The End of an Assignment in Nigeria

Okay, so now I’ve got a post about Melbourne out of the way it’s time for me to say a little something about Nigeria.  With the exception of a week in October when I need to clear out my apartment, I’ve pretty much left Nigeria.  My assignment there officially finished on 31st July, although I will have to return for business trips over the course of the next 3 years because the project I am on in Melbourne is for Nigeria.

Somebody once said that there is much to write about Russia, but when one tries you can never find the words to write the first line.  Nigeria is much the same, and indeed there are many similarities between the two countries.  I have tried to describe Nigeria to people who have never been there, and failed on most occasions.  A colleague of mine stopped telling people back home about the place because he was getting a reputation as somewhat of a bullshitter, even though he didn’t exaggerate anything.  I was at a seminar in Paris some time ago and I was describing the working life in Nigeria to a group of Frenchmen.  One of them quipped that I was exaggerating and that “it couldn’t be that bad”, which prompted another Frenchman, sitting beside me, to nudge me in the ribs and remark “wait until he does his Nigerian assignment”.  He was based in Port Harcourt.

Nigeria has a reputation, and I knew about it before I arrived.  Most of what I’d heard proved to be completely true.  Almost all of it, in fact.  To get a general picture of Nigeria, just read the news, and you’ll not be far wrong.  It isn’t a place like Russia, the US, or France which surprise visitors when they see the contrast between what they’ve imagined (based on exposure to their tourists or foreign policy) and the individuals they encounter.  But beyond the general picture, there are some subtleties worth mentioning.

It’s first important to understand that degree is as important as form.  Russians, faced with criticism of corruption in their country, often retort that corruption is found everywhere, even in the UK.  Which is true, but in many countries it does not infest every authority, office, and institute like it does in Russia.  It is the degree, or extent, of corruption which makes Russia different from the UK, not the form.  Understanding this concept is important in describing Nigeria.

There is no getting away from the fact that corruption in Nigeria has infested almost every aspect of life, work, and society.  I can’t think of a single area where I didn’t encounter a scam of some sort.  Some of them were pretty normal – policemen hassling motorists for bribes, for example – with others being less common elsewhere.  Filling brand named alcohol bottles with local hooch was widespread practice.  Not so bad in itself, but these were being sold through supposedly legitimate suppliers and turning up in established bars.  Others were unique to Nigeria.  I knew a guy in charge of oil shipments for a foreign oil company who received a call from somebody in the authorities saying he was not going to release the multi-million dollar cargo until somebody had bought his cousin $10 worth of phone credit.  My acquaintance found himself going to the shop, buying a phone card, and handing it over to some scruffy bloke who showed up at his office in order to allow his crude oil out of the country.

The corruption, theft, and graft can take many forms: falsifying a CV (I don’t mean enhancing, I mean pretending you’re a Lead Piping Engineer of 12 years experience when actually, until yesterday, you were a fisherman); selling positions in a company; stealing diesel from the storage tanks you’re paid to protect; issuance of false material certificates; impersonating an immigration officer to access an office, from which you then tap up the people within to fund your latest venture; selling land which isn’t yours; deliberately running down the country’s refining capacity in order to partake in the lucrative import of fuels; falsifying delivery notes of said refined fuels in order to receive greater government subsidies; deliberately restricting the country’s power generation capacity in order to benefit from the importation of generators (which must be run on imported fuel); theft of half-eaten sandwiches and opened drink containers from the office fridge; tinkering with fuel gauges at petrol stations to sell customers short; conspiring with company drivers to issue false receipts indicating more fuel was supplied than actually was; supplying counterfeit safety equipment; falsifying certificates related to professional competence (e.g. rope access work); paying employees less than stipulated in their contract (or not at all); cloning satellite TV cards, meaning the legitimate user gets their service cut off when the other card is in use (the cards are cloned by the same people who issue the genuine cards); the list is literally endless.  There is no beginning or end to corruption in Nigeria, it is a permanent fixture.

Nepotism is rife: family members are employed and promoted before anyone else.  Outright theft is rife: from a pen lying on a desk, to billions from the state coffers. Dishonesty is rife: from the state governors to the street urchin, lying to enrich yourself is the norm.  You name the scam, it is being done in Nigeria.  Eventually, nothing surprises you.

As I said before, you’ll find such practices everywhere, but to nowhere near the extent found in Nigeria.

Apparently it wasn’t always like this.  There was a time, probably from around the 1970s to 1990s, when Nigeria had a reasonably diverse economy.  Besides the oil and gas, they had agriculture, manufacturing and assembly (Peugeot set up an assembly plant in Nigeria in the mid-1970s), brewing (there is a both a Guinness and a Heineken brewery), refining, construction, and pharmaceuticals.  Some of these survive today.  There were decent universities, and students wishing to graduate had to apply themselves.  Security wasn’t much of a concern to the average citizen.

I don’t know the details, but at some point in the 1990s one of the military dictators decided to flood the place with oil money in order to buy support.  This had the effect of drowning every other form of enterprise and ensuring that oil and gas was the only game in town.  This is bad in itself, but by no means unique to Nigeria.  What was worse is that this quickly instilled a mentality across Nigeria that there was a lot of money up for grabs, and getting your hands on it wasn’t in any way related to honest efforts or applying yourself to something constructive.  Nigeria became a place where if you’re not getting your hands on some of the oil money, either directly or indirectly, then you’re going nowhere.  With oil money washing over the whole country like a tidal wave, soon everyone was trying to secure their own piece of the action, using fair means or foul.  Imagine throwing a huge box of sweets into a playgroup shouting “Grab what you can!”, and the chaos that ensues will be similar to what happened to Nigeria on a national scale.

At least, this is what I gather happened – I may be wrong – but for sure, the current situation reflects what I’ve described.  The economy is funded almost exclusively from oil and gas revenues, and everything else is merely feeding off that.  The new hotels in Lagos, the growth of capital city of Abuja, the importation of luxury goods, the Audi and Porsche dealerships, the sky-rocketting real estate prices, the money earmarked for infrastructure projects, the increase in flight passengers, all of it is directly or indirectly linked to the oil money.  Okay, maybe there is some hyperbole in there.  Agriculture still makes up the lion’s share of GDP, and the services sector is booming.  Advertising is a big industry in Lagos, although the most common thing you see advertised is advertising space.  But nobody is going to get anywhere herding cattle, picking pineapples, or working in a sawmill.  Even the owners won’t be earning that much, not if that’s their only income.  There is very little opportunity to get rich, or even advance, unless you are somehow connected to the supply of oil money.

