Dear Nigerians: “Corruption” Is Not The Problem And It Never Has Been!
I wrote this 6,000 word piece for a large national daily last week but I was told it was too “controversial” so I should either water it down or it would not get published. I did that annoying thing writers do and insisted on the sanctity of my editorial license. So it didn’t run. Anyway here it is, open and free for the benefit of the world. Hope this makes a tiny bit of difference to the life of someone somewhere.
Once upon a time in a remote African island State, there once lived a close-knit fishing community. Blessed with an over-abundance of the world’s most sought-after seafood, the community prospered and grew in size, wealth and influence. One day when all adults were out on the sea fishing as usual, a tsunami wave unexpectedly came in and submerged most of the island. The adults managed to survive, but the children, who were at school on the island all perished. Every adult who had a child at school lost their child that day.
Overwhelmed with grief, the adults began to break down one by one. Some moved away from the island permanently. Others became mentally unbalanced. The vast majority of them started drinking alcohol to deal with their pain. Very many of them left the fishing profession The seafood output of the island dropped dramatically as the formerly productive fishermen became unwilling to do anything more than sit around and drink copious amounts of alcohol. The alcohol incidentally, was imported.
Alarmed at the rapidly deteriorating balance of trade and worsening economic situation of the island, its government decided that something had to be done to raise productivity to its previous level. The decision was made to force the people to go back to work by preventing them from drinking any alcohol. Importation of all alcohol was banned and a law was passed mandating all men to be out on their fishing boats all day. People found smuggling alcohol into the island or staying indoors during the day were given harsh prison sentences or even executed.
Yet the problem got worse. The people went out to their boats alright, but they were still getting drunk instead of working. The government took out a huge loan and used it to equip the island’s police and military with state of the art equipment to monitor and punish offenders. However, rather than decrease the scourge of drunkenness, this only further exacerbated the problem. The security forces also started to get drunk, then they began colluding with the islanders to circumvent the rules and escape punishment. Everyone on the island, from the poorest fisherman to the king himself, could not stop drinking alcohol.
The news got out and international agencies and news organisations came to find out more about the tropical island of drunkards. Soon everyone forgot the actual name of the island and began calling it Drunkard Island. CNN, BBC, Canal+, RFI, CNBC, Fox and Sky News all made feature stories out of Drunkard Island. Previously recognized as the world’s leading supplier of seafood, this island was now known only as the place where people did nothing but get hammered every day. Some enterprising foreigners created package tours giving tourists the opportunity to experience the alcohol-filled lifestyle of a Drunkard Island native. The island became the laughing stock of the rest of the world.
In the midst of all this, the people fiercely resented the tag of shame that had enveloped their home. They remembered a time when life was simple and happy. They longed for the good times to come back and they hated themselves for being addicted to alcohol, but they just could not seem to get rid of the habit.
They all agreed that they needed a change. When asked what change they wanted, they unanimously agreed that it was the alcohol – no more alcohol! They castigated and flagellated themselves for having become unproductive drunkards for the entertainment and exploitation of the whole world, but none of them could say exactly why they had become dependent on alcohol in the first place.
To them, it was as if one day, life was good and everything was alright with the world, and then the next day, they just decided to abandon their productive lives and just drink alcohol all day. They could not remember anything about the tsunami or their lives prior to it. The link between the terrible event and the social breakdown that followed was completely unknown to them.
Remarkably, their government, which had access to all this information did not think that in order to solve the alcohol problem, it needed to first place the islanders under therapy to let go of their trauma and hence detach themselves from the need to dull their pain with alcohol. The government thought that this was hard work. It was far easier to make a lot of noise about “alcohol” and throw people in jail for 500 years than to examine and attack the real root of the problem. Playing on the guilt complex of the people by harping on the symptom was easier. Everyone was aware of “alcohol”, but no one understood that it was not the primary problem.
And thus, Drunkard Island became the first country in Africa to replace a problem with its symptom in the minds of the people.
By now, you have figured out that Drunkard Island is Nigeria and the convenient scapegoat “alcohol” is that horrible cliché that we see around us in shouty newspaper headlines and annoying Twitter hashtags everyday – “Corruption”.
