are here now to deal with directions in fighting corruption; what people have done before and see if there are new directions people can take on and try to change the terrain of corruption in Nigeria.

From a theoretical point of view there are two [among many] giants in the field of corruption. The first is Mancur Olson who argues that the reason why countries are corrupt is that there are special interest groups in the country that hijack government, that hijack the political, economic and social processes of the country and in fact they become the leaders of change in society. Therefore, we saw how after the Nigerian Civil War when the “board members” who got free access to the shares in the indigenised multinational corporations taken from Western concerns, started spraying money at events, everyone else started spraying money at parties. Today, if you hold a party and money is not sprayed, it is as if you did not hold a party.

These special interest groups or distributive coalitions devise effective means to keep the citizens silent towards their corruption and look for ways to use the public apparatus and government apparatus to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of society. So they tamper with legislation and tamper with public officials by way of “capturing” public institutions. You also have encompassing interests which are groups or governments that think about the interests of everybody. The workforce and businesses are relatively secure. There is a welfare state. It does not matter if you are too sick or too old or poor, you get taken care by way of a safety net. There benefits, housing, free access to medical care. These are examples of encompassing interests.

The two interests, distributive and encompassing, always clash. When the encompassing interests are dominant there is very little corruption and hopefully everyone is happy. But when the distributive interests are in ascendancy only a few are happy because only few are milking the country for what it is worth.

Mancur Olson contends that the solution to a corrupted society riddled with deeply entrenched distributive coalitions, to dislodge them from power, to make the government uncaptured and to let it administer the country unobstructed with good encompassing interest is by way of a cataclysmic bloody revolution. Secondly, Olson most famously contends and proves empirically that it can be achieved when an outside [foreign] force invade the corrupt country and get rid of the special interest groups because they are the only concerns that can resist the invading force. And the country would then be free of these distributive activities that destroy the economy of the country.

Olson uses two good examples in the 20th century which are Germany and Japan, the Axis Forces, in World War II that were defeated by the Allied Forces became the best examples of economic development and economic efficiency. This was because their government were able to govern without any interference from special interest groups which further enabled them to focus on all-inclusive encompassing interests.

However, there is a warning that comes with Mancur Olson’s approach to ridding nations of corruption. After 50 years or so when a country has gotten rid of distributive and corrupt coalitions, under stable democracy they start to grow again and become dominant. We can see this in the “2008 economic crisis” which was riddle with scandal after scandal in both the public and private sectors in Western countries. They are reverting back to corrupt distributive governance.

When we talk of revolution, is Nigeria ready for it because it has worked in the past and brought about significant if phenomenal changes to society? My conclusion is firmly, No. The reason is simple. Nigeria currently does not have the appropriate socialisation for it. Revolutions work when citizens are completely fed up and intolerant with distributive actions of the elite and want get rid of that way of doing thinks. But most Nigerians actually admire those in power and their conspicuous consumption lifestyles; they only tend to hate corruption till a relative or friend gets into power then they want to enjoy the benefits of corruption. So I do not think Nigerians are ready for revolution yet.

We now have Boko Haram causing a lot of trouble, terrorising Nigerians and killing so many innocent citizens. But the issue is, the violence of Boko Haram is a taste of what revolution is really like. If there is a cataclysmic bloody revolution in Nigeria it would be hundreds of times worse. I do not think Nigerian are ready for that kind of experience because they prefer the good life no matter the consequences of corruption. We can conveniently bypass revolution as a solution to corruption in Nigeria. Nevertheless, when the time is ripe and a revolution does one day happen in Nigeria and it cleans up the country so be it but I doubt it is an option for the near or even distant future. I am not omniscient enough to predict such things.

There is a second option put forward by the intellectual giant Robert Nield who also talks about the relationship between corruption and military might. He argues that North-western Europe is unique as a clean region in the world with regards to corruption. No other region in the world has been as clean. There are reasons for such an occurrence. Nield’s central argument is that there was so much war in North-western Europe amongst nation states, that each nation gravely feared invasion by their neighbours.

The history of Europe clearly delineates the history of conquest and invasion. The British Isles were invaded by the Vikings, the Normans, the Romans etc. North-western European nations got fed of being conquered and the only way these nations could become efficient militarily was to become efficient economically. Their tax systems became very efficient to enable the collection of monies to build military capacity, they had to take care of their citizens with encompassing interest in order for the citizens to be secure and patriotic enough to defend their country in war. Also introduced was a nepotism free civil service which only recruited staff byway of a competitive examination. Therefore, through reform North-western Europe became home to uncorrupted societies. Robert Nield clearly states that North-western European societies are not exactly like that any more, maybe, because there is no threat of war any more in the region.