One of the results of this national free-for-all is the formation of groups, societies, associations, and unions whose raison d’être is to obtain as much money and benefits for their members as possible.  This isn’t much different from Europe in respect of trade unions, but groups and subgroups form at micro-levels with sometimes comical precision.  The Lagos Association of Road Maintenance Engineers, Roundabout and Lay-by Division, 4th Department.  The Nigerian Association of Water Truck Drivers, Lagos Chapter.  Membership of one or more of these associations is both essential and compulsory: essential because an individual would get trampled very quickly in the general melee of Nigeria, and compulsory in the sense that you have almost no chance of being allowed to quietly ply your trade without paying dues to some group or other.  It’s not clear what the legal standing of a lot of these groups is, but it’s often hard to tell how they differ from a standard extortion racket.  One of the most powerful unions in Lagos, the transport union, used to shake down any okada (motorcycle taxi) driver passing through their checkpoints, claiming the money was used “to protect them from the police”.  I doubt the money was used in such a manner, but people do need protection from the police in Lagos.  Not that the okada drivers had any say in the matter: membership was automatic, and the union muscle would beat any non-compliant driver or confiscate his vehicle.  The power of the oil and gas workers unions is legendary, ensuring their members enjoy pay and benefits which are the highest of any local staff in the world, and often outstrip those of the expatriates.

This in itself might not be so damaging, but ubiquitous to all competing factions is a rapacity the likes of which I doubt can be found anywhere else on such a scale.  There is a culture so prevalent that it is a defining characteristic of Nigeria whereby no amount is ever enough, and no sum too small to be pilfered.  There comes a point in the career of most people who have gotten rich, either legitimately or otherwise, where they stop chasing the small stuff and are only interested in adding to their pile if the increase will be substantial.  The police chief of a sizeable Thai resort town has his fingers in many pies, but he’s not interested in shaking down street vendors.  His minions might in order to supplement their salaries, but generally once the boss has his cut of most of the action, he’s not interested in sweeping up every last baht.  As a result, commerce can continue relatively unmolested.  The same is roughly true amongst the Sheikhs of the Middle East.  Bung the Crown Prince a few million for the contract, and he’ll allow the project activities to go ahead pretty freely.  He’s not interested in making an extra $10k by insisting you hire his brother’s lorry fleet to transport the gravel.  Such restraint may also be practical: the dodgy official in the UK isn’t going to be interested in taking pennies if he risks getting fired or going to jail, he’ll have a minimum price he’ll work for.

But Nigeria has the same problem I saw in Russia: an almost pathological insistence of securing for yourself 100% of everything that is available, and not a kopek or kobo less.  I have observed before that Russians would rather have 100% of nothing than 50% of something, and the same is true – but on a far greater scale – in Nigeria.  The inequality in Nigeria is horrific.  The middle-classes are tiny, those who are neither stinking rich nor mired in poverty.  As it happens, most of the Nigerians I worked with fell into this category: lucky enough to have well-paying jobs, but not ordering Porsche Cayennes for each family member.  Statistically, almost all Nigerians are dirt poor.  A very few are stinking rich.  Again, a manageable problem in itself, but the rich haven’t finished yet.  Indeed, they’re only just getting started.  I spoke to a couple of Angolans in a seminar once, and they said that although their ruling classes had enriched themselves immeasurably, they were at least spending some money on the country, and improvements were noticeable.  The reason the Russians accept with a shrug the siloviki helping themselves to millions is because they (rightly) feel this is inevitable and – more importantly – life is actually improving in Russia and has been doing so since they came to power.  Sure, it’s a slow improvement and life is still hard, but they are at least moving in the right direction (for how long is a discussion for another post).  There have been improvements in infrastructure in Russia, the new Sheremetovo airport to name one example.

By contrast – and I challenge any Nigerian reading this to disagree – there have been no discernible improvements in Nigeria in the past decade (outside of Abuja, where all the politicians happen to live).  The infrastructure is crumbling, electricity shortages abound, Lagos airport is a national disgrace, project after project gets sanctioned but rarely started, never mind completed, before the funds disappear, and unemployment is rocketing.  I heard somewhere that 2m people are added to the workforce every year in Nigeria.  To do what, exactly?  There are no jobs.  One source of employment for young men was to drive okadas, until they abruptly got banned in Lagos last year.  The roads are now much better, but you now have tens of thousands of young men with no source of income and no hope of a job.  Since the ban came into effect, crime – robberies, car-jackings, burglaries – have increased by an order of magnitude, even in the rich neighbourhoods of Lagos previously thought to be safe.  It’s not difficult to see why.

Meanwhile, Nigerian senators – of whom there are 109 – enjoy an official package worth $1.5m per year, which they recently requested to be increased to $2.2m per year.  By contrast, the US President gets an annual salary of $400k.  Given the unofficial incomes of a Nigerian senator through graft and backhanders is probably 3-5 times that, we can probably estimate most of these guys are taking home something in the order of $4-5m each year.  Yet they put in for a 46% increase, in a country where 45% of the population lives beneath the poverty line.  This is hardly surprising for a group of politicians, and far from unique to Nigeria.  The problem is, this behaviour is repeated through every strata of society from the very top of the government to the lowest street urchin: whatever is there, I want all of it; and I want more.  I saw wealthy middle-class Nigerians move to ensure drivers did not enjoy a fringe benefit worth about $10 per week.  If you threatened to report a low-level official for corruption, he would usually tremble with fear of his boss finding out: not because his boss shuns corruption, but because he will want to know why the proceeds of this particular scam haven’t been coming to him.  We already had the example of a multi-million dollar oil cargo being held up until somebody’s relative received a kick-back worth $10.  If any amount of new money arrives in the economy – due to a new oil project, for example – those who are already wealthy, via their societies, organisations, unions, and political connections will ensure 100% of that new money will go to them.  Insofar as sharing and dividing the spoils goes, it is between groups who are already of the same wealth.  If any trickles down to the next layer, it is almost by accident, and to be corrected at the first opportunity.