Nigeria today, is a country that has an out-of-control “corruption complex”. Everything about this country that does not work the way we want it to, is instantly blamed on this thing called “corruption”. Bad roads? Corruption. No power? Must be corruption. Flat-lining economy? Corruption did it! Lack of infrastructure? They shared the money! Law enforcement and legal system not doing their job? Of course! Out of a job? It is corruption sah.
Dear countrymen and women, read the next few lines very carefully because this is what you do not know that has kept us running around in circles and repeating the same self-limiting behaviour for decades:
“Corruption” is NOT the basic problem facing Nigeria.
“Fighting corruption” is NOT the solution to Nigeria’s challenges.
“Corruption” is in fact a symptom of Nigeria’s real problems, and not the problem itself.
I can hear the years and decades of indoctrination fighting back inside your head but please hear me out. Nigeria’s basic problems have nothing to do with “corruption” as the popular concept you are familiar with. Please put aside your personal convictions, education and religion and instead make use of research, data and analysis. You will find invariably that Nigeria has three major structural problems that need lasting resolution. They are:
1. A national lack of respect for/aversion to history. This leads directly to,
2. Lack of ideas and vision in leadership, which is then compounded heavily by,
3. A large, undocumented population addicted to religion and fake ethnic identity.
Let’s start from history. How much do you know about Nigerian history? How much do you know about African history? Who were your “people” before colonization? What were they called? How did they live? How did your “people” come to be part of this country? Do you know who Ahmadu Bello was? Not who he is said to be, but who he actually was, in his own words? Like this for example:
Who was Patrice Lumumba? Why was he killed and how did he die? Who was Frederick Lugard? What were the pre-colonial names of places in Nigeria? Are you aware that the city known as “Iguocha” was renamed “Port-Harcourt” after a notorious paedophile named Lewis Vernon Harcourt, who was a colonial administrator? What was “Nigeria” called before Frederick Lugard’s girlfriend coined the term “Nigeria”? (The geographical area now known as “Nigeria” was commonly known as “Lower Sudan” or “Nigritia”, in case you are wondering). Are you aware that Robert Mugabe is a Knight of the British Empire? Do you know who Chris Hani and Robert Sobukwe were? How about Imhotep of Egypt? Have you heard of Great Zimbabwe?
Now the point of all that was to illustrate that we are trained from birth to be ignorant of history and contextually amnesiac. We are trained to think that there was this large expanse of land sitting there, and then one day God created this special creatures called “Nigerians” and dumped them on it after painting them green and white. Because we think we have no historical context, our problems today are inevitably handled in the same cack-handed, fundamentally incompetent manner of Drunkard Island.
We have refused to understand that the country of Nigeria was designed with structural imbalances and defects, and that these imbalances were deliberately created to limit the country and provide a breeding ground for “corruption” and eternal war. The most obvious proof of this lack of understanding is the common idea that Nigeria has “3 major ethnic groups” – where did this idea come from? Is it true? Historically, was there ever a time when “Igbo”, “Yoruba” and “Hausa” were fully defined, culturally homogenous ethnic entities prior to colonial invasion?
In fact, these three identities over which millions of Nigerians have died are colonial fabrications. There was never a “Yoruba” people before British colonial administrators in Lagos decided that the easiest way to divide and conquer upper and lower Nigritia was to merge several broadly similar cultures into one monolithic entity and then set it against other groups of people they chose to be its “enemies”. Even the word “Yoruba” is not native to the culture! (Those who were sold into slavery from that part of the country have millions of descendants across South and Central America today, and they unanimously use the word “Lukumi” to describe their identity. The term “Yoruba” is completely foreign to them.)
“Yoruba” is actually a Hausa word used to describe the vastly diverse people of South-Western Nigeria. That word was borrowed and converted by the British into a brand identity for several different groups of people to merge into one entity. No matter that the language spoken in my native Badagry is a completely different language to that spoken in Ekiti, which itself is a completely different language to that spoken in Ibadan – we are all to identify ourselves as “Yoruba” and do the things that “Yoruba” people supposedly do, be it possessing a love of grandiosity over substance, or being permanently insecure about “Igbo” people or having a completely unwarranted ethnic superiority complex over everyone else.
