I have written enough columns and Op. Ed pieces on corruption in Nigeria these past 25years to make a book of decent read. But seldom have these explorations of the phenomenon dealt with cultural, psycho – social and spiritual counters to corruption. I was therefore quite excited to read a set of mantras by His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shanker, founder of the Art of Living movement.
The scourge of corruption has left damage so evident, and pain so palpable, that many have come to the view that containing corruption is considered key to peace and development. To some it has found its place into the DNA of public life in Nigeria, making the country not so appealing to many investors and the rump left behind challenged with sustaining structured progress as against a recursive mode of two steps forward, three steps backward. This in spite of endowments and talent aplenty.
It is instructive that while most of the rationalizations, explanations and focus of blame, for ravaging corruption, is external; such as poverty, weak institutions that make consequence low, and competitive consequence of conspicuous consumption of my Mercedes is bigger than yours genre, a good deal of what makes for corruption comes from within. So much of the lasting interventions or corrections have to do with the inside. The most frequently cited inside – out property that is a bulwark against the evil of corruption is contentment. So what makes two people of similar circumstances act so differently in the face of temptation for corrupt gain? A sense of contentment makes one uphold his or her dignity while the lack of contentment in the other drives what is then manifested as greed; just a little more, as Carnegie was said to have said, when asked how much is enough.
It is in the realm of these issues that Guruji, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar shares some words of knowledge and wisdom. He makes the cogent point that ‘a lack of connectedness breeds corruption in the society’. He gives this as reason why corruption is lower in the villages than in the cities. Indeed this point is a fitting reinforcement of one of the more seminal pieces to come out of Nigerian political science, Peter Ekeh’s “Two Publics” which explains why a Nigerian who would not dare steal a dime from his village union purse, has no qualm carrying away as much of the federal treasury that comes his way. He lives in two contending civic cultures. One, to use the Sri Sri’s language, is more connected. In Guruji’s own words “Half a century ago, a person would feel very secure when he had a lot of friends. Friends were his constant social support system, so he was not easily corruptible. He did not depend on just a few bills to get by. He said to himself, “There are people around me who are going to help me out” Today due to lack of connectedness you fear whether your own children are going to care for you or not. Because of this sense of isolation everywhere, the only feeling of security you find is in telling yourself ‘ok, amass more wealth’ and you keep it all in your personal account. Money has become the sole source of security”
The tragedy is that as policy failure and other upheavals shake people’s security in the corruptly gained money it triggered greater corruption to consolidate. Civil servants who lost lots of money in the stock market simply stole more to recamp. Then the security goes to social perception of how much you have and more obnoxious conspicuous consumption, like Private Jets, become the craze and the huge costs of maintaining those result in even greater corruption until a point where the Army of the unemployed, impoverished further because these competing rich are not creating jobs as their money is from corruption, and is hidden from investments spark off social anomie. The anarchy predicted, then comes, with all as victims. The corrupt can flee, but few are welcoming of them and their end may just be as welcomed as the case of Mabutu Sese Seko or Nikolai Ceausescu. (more…)