Nield’s significant corruption is that corrupt societies can be reformed through good governance and one can conclude it is not about “political will” at all. It is about necessity and incentives; existential threats. When you have neighbouring nations that are ready to attack you all the time, you have no choice to strengthen every aspect of your society and citizens.

Unfortunately, Nigeria does not have that kind of geography, history or neighbours. Some scholar articulated the opinion that in General Abacha’s time as head of state, even though he was a terrible dictator, introduced some of the most effective policies in Nigeria’s history and loosely links it to the incentives created by the threat of Cameroon and France wanting to take away the Bakassi Peninsular from Nigeria and successfully resisted. Alas, Cameroon acquired the peninsular easily much later Nigeria under the reign of Olusegun Obasanjo.

As a result, maybe something Nigeria should hope or pray for hostile neighbouring enemies with the capacity of possible invasion and Nigeria would have to protect its [oil] wealth and sovereignty which would in turn make Nigeria so economically efficient that corruption will be eliminated. It is important to note that such conditions are not going to happen just because it is willed or hoped for, since they cannot be manufactured.

Still on reforms but deviating from Robert Nield, we have the introduction of neoliberalism based on the Washington Consensus that took off in the 1980s and it was all about privatisation, monetisation, transaction cost economics, competition etc. But it failed woefully in eliminating corruption; in fact it increased incidences of corruption all over the world – the opposite of its much touted benefit.

Conclusions from my research and my contribution to the literature of corruption are that in Nigeria we have “contrary institutions”. A contrary institution is “any institution which due to perverse or incomplete internal development delivers divergent or contrary outcomes to those it was originally intended”. For instance if an institution is introduced to stop or reduce public drunkenness and ends up making people drink more. Or if an institution is introduced to reduce immigration, more immigration actually happens. And there are no institutions more contrary than neoliberalism in the fight against corruption.

In Nigeria most of our institutions are contrary. I examined then thoroughly within the electric power sector and found them empirically to be very contrary. I will give an example of how a contrary institution works.

A representative from the UK DFID (Department for International Development) comes with a £150 million to help reform some agencies in government. Then what happens? This DFID representative attends the meetings and planning sessions with the agencies’ officials and sees the master plans are world-class, the budgets schedules are elegant, the expenditure schedules are dexterous, the quality assurance format are thorough, the accountability packages are superb. The overall due process scheme is so good the representative goes aware highly impressed with the intelligence and diligence of the Nigerian officials.

What the representative does not see is the internal component of the institutions of governance of the agencies in which some persons have decided how they are going to share the money amongst themselves. He also does not see the corrupt dispersal of the money usually through a patronage bank. The money simply disappears. The £150 million intend to reform / strengthen institutions and prevent corruption actually ends up making corruption so easy.

This is a major reason why neoliberal reform fails since it focuses too zealously on neoclassical economic processes which strictly regards the external components of institutions [price signals, methods, techniques, processes] but disregard the implications of social influences on the economy and society which constitute the internal component of instructions [volition, morality, capacity, preparedness].

Another issue raised from my research is how to actually study it. Deriving from the work of Geoffrey Hodgson I do not look at corruption from a signle point but from six levels; Structures, Regulations, Rules, Conventions, Organisations and Habits. I call it SIRCOH Bundle Analysis. There are the structures at the top e.g. the energy sector. Structures define regulations, e.g. legislative acts, at the second level. Regulations define the rules at the third level. At the forth level, there are conventions which are not necessary codified accepted as rules. Rules and Conventions create the grounds by which organisations are established and perpetuated; organisations are the arena where corruption takes place. At the sixth level there are habits. While organisations create routines necessary for its existence, survival and progress, individuals [members, staff, customers, students, visitors] have to develop habits to reciprocally comply with the routines.

Rule adherence by way of habit can vary between organisations and countries. If a person commits a traffic offence say a drive against traffic down a one way road he is booked for the offence which he receives humbly but makes no attempt to bribe the policer(s) who caught him. If the same person commits the same offence in Nigeria and is caught by the police the first thing he does [automatically] is offer a bribe and gets away with offence.

Looking at all six clusters or levels of institutions in Nigeria one can effectively identify that there are serious tensions between formal and informal institutions in the enforcement. In corrupt societies informal institutions have a perverse efficiency of their own. E.g. in bidding for a contract instead of following formal procedure by successively fulfilling the requirements of sequence of stages A [B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J] to K the corrupt bypass the stages B to J by going straight from A to K. Without formal procedure the expected outcomes cannot be guaranteed and persistent ends in failure all across the nation.

