Monday, July 13, 2009

Corruption, corruption, what's your function?


President Obama is huge in Nigeria, and folks here were quite miffed that he went to Ghana, their much smaller neighbor, for his first trip to Africa. But these choices are not made randomly, of course. He wants to encourage good behavior. For example, if Nigerians felt a little jab in their side every time Obama mentioned corruption in his speech, that was the whole point.

Except for one guy at the airport who asked if I "had anything for him," I haven't experienced corruption here personally. True, as soon as the sun goes down each night, the police hit their roadside checkpoints, machine guns in hand, to collect 20 naira (15 cents) from each passing vehicle. This outraged me at first, but I've gotten used to it. Its not much different from a toll booth. And, since Nigerians pay very little if anything in taxes anyway, this is their way to pay for a police force.

The real problem is with the billions of dollars that get siphoned off by corrupt politicians every year. Nigerian leaders have apparently stolen $380 billion from government coffers over the past 50 years. One guy I know, friends with the former Lagos governor, received a plot of land in Ikorodu on which he is building a new house.

Want to get a visit from President Obama, Nigeria? You might want to start by bringing back Nuhu Ribadu, the corruption czar who got fired last year for investigating the wrong people.

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