Our car gallops through the bumpy road as night fast approaches. The glimmer of the sun is fading fast, and the stars are starting to illuminate our way. Our eyes are weighed down with tiredness. We have had a very long day, and we cannot wait to get home. As our car travels along, the policemen signal us to a stop. We all look at each other because we know what to expect. Do we just ignore their signals and speed along or do we stop? Like most Nigerians, we stop, in order to avoid any unnecessary trouble. But we do not stop for very long. The thing is, we don’t need to show them our license or our car papers, because that is simply a waste of our time. Ultimately, we know what they want. I watch as the driver of the car slips the policeman a 500 Naira note. They nod in approval, and our journey continues, as abruptly as it was interrupted.
Corruption is a disease that has infiltrated the fabric of my country, Nigeria. It has become a way of life. Corruption exists, not simply at the human level, but at an institutional level as well. Our political climate and sociocultural narrative is fundamentally shaped by corruption. Corruption manifests itself in different ways, both on a micro and a macro level. Policemen collecting bribes is just one of these said manifestations of corruption in Nigeria. Bad roads, intermittent to nonexistent power supply, ill-maintained infrastructures, black markets with stolen resources such as oil, embezzlement of funds by public officials, electoral crimes such as ballot stuffing, politically sponsored ethnic violence, politically motivated erosion of the human rights and dignity of persons, are amongst these aforementioned manifestations of corruption
Boko Haram is an insurgent group in Nigeria that gained international recognition when they kidnapped over 300 Nigerian schoolgirls, of which number an estimated 100 girls managed to escape, and about 200 girls still in captivity. The international spotlight on the group, which many have referred to as a terrorist group, has led to intense criticism of the sect. Before Boko Haram emerged, there was a very popular following of people called Yan Tatsine that was led by Maitatsine. The group then, like Boko Haram now, capitalized on the alienation and fear of the Nigerian people. They observed the political and social corruption that exists in Nigeria, the ineffectiveness of the Nigerian government, and they used those sentiments to their advantage. Maitatsine and the founder of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf, denounced political corruption by the Nigerian government. They appealed to people’s anger, especially that of youths, and people drenched in poverty, to form a base for their group. Religion is the ideology that fuels their insurgency movement, but illiteracy, and their frustrations regarding political corruption in Nigeria are the root issues that unite their base.
This context does not seek to, in any way, justify the actions of the insurgent group. It does however show that, like most Nigerians, the group is engendered by a frustration with political corruption and the inevitable social alienation that comes with it. So, we can argue all day about how horridly horrific Boko Haram is, and few people would disagree with that assertion. But, the Nigerian government, in my opinion, remains a worse ill and a far greater threat to the Nigerian people, than any insurgency group.
It is, after all, the marginalizing social and cultural policies of our imprudent legislative branch that create an environment hostile enough to encourage radicalization. Policies that encourage illiteracy, that do not address poverty, and that completely ignore, if not create and propagate, the social ills of this country. It should also be noted that it is the incompetency of our current president, Goodluck Jonathan, and his lack of understanding of the political, social, historical and ethnic climate that has defined the Nigerian society, that has led to an intensification of the actions of Boko Haram. The institutionalization of corruption that is present in Nigeria, terrorizes the Nigerian people and further creates a climate that leads to the birth of radical, insurgent groups, such as Boko Haram, that go on to terrorize the Nigerian people.
The current legislative and executive government are an epitome of the corruption in Nigeria. Even those that are not actively engaged in corrupt actions passively support these actions by not intervening to preemptively or retroactively curb political corruption. But, this is not simply an individual problem. Rather, corruption in itself, as stated earlier, is an institutional problem. So, while it would help to have intelligible and honourable persons as members of our ‘representative’ government, it would be, foolishly simplistic, to think that this is enough.
Like any institutional problem, corruption ought to be addressed by first trying to deconstruct the system, and then trying to understand its political and social context and the history that belies the institution. Once we understand the ill that we are dealing with, then we can try to fix the problem. We can start having much needed discussions and arguments about how to tackle the problem. And, like most things, education provides the best avenue to deconstruct, discuss, and then dissect these aforesaid institutional problems.
By creating access to critical platforms of discussion, through means such as education, we give Nigerians the tools that would enable them escape the brutal and oppressive reality that one inevitably faces when their government incessantly terrorizes the people. But, we must not submit to this brutality any longer. We must no longer be forced to accept corruption as a way of life, one in which we must adapt to, in order to survive. Dismissing the status quo would be a difficult task, but social and political revolutions are never easy. Our revolution needn’t, also, be violent or radical. We can simply start with, one debate, one discussion, and one argument — as done in this article — at a time. And so, our revolution begins!
Udoka Okafor is on Twitter: @gabbiefleur