Opinion: What bribes and ‘gifts’ have done to the Nigerian soul

‘To be a man is not a day job”; so goes a popular slogan here in Nigeria. Well, I can tell you for sure that being a Nigerian is not a cakewalk either and I can tell you for certain, it is not easy being a Nigerian. After I wrote the two articles “terrorist called Nigeria’ and the “religion called Nigeria”, I started feeling very sorry for myself and my countrymen and perhaps you too will begin to have some compassion on us after reading.

It’s normal, perhaps necessary even, in Nigeria to have senators and politicians pushing and advocating for the spread of “common sense” because in truth, we have no type of sense at all, common or otherwise. We are like malfunctioning robots (functioning on some faulty ‘survival only’ programming) with absolutely no flavor for life. There’s a psychological terms for this and I believe it is “provisional existence” and this is the type of sorry state the nation operates on.

But let’s leave our state of mind and move on to this attempt to fight corruption. Ever tried asking a Nigerian the difference between a bribe, gift and extortion? (Of course corruption is far beyond bribes and financial fraud, but let’s just focus on what is supposed to be a relatively straightforward moral differentiation of the three concepts).

Try asking a Nigerian the difference between a bribe, gift and extortion. I was once asked this in a classroom in the year Y2K when there was no Google to help!

I was asked the same question in a classroom in the Y2K year when there was no Google to help! That was my first realization about how we not only completely accept abnormal circumstances but also go ahead to justify and encourage them.

When I’m in a nice car, police stop me regularly with broad smiles and cries of “Olga, Happy Weekend Sah!” even on a Monday. Or I’d meet a hopping-mad man in uniform, frowning sternly with a gun pointed at me and yelling “PARK, PARK!” Either way, chances are good that I’d soon be parted from some of my naira notes before the evening is done, irrespective of the smile or the gun. The question here is this- did I bribe him or was I compelled to grant him a gift from the goodness of my terrorized heart (and not the gun)? After all, as he didn’t force me, I dare not say he extorted me, right? This warped logic applies even to our attitude to rape, but that deserves it’s own article so I’d wait a bit.

The government’s latest project is to “change” everything including our mindsets and ‘encourage entrepreneurs’; although whether we have the psychological make up for it the gods of entrepreneurship themselves will decide. I recently, tried to register a company at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).

Someone I know tried to register a company at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). Alas, despite his 15 or so years of work experience as a banker, despite numerous courses and certifications, despite contributing in some small way to the financial sector, despite working in 3 different countries, guess what, apparently he’s not qualified to set up a financial advisory company because he has neither ICAN nor an MBA. Let’s ignore the fact that he’s not looking to do any accounting advisory and has never claimed to be one. Let’s also ignore the fact that the same CAC has already registered his business-name to do exactly the same thing.

Well, after numerous rejections, the solution was apparently quite easy; ‘simply part with some Mai-Bornu-Isongs (N1000 notes to the uninitiated) ‘ they said ‘and we’d gladly overlook your ‘. So, my dear friend is forced to give them a GIFT because, according to him, he would have given them anyways if they had only smiled back. Afterall, my friend is good and upright and can never bribe anyone to do their job….or wait, can you actually bribe someone to do his job? Or is he extorting you? But you would have given him the gift happily for helping…..this thing is giving me headache!

Ok, let’s look at those who actually make the laws we live by. The Senate questioned one of our ministers and he, very eloquently, stated that he had NEVER received a bribe in his life. I agree entirely with him. The same way the policemen, CAC officials, tax collectors, hospital staff, Ogas’ PAs, approvers of all sorts, forex allocators, HR staff of companies, contract awarders and others that fit the bill NEVER collected bribes.

Afterall, how can you collect something that doesn’t exist? No, no, no. In Nigeria, we are not so base and primitive as to be enticed by bribes! We are just not built like that. It is our culture to give ‘gifts’ and when people forget that culture, we remind them, subtly or otherwise; in advance or in retrospect – it doesn’t matter, but they must be reminded somehow. Remember that societies are built on culture so do not dare disrespect us by saying we offer and accept bribes.

A lot of us will swear by deities like Songo, Amadioha, the pulpit, even by the pastor’s PJ, and guess what, all those entities will be also confused by the sincerity in our hearts.

Even in church, we are encouraged to give “gifts”, not ordinary gifts, but good and worthy gifts for miracles from God and the bigger your gift, the bigger the expected [financial] breakthrough. Now, if you go the extra mile and personally include your dear pastor/priest/ baba lawo in the gift, then you can rest assured of speedy answer to prayers.

Are we bribing God? Blasphemy!

So then, bringing the same practice back to the realm of practicality: how then can you say I bribed him or anyone for the contract? Besides, did I not do the job? Was I not qualified?

For some inexplicable reason, our students expect to pass courses and graduate with good grades without actually buying the lecturers’ handouts. How we all fail to understand that the handout is the ONLY source of information for what will be set in the examination and yet, students expect to pass without reading it? And we turn around and claim that lecturers are extorting? Lecturers swear by Goddess Apate that the students willingly bring gifts to them to appreciate the hard work they put into building their lives. Gifts of cash, drinks and even bodies and we all know that it is rude to reject gifts – what are the lecturers to do?

The other day, PHCN tried to disconnect my electricity because my neighbor hadn’t paid his bill for 3months. Since we were connected to the same pole, it only made sense for us both to be disconnected, right? Disregard the fact that all my bills are up to date and I don’t even complain that I’m regularly charged for sunlight.

Ignore also the fact that the errant neighbor moved out a year ago and the apartment has been empty since. It is our culture to “come bearing gifts to kings” and for today, this PHCN man on the pole, Spiderman with pliers, is a king. I therefore ‘gift’ him a few notes and we exchange numbers and are immediately fast friends. See, he’s even promised to deal with anyone who tries to disconnect me. Talk about friends in ‘high’ places!

As for extortion, that’s what lowlifes with no home training and human empathy engage in. We Nigerians can never descend to that level. Frankly, I would have loved to work in the Convenience Bank of all Nigerians (CBN), sadly though, that change of name I contemplated and rejected as a teenager turns out to have been my undoing.

Somehow, I find a friend’s father with the right surname and he “gifts” a few people some phone calls and pronto, my name is on the employee list and now, I am a staff of CBN – not really sure how, why or what I will be doing, but don’t worry, someday, with a gift giving culture we have which I swear I will fully adhere to, I will one day be President of the CBN.

You have to understand that in Nigeria, it’s all about gifts. A million naira or dollars here and there, a house in Hiding Park, a flying carpet to spread God’s word… these are gifts. And if you faintly hear the word ‘bribe’, you’ll be mistaken – it is merely one party reminding another of our culture of giving ‘gifts’.

After all, it is cultural to exchange gifts for personal benefit. After all, our local proverb states “if you pour water ahead of you, will walk on wet grounds”

This state of complete and utter confusion is, in my opinion, as a result of having a culture akin to those in the Far East but insisting on emulating contrary laws and morals from the West.

Of bribes, gifts and extortions, the Nigerian soul remains lost.

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Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Opinion article written by Zeal Akaraiwe

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