Likewise “Igbo” is also a manufactured colonial identity. Prior to invasion, the people from the South-Eastern section of Nigritia varied widely and spoke several languages and dialects. Their cultures were fiercely federal and they valued independence and co-existence over singularity and conformity. There was never an “Igbo” people before colonial religion and colonial occupation. What was present was a large number of Igbo language-speaking people spread out across the area from Iguocha through Asaba up to Owerri and Enugu.
The cultures and dialects varied greatly, but they shared some broad similarities, much like the case in the Southwest. They never needed to identify as a single bloc entity, and in fact this would have been in direct conflict with the nature of their civilisation, which encouraged individual freedom and co-existence, as against consensus and conformity. Knowing that the most important part of the process of colonization is the dilution and eventual loss of identity, the British then criminalized their native languages and spirituality.
As the people began to realise that they were losing their culture and English culture was being imposed on them, they needed to push back as one entity to have any chance of surviving as a group and thus the “Igbo” identity was born. This introduction of dog-whistle identity politics by the British is what necessitated the emergence of one singular umbrella called “Igbo” to protect the interests of the people of that area, lest they be completely erased and forgotten.
In fact to this very day, some parts of the so-called “Igbo land” remain very suspicious and fearful of other parts, accusing them of trying to dominate and erase them. And they are completely correct. That is exactly what the colonial “Igbo” identity was designed to do. Like the “Yoruba” identity, it was designed to erase all its constituent cultures and take up a role of fighting its perceived external “enemies” who happen to be other fake ethnic groups in the same country.
When you create three massive false identities to assimilate more than 100 million people in a country with arbitrary borders, you also ensure that they will forever be at each other’s throats and their country will never make enough sustained progress to become a threat to you.
The case of the Hausa people is probably the most egregious colonial crime committed in Nigeria, not only because Africa lost a lot of its cultural heritage when the sovereign Hausa States were destroyed, but because they were the only people unfortunate enough to be colonized twice – first by Fulani invaders and then by the British. Prior to invasion, the seven Hausa States were economically vibrant, socially equitable and powerful entities that actually led the world in some areas. Back then, long before European women obtained the right to vote, Hausa women like Queen Amina of Zaria were at the very top of their societies, dictating trade and foreign policy.
After Uthman Dan Fodio’s violent Jihad, these cultures were all but extinguished and replaced by foreign Islamic ideology. With this foreign ideology came a catastrophic drop in trade, living standards and social indices. Today, those erstwhile world-leading places are now home to some of the very worst human development indices in all of Africa. The North of Nigeria is now one of the few places on earth where Polio still existed as recently as 2014. It is home to several million uneducated street children with no realistic hope of a better life known as the Al-Majirin. Did this concept of Al-Majirin exist prior to Arab colonial invasion?
Meeting this disaster on ground, the British then deliberately compounded the problem by importing thousands of “Igbo” people to the North to serve as colonial administrators and subalterns, instead of permitting the people of that area to gain education and economic opportunities. They were happy to use the wicked colonial structures of Uthman Dan Fodio to further their own goals of resource expropriation at the expense of the Hausa people, and in so doing they sowed the seeds of extreme distrust and hatred between the Hausa people and the “Igbo” people who would someday be contemporaries within one country.
It was never going to end well was it?
A proper historical grounding will open Nigeria’s consciousness to the basic fact that colonial invasion was the single worst thing to ever happen to Nigeria and to Africa. A historical knowledge of who we were prior to being invaded will open our eyes to the fact that we were economically vibrant, spiritually aware and technologically advanced people before our societies were conquered and destroyed in a war that was waged on us by outsiders who simply wanted to steal everything we had in our land – including people.
It will also alert us to the fact that before our dog-whistle ethnic identities were given to us, we all lived together, married each other, traded with each other, spoke each other’s languages and travelled freely – the idea that we “hate” each other is in fact a colonial conquest strategy implanted into our minds to make us permanently distrustful of each other and unable to work together for a common purpose.
The idea that a man from Aba marrying a woman from Abeokuta is somehow a “big deal” is a fake idea given to us by thieves who wanted us to fight each other while robbing us blind. In reality we have been living and doing business with each other several centuries before Europeans figured out how to construct a ship. Cultural artifacts from Ile-Ife and Benin have been discovered as far afield as California and China, indicating that we had a robust system of trade across our various languages and ethnic groups long before a white man set foot here.
