Earlier today, I got a WhatsApp message from a friend of mine and a long time FINTELite, asking me a deep question that has to do with changing the narrative that Nigerians lack financial integrity.
By way of definition, financial integrity means making sure a financial report is correct, consistent, complete, accurate and other such overarching terms. It also means financial responsibility, financial capacity, and history of personal integrity to operate as a contractor and to engage in the contracting business.
My friend shared a concern that someone residing in the United States raised about how Nigerians cannot be trusted to manage a company without stealing and sabotaging it. For the sake of clarity, I am going to share the entire message I received from him before proceeding to share the comprehensive reply I gave him.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
How do we change this narrative?
I run a manufacturing business and a trading business.
The biggest challenge in my manufacturing business is not power, or infrastructure, the biggest challenge is getting honest staff. Everyone we hire appears to be on a mission to steal as much as possible. Inflated invoices, recording less than the actual number of units produced. The worst part of it all is that all the fraud we’ve uncovered is not done by a single person, it’s usually many staff who collude with each other, from production, to sales, to finance, even top management. There was a year I overhauled management 3 times in a year. But I’ve found a solution sha, I now use Indian management. So competent, so honest and so straightforward. I thought they were expensive at first with all the visa fees, accommodation, house staff, but now that losses due to staff theft have been reduced to a minimum, and efficiency increased, the Indian management has turned out to be cheaper than the previous Nigerian management. Now, all sensitive positions involving money go to Indians. Nigerians are only allowed in non-sensitive positions. I used to criticize companies like Dangote Group that hire so many Indians when there are many unemployed Nigerians, but now, I understand their decision.
My biggest challenge in the trading business is the same, getting honest staff. The form of trading occurs in the open market, and involves staff having access to huge sums of money running into a few millions. I know how much I pay to security companies to provide escorts for the staff, not to prevent robbery, but to ensure that the staff go straight to the bank to deposit the money after the day’s sales and not disappear with my money. This money spent on security companies is even enough to be declared as profit. We have to spend on CCTV, biometric scanners and other things that wouldn’t not be needed if staff weren’t looking for the slightest opportunity to steal.
It got so bad at a point that my main criteria for employing staff was no longer competence but honesty. At least, competence and skills can be learnt, but once you’re dishonest, you’re dishonest.
We always complain of the economy and how they are no jobs. I know people abroad who would have loved to set up job creating businesses in Nigeria but they can’t because they can’t get any trustworthy person to run it.
I know people in Nigeria with so much money, they want to start factories and other job-creating businesses but they can’t because they are occupied elsewhere and can’t get any trustworthy person to run the business. So instead of investing in the real sector and creating jobs, they’ll just buy treasury bills, while the thieves are shouting no jobs.
Many big businesses would have been born in Nigeria if we could engage in partnerships, but we cant because you can’t trust anyone. This is one advantage the Indians and Lebanese have over us in Nigeria. They can pull resources together and do mega-business, unlike Nigerians that because only one person must do everything since we can’t partner, end up with small, tiny businesses.
Start a poultry and they will be stealing your eggs. Some will even go ahead to be killing the chickens so that they’ll be allowed to take them home.
Start an entertainment/viewing/game center and they’ll be pocketing your money. On the days you’re around at the business, the money realized will be x10 of the money realized when you’re not around. Because they’re eating your money.
Lease out a vehicle to a driver to use and watch as he’ll finish you.
Start a restaurant, the same thing will happen. More than half of the total food ingredients will end up in their personal kitchens.
Even ordinary provisions shop, they will find a way to steal.
You’ll see them with that their evil, wicked saying “na where person dey work, na there e dey chop, na e make dem dey call am workchop/workshop”. Just imagine, justifying theft at work.
And you’ll see these people point their crooked fingers at politicians when they’re not any different. I usually say the reason most Nigerians haven’t stolen billions of government money, is simply lack of opportunity.
Nigerians are the problem of Nigeria.
I want us to discuss how this narrative can change. As I speak there are several Nigerians here and institutional investors who would love to invest in Nigeria but the character of Nigerians on the global stage has been a drawback.
There are also franchises from Agriculture to Automobiles who wish to enter the Nigerian Market but holding back because of this.
Here is my comprehensive reply:
Hmmm. This is a very serious and a sad one to read.
When integrity becomes a scarce trait in the workforce, competence is irrelevant and productivity suffers. –Obot Essiet Jr.
Usually, when issues like this come up, the first round of blames goes to “the situation in the country”. You hear things like “the country is hard”, “our leaders are bad”, “the change needs to start from the top”, bla bla bla.
Personally, I believe the change needs to begin with us as individuals. There is no amount of national reorientation campaign and awareness creation can change this narrative. This is because our fundamental culture seems to be skewed towards exalting the rich (especially those who make it overnight) without probing the source of their fortune.
We tend to hail politicians and civil servants who live above their means without questioning how they got rich on taxpayer’s money. We give them a free pass in as much as they “share the loot”. The politician that doesn’t comply (because he’s being honest and fiscally responsible) is labelled as stingy and hated by all.
Everyone is obsessed with having a share of the supposed “national cake” but only few are interested in baking the cake, talk more of contributing the flour, the milk and other ingredients needed to bake the cake.
These and many more are instances where our culture is disproportionately inclined to adore quick, fraudulent and ill-gotten wealth and despise dignity of labour, honesty, diligence, trustworthiness and all the other virtues that goes with developing the character needed in the modern workplace.
The Ultimate Solution
That said, what it will take to change this narrative is for every person to begin to take pride in dignity of labour while questioning and despising ill-gotten wealth. We need to begin to take pride in basic values such as honesty, diligence and trustworthiness. We should not expect the change to come from the top because our leaders are often a reflection of who we are as a people.