I came to the conclusion about 2 years into my assignment that Nigeria is probably the only genuinely classless society I have seen.  Class is very different from wealth.  Upper class people can be dirt poor (bankrupt dukes) and lower class people can be fabulously rich (Russian oligarchs).  Class is about behaviour and attitudes, not wealth (a point made very well in Kate Fox’s excellent book Watching the English).  And insofar as behaviour goes, I didn’t see a shred of difference between the top politicians, down through the officials in the national authorities, through the middle class professionals, through the service providers, right down to the area boys.  The behaviour was identical across all strata: I want more money, and I will do absolutely anything to get it.  If you were to replace the politicians – let’s say our 109 senators from before – with 109 random people from the Nigerian citizenry, you would get no change in behaviour.  You could repeat the experiment a thousand times, and you would get no change.  There is no ruling class in Nigeria, there is just a set of rulers.  Where any change is expected to come from I don’t know.

I believe one of the root causes is the bizarre situation where being dishonest is not socially frowned upon.  Not really, anyway.  If somebody is caught with his hand in the till, he is not shunned by his peers.  The whole situation is treated with utter indifference, and sometimes admiration (if the scam is particularly imaginative).  Societal pressure plays an enormous role in shaping the behaviour of a population, probably more so than the brute force of the law, and whilst all Nigerians complain about the crime and dishonesty so prevalent in their country (it affects them far more than the expats), they remain utterly silent when a perpetrator is identified from within their peer group.  At best, you’ll get a shrug and a statement to the effect of “that’s just how it is”.  If you’re a Nigerian caught running a scam against your employer, your colleagues aren’t going to think any less of you.

In fact, the only behaviour I managed to identify which would cause a Nigerian to be shunned by his peers and made an outcast, is if he decided he wasn’t a believer and therefore wasn’t going to be showing up in church (or mosque) any more.  I don’t think I met a single Nigerian who didn’t attend either church or mosque, and religion plays an enormous – possibly the key – role in Nigerian society.  I’m not going to go into this topic, mainly because I’m not reflexively anti-religion, but I do suspect that a lot of Nigerians justify unsavoury behaviour during the week by going to church on Sunday and washing themselves of sin.  In this respect, the place is very similar to the Gulf States.

Now a reminder of what I said at the beginning of this post.  Degree matters.  You will find every type of individual in Nigeria, including the kind, funny, generous, honest, and everything else that is good in a person.  You’ll find lots of them too.  I had the pleasure of working with some great individuals, who were genuinely skilled, could apply themselves, held positions on merit, and were extremely well-mannered and respectful.  The team of Nigerians I managed was one of the nicest bunch of people you’d ever hope to meet, and easy to manage as well.  (My theory is that engineers are often like this: if you’re bone-idle and want to earn money dishonestly, there are easier things to do than an engineering degree.)  The problem these decent people have is that they are vastly outnumbered by those who are not.  For every Nigerian who is honest, well-mannered, and diligent you’ll find a hundred whose only goal is to get some money whilst expending the minimum amount of effort possible.  If they can use personal connections, lies, or trickery in lieu of learning a useful skill and applying it, they’ll take that option every time.  It’s a numbers thing: if 50% of Nigerians were more like 10% of them, the country would be okay.  And that’s the fundamental problem of Nigeria summed up in one sentence: way too many dickheads.

When I was bored in our morning meetings – which was on most days – I would canvas my team’s opinion on certain things, often the state of the country.  They were by and large in despair.  Nigerians are famously optimistic, but this is often through desperation.  Nowhere was this better demonstrated than on the occasion when a bank put a Christmas tree up on a roundabout with “presents” at the bottom, and the next morning all the presents had been ripped open.  If somebody thinks a box under a tree on a roundabout contains an X-Box, then you’ve gone way beyond optimism and into desperation or delusion.

My lads were a happy enough bunch – as Nigerians usually are – but had no hope of things getting better any time soon.  I ventured the suggestion that a return to military dictatorship might be on the cards, and I got no objection.  One of them explained that during the times of military dictatorship, it was only a handful of people at the top creaming off money.  Now, with democracy, it’s tens of thousands.  And during the military dictatorship, crime was much lower, and few had concerns about personal security.  Democracy is all well and good, but I’ve often said that it is a means to an end, not an end in itself.  I am sure the world will howl with outrage and impose sanctions should Nigeria undergo another military coup, but few can deny that democracy is failing to deliver peace, prosperity, and basic services to Nigeria.  I remain far from convinced that many Nigerians would not welcome such an event.

So what did I think of my time in Nigeria?  In truth, I didn’t like it, but not for the reasons you might think.  The worst thing, by far, was not being able to go anywhere and do anything at the weekends.  The security situation did not allow us to travel beyond a very restricted area of Lagos, and even if we could there wasn’t much to do.  I like walking about with a camera, camping, exploring by going to a town and drinking lots, skiing, driving around, visiting people, riding a bike, and hill walking.  There was no scope to do any of that in Lagos, for reasons usually related to security.  That meant for weekend after weekend after weekend there was nothing to do but watch sport on TV, go to the gym, and lie by the pool.  Those with families did whatever families do; the single guys went to bars and clubs and picked up Nigerians girls; guys like me – married, single status – didn’t do very much at all.  I used the time well, learned French, read countless books, improved on the guitar, and got fit.  Nigeria has excellent weather, and even better pineapples, but I would much rather have spent my time doing something else in another place.

Those restrictions were by far the worst aspect of my Nigerian assignment.  Insofar as the daily life in Lagos went, with all its challenges, that was manageable.  You get used to anything eventually, and at some point I was able to shrug off almost everything Nigeria had to throw at me.  I never quite got used to the traffic, so used to plan my day to avoid the worst of it.  Dealing with the Nigerians took some getting used to, a process that was eased considerably when I figured out they weren’t the most difficult factor to consider.  There’s rarely any point in getting upset about locals anywhere, because they are the raw material you have to work with.  If you go to Nigeria, you will have to work with Nigerians, so deal with it.  Some aspects of it were frustrating no doubt, but what can I do?  Nothing.