Proper knowledge and understanding of our pre-colonial history will make us understand that the use of the word “tribe” to describe millions of people who live together and speak mutually intelligible languages is oxymoronic. The word “tribe” denotes something of a primitive, tiny, undeveloped, unrefined and insignificant nature. Are more than 40 million “Yoruba” people a “tribe”? Are more than 35 million “Igbo” people a “tribe”? Are more than 5 million Efik/Ibibio/Anang people a “tribe”? Are more than 45 million “Hausa” people a “tribe”? The total population of Belgium is substantially less than that of Lagos. Are Belgians then a “tribe”?
Proper historic grounding also has economic lessons for us. Knowledge of our history gives us an insight into how we were conquered and enslaved in the first place. Almost without variation across the whole of Africa, it was impossible for foreign elements to invade and conquer unilaterally. They always needed our help in our own destruction – and we freely gave it to them. We gave it to them by getting addicted to the “gifts” that they brought with them and giving away our assets in return for these consumable “gift” items – gin, umbrellas and mirrors amongst others.
Rather than obtain the technology to manufacture those items for ourselves, we were content to merely buy these items using humans, gold, cultural artifacts and mining and property agreements that they did not fully understand. We even bought guns from the Europeans but did not obtain the technology to manufacture gunpowder – we still bought the gunpowder from European traders. The result of this was that once the Europeans had sufficiently embedded themselves in the local landscape using religious missionaries and “friendly” traders, they were able to attack us freely using their superior weaponry and we could not effectively defend ourselves because we did not have the production capacity to do so.
We thought we were “prosperous” because we were able to buy a lot of stuff, but what we were not buying or obtaining was the technology to make the stuff we were importing. Once they figured out how to get to our resources without needing us as middlemen, they got rid of us, and the huge trans-Atlantic theft that followed was the biggest transfer of wealth in recorded human history, transforming Europe from a cold, outlying, destitute wasteland to the centre of the world.
It also transformed Africa into the world’s poorest continent commanding just 3% of global trade.
Does this story of buying shiny imported items without gaining production capacity sound familiar today? It should, because that is exactly what we have been doing since we gained flag independence. We have been exporting raw, unrefined petroleum and importing champagne, whisky, bulletproof SUVs, flat screen TVs, “high fashion” clothing and everything in between. Just like before, the day will come when the world either does not need our resources again, or is able to get them without paying. If you need an example of how that works, take a look at Iraq since the 2003 invasion.
A people without knowledge of their own history are a group of leaves that do not know they are part of a tree. A people who know their history and the history of others will have most of the information required to succeed. If we study the history of other colonized areas that have achieved development – Singapore for example – we will realise that the most important part of the process of deconstructing the artificial poverty created by colonialism is the mental part.
Lee Kuan Yew, the Singaporean Prime Minister credited with transforming the island state from a literal Drunkard Island to one of the world’s most developed countries, stated many times that the easy part was awarding contracts to build shiny new building and roads and infrastructure. Attracting foreign investment too, was not the most difficult part. The most difficult part he says was developing the minds of the people of Singapore. They had to invest in education and they had to convince people to buy into the vision. They had to buy into the concept of being Singaporean as against being colonized British subjects of the Island of Singapore. He himself dropped his birth name “Harry” in favour of the Chinese name we all know him by. And this brings us to the second huge problem facing Nigeria.
The next big problem facing Nigeria is the fact that from independence to date, Nigeria has had leadership that lacks ideas, creativity, a strategic focus and a credible vision. Nigeria is a country that has no vision.
Vision isn’t about the big stuff. It’s not about spending $61bn of your oil revenues to fund African liberation movements while your country cannot manufacture a single jet fighter to defend itself or the Africans you are supposedly helping. It’s not about awarding a contract to TPL to construct the world’s biggest steel mill in Ajaokuta only to abandon the project at 95% completion because hostile foreign powers threatened you or offered you a financial inducement to do so.
