17August2017

Corruption and Enjoyment Lifestyle

By Grimot Nane, PhD

A few years ago, Hon. Patrick Obahiagbon introduced a new set of verb words (unheard of elsewhere) to describe the reason for poor governance in Nigeria.

The words were "big stouting," "suyaing" and "peppersouping." We can add to that shortlist list "jeeping," "spraying," "Benzing," "declaring," "spooting," "bathing-up," "isiewuing," "owambeing," "nacking"; food, drink, sex and shakara. To the uninitiated, it is just another quip from the ex-legislator, something for laughter.

The words had deeper implications for society though. The poor state of the economy, polity and society of Nigeria, amongst other things, has a strong relationship with the overwhelming preoccupation if not neurotic obsession of indulging in "enjoyment", "chopping life." It is as if most Nigerians live for the outcome of enjoyment and not the source of its funding which as a rule, is hard work and industry, sowing and reaping.

This is problematic because outside Nigeria, perhaps Africa, hard work means industry, sweat, inconvenience and commitment. In Nigeria it means graft, smarts and God's blessings. Another problem is the preference of most Nigerians for a lifestyle driven by "hyperbole," that is, enjoyment has to "be" larger than life each time it occurs. In fact, enjoyment is a day dreamy phenomenon in Nigeria.

The hyperbole of enjoyment involves the following: a family man furnishing and paying the rent for a young pretty girl he met only two weeks ago; owning six luxury cars at the same time; throwing extravagant parties every weekend / month end; spraying fabulous amounts of foreign/local currency at parties; eating out in fashionable restaurants; joining exclusive clubs, etc. This has become the standard the rich and affluent strive to maintain, and the less affluent and the poor strive to attain. The hyperbole all comes down to conspicuous consumption.

Conspicuous consumption as we know is enjoyment to show off, to signal to others that you are doing well in life. Yet, how many people who spend on the hyperbole of enjoyment with their hard-earned income?

While there is nothing wrong with engaging in enjoyment regularly, the money that affords it mainly comes from surpluses of income. Large or moderate surpluses in income outside the top 5% of earners in Nigeria are unimaginable, considering the high cost of living against low earning power of workers and entrepreneurs as the dominant economic condition of the country. So from where does the surplus money for enjoyment come?

The answer is simply corruption (majority) and crime (minority). Be it a corporate executive or a ranking government official, a clerk in the ministry or a constable at the border, a big-time fraudster or an area boy pick-pocket, they only spend generously on enjoyment with income from stolen, extorted, shared monies. Of course, there are fools and misfits who spend much of their hard-earned income on enjoyment, but they are not many.

The next question is why are people insensitive to enjoying themselves spontaneously with proceeds from theft? The answer to the question is less straightforward. Firstly, there is fact that there is no visible connection between arena of an act of theft and the arena of spending the proceeds acquired from a given theft. Secondly, Nigeria is really but unfortunately, a pre-industrial society with an underdeveloped economy, which means the incidence of poverty and deprivation is high. Enjoyment is often a narrow source of relief to the poor and the deprived (80% of the 150 million Nigerians), why should they question the source of their relief?

Thirdly, those in power or that are in the top 5% of income earners strategically use expenditure on enjoyment to secure their positions of authority in society. The top 5% have no incentive to rock the boat by questioning sources of income; that would be tantamount to shooting themselves in the foot. Fourthly, the norms of enjoyment are considered the highest of the highest in society. Nigerians since the oil-boom days of the 1970s have morphed in to a nigh-hedonistic society.

Therefore, we can see corruption and the enjoyment lifestyle work together. While it is easy to call the government of the day corrupt and inept, it is important for every citizen of the federal republic to realise that the enjoyment culture we so cherish in Nigeria, sometimes to the exclusion of everything else, is fuelled and promoted by the lifestyle we adore, the enjoyment lifestyle. Big stouting, suyaing and peppersouping as humorous as they may sound are, in the context they are used, a nutshell of wisdom that should give us cause to reflect on our choices and indulgences in the enjoyment culture.

If we as Nigerians are so addicted to the hedonism lifestyle, even when we know how it is funded, we should not complain too much about corruption and crime in society!

Dr. Nane is an errant scholar and economist, who lectures at London South Bank University.