What infuriated me more was that some of the expats I encountered were hopelessly unqualified and too inexperienced to be there.  Nigeria is a difficult place to attract talent to, and as such – like a lot of oil towns worldwide – those who end up coming are usually way below the standard that should be demanded.  Unbelievably, incompetence and stupidity seem to be imported at great expense into Nigeria.  This annoyed me considerably, as it did when I encountered a similar state of affairs in Sakhalin.  If you are going to come into somebody else’s country on the basis that you have skills they don’t, you’d better make damned sure you have those skills and they are on full view.  If I had a quid for every time I’ve seen somebody fail this basic test in the oil business, I could retire and bump yachts in Monaco with Roman Abramovich.  I’m pretty sure I upset a few people in Nigeria, and maybe there were a few who didn’t want me there, but nobody could accuse me of not adding value.  Nobody could point the finger at me and ask “Why, exactly, do we keep this guy?”  If nobody else, the lads in my team didn’t mind me.  I gave them direction, support, and cover and got somewhere close to the best out of them.  What infuriated me more than anything was coming across a Nigerian with a reputation for being useless, and on further investigation learning that they’d never been given a job description, never been given any meaningful direction, had no understanding of the context of their job in the department or the department in the company, and had just been plonked at a desk and expected to do something.  I came across this far more than I should have, and it pissed me off.  Fair enough, if somebody is useless then call them useless; but first you have to give them every opportunity to succeed, and only then can you call them useless if they don’t perform.  Hey, you could even call this practice management!  There was a serious lack of it in Nigeria.  How many half-decent Nigerians are shoved in the corner of an office and written off as useless in this manner I don’t know, but I’ll bet it’s a lot, and it does the place a serious disservice.

As final proof that I didn’t dislike the place that much, I signed up to another 3 years of involvement when I had the opportunity to get away from Nigeria for good.  I learned some things during my assignment in Lagos, and that knowledge is useful.  I know Nigeria, and what it’s like to work with Nigerian companies and Nigerian people on a Nigerian project.  A lot of people don’t.  I’m used to it, it doesn’t hold any mystery or reason for fear as it did when I first arrived almost 3 years ago.

I’ll be back there at various points in the future, but honestly I hope I don’t have to live there permanently again for the reasons I stated.  I don’t consider it 3 years wasted – far from it – and I didn’t hate it.  There were moments, plenty of them, where I positively enjoyed it.  And as assignments in Nigeria go, that’s not too bad.

UPDATE

In attempt to address some of the reoccuring themes in the comments to this post, I’ve written a follow-up here.

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206 thoughts on “The End of an Assignment in Nigeria

  1. sad as it is and embarrassing as it may be coming from a foreigner, the writer’s observations are largely true. we have to call a spade a spade. the guy never said that all Nigerians are corrupt. He agreed that corruption is found everywhere in the world, his problem was the degree to which it has permeated the Nigerian society. Some of the comments here have faulted his submissions because according to them, Lagos and Abuja are just two out of 36 states and the FCT. I beg to differ! the truth is that most Nigerians are corrupt!!! if you are not, you stick out like a sore thumb. it is everywhere, the system encourages it. He also, most likely, came to his conclusions from interactions with Nigerians. Why will a foreigner not be scared of going anywhere when his employers coddle him? they do not go anywhere without armed mobile policemen. finally, on the issue of corruption, there are incorrupt and incorruptible Nigerians but the majority are corrupt and undisciplined.

  2. re: Kayode
    I support your suggestion: I think the Nigerian immigration authorities should review his visa application seriously. There is precedent: some white South Africans who treated Nigeria and Nigerians with disrespect have in the past been deported.

  3. Re- Kayode and Dapo : And therein lies the problem – You are corrupt; someone calls you out and instead of self-examination, you say ‘don’t give him a VISA’, He is disrespecting the country; Really? You needed a foreigner to tell you Majority of Nigerians are corrupt? That corruption is rife in every aspect of the Nation? That security is a problem?

    Do you not see the millions living in abject poverty? Do you not hear the mothers crying for their children that have been lost to disease and crime? Do you need Salve for your eyes?

    It is this attitude to corruption that is the problem; you are the problem – everyone of us who instead of facing the problem turns on a ‘foreigner’ who dares speak to truth..

  4. Mr writer, I guess you were so unfortunate to have met the wrong Nigerians during your stay here. Many European, American and Asian Expatriate have given some positives about their visit to Nigeria, am not saying we are not corupt o…but you made it look worse with your emoticons

  5. Nigerians have so much to do in order to reduce the issues of corruption, especially the youths and the electorates in general as this is our ultimate duty to our motherland

  6. We must not throw away the baby (a piercing assessment of Nigeria) with the bath water (the perceived arrogance of the writer.) Nigeria is a far cry from what she potentially is. If he could only dissect the problem and flee, the onus lies on us to re-dissect it (if we consider his assessment defective) and work at profounding solutions. Nigeria shall be great again in my lifetime! God bless Nigeria!

  7. did not read the entire write up, but comes across as cliche. Again, corruption is a symptom not a problem, and i dare say, not too long in our beloved history was such a concept alien to us. i dare say,the acts we see as common in Nigeria are an offshoot of greater powers at play from so called “first world” countries; one of such the writer hails from. I appreciate his attempt to remind us of well known challenges, but our symptoms would be cured, and i take an exception to statements such as “MOST NIGERIANS ARE CORRUPT”, it is not only ignorant to say such, but utterly embarrassing. Till the world goes in recession owing to our corrupt practices (reference to the 2007 recession, as a result of the housing market collapse was the real cause of the economic crash. That was caused by irresponsible lending practices that were encouraged by politician and financial service practitioners in the USA), until we can solely run a ponzi scheme to the tune of $50 billion with the backing of fortune 500 financial organisations and the government THEN PLEASE SAVE YOUR WRITE UPs while we clean our mess. Thank you

  8. You guys calling for the writers head. Calm down for a second… Now think. What has he said here that is false ?. Now ask yourself, what exactly are you angry about ?. We know that our country has not progressed as it should’ve because of corruption and our attitude towards it. You can choose to bury your head in the sand and attack the messenger, OR you can take the message, look inwards and find a way to help Nigeria turn around, at least in the places where you can contribute. Tim Newman has done his time in Nigeria and could’ve left without saying anything to us. Please let’s see this as a gift from someone who stayed with us long enough to care. Have a great day everyone.