Vision is having the ideas – big and small – and following through religiously, making sure to deliver on the promise of those ideas. Nigerian leadership is trained to be verbose, bombastic, loose-lipped and grandiose, while having absolutely nothing to back the braggadocio with. So don’t be surprised to find out that Nigeria has a comprehensive nuclear policy (and an atomic energy agency that adds to the federal civil service recurrent wage bill every year), while in reality Nigeria is as close to harnessing nuclear power as Finland is to a tropical rainstorm.
Do not be shocked to find out that Nigeria has had several comprehensive national industrialization master plans since the 1970s, which every successive administration has been intimidated or induced to jettison. Don’t let your jaw hit the floor when you find out that Nigeria has an outer space research agency while the country has no intention of doing anything more ambitious than launching a few communications satellites (from launching bases in China).
Do not also be surprised that at a time when Boko Haram and their merry band of allied hell raisers have brought security to the forefront of national consciousness, the Nigerian Police still does not have any form of centralized electronic database where all suspects who have been arrested can have their details and thumbprints taken for future reference. Be unsurprised to learn that a Boko Haram suspect that is arrested by the police can walk out of police detention on bail and there will be no record anywhere to say that he or she was ever arrested. Nigeria has no criminal record database.
Is all this because of “corruption”? To the typical Nigerian, it must be. After all, these things have been budgeted for and the money has not been used for what it was intended – hence “corruption”, but in actual fact, the core of the issue is that the government (be it federal, local or state) simply does not understand why any of these things are necessary. When it is time to write budget proposals, our civil service Ogas hire consultants to write the budgets for them. They cannot explain half of what is inside their own budgets because the entire point of writing the budget was never to do the job that the government should do. It is merely to get hold of money to pay salaries and then embezzle the remainder.
The problem here is not “corruption”. “Corruption” is merely the manifestation of the problem. The problem is a deep-seated lack of knowledge about what a country is, what a government has to do, and the eventual consequences on a personal and wider level if the government fails to do what it should.
In a country as resource-stacked as Nigeria, constructing a 25 kilometer asphalt road should not be a problem, budgetary constraints or not. All it takes is a little creative thinking. There is no reason why Nigeria has to wait for China or India to pay for crude oil in US Dollars before being able to mobilise the natural resources under our feet to construct motorable roads or basic healthcare facilities or village schools. Who has the wealth? The person with dollar bills or the person with the resources those dollar bills are to buy?
It only takes a bit of creative thought.
If the concern is that roads are being built shoddily so that they wear out and inflated contracts can be issued for their repair, why not mandate that all roads must be constructed with a type of material that does not disintegrate when faced with pressure and rainfall? A professor at UNILAG has had this very invention sitting in his study for years now. No one has approached him to scale production of his rainproof tar. Why? Is that corruption? No, it is a lack of sincerity on the part of those who know, and a lack of awareness, focus and creative thinking on the part of those at the top.
The many clueless, sticky-fingered Ogas heading government operations in Nigeria are not the problem. The system that enables them to get in and rise to the top while willfully turning a blind eye to them is the problem!
In a system that is designed to lack vision and focus, the people who will dominate the landscape are the most visionless, ignorant and dishonest characters available. It is no coincidence that the very best of Nigeria’s manpower except a few notable exceptions, are not in Nigeria. The system does not encourage merit, hard work, integrity, honesty, clean competition, diligence and excellence. The system was designed to reward crass ethnic politicking and horse trading.
Nigeria’s so-called “founding fathers” themselves made sure that a truly horrific system of ethnic and religious patronage was entrenched. Take this famous quote from a “founding father” for example:
“The new nation called Nigeria should be an estate of our great grandfather Othman Dan Fodio. We must ruthlessly prevent a change of power. We use the minorities in the north as willing tools and the South as a conquered territory and never allow them to rule over us and never allow them to have control over their future.” – Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto, Parrot Newspaper October 12, 1960.
This person is hailed and celebrated every year as a “hero” of Nigeria. If this is a hero in Nigeria with several people in prominent positions publicly declaring themselves as adherents of his, what can be the only result of whatever public portfolios they handle? Corruption, that’s what. Be it in form of financial embezzlement, or nepotism or deliberately frustrating government projects and policies because they stand to benefit a certain group of “undesirable” people. The corruption is the result of the absence of a valid ideology, vision or strategy. It is the symptom and not the problem.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is precisely where Nigeria is at right now.
