Nigerians are corrupt, they say. I am a Nigerian and I know why I am corrupt.
I am corrupt because I am hungry. Because I need the food, the whole food and nothing but the food. Because I have to “hustle” if I want to see the food. Because without food I am useless, to myself and to society. A hungry man has no principles; morality is a luxury affordable to the well fed. I am corrupt because my hustle for food is filled with obstacles, because I cannot work as a labourer without tipping the foreman, because I cannot work in the civil service without greasing the wheels, because I cannot work in the private sector without “knowing” someone, because I cannot get a contract without contributing to the network. I am corrupt because I am hungry.
I am corrupt because nobody knows tomorrow. I am corrupt because my society has no welfare plan and the pension scheme is unreliable. Yet a portion of my salary has to go to the pension scheme, tax and whatever else the government decides. I have no confidence in the private sector—because the labour laws are unhelpful. Because my employer is able to fire me without compensation. And other people are waiting to take my place. Because my hard built business may collapse any time. And it is a foolish person who forgets to plan for the future. I am corrupt because my daily bread is not secure. I am corrupt because I do not want to beg tomorrow. I am corrupt because I do not want my children to be corrupt.
I am corrupt because tertiary education is a status symbol. I am corrupt because academic achievements are required to attain a comfortable middle class life. And even though I have technical and vocational skills, I cannot get a job without a certificate. The right certificate can make a way where there seems to be no way. I am corrupt because I have to do whatever it takes to get the right certificate. Because I do not want to be condemned to a second class economic life. I am corrupt because academic knowledge is power.
I am corrupt because I need a car. Because I need a power generator and a water pumping machine. Humanity has progressed and the individual must progress with it. And I want to enjoy the comforts that modern science and technology offer. I am corrupt because I would rather drive than walk for kilometres. I am corrupt because our cars are treated with more value than our roads. I am corrupt because we have bad roads. And the bad roads have ruined my car. And I have to pay my mechanic to be able to continue the use of my car. I am corrupt because I need a new car. I am corrupt because God has invented the private jet.
I am corrupt because I am religious. Look, heaven helps those who help themselves. I have been taught this since I was five, that the race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong. Because my religion insists that I will prosper only through divine favour. Because I have been assured that success does not come through hard work. Because I have seen people succeed in life without hard work. Because I must give my testimony too, someday. I am corrupt because I pay my tithes.
I am corrupt because the alternative is dangerous. In the final analysis, the price of honesty outweighs the consequences of corruption. Because there is no safety net for the honest person. Because a N100 note privately donated to the policeman is less cumbersome and less problematic than an honest trip to a Nigerian police station. I am corrupt because corruption is a logical process, because integrity is unreasonable. I am corrupt because corruption is ordinary: a mundane fact of life. I am corrupt because corruption works.
I am corrupt because the government is corrupt. And members of the government amass more power and gather more wealth. Worse, the lawmakers have legalized corruption and they simply allot public funds to themselves through the law. Yet, the economics of the country hasn’t changed: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Because the government has an anti-corruption crusade but it has no welfare agenda. Because those who claim to tackle corruption belong to the corrupt system. I am corrupt because I don’t trust the government.
I am corrupt because the system is corrupt. Because this country is a public limited company whose majority shares are held by looters. Because this is the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Plc where corruption is the price of a sizeable shareholding. Because honest people don’t get to own a stake in the country. Because any Nigerian can become the President but a corrupt person stands a better chance. Because shares in the government are being traded by the insiders. I am corrupt because this is an unregulated stock market. I am corrupt because everyone else is corrupt.
I am corrupt because I want to stop corruption. I am corrupt because I am a social activist. I am corrupt because I cannot change the system from without. I have to join the system if I want to change the system. I have to win an election if I want to join the system. I have to join the party if I want to win an election. I am corrupt because I am anti-corruption.
But you are not a Nigerian; you cannot understand why I am corrupt.
Ayo Sogunro is the author of The Wonderful Life of Senator Boniface and other Sorry Tales. A lawyer by profession, he also indulges in socio-legal philosophy on this blog. Interact with him on Twitter via @ayosogunro.