CORRUPTION IN NIGERIA AS A BETRAYAL OF COMPASSION- THE GREATEST HUMAN INSTINCT
By Olu Omo-AkinjobataOgun.
Science is highly inquisitive and its relentless efforts to continually explore phenomena which were formerly either thought to be intrinsically spiritual or totally unfathomable makes it the platform for explaining our unfolding world in dramatic ways that help to advance humanity. To unravel one simple question of whether or not lower animals like rats exhibit self-consciousness and therefore care for one another especially when in danger, Prof Marc Bekoff, an ecologist at University of Colorado, Boulders, United States designed a simple experiment.
The experiment requires that two sets of animals be put in two different compartments of the same cage but not in a way that blocks them from seeing one another. One set were fed with a food tray which has no connection to the conditions of the other set in the other side of the cage. However, the second set were fed in such a way that each time they picked food items from their tray, the lever would trigger a process that generated electric shocks which minimally electrocuted the others on the second side. Amazingly, the experiment only continued until the set whose feeding generated electric shocks to the others discovered the negative effects of their actions. As soon as they observed that their ‘colleagues’ were being shocked each time they attempted to feed, they stopped taking food completely. Inferring from this, Bekoff concluded that the rats felt pains, are self-conscious and are compassionate.
One may wonder what the relevance of this experiment is to the topic in question. How does this help us to understand that corruption as being perpetrated in Nigeria today is a betrayal of the greatest value of humanity? Is man constrained to serve humanity in negation of Adam Smith’s treatise of individualism and self-interest of man? Smith contends that everything else being equal, human beings acting without constraints are weak moral agents. His submission was that men are very much likely to satisfy their own selfish ends in any of their interactions and engagements with one another. While this may appear as an explanation for the wild and reckless abuse of public trusts as being witnessed in Nigeria today, the argument I try to put forward here provides competing perspectives.
Without doubt, it is clear that the society was on collision course if self-interest and individualism continued without restraints. Therefore, the constitution of the modern state (public institutions) as a mechanism to moderate individualism to achieve collectivism became a necessity. It is on this pedestal that the modern society was configured and embodied in the governmentality of the state structure. The legislature, executive and judiciary as organs of the state function to regulate the individual actions of the citizens in all ramifications which could potentially generate externalities on one another. These actions are exactly what Peter Ekeh portrays as the public domain of individual life in his 1975 work on ‘Two Publics’.
It is pertinent to know that these regulatory state organs are not managed by robots. This is another unavoidable mechanism through which it becomes almost impossible to get truly ‘unbiased’ agents to be entrusted to superintend collective interests. It is this same unavoidable vacuum that provides the flourishing grounds for mismatch of selfish interests of public officials in managing collective interests. It is therefore not difficult to discern why corruption is widely understood as the betrayal of public trust. Corruption flourishes as a manifestation of clash of private and public interests necessitated by aggregation of individualism to achieve collectivism.
There have been various attempts to mitigate this. Laws, codes and rules of public conducts are usually made against which violating public officials are tried and if found guilty are sanctioned. In this regard, Nigeria is known as a country which lacks not abundance of laws but implementation of such laws are a huge problem especially when the so-called ‘big names’ are found on the other side of the law. Another first in which Nigeria is renowned globally is on religious ranking. All the religions in Nigeria preach morality including admonitions that abhor betrayal of public trust. Yet, it remains intriguing and defies simple logic why a religious Nigeria remains callously corrupt.
To worsen Nigeria’s problem, corruption defies a clear-cut all-encompassing universal definition in that it traverses varying social and cultural dimensions across nations. What constitutes or what constitutes not corrupt act remains controversial because of contextual and subjective justifications and interpretations. Also, corruption largely remains an underground enterprise whose victims ignorantly refuse to open up in a bid not to severe the perceived social capital. One clear point needs to be made here. Irrespective of the social or cultural context, people living in different milieu know clearly when their actions would generate ‘economic shocks’ on the others especially the perpetration of structural violence on the poor.
At this juncture, I consider it imperative to provide a few practical examples that would drive home my points. When as a director of government parastatal who oversees recruitment exercise, you insist on taking bribes from the poor applicants refusal of which the applications are automatically destined for the waste bin, you should be aware that you are generating ‘economic shocks’ on them. When our budgetary provisions which are supposed to secure better lives for citizens especially the marginalised poor, are tilted in favour buying bogus items which largely serve the interests of the minority in government, in denial of public education, health provision, transportation, electricity, scientific research etc, one needs no soothsayers to know that structural violence is continually inflicted on the society in the form of unjustified ‘economic shocks’. Clerical staff who manipulate files in offices in expectation of bribes, public officials who over-invoice government purchases, students who cheat in exams, teachers who come late to work etc. All these constitute economic shocks and negative externalities on specific groups of victims. This list is endless.
In a nutshell, any action taken with the sole aim of unjustifiably advancing private gains while undermining public interest generates shocks on other human beings. We may not know with certainty who are at the receiving ends in all circumstances but we nevertheless possess individual self-consciousness and conscience which serve to police the innermost part of our thoughts and sensibilities, telling us the negative ends results of these ignoble acts.
The ultimate challenge before us today is very simple. Perhaps, a foray into the animal world may save us from this social quagmire. If ordinary rats could prevent electric shocks to one another, why not Nigerians? This precarious game if not curbed will inevitably make the generations of Nigerians yet unborn to suffer the same fate as ours – a nation of injustice where both the haves and have nots would continue to suffer the same fate of insecurity.
Olu Omo-AkinjobataOgun, an Anti-Corruption Studies PhD student writes from United Kingdom and can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org