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Pat Utomi: Numbed By Overload Of The Unsavoury



After 40 years of active engagement in the Public Sphere in Nigeria I have seen and heard enough to understand why someone can say Nigeria is unshockable. But the reports of EFCC findings of cash sacks in pits and Security cash for elections ATM which should ordinarily reaffirm my point of a collapse of culture have managed to leave me numb. But I fear more that the bottom has not been scratched and that we could get used to this despicable state as the new normal. Can anyone stay sane living with insanity or can insanity as the new norm make the asylum desirable

Quo Vadis. Where do we go from here? Surely the revelations, from BVN outing people who receive salaries 20 times a month makes it clear that the challenge is systemic as was indicated many years ago when Kempe Ronald Hope Snr and Bornwell Chikulo edited the book; Corruption and Development in Africa. They had pointed out in the introduction the range of the culture of corruption in Africa, from rare, in Botswana, to widespread, in Ghana, and systemic, in Nigeria. So knowledge of how deeply rooted corruption has been in Nigeria and how debilitating of prospects for progress in the country those practices are, have been around for a long time. They have become so a part of many people’s ways it is hard for them to see shame as a consequence. Indeed one of the tragedies of the Nigerian condition is both the death and the dearth of a sense of shame.

So where do we go from the current wave of hot news on who is implicated here or there if they do not feel any shame and can readily use excuses of how the campaign is being prosecuted to even attract public sympathy and accusation of those prosecuting the campaign as vindictive and venom-filled vendetta seekers blinded by desire for vengeance on old enemies? The naked truth is that there is a battle for the credibility of a war that is badly needed to uproot a cancer in metastasis which is eating away at the soul of Nigeria. What must we do to the structure of the campaign to ensure that it stays credible and that we restore to Nigeria a sense of shame.

There are many who repeat the cliché that when you fight corruption, it fights back. Some of that will surely be going on but the fight back is better overcome in a sustainable way as a result of how the war against corruption is prosecuted. The emphasis on catching yesterday’s offender who are finding ways of fighting back meant that many are still continuing in old ways with just a little less impunity. The stories I have heard of managers and Executives of Parastatals quarreling about who is cornering sources of craft and the efforts to fence off ministers from paths of ‘action’ have truly made me wonder what will truly put fear in people so they can do right with public trust.

It seems to me that putting in place systems that will ensure a reduction in discretionary courses of action relative to public resources is critical. The TSA is an example of such but it needs to be managed such that it does not reduce the effectiveness of the system. The bottom-line here is that in this age of technology enabled action there are enough applications and Enterprise systems that make it easy to remotely monitor transactions. This is made even more effective when a strong place is given to open and transparent processes and citizen stakeholder monitoring of the policy choice and implementation processes. It is indeed painful that with advances in management systems in which the Knowing-Doing Gap and an execution premium can easily be derived from a number of proprietary templates we are still grasping for sustainable proactive systems.  Many of these templates which have been deployed in the Private sector have been used by government agencies in many parts of the world. These profoma methodologies made famous by such academics as Kaplan and Norton are useful tools but the ultimate tool has to be a Values Revolution and campaign examples of which we have seen in the past. They may sometimes not have been as effective but Values campaigns like War Against indiscipline, WAI, Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) are required to raise sensitivity to challenges in culture. To make them of lasting value they have to empower the institutions of socialization to raise the level of the sense of shame for failing to play at the level of the norms of conduct the campaign promotes. I have often referred to the key to South Korea’s Development ascendancy as significantly related to how the culture entrenched shame for not doing right in the people.

I find as useful example the incident from about a year ago when school pupils on excursion lost their lives when the ferry they were travelling in sank. The sequence of response would prove to be lessons in consequence management and how culture sets the tone of performance. The shame of the responsibility for deciding in favour of the trip led the Vice Principal of the school to commit suicide. Not that I will ever recommend suicide as the path of response to shame but it was instructive. This was followed by the resignation of the Transport Minister. The President had to make a humiliating apology on Television as part of the parade of shame. But in Nigeria, in a case where direct culpability could be established for dozens of graduates losing their lives in stampedes at several stadia across the country. No one resigned. None sincerely expressed remorse. And there were no consequences.

A moral rearmament campaign which is an imperative of these times has to make matter of shame firm. Here the media has a very important role to play. If the media has influence, one of the ways that influence is manifested is in what researchers call; the status conferral function of the media. Those featured in the media get a halo effect and the status this confers leads to who people look up to and how the people act. Media needs to blank out people whose source of wealth is not clear and celebrate people with a work ethic.


Pat Utomi, Political Economist and professor of Entrepreneurship is founder of the CVL



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