Thoughts on Corruption and Development

Published on 8th June 2009

"On a regional dimension, it is estimated that some $20 billion leaves Africa annually through the illicit export of money extorted from development loan contracts. This money is deposited in overseas banks by a network of politicians, civil servants and businessmen. .....This outflow is not just abstract numbers: it translates to the concrete reality of kids who cannot be put in schools, who will never learn to read, because there are no classrooms; mothers who die in childbirth because the money for maternity care never made it to the hospitals; tens of thousands who die because there are no drugs or vaccines in hospitals; no roads to move produce from farms to markets or enable a thriving economy; no jobs for young school graduates or even ordinary workers; and no security for anyone because the money has been stolen and shipped out. The picture I paint here is that of my country," says Nuhu Ribadu,  former Nigeria EFFC Chair/Director

A lot has been said about the collapse of our national education policy and institutions. The whole state of our education is pathetic. We now have an educational system that meets neither the number of students (quantity) nor modern requirements (quality) both for developmental use in-house and competition in contemporary global arena. None has been spared in the analysis and distribution of blame - from federal/state government ministries of education, to school administrators, teachers/lecturers, students and parents. However, using the tertiary institution as a case study, the country now has some 100 universities/tertiary institutions, a third of which are private. It is doubtful if we as a country really appreciate the full import of floating one university, let alone 100. University institution is a costly infrastructure. It is a social institution that continuously requires full/part funding from its owner, be it government or private. Worst still, it is the kind that is both long-term and immediately non-cash in investment value. But it is almost impossible to measure the true value of a university education either at the individual or society level.

Unfortunately, the idea of owning universities is a cash-cow concept in Nigeria. The values placed on the essence of tertiary institutions are completely upside-down. Private owners of universities see their schools as get rich quick business enterprises. Education quality is not only a runner-up in their business considerations, it is bounded within finite limits of their imagination. Government understanding too is archaic to say the least. Government policies weigh budgetary allocations to education on a non-priority scale as established universities are expected to be running themselves within a few years like other government parastatals such as NNPC, Airways, mining corporation, etc. It is a mindset befitting leaderships who are themselves half educated at best.

The needs for a university library, modern and adequate classrooms, seasoned faculty and staff and attractive compensations, sports facilities and equipment, vigorous and competitive research culture, books, journals, light, water, healthcare for student and staff, comfortable dormitories, copasetic atmosphere, etc, are all equally essential both in terms of funding and necessity. Maintenance of each of these fixture accessories is as critical as their procurement. The reason a university is a finicky infrastructure is that it is a place where leaders are trained and thinkers think. Conditions within universities are not supposed to be like those in the contract dealing offices of the government ministries, oil bloc allocating boardrooms of NNPC or rowdy ballot strategizing hallways of primitive political parties. The halls of universities are supposed to be hallowed, tranquil and serene because they are required to engender good culture of thinking, the type that shapes life and direction of the society outside.

Floating a university therefore requires serious budgetary considerations, commitment and clear goals by founders, government or private. Ten universities are a sure guzzler of any national income, much less 70. Apart from being over-ambitious for Nigeria (roughly the size of Texas) to desire having 70 government universities at its currently of development, it is intelligent to conclude that there will be no room for embezzlement of funds given this kind of appetite. Except, the meaning of what having a university implies is lost completely on the policy makers. At the risk of sounding like the infamous MFI (IMF), many of our universities ought to be rationalized with immediate effect to more appropriately and adequately service modern society requirements or unmet needs. There is need for concentration and specialization by groups of universities - research universities, science/technology, teaching, agriculture, literary, medicine, etc, universities.  This, of course, implies complete overhauls of the current antiquated curricula and also of strict guidelines and regulations for private universities.

Under normal circumstances, funding of universities should neither be capricious nor whimsical, it should be opened up to encourage local research in more immediately relevant areas such as petroleum exploration and refinery, energy research, pharmaceutical development and drug product manufacture, etc. The spread of fiscal irresponsibility and general corruption into the universities and other sectors of the society is to be expected since the political/government sector is having a field day everyday unchallenged with the national safe. However, new laws could be passed and aggressively enforced solely for monitoring university administration, productivity of lecturers and results from research as funded and described in their applications and/or protocols. But of course, attempts to enforce laws against any sector of the society will be lame and frivolous if politicians remain in charge of profligacy, recklessness and generally living above the rule of law.

This is just a case study using education. Similar gory picture obtains and all of above reality checks apply in practically all sectors of our economy such as banking and finance, judiciary and law enforcement, petroleum, local government affairs, trade and industry, roads and transport, democracy, etc. Indeed, no single Naira note is free for embezzlement if we hold plural good over selfishness and aggrandizement. 

National development is not as elusive as we are letting it, but it will remain so unless our political class curbs its indulgence in basic instincts of the animal man, and allows the taming of our national culture of corruption. 

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