  9. Tim, I can’t thank you enough for writing this. Nigerians have had their heads so far up their backsides for long that they have forgotten how shit smells and have indeed acquired a taste for it.

    The comments of some here just goes to illustrate the point you make in your excellent diagnosis and analysis of the state of contemporary Nigeria. We can wake up, smell the coffee and do something about regenerating our collective mindsets taking cues from constructive criticisms from the likes of people like you about how our mentality and general lack of progressive ethics has turned the country into the shit hole it is today OR we can continue to wallow in our shit progressing on that downward trajectory, making defensive excuses along the way about the mess being the fault of everybody but ours

  10. Hi Tim, why dont you stop being a wanker and get over it. It’s obvious Nigeria is not the place for you. What good is there in all your castigations. You go to a country, you take your big ass pay packet and then you go off ranting and raving and you’ve got nothing positive to say about that country. I’m Aussie and my best friend and many of my students are Nigerians, therefore a little respect would be appreciated.

  11. I appreciate the writer’s right to express his opinions in his own blog. However I feel having lived in only one area and worked in one sector, albeit arguably the most important in Nigeria, it is a bit shortsighted to generalize his experience to represent what is obtainable in the whole country. I am proudly Nigerian and the state of the country and attitudes of several of our citizens leave a lot to be desired but the experiences of an expat by reason of being a Caucasian expat will by its very nature be vastly different from what the ‘ordinary’ person living in the country experiences. Anyway it is not my intention to criticize any thing in this interesting piece but only to point out that it should be taken for what it is- the opinion of one foreigner who lived in a ‘cocooned’ environment in Lagos and worked in an industry where vast amounts of money is made and unmade in a relatively short time.

  12. spot on assessment, very candid, very true. would we learn and move forward positively from this? hmmmmmmmmmm

  13. This piece will anger a lot of Nigerians, but nothing Tim has said here is a lie, and nothing here was written to disparage Nigeria, Nigerians, or black people, as one could argue in the cases of the white South Africans who were deported. Tim has just been brutally honest, no more no less.

    In me old age, I’ve realised that the system is everything. The problem is that Nigeria does not have any system. No rule of law, no system of governance, no plans for the future, no transparency, no accountability etc. Therefore one sees bizzare things happen, such as the girl who died on the operating table at Univ. of Enugu Teaching Hospital, during heart surgery by American volunteer surgeons, because the adrenalin they had was fake. It had been sourced from Ariaria market in Aba!! Or the chap who was caught importing containers of fake drugs into the country. He was soon released and said ‘sorry’. Months later he could not understand why Nigerians were still hounding him, after all, he’d said sorry. Meantime, this criminal got a court injunction preventing NAFDAC from coming near him or his property.

    My take is that this sorry state of affairs is caused by disunity, bad leadership and even worse followership. The result is that we cannot set up even rudimentary systems, and, unless we change course very soon, it will all end in complete anarchy, the likes of which the world has never seen before and will probably never see again.

  14. re Tobi
    Insulting anyone who disagrees with you is not a sign of knowing what you are doing. Accusing anyone who disagrees with you of being corrupt … you must be joking. I actually listed 8 complete falsehoods in his article .. such as the US President’s package is $400k p.a. so I am talking about what is factually true and what is factually false. I work in the financial sectors in Europe.. official estimates of corrupt payments on Italy exceed the entire economic turnover of Nigeria! Corrupt claims on EU subsidies is estimated at €20bn from Italy alone. We do not have to deny corruption in Nigeria to put it in perspective… foreigners complain about corruption in Nigeria as if their own hands were clean ..Haliburton was involved in $100m bribe/scam on Nigeria.. we know this because the people got caught… The UK House of Lords produced a report ‘The other side of the coin’ pointing out that corruption in Nigeria was mutual with foreigners … just because we have faults and weaknesses does not mean we should accept every false allegation!

  15. It is widely known that most foreign companies have been dishonestly cheating Africa of $billions in tax payments.. this is organised corrupt criminality by the majority of foreigners… But this is not what they want to talk about… I have friends in the tax world who documented this to me and the European Revenue authorities know all about it… They even held a conference in Paris to see what they could do to reduce it …

  16. re Ola:
    you write: ‘You guys calling for the writers head. Calm down for a second… Now think. What has he said here that is false ?’
    Do you read the prior comments? I listed 8 complete falsehoods!

  17. i’ve to add that we also as individuals should also examine our selves towards the corruption issue, i say this bcos i’ve to confess to some corruption & falsehood practices i did way back when i got some Photoshop Knowledge, i had lots of friends who paid me to falsify their school results & even traders who paid to falsify some reciepts/documents but am a changed person now. i just want to chip in that the first key to recovery from this corruption illness is “self Appraisal “…examine your self and find out your flaws & how it affect the society u live in then from it perhaps some one else might follow your foot steps & change……Self Examination & Change may be all we need to Change the outlook of our Beloved country Nigeria…One Love

  18. I posted the below to a discussion forum to someone who asked if anyone is guiltless of corruption in Nigeria. Some of us can beat our chest and say we are not corrupt. But almost everything Tim Newmann wrote up there is TRUE.

    ”Now, let me tell you a bit about myself. I’ve had to tell one ‘oyinbo’ guy who showed me a ‘shortcut’ way around paying for goods in a retail store in Houston that I will NOT follow his advice. You know what he said? You MUST be a different Nigerian.

    I have been asked if I will stay back in the UK after my program by some folks from Khazakstan. I told them that whatever knowledge I have gained MUST be put to the greater and general use of my country Nigeria and that I have no plans or desire to stay back in the UK. I do not belong there and home is Nigeria. I had gone for their Khazakstani day in the school. Their response: You’re a different Nigerian.

