A new article in The Economist paints a grim picture of a deteriorating country, which highlights the urgent crisis facing newly-elected Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan. With living standards falling perilously for most Nigerians — and especially Northerners — the odds against reform seem very high, despite Jonathan’s prediliction for surrounding himself with such reformers as the principled and brilliant Oronto Douglas. My own “wise man” on Nigerian politics, a supporter of anti-corruption campaigner Ribadu, tells me the following, with his usual pith: “I have written and said worse than the Economist writer. Nigeria is a difficult country. Unless corruption is controlled any attempt at reformation will be an exercise in futility.”
My own view is that corruption is an epi-phenomena; corruption is a function of deeper dysfunctions in Nigeria. So I am not of the school that would confront corruption directly, but rather look at underlying problems that make corruption make sense within a Nigerian context.
China is enormously corrupt at all levels, yet state and society enormously effective (though some critics insist that, if unchecked, corruption threatens Chinese prosperity and stability). The Chinese are committed to getting things done and corruption is subordinated (usually) to the overall goal of effectiveness.
Such Asian-style pragmatism is absent in sub-Saharan political culture, and especially absent in Nigeria’s peculiar circle of public servants. My sense is that the committment of Nigerian public officials to getting things done is very low and that the explanation of why this is so — especially since Nigerians at their best are talented and enterprising, on a world-class level — is elusive. Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa, is en enigma, even to its own people.