Our leadership from President to local government councilor has no real intellectual investment in the success of Project Nigeria. They have no solid and realistic idea of what to do with the corporate organisation of Nigeria in order to achieve better results than we have seen for the past six decades. In the absence of the needed intellectual heavy lifting capacity, what we have is a whole lot of fluff, bluster and assorted nothings.
What is creative thinking in this context? Let’s say you are to solve the problem of the widespread corruption that the system-wide lack of ideas and focus has caused. The silliest thing you can do is to “attack” the manifestations of corruption head-on. You will only end up with a very long, expensive and ultimately fruitless game of whack-a-mole as the system readjusts itself and rapidly learns how to dribble and outsmart you. That’s what it was designed to do!
A certain reformed military dictator is finding this out presently.
The creative solution is to come up with something bigger and better for those in the system to aspire to. If you want Nigerians to stop seeing government as an avenue of accessing “oil money” to enrich themselves illegally for example, then you have to provide or amplify alternative routes for them to achieve success and self-actualisation. You need to get the message across that there are many other ways of achieving financial success aside from government.
Perhaps you need to cut the government out of the entire fund-collection and disbursement process and use a private contractor to do this so that financially, government positions are no longer attractive. Maybe you need to simply privatize everything you can get your hands on so that the public sector can stop being a corrupt and inefficient drag on the economy.
Just try something. The country needs ideas and strategies to achieve them.
If however, there is an absence of the young people who have the ideas and energy that the country needs to create a new reality for itself, you will only end up with a collection of shouty “Corruption Porn” newspaper headlines telling the world that Sambo Dasuki stole Nassarawa State and an Unnamed Ex-Governor is under investigation for diverting $800 trillion or whatever silly figure comes to your spokesperson’s mind when he is writing the day’s press release.
If that sounds familiar, well what can I say? A glaring lack of intellectual capacity is a very difficult thing to hide.
The third and final huge problem afflicting Nigeria is our overt and extreme religiosity.
This is closely tied to our lack of historical knowledge. A knowledge of African history informs us that colonial religions were brought in as part of a wider and very successful colonial strategy of subjugation. The missionaries came first, followed by the traders, then the soldiers. From Day 1, we were designated as the Enemy by invaders – whether we realized it or not. The insertion of the “virus” of Christianity and Islam into our independent populations was simply to soften up the populations and make them more pliable for colonial interests.
Both religions incidentally place an inordinate amount of emphasis on subjection, humility and meekness. This was in stark contrast to our native spirituality, which encouraged introspection, meditation, expression, personal growth and independence. In whose interest was it for our native beliefs and spirituality to be exterminated and replaced with ideologies of enforced submission from the Middle East? How did most of us end up with the religions we adhere to? What religion does the average woman from Enugu adhere to, and what religion does the average man from Katsina adhere to? Why is that?
The unpalatable truth that most Nigerians do not want to hear about their religion is that the religions we adhere to are first and foremost a reflection of our upbringing, which is why the lady from Enugu will likely be Catholic while the bloke from Katsina will almost certainly be Sunni Muslim. There is really nothing special or mystical about one of the most basic processes of human socialization. The way and extent to which we take our beliefs seriously more often than not, is a reflection of our personal experiences and ideology.
To put it in plain English, you have the religion you have because your parents gave it to you, and you practice it the way you do because you are mirroring your own personality in it. It’s really that simple.
‘God’ has very little to do with the pastor asking you to hand 10% of your monthly earnings to him or the Imam telling you who to vote for in an election. They are both human beings like you with an agenda – every human being has an agenda, even you. The idea that “God loves everyone equally, but those from my religion just a bit more equally”, is the source of a lot of what we perceive as “corruption” in everyday Nigerian life.
There are few safer hiding places for scoundrels than the church or mosque. There are people who have built their entire careers on religious favouritism and demagoguery, having done not a single day’s honest work in their lives. They have risen to the very top of Nigerian politics several times and they are still there. Their constituents do not question them, because to question them apparently would be to question God himself, and how dare anyone do that.