    Back home in Naija. I have refused a 1500 dollars bribe (raw American dollars cash in an envelope) meant to influence my decision to ‘alter’ the award recommendation to our board for a contract. You can say 1500 dollars is a small amount of money – but this is how it starts. If you’re not faithful in a small amount, how can you be faithful when millions come your way?

    Now, that’s some little story about myself. If I delve into personal ‘issues’ you will know that I am a no-nonsense Nigerian and a ‘meritocratic’ inclined human being. I consciously purge myself of every desire to tell a lie. I was a virgin when I married my wife. And although ‘tempted’ to have extra-marital affairs, I have, by the grace of God been faithful to my wife. I do not live above my means. I cut my coat according to my size and the quality of the clothing stuff I can buy. I don’t look down on others who don’t have the same opportunity as I do, and I don’t envy anyone who have more than I do.

    But I passionately hate corruption. I have told several of my friends that they should watch out for me in the future. I have warned them that if I venture into politics, and I become the president of this country by some stoke of luck, I am going to sacrifice myself and the life of anyone found to be corrupt for the liberation of this country from the jaws of corruption, nepotism, religious bigotry, indiscipline, laziness and ethnic rivalry. Everything will be done on merit. Tim did say in his write up that there are indeed some 10% or so Nigerians who are honest and true. I can beat my chest and say I belong to that group.

    Now, that’s a little ‘something’ about myself. Should I ask that you ‘say’ something about yourself? I am sure the corruption gene is in your blood, but who knows, lets hear from you.”

  19. a vast majority of Nigerians are corrupt.. I remember one of my professors saying that if the student union government in my school were to be the government of the federation, Nigeria would have been in a worst situation than it is already.. and I couldn’t agree more.

    trying to exonerate ourselves isn’t going to help us. acknowledging that we have a problem and facing this problem heads on is the only way out..

    Nigeria is the only country we can call our own.

  20. The man has said it all. All we need do is accept the fact and see what we can do as individuals in our own little way to bring about change.

  21. It has been said “the truth will set you free, but it may first make you miserable!!”
    This man has spoken the truth. Part of the problem here is that no group be it the citizens of a nation, an ethnic group or adherents to a religious creed – likes to have their misdeeds pointed out by outsiders. Counting how many “falsehoods” are in the story completely misses the point.
    Truth is, if we continue down the current path in Nigeria with no radical changes, we have no viable future. Concerned minds, such as everyone who read the write up, those commenting and those reading comments can do their own part to decapitate this monster of corruption that we have autotrasplanted into our societal DNA. If the culture starts to transform away from its permissive stance towards “graft” and a critical mass of people refuse to bow to the altar of greed, filthy lucre and quick gain, this nation will unleash its unbridled potential and can be transformed into a pleasant wonder, a diverse economic powerhouse, a tourist Mecca and a place we will all be proud to call “our home”
    Getting upset at a Brit who wrote his observations even if perceived to be “pompous” will achieve no positive end
    If Nigerians don’t transform Nigeria, who will? Let us be brutally honest, swallow our pride, acknowledge our basic problems and address the issues starting in our everyday lives. Maybe we might see and experience positive change in our lifetimes!!
    May God bless Nigeria!!!

  22. Wow!
    Great piece of writing, I must commend. However, I don’t seem to get what the writer’s point is. I mean, to have carried out such meticulous research and come up with this article, I expected something definite and substantial at the end – a suggestion, solution, ..something. I was disappointed. All I am left with to say is that this is just your personal point of view and should NOT be generalized. I am a Nigerian presently in the United Kingdom and can assure you that its not perfect here, and I wonder what the picture would look like if we all keep writing about things we hate in our base. I agree with most of your facts, but then its unfortunate that you did not experience the positive parts of my country. I know Nigeria has several issues BUT it is making some progress no matter how snail-slow that might be. So i agree with Eniola above and will rather view the glass as being half full rather than being half empty.
    So, your article remains very true, but your point is???

  23. Having read this post, I must say that the writer’s observations are generally true; there are a few inaccuracies here and there but those do not detract from the overall accuracy of the post itself. Also remembering that the writer is not a professional journalist will also be of help, methinks.

    But why all the brouhaha about the post. The man came to Nigeria, he saw, and he wrote. I’m a Nigerian and I must say this was a fairly balanced article, all things considered. Forget the man, his nationality and skin colour; I live in Nigeria and must admit that its generally not an easy place to live in.

    One of the writer’s assertions is that there is no discernible change in Nigeria as opposed to some of the other corruption-ridden places he mentioned. There have been changes and improvements made here and there: this is true. Some roads in Lagos may have been fixed and some schools repaired and so forth. But when he syas changes are not discernible it is because this has not made and cannot make any meaningful impact on the lives of the suffering millions. The roads may have been fixed but their transport fares are still where they are and they still have to pass over them in molues and danfos. The schools may have been repaired so children can learn indoors instead of outdoors, but the quality of education imparted is still abysmal, etc,etc.

    In summary, I would like to say that seeking to detect a tinge of racism or bias in the reporting or describing of something that is generally true is silly. I repeat: forget the man, his nationality or skin colour and look at what he wrote. It is not much different from what any Nigerian asked to describe the state of his country would write, is it?

  24. There is one more thing Nigerians are notorious for: they hate it when a foreigner writes or complains about their bad habits..

  25. I am a Nigerian. I was born in Nigeria. I have lived in Nigeria all my life.
    I will speak the truth, because to cover the truth with a lie is the greatest form of corruption.

    Corruption is as normal as air in Nigeria. It reigns everywhere. From the employment scams, to the admission bribes, to fake churches milking money from poor members with the promise of future blessings.

    My dad was forcefully removed from an oil company (NAOC) where he had worked for 26 years as a civil engineer. His crime was that he had refused to partake in shady deals to defraud the company. Therefore his colleagues considered him to be a show-spoiler. They conspired against him and succeeded in getting him out of their way so they could continue their corrupt practices of defrauding the company. It is a pity that honesty is despised, while dishonesty is celebrated.

