Culture Change: The Key to Transparent Social Transformation and National Development

By Nosa Osaikhuiwu

Nigerians are a wonderful and generous people who wears their faith on their sleeves and no matter the challenging conditions in the nation or their harsh personal economic realities, they will often defer to GOD seeking his intervention to make all things whole for things that requires individual and collective positive actions to resolve. While the importance of spirituality and God’s Grace is not lost on me, the solutions to the various problems and challenges that faces us as a people are not spiritual, but physical and man-made, thus the general attitude of deferring to the intervention of celestial powers engrained in the average Nigerian irrespective of their faith, whether it is Christianity, Islam or African Traditional Religion is no panacea. However, this engrained thinking is already part of our DNA and has conditioned us as a people to accept mediocrity in government, corruption, lawlessness and impunity by public officials and criminals in our nation. These problems facing Nigeria have for too long defied solutions, because the root cause of the problems have been improperly analyzed and misdiagnosed. We have after an unbiased critical analysis of the Nigerian question arrived at a theory that better explains our challenges as a country and people which we believe is not entirely a leadership or structural problem, but a cultural problem. We will explain this with our “basket of rotten tomatoes theory”.

The country is blessed with abundant human and natural resources including a large diverse, well educated population that is young, mobile, aspiring and adventurous, but despite all these the country has failed to develop or reach its full potential as it is still bedeviled with corruption, waste, fraud and abuse in all areas of the nation. Many renowned scholars, critics and activists have looked at the Nigeria situation and concluded that the nation’s problems are that of poor political leadership and the existing political structure of the country, which has led to calls for restructuring of the nation. However, while it is an acknowledged fact that Nigeria has had uninspiring, failed and corrupt officials elected to the top public offices since independence which has stagnated the nation’s growth, and contributed in no small ways to where we are today, to point the fingers exclusively at our failed political office holders and the present structural and administrative configuration of the country misses the point and would seem to absolve society of any role or responsibility in creating this mess we are all in today. Our national culture has been very hospitable to societal vices, including corruption, impunity, lawlessness and recklessness, which has fostered a national atmosphere of a culture of permissibility for all things no matter how egregious, thus for our nation to move forward and develop, we as a people must embrace CULTURE CHANGE.

Culture is defined as the value system, ways and traditions of any group of people, organizations, individual(s) or entities. It is a total summation of the character of the society, or people that transcends anything else, in-terms of how the society goes about doing things in public or in private. Society on the other hand is the aggregation of people of similar or diverse background or orientation living together with sets of rules, acceptable values, customs, norms and traditions to govern themselves. Fundamentally speaking, it is the acceptable culture of any society that shapes the society and its people, as the prevailing culture of a society forms the bedrock of the character of that society and its people. In developed countries, culture has played a very vital role in how those countries evolved over time and built their nations to where they are today, both in terms of their political governance and national development. In many of these developed nations accountability, ethics, personal and collective responsibility including atonement and justice conveys the foundation upon which their various societies are built upon.

In our society we also do have the lofty ideals of accountability, integrity, transparency, code of conduct and ethics well defined in our governing documents, but our society does not place premium on them, but places a higher premium on forgiveness without the need for atonement which taken in context with our historical legacies promotes corruption, repeat offenders, fraud, waste and abuse of authority in our nation. We have a very permissible culture, a culture of anything and everything goes: because of our willingness to forgive without atonement and a general lack of consequences for erring actions by offenders.

Driving through any major city in Nigerian one is awakened to the recklessness, and total disregard for the traffic lights, driving rules and driving safety regulations on our roads which causes unnecessary holdups, traffic jams and leads to numerous accidents and carnage on our roads. Because of this penchant by our people for not following rules, you often witness avoidable accidents, and with no insurance the drivers who may have been warned earlier by other road users to be careful and not to dent their vehicle, but shouted obscenities at them only to now to be prostrating on the ground and begging few minutes later for forgiveness after rear-ending another car and causing severe damages. The driver will continue his begging, along with the passengers in his van and others nearby using the three most dangerous and harmful words impeding our progress as a nation “OGA I BEG”. However, if the owner of the damaged vehicle refuses to forgive and instead demand the driver should pay for fixing his vehicle as atonement for his recklessness, the passengers and onlookers will turn on him calling the victim all sorts of names for been unforgiving. What we all forget however, is that allowing the driver in this case to go free, means we are condoning his behavior and he will do this again multiple times in one day because there is no consequences or accountability for him.

