Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Giving and taking monetary inducements for free government services in Nigeria

ICMS, Inc Reports
By Tom Okure, Ph.D.
March 24, 2017

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Many Nigerian government agencies in compliance with the directives of the current government administration’s policy to combat corruption in the public service, are issuing press releases and puting up posters warning the public to stop giving monetary inducements to government officials for services they are entitled to receive free of charge. 
Poster in Nigerian Consulate in New York City
Monetary inducement is used in this narrative to mean the act of giving someone (a public employee) money intended to persuade or influence the individual to do something or act in a certain manner.
My cursory research and observation in Nigeria suggests that members of the public, despite government warnings, continue sometimes voluntarily, to give out monetary inducements to government officials daily for the performance of their public duties. A visitor to Nigerian public institutions these days may notice posters in Nigerian airports, Consulates, some major government agencies clearly display posters and press releases forbidding monetary inducement to government officials. Even so, a careful observation of activities between agency clients and employees may reveal the exchange of cash gifts to obtain services or gratuity freely given by agency clients for services. Anyone including myself who has resided in Western Europe and the United States where government employees perform their responsibilities diligently without asking for inducements from agency clients, will find such actions disturbing when transacting business in many developing countries. I was curious while visiting Nigeria recently, to determine the underlying reasons behind this peculiar cultural habit in Nigeria and other African countries.
Nigerian Immigration press release informing 
the public to shun inducement for recruitment
into the service
Why is monetary inducement to government employees happening and continuing to persist? I decided to interview a cross spectrum of Nigerians on this phenomenon. Some of the responses I heard to my questions was that monetary inducements, gratuity, bribes etc. is part of the culture. Nigerians like giving and receiving gifts, sometimes involuntarily depending on the circumstances. Having been embedded in the Nigerian psyche for decades, it is alleged that monetary inducement is nothing more than gift giving which over the decades has become a cultural trait (habit) among Nigerians that is difficult to break. 
A government official in Abuja indicated that living in the federal capital is very expensive and stated that monthly salaries (remunerations) are so small in both public and private agencies and this fact forces employees to supplement their income by demanding monetary inducements from agency clients. 
Another respondent noted that wages of employees in Nigeria have remained stagnant for several years. High inflation in the economy has effectively reduced their purchasing power and the present value of wages significantly to a point that it is very difficult for public employees to support a decent livelihood with their salaries. Another respondent to my questions indicated that apart from very low wages, many employers including government institutions regularly owe their employees back wages for many months. Consequently, many employees have to borrow monies from family members to support themselves until they are paid. Under such circumstances, government employees engage in inappropriate behavior such as seeking monetary inducements from agency clients to provide services that the public is supposed to be given freely by agency staff. Every aspect of an agency’s operation becomes fair game and a means of making money by the employee responsible for an activity that has public value. For example, an employee required to hand out a necessary agency form for certification may refuse to provide the form to the public unless some monetary inducement is provided. Action on an application for a passport, employment, or admission to a university etc., can be purposely delayed by an agency/institutional staff or collusion of staff members until the staff are placated with a stipulated monetary inducement (or bribe) by the applicant. 
Nigerian Police collecting bribes at checkpoints
Monetary inducements are observable at police checkpoints all over the country, where taxi and bus drives are regularly compelled by police and soldiers manning the checkpoints to pay some money to them before they are allowed to cross the checkpoint. One can encounter many of such checkpoints within a stretch of highway deliberately put up by various law enforcement agencies like immigration, highway patrol, and customs for the sole purpose of extracting monetary inducements from the public.  

So what can be done to break this bad cultural habit? My personal observation is that the campaign against corruption, indiscipline and forceful or voluntary monetary inducement must take on a multifaceted approach in order to be effective. Corruption has been embedded in the Nigerian psyche for decades and a change in an embedded cultural habit will take a very long time to achieve. 
Satire of an arrested police officer for collecting bribe
Government public awareness campaigns of the ill effects of this bad habits as is currently being done can help to an extent. However long term structural changes in the economic, educational and social fabric of the Nigerian society are needed to achieve a long term result. Educationally, this will entail including within the educational system, a curriculum that incorporates educating the younger generation in schools against bribe taking. An economic agenda is also needed geared at uplifting and increasing the wellbeing of public employees in terms of higher wages and training sensitizing employees about the adverse consequences of taking bribes. Adequate legislation is also needed to be put in place that supports living wages for public sector workers. 
BusinessDay/Mike Asukwo's catoon satire on monetary inducement to police officer

Deliberate efforts by the government to increase salary levels including the minimum wage level and the general economic wellbeing of the masses is necessary. Punitive laws should also be enacted making it a crime to give inducement or take inducement in delivering or obtaining public services etc.  Finally, in order to succeed, government efforts at all levels must be focused and sustained for a very long time into the future.