    I was raised with firmness to always be honest no matter what. When I was ready for admission, the school authorities demanded for bribe of almost N100,000 before I could be given admission to study the course of my choice. My family didn’t agree, so I had no option than to study a different course in a different school.
    I have been asked to pay money before I can get a job in some oil companies here in Nigeria. Even a person I considered a friend had demanded for some thousands of Naira before he can help submit my CV to his company.

    When I got a job some time ago, the old staff I was to work with, began by telling me the shady ways they had been using to defraud the company. I was shocked and surprised.

    Anyone who claims Nigeria is not corrupt, is either lying, or has never been to Nigeria.

    I speak not out of hatred, but of a desire that Nigerians will change.
    Though I am currently unemployed, I am not willing to offer any form of bribe to enable me secure a job.

    I believe in honesty. I will live as an honest man, and be remembered as one.
    A man’s life does not consist of the abundance of things that he possesses.

  26. Every thing the dude said is spot on.
    There is corruption everywhere, but the magnitude and scale of corruption in nigeria words can not even express.
    I challenge anyone to point to any faslehood in his write up

  27. I listed 8 complete falsehoods

    Did you now? Let’s just pick one of them, shall we?

    This is a lie… the US President has a package of benefits that is in millions of dollars and this goes on FOR LIFE .. long after his Presidency . $400k p.a.? Who are you kidding!

    From Wikipedia:

    As of 2001, the president earns a $400,000 annual salary, along with a $50,000 annual expense account, a $100,000 nontaxable travel account, and $19,000 for entertainment.

    I said the US President gets an annual salary of $400k, and whaddya know? He does. Okay, he gets an overall cash package of $569k, plus accommodation and transport. My bad for not mentioning it.

    So where are these millions that he gets for life, then? You have any source for that?

    I work in the financial sectors in Europe…

    You’re not in charge of Greek budgetary discipline, are you?

  28. This is a Nigerian writing,,,, just a one page blog? make yourself authentic blogger, let me verify who you are

  29. Pingback: The panacea to Nigeria's corruption stigma - The Nigerian Telegraph | The Nigerian Telegraph

  30. Nigerians learnt well the way of thinking and doing business of those that colonised them. We now need to call them to BE Nigerians again.

  31. Hi Tim,

    I have to say that you certainly have an intricate understanding of the issues that plague Nigeria. This indepth knowledge is one that can only be acquired through first hand experience. You were brutally honest, which I absolutely appreciate as a Nigerian who wishes that things were different in my fatherland.

    Although I have always been resolved to doing my own small part in changing things in Nigeria, I am even more inspired to do more to bring about some change. The situation may seem hopeless to some but nothing is impossible and Nigeria slowly but surely is moving in the right direction. Corruption, greed and total disregard for rule of law are massive challenges that we must overcome. But the country has made some economic gains over the last decade and a half. That is progress.

    My wish is that we Nigerians are able to get our act together well enough to have folks like yourself desire to go back to Nigeria on another long term assignment. We will get there.

    Thank you for the article. I certainly enjoyed the read.

  32. Pingback: An Expatriate’s Indepth Analysis Of Corruption In Nigeria | UnilagLss

  33. Tim:

    Good write up. But reminds me of the Tarzan stories. There is corruption. Every where. Justy as corruption brought down Greece. Just as corruption brought down Lehman Brothers. Oh, No, financial engineering is NOT corruption. Or is it? Or what is the name of that UK that was nationalized? And RBS? What is there with it.

    It seems that you are unwilling to distinguish between actuality and perception. Between begging and corruption. Yes, the Nigerian Police hassle people. Just as the UK and US Police hassle women in detention to have sex with them.

    In any case, you went, you saw, you engaged in some of the corruption (I did not read anywhere that you refused to take advantage) and you got rich. And you wrote. But have you perchance visited Forbes website report on the 50 most Reputable Countries in 2013. Nigeria is on that list prepared by a New York based Global Consulting Firm. In case you have not seen it, here is the URL: http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2013/06/27/the-worlds-most-reputable-countries-2013/.

    Have a good day and come back again.

  34. Two words: “spot on”. And that doesn’t make me unpatriotic. It makes me objective.

  35. I think most of the people that complain about the writer have been so used to corruption that they have forgotten exactly what it means to be corrupt.

    As painful as it is – especially coming from a foreigner – it is true. Instead of asking for the writer’s head and trying to disprove his claim about what the American President earns, we should take this as a wake up call and begin to think of ways that you as an individual has been corrupt and what you can do about it.

    It is not only the politicians that are corrupt – the civil servant who asks for N1000 before he can process your document is corrupt. The employee who would not sign your contract papers unless you ‘factor him into your quotation’ is corrupt.

    Thanks Tim.

  36. It takes a genuine love for humanity for this writer to put down this. Even though there are few inaccurate observations but the over-all write I think is geared into waking Nigerians up for their own good. He is quite a different kind of expatriate.

  37. Tim, Tim, Tim, you know we will have your head right and you still went ahead and told the truth? Ah to may God help you! You do realise Nigerians will come out guns blazing right. Well Tim enjoy the ride. Nice, and apt piece though.

  38. I have read the piece and comments, I must say Dapos’ caught my attention. I choose not to look at the personality or the percieved Arrogance of the writer, but the issues as there were and are. I dare to say there’s absolutely nothing false in the piece, as the writer did well to state that ‘Degree’ matters and in our (Nigeria) case is obvious as to what degree corruption has eaten deep into every aspect of the system (If any does exist). Many people commenting here including myself know for a fact we have in one way or the other involved in the same corruption regardless the degree, most cases we are even afraid to say no to corruption.

    Dapo it is sad that you are no different from our present day leaders who attack the messenger instead of the message, or choose not to be objective. What is our business with how corrupt other nations are? So what if Obama’s salary was exaggerated? Are they Americans suffering from that? Or is Nigeria any better than the other corrupt countries mentioned? We can go on and on about how just a few people are giving Nigeria a bad image but if we look clearly we will realize it has been a collective effort over the years!

    So can we stop the hypocrisy of acting patriotic when it seems convenient and become the change we dearly seek! When Obama said ‘Yes you can’ he ignored the sentiments of race, corruption, pride, culture, party or any other obstacles, knowing that it was up to ‘Americans’ (the people) to make the change! And what happened? The leaders didn’t make the change, the people did, because the power lies with them! Every time there’s a wake up call we are quick to direct it to the our leaders! Its high time we realize our role in all the events of the nation and stop the ‘we aren’t the worst’ nonsense,

    Thanks Tim.