Similarly, the corrupt politicians or corrupt civil servants when caught and taken to court by EFCC for arraignment often collapses immediately and feign illness, but instead of our people and institutions continuing the prosecution and demanding justice be served, we begin to show empathy and have pity for the criminals over fake health conditions, a similar scenario to the bus driver which seems to show official and public mercy, an act that perpetuates the wrong culture, impunity and corruption to the highest levels. The corrupt politicians, corrupt civil servants and their types have now perfected their deceptive games and shame on us for falling for their deception and not recognizing that by allowing their shenanigans we are complicit as a people in advancing corruption in our land. The significance of the examples above are that no matter the circumstances, whether it is the case of corrupt civil servants (Nigerian Civil Service is littered with the highest levels of corruption top to bottom, that will make the most corrupt politician look like Mother Theresa or an Angel for lack of a better analogy), a company worker or relative who steals from public coffers, his boss, or office or a day laborer stealing bags of cement meant for construction and are caught, instead of facing the consequences they resort to the popular refrain “OGA I BEG”, please “OGA I TAKE GOD BEG YOU” and more often than not and because of our forgiving nature we let them go without demanding any accountability or any consequences for their actions. In our beloved country, we have become conditioned to believe that no matter the crime, we can beg, and beg and ultimately we will get away with it and be forgiven without atonement, thus the culture of permissibility which in essence encourages criminality at all levels of our society has become part of our traditions and custom unfortunately.

While this article is not saying that there are no problems in many of the developed nations of the world who insist on atonement and accountability before forgiveness as part of their societal norms and traditions, but because they insist on accountability and atonement as part of their justice system they have managed well and have not stagnated, nor have the vices of political and bureaucratic corruptions impeded their national development and the quality of life of their citizens in any adverse ways. Frankly, in these countries corruption at any level is seriously frowned at by society and not rationalized like we often do by saying “it is his turn to eat, wait your turn”. The acceptable culture of any nation has an impact on the kind of life the people live, how they live, and what it is they hold dear as a society and people. Notwithstanding the views of majority of social critics and many Nigerians of all stripes, my views are further reinforced by the fact that military and civilian governments have come and gone, but the issues facing our beloved country have remained and in most cases have gone from bad to worse as demonstrated by the deplorable conditions of our roads, epileptic nature of power supply, failed educational system, to endemic corruption in all facets of our national life, total absence of pipe borne water anywhere in Nigeria and complete infrastructural decay across the land. There is shared responsibility or culpability between the elected officials or leaders and the society and since our elected officials were born and raised in our society, then one can posit that the responsibility falls squarely with our society. These are all issues that that are yearning for solutions and that requires CULTURE CHANGE for us as a people to begin to address these challenges and that effort must begin from our homes, towns, various state’s, schools and houses of worship.

The solution to all that ails our country is CULTURE CHANGE, as that essentially means doing away with all our existing vices, norms and traditions that promotes the current state of lawlessness, corruption and financial malfeasance, like SPRAYING MONEY, FORGIVENESS without ATONEMENT and TRIBALISM to name a few, while embracing PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY, MORAL AND ETHICAL STANDARDS, ATONEMENT and TRANSPARENCY at all levels. This change must begin from the ground up because when we embrace it as a people, it will TRANSFORM us fundamentally in how we see ourselves, our role in society and the values we hold dear as a people. Consequently, and with this new transformation of our society, a new quality of leaders will now start to emerge from amongst the people that is not burdened by the vestiges of a quid pro quo norms of our currently corrupt and irredeemable civil service nor a symbiotic corrupt relationships between the elected officials and their electors. This drive for change must target our civil service and all government bureaucracies as they are the CORRUPTION LABORATORY or CORRUPTION UNIVERSITY in our country, because these institutions are mostly the feeder system to political office or leadership in our country and if we need to grow and facilitate transparent leadership, CULTURE CHANGE must start and take root in our civil service and other government agencies.

When you consider a basket of rotten tomatoes as your sample population, the probability of randomly picking a good sample is statistically near zero, while the probability of randomly picking a bad or rotten tomato from the basket of rotten tomatoes is statistically near one. Consequently, to improve the odds of picking a good tomato sample we must replace the basket of rotten tomatoes with a basket of good tomatoes. Similarly, when we consider a basket of good tomatoes, the probability of randomly picking a good tomato sample is statistically near 1, while it is near zero for the probability of randomly picking a bad tomatoes from a basket of good tomatoes. Thus in other to improve the odds of our embracing and enthroning good governance and transparent leadership at all levels we must replace the existing acceptable norms, cultures and traditions that promotes the wrong values in our society today and replace them with a new culture that promotes integrity, ethics, transparency and accountability at all levels and above all a culture that demands atonement as a condition for forgiveness. Culture Change will mean that a contractor will not just collect contract mobilization fees and abandon the project, but will execute the job according to the terms of the contracts and failure to do so will lead to severe consequences including prosecution, asset forfeitures and possible jail time.

