Nigeria: tackling graft with a children’s book

Bribery is a fact of life for most people in Nigeria, whether it’s a daily “dash” of a few naira to traffic police or payment of an “administration fee” to speed up maddening bureaucracy. On another level there’s the preferential award of contracts to friends and associates that sidestep official procurement or public tendering processes. At the top is “grand corruption” — the blatant theft of public funds that has seen hundreds of billions of dollars disappear since Nigeria gained independence in 1960. Onyinye Ough was so concerned about the problem that she wrote a book.
But “Emeka’s Money”, which went on sale earlier this month, has a very specific target audience — children aged six to 10.
“For the past eight or nine years I’ve been passionate about how I can educate children around the issue of corruption,” she said.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari was elected in 2015 on a promise to root out corruption at the highest level.
The new illustrated book, described as a “modern parable about the impact of corruption”, seeks to show that regardless of the money involved, actions have consequences.
Ough, who has a background in anti-corruption and international development, said it was often difficult for people to distinguish how certain behaviour can be perceived as corrupt, and many people act in good faith.
The character Emeka, for example, is described as “a nice man who works for the governor”.
But he is unaware his recommendation of a friend to a post he is unqualified to hold has consequences — even if he is only trying to help his boss.
A firm has to pay kickbacks to win a road contract. As a result, it can’t afford best materials and sub-standard surface causes an accident.
“The key message is that most of the time people are not ‘bad’ but don’t realise what they’re doing… Grand corruption is a different story,” said Ough.
On one level, the book kicks against Nigeria’s deeply ingrained culture of tribalism and patronage, where anyone who rises to a position of power is expected to reward his supporters. Ough, who runs Step Up Nigeria, an NGO that aims to promote good governance, sees the book as just “one angle” to tackling the problem. — AFP

Phil Hazlewood