Grassroot change is the best approach!
Where do we start?
1. Charity Begins At Home
Firstly, the inculcation of these values should begin from the homes. Parents should ensure their children are honest at all times. No lie or theft, no matter how small, should go unpunished. No cheating among siblings should be ignored.
All family interactions should be transparent and everyone should be accountable to one another, including the parents. The parents ought to model these values so their children can follow suit.
2. The Schools
Secondly, the next place children spend most of their lives outside their homes is the school and it is important that the values we seek to build and the narrative we seek to change is strictly enforced in the schools.
It is not enough to teach about them in civic education or religious studies (either in Islamic studies or Christian Religious Education). The entire system, structure, rules and regulations every primary, secondary or tertiary institution should be designed to enforce discipline and instill integrity in pupils and students alike.
From punctuality to the assembly grounds, activities in the classrooms, prompt submission of assignments to relations on the playgrounds, there are several areas and opportunities to build the values and culture we desire as a nation. However, I am going to lay emphasis on one aspect – the mode of conduct of Examinations. I’ll use myself as an example.
I graduated from a missionary secondary school where test/examination malpractice was a taboo. The rule was that anyone caught in the act would face immediate expulsion and it was strictly enforced. Throughout my six years in high school and through every test and examination, both internal and external, I grew up imbibing this value to the extent that I was literally afraid to give or accept any help in the examination hall. I carried this attribute on to my University days. Right from my first year in school, I made my stand on examination malpractice clear to my colleagues even at the risk of being shunned and called names. It was hard at first but it became easy with time. Eventually they got used to my no-cheating-in-examination policy and respected me for it. Integrity won!
The upside of imbibing this simple value was that while people were being asked to fill “malpractice forms” and forced to appear before the Senate, I had no need to worry about that. Besides, I learned to be self-reliant, independent and confident in myself and my ability to reproduce what I was taught without cheating. The result? I consistently ranked among the top three students in my class.
Most Nigerian Tertiary Institutions have strict and laudable polices against examination malpractice and plagiarism, but they are very weak in enforcing them. The students that want to do the right thing are mocked and shamed while the defaulters go unpunished. When the school fails to discipline or expel exams cheaters (in line with their ‘laudable policies’), malpractices become prevalent and all the ugly and dishonest values we witness in society today become deeply entrenched in the system.
No doubt, some unscrupulous lecturers encourage cheating too by either turning a blind eye during invigilation or encouraging “pay for grade”. In such a toxic education environment, you cannot expect anyone to come out with any form of integrity except such a person was determined to do so. Examination malpractice gives students the easy escape out of diligent study. It gives them the prize (good grades) for hard work without the hard work itself. Once students get used to the fact that they don’t need to study hard to pass their exams, they grow up to accept cheating, lies and theft as the normal way of life.
Now tell me, if 75% (my estimate) of students depend on some form of examination malpractice to scale through school, how do you think they will survive the workplace without taking shortcuts? No way!
3. Religious Bodies
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. – James 2:26 KJV
Thirdly, I believe the narrative can be changed if our religious bodies, from churches to mosques, put more emphasis on building morals, good character and success through diligence rather than preaching excessive “unmerited prosperity by grace” messages.
I absolutely believe in the “work of grace” and the power of the Supreme Being to influence the affairs of men. However, the Holy Book also proclaims that “Faith without works is dead”. Many religious people have been made to believe that they can lazy around all day and expect money to fall on their laps out of no where. Many are praying and hoping for “miracle money” without actually working for it.
These beliefs are dangerous because they enforce the attitudes and cultures that fuel the bad narratives we see in our country today. You will see someone who got rich overnight through fraudulent means, living above their means and coming to the church to testify of “the grace of God” and everyone will shout “hallelujah”. Before you know it, other misguided “believers” who don’t care to ask questions nor take the diligent path will be on the search for “how to make it” – by hook or crook.
While it pays to be religious, we should also understand that God is not a magician. He has principles which we must follow in other to create wealth. He has promised to “bless the work of our hands”, but when many demand for the blessing with nothing in their hands, they become vulnerable to temptations to take the easy way out.
This, coupled with their scarcity mindset helps reinforce the bad cultures which drive the negative narrative we see today. They see any position of power as their “big breakthrough” and an opportunity to steal as much as they can.
When your citizens are living well; there is justice in the land; there are no sacred cows; criminals are punished and diligent labour is rewarded; you will gradually build a national culture where the values of integrity, trustworthiness and honesty abound.
4. The Society
Finally, the society at large is not blame free. Our political leaders need to realign their values because the youths are watching. Wealth and luxury should be seen as a reward for diligent labour and not a means to oppress people. They need to deliver on the dividends of democracy instead of looking forward to embezzling public funds and amassing wealth for their tenth generation. They should work to increase the standard of living and provide a conducive environment for job creation.
Ensure the youths are gainfully employed and can take care of their families. When your citizens are living well; there is justice in the land; there are no sacred cows; criminals are punished and diligent labour is rewarded; you will gradually build a national culture where the values of integrity, trustworthiness and honesty abound.
In conclusion, I feel that if the parents at home, the teachers at school, the religious leaders, the civil servants and all the political leaders in the society put all hands on deck, we can overturn the bad narrative that Nigerians are dishonest and lack financial integrity, reform our global reputation and attract greater economic prosperity to our country.
This is my humble submission on the question asked.
I really appreciate you for reading through this article. Now it’s your turn! What do you think about the financial integrity of Nigerians? What is the problem and what solutions do you proffer? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I will read and reply to everyone of them.