However, it is abundantly clear at this point that this writer is of the view that our society bears a fair share of the blame for the culture of corruption in our country, because the political leaders are from our society and enjoys support from the society and therefore in other to change our country and enthrone ethical and transparent governance we must change the cultural norms of our society, hence my advocacy for culture change from the ground up as an imperative and the only solution to transforming our nation and society: thereby resolving our innumerable problems and enthroning good governance and transparent leadership at all levels. An outside the box thinker will observe that in organizational leadership the powers rest with the head of the organization who has the power to set the vision for the organization, hire and fire any employee that is not performing to standard or upholding the company’s values. Similarly in the parlance of political and national governance the real power and sovereignty rests with the people as they retain the power to fire, hire and set the direction for the country, thus a large share of the responsibility is on our society for tolerating corruption and bad political governance when we retain the rights to hire and fire them. This article and this writer hopes that this write is contextualized and not taken in anyway as an attempt to minimize the failures of our political leaders and their responsibility in the cesspool of corruption in Nigeria.

I have spoken to many groups at home and abroad on this quest for Cultural Revolution and Culture Change in Nigeria, but many are often quick to say our leaders are the problem and if only our leaders will change our nation will be better as leadership flows from the top, a viewpoint I strongly disagree with. Every political office holder, bureaucrat or elected politicians in Nigeria comes from somewhere in Nigeria, was born, raised and went to school in those communities. These leaders while growing up were shaped by values they learnt from home, schools, our places of worship and from friends and family, thus given oxygen to the notion that every community deserve the kind of leaders it gets. These leaders currently leading our country at all levels are our friends, neighbors, old schoolmates and we bear some responsibility for how they have performed.

Regarding the political structure of the country been the main cause of our serious underdevelopment, I could not disagree more as this is merely a distraction by the failed political class and their collaborators. A brief look at our country vis-à-vis, the responsibilities of federal government, the state governments and the local governments will show that the federal government is responsible for many things, including interstate road networks, power, tertiary education, sea ports, national defense and security in addition to other regulatory authorities and control of all natural resources on behalf of the people. However, the life of the average Nigerian no matter where he or she lives is more impacted by the activities of the state and local governments than the federal government as many of the roads, hospitals, markets and other infrastructures are under states or local jurisdictions and in other to meet these demands to residents of their states each state gets monthly federal allocations, and monthly security votes (security votes are slush funds which the governors are not obligated to account for) while the oil producing state’s gets additional funding from the federation’s account as a share of the 13% derivation. When you consider in totality the funds that have accrued to the state’s on a monthly basis since their creation, and using Delta State as an example, it is enough to transform the state into a mini London in terms amenities, public housing, roads and other infrastructural developments, but because we elect political “hyenas” to run the state’s, and given our culture of permissibility they devour all our resources and further rile up the rightfully angry citizens who are unsuspecting and stoke them to clamor for RESTRUCTURING as that is the only solution to their problems. In all seriousness, RESTRUCTURING is a ruse, and a red herring meant to distract the people and is deliberately been bandied around by the corrupt political class, the elites and business collaborators to excuse their ineptitude, corruption and failure to deliver services to the people. Hopefully, now that some of the powers of the federal government have now been devolved to the states through signed federal legislation passed by the National Assembly by President Mohammad Buhari, we will assess the states in a few years to judge their service delivery records on many of these new areas of responsibilities and judicious use of the accruing funds that will soon follow.

The question our people must ask is, if the nation is restructured who will be in charge of the restructured entities? Is it not the same cast of characters now running the show? Will restructuring construct roads, provide employment, build hospitals and schools, stop corruption in high places or will federal and state political “hyenas” destroying the country be replaced by regional political “hyenas” and then proceed to replicate what they have been doing at the federal levels all over again? Well, your guess is as good as mine. Consequently, and not minding the naysayers Nigeria’s problem has little or nothing to do with our political system or structure, but all about the BAD Operators of the system and our Culture of permissibility.

I have been on a personal crusade for culture change and as part of this effort I have refrained from the culture of spraying money publicly or privately and instead write personal checks, make electronic transfers or give an envelope whenever I am invited to an occasion and feels the need to support the effort. The culture of publicly spraying money has run amok and indirectly promotes corruption as after spraying like a drunken sailor participants will be on the lookout for easy money for the next event to feed their spraying habits. Another point is that the viewing public of this spraying madness often dream of the day they can spray also and this ultimately leads to the corruption lane for public and private citizens alike. We must as a society demand accountability from ourselves, our representatives, and public officials and accept nothing less, for when we do this and insist on transparency, and ethics then we will begin to create the country of our hopes and aspirations.

Finally, this article is meant to joggle our minds as citizens and have a self-reflection and discussion with ourselves to see if we have done our part ethically, and transparently in our various endeavors to birth the country of our collective dreams, and if the answer is not affirmative then we must all retrace our steps, and put service to GOD, Country and Family first and do so faithfully, transparently and ethically thereby giving birth to a new Nigeria we all can be proud off.

May GOD Bless you all and May GOD Bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Nosa Osaikhuiwu is a decolonized African from Nigeria. An outside the box thinker, certified project manager with expertise in change management, the elimination of waste fraud and abuse and an unapologetic advocate for culture change in Nigeria.

Related Articles

Back to top button