Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Corruption and Social Change in Nigerian Public Service and the Agency-Structure Debate

Corruption and Social Change in Nigerian Public Service and the Agency-Structure Debate

One name that has become topical in current Nigerian mass media and public discourse is Nuhu Ribadu. He is the chairman of the Nigerian Federal government’s anti-corruption outfit – Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). He has made series of headline news through his ventures and utterances, which claim to rid Nigerian public service of corruption. Mr. Ribadu and the activities of the EFCC represent one approach to the issues of socio-political corruption and its aligned problems. This approach considers corruption and socio-political problems as consequences of moral depravity of individual persons and groups. In this case, addressing the problems of corruption consists in launching ‘wars against corruption’, which target individuals or groups of people. Social philosophy and ethics refer to this as the agency question.

Government rhetoric in Nigeria appear to more generally concentrate visions of social change and wellbeing on the agency question – the view that the polity is bad because of the actions of particular ‘bad’ individual persons. The hope is that the society will become better if the ‘bad’ persons are removed and replaced with ‘good’ persons (people of God or people with the fear of God).
This view of social change was already visible in Nigeria before the dawn of political independence and thereafter. “In June 1950, a few students of the King’s College, Lagos, a high school, formed a club known as the league of Bribe Scorners, with the objective never to give or receive bribes for the rest of their lives.”[1] This effort (plausible as it may be) would be an interesting topic for real reflection, when one considers that a good number of the students of the King’s College, Lagos in the 1950s later became politicians in 1966 and were in control of public service when Major Nzeogwu staged his coup on the ground that public service was swimming in corruption and that politicians/public servants were receiving 10% kick-backs for all awarded contracts.

The foregoing raises such questions as: to what extent can individual commitments be translated into a good social order? Do structures of society enhance or diminish these commitments? Do these structures have independent existence or are they a sum total of individual actions and omissions?

Agency Question
The German philosopher Max Scheler is one representative of the agency tradition in philosophical studies. His idea of Gemeinschuld

Sponsored Links

(common guilt) encapsulates his vision of society as a sum total of individual actions and inactions. His basic thesis is that the First World War was the product of individual actions and omissions of each European person.[2] Hence he argues for conversion of each individual person and moral solidarity with others as the path to a better society.

The advantage of this tradition is that it establishes a community on concrete persons rather than on abstract principles. However its falls into the danger of drawing a straight and simplistic line between individual acts and social realities, overlooking the historical processes, which have created some social problems, and mixing the private realm with the public sphere controlled by powerful institutions. It does not sufficiently confront how individual persons themselves are trapped within social structures. It further falls into the problem of reducing social goodness and evil to entirely personal issues independent of social systems, which shape our actions and imaginations.
Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu’s coup in 1966 announced that his intention and those of his colleagues “was to rid the country of irresponsible politicians, incompetent and corrupt bureaucrats, restore respectability and accountability to the Nigerian public service.”[3] After about eight years stay in power as military head of state in Nigeria, General Gowon said that his continuing hold to power was to eradicate corruption in the country. Brigadier Sani Abacha (who announced the military take over on 31st December 1983) claimed that the military “was compelled to seize power from the Shagari government to save Nigeria from rampant corruption, ineptitude and profligacy that had characterised both the federal and state governments of the country.

Chijioke. Njoku,

1 comment:

  1. Dear Chijioke

    My PhD reserach is on corruption. Could you provide me your paper- Corruption and social change in Nigeria's public service : the agency-structure debate - : Nigeria, please
    best wishes