Last weekend, I went grocery shopping and was assigned the all-important assignment to buy some over-the-counter drugs for the kids. So I did the most reasonable thing any lazy reluctant husband (I hate grocery shopping) would do and went to a shop that had both a pharmacy and a super-market: H-Medix. Grated, it wasn’t the cheapest place to go grocery shopping, but it was the most convenient for me plus I had my three year-old son following me, so there simply wasn’t time to go round town shopping like it was a holiday in Rome.
I dash upstairs to the pharmacy and purchase the drugs, paid for it at the counter upstairs. When proceeding downstairs, I ran into an old friend and while we chatted and caught up on some of the latest juiciest gossip in the world (even Linda Ikeji would be jealous), I carefully pick up the items from my shopping list, paid for those also at a different counter downstairs and even the lady behind the teller machine smiled at me, one of those killer 1,000 watts smile- what could be better? I smiled back, picked up my new groceries and son then promptly forgot the paper bag containing the medications on the counter, then drove home happily…. but not ever after.
The following day, my wife requests for the drugs I was supposed to have bought, and after furiously searching for the drugs around the house, car and even dustbin (because you can’t be too sure when you have 3 year old). Then took a long drive of shame back to the H-Medix store on a beautiful Sunday morning with an implausible story but no receipt.
The floor manager on duty looks at me pitifully in my black slightly rumpled overnight t-shirt, listens to my “forgive me for being such a retard” story and then consults a gigantic A4 exercise book. It looks to me like the freaking Book of Life, and I stand there pitifully waiting for judgment to be passed. After a while, he looks up and asks a few questions on the contents of my purchase, to which I reply dutifully as best as I can remember. All the while my wife keeps calling my phone incessantly (probably remind me on what an idiot I was), no pressure Ebuka, just stay calm I keep telling myself.
Eventually, the manager without saying a word, just goes round the pharmacy with a paper bag and selects every item I had listed, thanks me for my patronage and wishes me a nice day. Just like that?! I feel compelled to give him a tip for his efficiency and to somewhat placate him for the inconvenience caused by my forgetfulness, but he wouldn’t hear of it nor would he accept my kindness. He was only just doing his job. N1,000 saved for a rainy day or recharge card!
If the same scenario played out at a neighbourhood police station or even at the famous Murtala Mohammed Airport, I’m pretty sure that I would have unwillingly parted with a considerable amount of money before retrieving whatever item I had mistakenly forgotten. Now I’m not castigating the officers of the Nigerian Police Force or the Federal Aviation Authorites, but I speak from personal experience having done “business” with them in recent times. But it’s not just these government agencies, it also virtually affects most Nigerians working in virtually the entire civil service or remotely connected to government business either by appointment, employment or contractual basis.
Congratulations! Your uncle has just recently appointed into new administration cabinet as an policy advisor and Special Assistant. You were personally invited by his wife for the celebrations at their residence. The next Sunday you’re expected to also join the family and close friends for a Thanksgiving service at the local church. It’s all very exciting and even your future suddenly looks promising and bright. Three months later, you still find yourself broke & anxious, your bills are piling up and you blame your uncle in private for not caring so much about your welfare.
You attend yet another dinner party by your now nearly-famous uncle, and get introduced by the host to his newfound friend, Aliko Dangote. After a bit of polite chatting on safe topics like the transfers in the English Premier League team, Arsenal F.C and whether or not mosquitoes in Nigeria will eventually join their cousins in the Americas and spread the Zika virus; he eventually gives you an envelope with N10,000 for your newborn baby…… and you’re utterly disappointed! Yet when I run into you a few days later and I also give you N10,000 for your baby, now you’re elated! What changed?
Your sense of expectation that’s what! What created the expectation? Your false sense of entitlement. Therein lies half of the problem with the youths in Nigeria. We have somehow been raised to believe that we are entitled to have good things just happen to us without much sweat. Such is the culture of corruption so entrenched in our individual psyche that we kind of just expect to be given hand-outs for basically doing our jobs.
So a youth corps member expects to somehow earn a fat salary, also monthly contributions on her pension, get registered for free health care insurance just like the rest of the permanent staff at her office, because she’s fortunate to have her influential father get her posted into a multi-national organization, even though she works no more than a total of roughly 2hours daily and then spends the rest of the day playing Candy Crush and rehashing last night’s episode of a Spanish telenovela with her colleague on Skype while batting eyes with the cute executive assistant without a wedding ring.
It’s no longer unusual to have officers of the FAAN accost and beg you for handouts while screening your bags to check-in at the local airports. At your hotel room, it’s no different as the porters seem to assume that they should be paid for greeting you “Good-morning sir” with a fake salute with their left hand (I notice oddities like that).
If the expectations of these 3 cited examples aren’t met, they somehow make you feel like you are being unfair and insensitive. There’s actually a look of disappointment in their eyes as though they somehow truly believed that they deserved a tip from you. Now perhaps you even feel a twinge of guilt.
So maybe, somehow, in a twisted way, we are all somewhat guilty of corruption by complicity. For each time we give an undeserved tip to the FAAN officer at the airport, we encourage him to do more begging. Each time we offer “appreciation” for the policeman at the illegal mounted checkpoint, we permit them to stop even more vehicles and solicit for yet more random appreciative gestures by asking, “Oga happy weekend! Anything for you boys?”
Am I suggesting that we stop giving all together and become as stingy as Uncle Scrooge? Not exactly. However we live in a connected society and our individual actions as citizens of Nigeria has an equivalent or larger ripple effect on those who may or may not be directly involved in our initial decisions. It seems to me that we have learned to tolerate or even accept corruption in our daily lives as being the norm because we see it practiced daily by people whom we revere- parents, teachers, civil servants, judges, cops and even pastors.
What if we learn to say “No” more often? To refuse to be complicit or encourage corrupt practices by becoming more mindful of our tipping? Corruption doesn’t necessary start when you receive an alert from the National Security Advisor, it starts when you give a over-zealous airport official a shiny N200 note just so you could avoid the inconvenience of taking off your shoes like the rest of the ordinary people to get scanned. All of leadership must start with self-awareness, self-control and raising our minimum acceptable standards of service before dipping our hand in our pocket or purse for an undeserved tip to anyone who offers to bend the law on our behalf.
Think twice before you dip in for the next tip (excuse the pun).