When it comes to solutions to the problem of corruption what new directions are there? I take a cue from Robert Nield in the form of closing the door. Murtala Mohammed when he was head of state successfully got rid of corrupt coalitions such as the Ogboni and others groups deemed corrupt but not the institutions of operation. If we examine any corruption scandal in say 2010 it is no different from the institutional processes by which corruption was perpetuated at Independence. Or even before. No one is closing the door on the institutions of corruption; no one is closing the door on informal institutions.

In Urhoboland in Nigeria, there was a king removed from power because of his wanton corruption. “Eb E bieche gbe” means the “door was closed on him”. The implication was that the doors on all his corrupt practices were firmly closed. His successor was the forced to take ghoulish oaths [which inspired the fear of death] that he would never open those doors of corruption as his predecessor did during his reign. The oaths in the pre-Christian era kept people in check. It was a successful practice long before the colonisation of Nigeria.

The Pyrates Confraternity is a good example of modern organisation that was able to close the door on some practices. It was the first anti-corruption agency in Nigeria, a task for historians to check that out. The Pyrates Confraternity was actually formed to check the plutocratic tendencies and corrupt practices of students and staff witnessed by its founders at the University College, Ibadan with it was the only university in the country. The Pyrates did not waste time pursuing corruption formally. What they did was use informal methods to counter the informal practices by the corrupt persons they identified.

The Pyrates as groups of young educated men, in confronting corrupt person usually visited them in their offices without warnings or threats but presented an awareness and exposure of their antics because there was very little access to formal justice back then. However, their tactics were perceived as very intimidating by the corrupt officials visited by the Pyrates and put fear in them helping to stem many incidences of corruption. Many successes in anti-corruption were achieved back then even though unsung.

Up until 1985 the Pyrates were successful because corruption up to the time of General Ibrahim Babangida was mainly perpetuated as “stand alone” or individual corruption. From Babangida’s time corruption became more collusive, had numerous sharing participants and the Pyrates lost their ability to fight corruption directly. What the Pyrates Confraternity is doing about handling more complex forms of corruption I do not know. But it is stands as a case-study of how important it is for people to organise and speak out against corruption; it is effective, it has power and should be started or continued wherever possible.

In terms of closing the door as a solution to corruption, I recommend four approaches which I will be publishing.

Firstly, there should be a low tolerance for informal approaches and relationship in the arena of governance. It is through informality or informal practices that most corruption happens.

Secondly, there is the introduction of conscientious elite socialisation. Elite socialisation is a key component of bureaucratic morality and is all about institutional leaders socialising officials to the importance of professionalism, fair play, integrity, patriotism and social responsibility. Nigerian officials of middle and upper ranks tend to be socialised into solely self-enrichment, buying houses overseas, owning fleets of cars and sending their kids to elite schools abroad.

Thirdly, there should be the introduction and sustaining of irreversible moral concentration in governance. When you have a morally upright head of government agency his conduct enforces moral concentration on his subordinates. However, if politicians want access to funds in that department they sack, transfer or assassinate the morally upright official and replace him with a morally perverse one leading to moral dilution and the theft of the funds. We have even observed that when Nigeria needs loans or investment it would appoint internationally reputed person like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala or Oby Ezekwisili to give impression of moral concentration in government. However, when the loans are secured they still get mismanaged anyway.

Lastly, the Nigerian government should focus on out-come specific institutions and hard work. There is a lot of empty rhetoric on how corruption should be dealt with and it remains empty talk; free media, transparency, rule of law is eaier said than done if even possible. Outcome specific institutions should transparently be designed to initiate and produce specified outcomes which an openly be measured and evaluated. Action-orientation and not rhetoric orientation is what the Nigerian society needs to be habituated to. The implication of action-orientation necessarily means a focus on markets, industries, innovation, synergies and training, anti-corruption without energetic and wise development of these endeavours leads nowhere. Let us not forget economic success and efficiency free societies of corruption.

If these four recommendation [in addition to others] are properly introduced, enforced and sustained in the governance of Nigeria, I sincerely believe from my research and that of many leading experts in the world we may be able to stem the problem of corruption in Nigeria. However, the leadership at the top must ready to embrace recommendations and there must be an incentive for them to do so.

Where such incentives will come from I do not know yet but those of us who are concerned enough to give our energies and thoughts to fighting corruption at much risk to ourselves may one day come up with the answer.

Thank you very much

A video of this speech is available via the link below:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: