Nigeria is renowned for corruption,and it’s people for a lack of work ethic.Not a day goes by,without some politician or government official being pilloried in the media for one alleged financial misconduct or another.The perception on the street,is that government officials work only to fill their own pockets.But not only public officials,private ones too.The impression has taken hold that every Nigerian sees his office as a prebend: a place to collect his share of the spoils rather than to work.This attitude to work is expressed in the “this is not my father’s work” syndrome,a malaise which afflicts a society with a work-culture that does not esteem commitment or responsibility.How did Nigeria come to this pass,Especially considering, that Nigerians are very hardworking and religious people? Colonialism.Colonialism heralded the bifurcation of morality into personal and public strands,whereby,in their personal dealings with family and friends,people are held to an absolute standard of morality,a standard that is not expected to be matched in their public roles.
This dichotomy resulted from differences between traditional and western societies,in their perception and definition of work.Traditional Nigerian society subscribed to a value-system which was very different from that of the west,especially with regard to work.Traditional society judged hard work by the amount of physical exertion involved.A man could not become wealthy,unless he was willing to put in years of hard work,farming or fishing.There simply was no short-cut,to acquiring wealth or riches.Absolutely none.The appearance of the white man and his paper money changed all that.Imagine the quantum leap.All of sudden a man could become wealthy,not by sweating it out on the farm,but by “loafing” in some square building,called school,in the mission house for a few years.For spurning farm work, in favour of schooling,these lucky few were rewarded with the white man’s money,which enabled an exotic life style: white man’s house,white man’s car,white man’s authority.
Paper- or fiat-money is money that has value only because of Government authority.Unlike paper-money,commodity-money has value because it is made from a valuable commodity.Gold is an example.In the West,Gold was accepted as money because Gold was a valuable substance.Eventually when Gold evolved into paper-money,because people could relate that money to Gold,it was possible to tie the value of money to the economic process.In Africa,there was no such transition.People woke up one day to behold the colonial-master and his pieces of “paper”,with it’s tremendous purchasing power.Given that access to this “paper” was conditional on the possession of other papers,called certificates,which could only be obtained by “loafing” in the white man’s school,it became clear to a community steeped in superstition,that possession of the white man’s “paper” was the height of magic.White man’s magic,government magic.
Paper-money made it’s appearance,in Africa,in a way that did not suggest a direct relationship with the productive process.It was this seeming alienation from the productive process that people saw,and concluded that the possession of the white man’s “paper”,was part of a magical process: possession of this “paper” had nothing to do with hard-work or merit.If it had nothing to do with hard-work or merit,then it had to be completely divorced from traditional concept of morality.The message,to a farming or fishing community with it’s traditional definition of hard-work, was simply that one did not have to work hard to become rich anymore.In addition,given that the the possession of the white man’s money was divorced from traditional notions of morality,the quest for it could not be subject to same morality.Therefore,it became justifiable to steal,cheat or kill in order to become rich.Thus developed a unique,autonomous “paper” morality,according to which the end justifies the means,which was distinct from,and contrary to,the traditional morality of absolute right and wrong.
The native mind,which denominated value in such tangibles as barns and fishing boats,was turned by the idea of the “print-ability” of value,the “paper-ification”of value;the native mind came to identify work with the generation of “paper”,not honest effort or creation of value. Thus began our obsession with,and deification of ,”paper”,whether as money or certificate.With the pursuit of “paper” based on the autonomous morality of “result only”,the principle of hard-work was duly overthrown.Henceforth,no one would really want to work,whether for money or certificate.This is encapsulated in the “this-is-not-my-father’s-work” syndrome.It is this syndrome that is responsible for our bureaucrats,civil servants and administrators being an army of file-pushers,dedicated to the generation of paper in the shape of office-files and -forms,rather than the creation of value.That paper again!!! It is this love of paper that explains why my village transformer in Atta,Ikeduru,cannot be changed without a paper-trail snaking it’s way all the way to Abuja.We do not work to create value,but to generate mountains of paper.
People love big positions,but are loath to take responsibility.Every body wants to go to school,but not to acquire knowledge.No.Just to grab those certificates,by whatever means necessary.This aversion to real-work,finds it’s fullest expression in the attitude of government workers,especially those in elective offices.Our politicians are the worst culprits with regards to the pretend-work malaise.Reprising the distance between the colonial official and the natives,but not the work-ethic of the white colonial official,our politicians show scant regard for the interest and well-being of the people.The impression given by most of them is that they are in office for the service of self.It is this contempt for the people,that perpetuates the distance between the government and the governed,and cements the impression,in the people’s minds,that our national and state capitals may as well be colonial London,Paris or Lisbon.So far removed are our governments from the legitimate aspirations of the people.And so alienated are the people from government.It is this mutual contempt that drives unaccountability,and with it political corruption.