Bigmanism, Impunity and Corruption in Nigeria

by A Adejumo


“Nigeria is not only the country with the largest black population in the world; it is also, in all probability, the country with the largest number of big-men”.Femi Aribisala, Premium Times, October 2, 2013

“We just need a few good, sincere, patriotic, dedicated, law-abiding and selfless men & women to make things work in Nigeria”.  – Akintokunbo Adejumo

“When we can influence the minds of Nigerians to be disciplined, patriotic and work hard, we will all have the Nigerian of our dreams!” – Ibukunoluwa Alao Babajide

EVERYDAY, I see our people, both the so-called elites and the commoners, flouting simple instructions and rule, disregarding law and order and showing BIGMANISM in their own little corner of Nigeria. The main reason this country is ungovernable is because we DO NOT respect or obey laws and orders. Both leaders and followers are guilty of this. Sanctions are also not implemented and effective. We MUST have a change of attitudes to the positive if we are to progress as a people and nation. It must start from the individual and the home; from the leaders to the followers; from the rich to the poor and from the elites to the proletariat.

Everyone strive to be either a Big Fish in a Small Pond or a Bigger Fish in a Smaller Pond; nobody wants to be a Small Fish in Big Pond, of course, but then we can’t all be Big Fishes in either a Big Pond or Small Pond. We can’t all be.

The kind of political institution that exists in Nigeria is the one that is exclusive. This kind of political institution places the instruments of governance in the hands of a few. As a result, they build an exclusive economic institution where only their own economic interests are protected. You see why Nigeria’s elites borrow money from the banks and do not pay back and nothing happens to them? The same exclusive political institution we have is responsible for how corrupt politicians ensure that the courts are filled up with very corrupt judges who will work to protect the interests of the few beneficiaries of the exclusive political institution.

Bigmanism, Nigeria-style, is the beginning of impunity; and is a form of corruption in itself, for “big men” (and women, of course) often use their positions, either in the society, business, industry or in government, to manipulate the system, identify and use loopholes to commit crimes (some even commit murder or manslaughter) and get away with being prosecuted and jailed. The common man are never allowed this luxury, and that is why you will see our judicial system jail, or even sentenced to death, a poor man for stealing a goat or a mobile phone, while a big man escapes even being charged for stealing billions belonging to the commonwealth which could have been used to improve the hospitals, roads, education etc for the same common man.

All it takes is to bribe the police, judge or magistrate, hire a defence lawyer (brilliant or mediocre), bribe or intimidate witnesses, and he/she is home free to commit more crimes in the future. Such people are without conscience or remorse, have no respect for constituted authority, law and order, and above all, have no fear of God. It is a simple reason why our society may never advance to greatness, though we aspire.

To get a better picture of what I am saying, take a look at the overall political institution that operates in the United States. There are many corrupt persons in the American society just like you can find anywhere. However, the reality of an inclusive political institution keeps everyone in check and that is why a person, no matter how highly placed in the society or in government, who commits a crime, once caught, will be taken care of by the ever-active related laws.

A serious impediment to the success of any anti-corruption efforts are corrupt justice sector institutions. Ethically compromised justice sector institutions mean that the legal and institutional mechanisms designed to curb corruption, however well-targeted, efficient or honest, remain crippled.

In addition, the wider effects of corruption on the rule of law and sustainable development are not only harmful, but damaging, in particular when the justice division, which should embody the principles of independence, impartiality, integrity and equality, is weakened.

To my view the issue is on the correct application of rules and regulations and the sanction against those who do not comply to these rules. If people firstly concentrate on the respect of rules and regulations that govern the entity (family, enterprise, government, country) and systematically apply sanctions against those (whoever they could be regardless of their rank, grade or position in the society) who depart from these rules, corruption will disappear without any other additional remedy. We need to change the architype.

The importance of individual choices in enabling or resisting corruption cannot be overemphasised.  All successful corruption efforts ultimately change how individuals behave around rules and laws – and it is critical to hold on to that core and truth. The approaches primarily reflect the emphasis on changing behaviour and the knowledge that applying sanctions for corrupt activities in a fair and systematic fashion is often a very difficult undertaking. In many places, corruption distorts every phase of the sanctioning process. The problem becomes even more complex when the rules themselves are seen to be the outcome of corrupt processes and are seen to benefit a group. Perhaps the challenge is ensuring that in responding to a complex problem, we maintain our appreciation that the ultimate objectives are relatively simple – that people entrusted with public authority act in accordance with law and for the public good.

According to an article by Roberta Hunja, August 2015, titled “Here are 10 ways to fight corruption”:

  1. Corruption is not only about bribes: People especially the poor get hurt when resources are wasted. That’s why it is so important to understand the different kinds of corruption to develop smart responses.
  2. Power of the people: Create pathways that give citizens relevant tools to engage and participate in their governments – identify priorities, problems and find solutions.
  3. Cut the red tape: Bring together formal and informal processes (this means working with the government as well as non-governmental groups) to change behaviour and monitor progress.
  4. Deploying smart technology: Use the power of technology to build dynamic and continuous exchanges between key stakeholders: government, citizens, business, civil society groups, media, academia etc.
  5. Deliver the goods: Invest in institutions and policy – sustainable improvement in how a government delivers services is only possible if the people in these institutions endorse sensible rules and practices that allow for change while making the best use of tested traditions and legacies – imported models often do not work.
  6. Get incentives right: Align anti-corruption measures with market, behavioural, and social forces. Adopting integrity standards is a smart business decision, especially for companies interested in doing business with the World Bank Group and other development partners.
  7. Sanctions matter: Punishing corruption is a vital component of any effective anti-corruption effort.
  8. Act globally and locally – Establishing international conventions: Keep citizens engaged on corruption at local, national, international and global levels – in line with the scale and scope of corruption. Make use of the architecture that has been developed and the platforms that exist for engagement.
  9. Build capacity for those who need it most: Countries that suffer from chronic fragility, conflict and violence– are often the ones that have the fewest internal resources to combat corruption. Identify ways to leverage international resources to support and sustain good governance.
  10. Learn by doing: Any good strategy must be continually monitored and evaluated to make sure it can be easily adapted as situations on the ground change.

Nigeria’s development will be difficult, onerous and impossible until we have a system where EVERYONE is held accountable for his or her actions. Further fallouts from this is that peace, unity, equity, equality and progress are fatally compromised.

A society where “all men are equal but some are more equal than others”, to quote George Orwell in “Animal Farm”, is never going to be a peaceful and progressive society!




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Ayaba July 4, 2019 - 4:05 am

Factual, logical and succinctly analysed.
I wonder if Nigerian leaders can heed or simply get it right !

Akintokunbo Adejumo July 5, 2019 - 3:33 am

Thanks, Ayaba


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