So we have people who studied Christian Theology or Islamic Studies being smuggled into key positions ahead of distinctly more qualified people by dint of belonging to a religious group with a power base in that organisation. Some very mischievous people then take it a notch further and mix religious fanaticism with the ready tinderbox of our fake ethnic identities, so that certain regions and ethnicities with millions of people become aligned to certain religions. Thus, we start to have a “Muslim North”, “Christian Southeast”, “Christian Niger Delta” and a conflicted Southwest (which incidentally has a clandestine culture war going on as perceived liberal Christian values and conservative Islamic values vie for supremacy).
And we all know how that ends.
One huge brawl basically.
These religions are not ours. They were imposed and forced on our ancestors often at gunpoint. The people who imposed them on us do not practice them the way we do. Certainly the average Algerian Muslim would look at his counterpart from Katsina and wonder why he cannot read and write. He would be shocked to find out that the society in Katsina finds it more important to give children Koranic education than the secular education that gives them a fighting chance at having a meaningful life.
A British Christian would be mortified to learn that certain types of physical and sexual abuse, which are not sanctioned or implied anywhere in the Bible are now commonplace in Nigerian churches, which seem to have evolved their own peculiar brand of the Christian faith. To anyone with a holistic understanding of history, it is not that shocking because the circumstances under which the religion was introduced to the population determine how they practice it. If the religion was flogged into you and reinforced with trauma, you will practise it with a demented zeal and violence, and you will flog it into your children as well. They will in turn flog it into their children and…here we are – a nation of overzealous, traumatised fanatics!
So while Islam to a Kuwaiti Arab is merely a religious projection of his own indigenous culture, to a colonized Hausa man, it is a perfect and unattainable target, which he must spend his life trying to prove himself worthy of, and his kids dare not practise it with less zeal than him lest he flog them with the rage the Arabs flogged his ancestors with. Certain types of knowledge are passed down genetically after all. To European Christians, Christianity is little more than their cultural heritage, but to a colonized Yoruba man, it is something that was literally flogged into his ancestors, and he must practice it accordingly. Our experiences of the way the same religions are practiced in Africa and outside are vastly different!
When I was a student in England, I attended church services a few times and they were intimate, quiet, somewhat pleasant sessions where we had long chats about internal spirituality and global events. Prayer was viewed as something personal and private between yourself and God. In Nigeria, the few church services I have attended have been raucous, high profile, power-dressing, supercharged affairs where an inordinate amount of emphasis is placed on giving money and SCREAMING OWT TOO DEE LAWD ALMIGHTEE! So a Nigerian Christian will claim to practice the same religion as an old lady from Pontefract, but this is not the case in practice at all!
The implication of rejecting ancestral knowledge to chase foreign chimeras is that there will always be a spiritual emptiness in the soul of the “believer” that they will try to fill with primitive accumulation. Nothing they have will ever be enough and they won’t know why. Nature abhors a vacuum. When you cannot have enough of anything and you are constantly looking for more, what will it lead to inevitably?
The other implication is that in the absence of a genuine, non-hypocritical peace which colonial religions cannot give, the only way to live with oneself and justify what one deep down does not believe in, is to become a fanatic and a bigot. Nigeria is utterly flooded with bigots for this singular reason. You don’t need me to tell you why this is dangerous. To put it very bluntly, our insistence on clinging to the definition of the colonial religions that were flogged into us is one of the three biggest causes and helpers of corruption in Nigeria. So you want to “fight corruption”? Start from putting down that Bible and Quaran and taking up a social or economic cause instead. If that is too much for you to do, then you must understand that you are aiding and abetting corruption.
Of course, there are several other structural quirks and defects that create corruption in the Nigerian system, but these three factors – lack of history, lack of ideas and too much religion – are three biggest contributors to what some people refer to as the “scourge of corruption”. It really is nothing too complicated or mystical the way it is often made to sound.
You do not need “anti corruption messiahs”. You do not need saintly dictators who will go around flogging “corrupt” people with horsewhips. You do not need yet another “war on corruption” leadership myth sold to you to add to the ones you bought in 1984, 1993, 2007 and 2015. What you need to do is attack the problem. Not the symptom.
Incidentally, I fully expect that this will make no impact whatsoever.
Nigeria is Drunkard Island.
Written by Dario Hreidarsson.