  39. The truth hurts they say… this is a HD picture of Nigeria. well, the bad side of it. just like a little black stain on a white sheet is noticed almost as much as the entire material, Nigeria is often viewed through the eyes of corruption. but had corruption not been so rampant would such have been the case? There isn’t anything said here that i don’t see as truthful. i love d fact that the writer agreed that corruption is in Nigeria, Russia and the U.k. etc but, the degree is gigantically different. Recently 2 police officers were caught on video collecting bribes and were reportedly arrested. that is good news right? arresting a corrupt police officer. but try and compare this swift arrest and possibly dismissal with the case of a member of the House of Reps: who was also reportedly caught on video collecting bribe.. that case apparently has died a slow death.. is there a good reason why a country that has so much oil and wealth, cant refine its own oil at a significant capacity, instead it imports petrol leaving its domestic petroleum price at the mercy of the international oil market? lets not even go to the madness of epileptic power supply and its relation to generator companies, or the fact that healthcare is a joke in Nigeria, a clear example are the frequent trips by wealthy Nigerians to foreign hospitals for issues as minor as appendicitis or ‘headache’, or the fact that the education sector is in shambles. Indeed some states are beginning to see the light. but if u compare this recent epiphany with the amount of money at their disposal, then you’d realise that little or nothing is really being done. we have so suffered at the hands of our leaders that we are ‘greatful so much as for the crumbs that fall under the table.’ good education, sound healthcare system, food and shelter, human development are rights we should enjoy as Nigerians.. it is not a gift from governors. we are an overly religious and optimistic bunch. to a great extent at our own detriment. is it not a bit curious and hypocritical that a nation with a teeming population of Christians and Muslims is awash with corruption at such an unbelievable rate: from the street urchin to the governor. swift legislations are passed or being debated upon to execute kidnappers. how about corrupt politicians that steal money meant for healthcare or education? will swift legislations be passed to execute them too?
    Development is very slow paced. its like mopping the floor but so slowly that it gets stained all over again.
    Despite the negatives, the country is recording progress: recently i came across ‘ebony agro’ our own domestically produced rice. the packaging is beautiful, the rice is magnificent. there’s also the Innoson motor plant, the revival of the rail way, cassava flour, the upgrade of the airports etc
    Nigeria is a great country, going through a LOT.
    Corruption in Nigeria is stifling, but Nigeria just like the sheet is still white only stained.

  40. Now you all can say what ever you like about this writer, but the truth is that what he has written is about 95% true. I challenge all of you who are blinded by ethnocentric sentiments to proove that the quote below is a lie! “The behaviour was identical across all strata: I want more money, and I will do absolutely anything to get it. If you were to replace the politicians – let’s say our 109 senators from before – with 109 random people from the Nigerian citizenry, you would get no change in behaviour. You could repeat the experiment a thousand times, and you would get no change. There is no ruling class in Nigeria, there is just a set of rulers. Where any change is expected to come from I don’t know.”

  41. … a very good piece of art and history, sadly not much of engineering or re-engineering solutions w.r.t. the author’s profession proffered. much more can be said/written about morality or lack of it in the western world but why worry when such energies can be channelled into proving tim and his likes wrong for our future generations and move past the west in the social and economic mobility indices and then his history would be rewritten.

    …Weep Not, Child vintage Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

  42. Tim Newman’s blog about Nigeria is so true, wealthy Nigerian are classless because they have no morals, all they care about is to accumulate as much wealth as possible for their personal self and family, their attitude are un-humain and their behavior is similar to that of hoodlums.

    It was very courageous of Tim to share his experience on his blog, and for us Nigerians to accept this as a feedback from a visitor to our country. Every Nigerians that has read this blog should take this as a challenge upon themselves and change their work ethics/attitude and stamp out corruption within their domain. Do share this blog with your colleagues/fellow Nigerian.

  43. Till I read Uche’s comments, I was going to ask – Is it just me, or… did a Nigerian actually contribute a greater chunk of this writ?
    Whether or not I sensed correctly, it is needful to acknowledge this writ as well articulated and delivered. Our so-called “leading news houses” need to borrow a leaf – or two from this one, this is investigative journalism in disguise, more of this from our Nigerian writers home and abroad might just be capable of causing our Mother-Land her much needed revolution. It’s high time we stopped coating the tip of our pen, it’s high time we stopped writing popular opinion, and what all of ’em’ political juggernauts want us to write and think of ’em’, enough of the finesse! Let’s Just Say It As Is!

    Thanks Tim cum “Nigerian Contributor” (maybe) *winks*

  44. A very accurate and vivid picture of Nigeria as I know it, and even more. Thank you for the well-crafted writ. Nothing in this piece is exaggerated or false. That is Nigeria in a nutshell. You speak truth to power, son.

  45. The funny thing is I agree with a lot of things Mr.Newman wrote about Nigeria. I wouldn’t argue that Mismanagement of the country’s natural and human resources has been and still in existence; that corruption is rampant in Nigeria, it’s ugliness has gone beyond finance and permeated within our values and ethics. However where we part ways is where he cast a blanket statement saying most Nigerians (9 out of 10 ) are dishonest, is very disheartening and at the very least irresponsible . The entity Nigeria was several nations forcefully joined by his country for their selfish interest. They pilphered her for so many years and relatively put nothing in return. In recent history a section (I am not claiming right or wrong not to deviate from topic) of this entity, wanted to part ways but the British would not allow such. The Wilson administration in violation of the United Nation orders funded and armed troops to stop secession. They still had their hands in Nigeria’s pocket after the so called independence. Please when you tell the story of a Nation don’t start from the middle or wherever suits you, at the very least inform your audience Once upon a time.

  46. I think the writer gave a perfect description of Nigeria. It’s amazing that most of us Nigerian’s know and hate these negative characteristics of ourselves but nobody tries to change anything. Please, if you are reading this, lets take this opportunity, individually, and be the change we want to see in Nigeria. Let us be HONEST, KIND and LOVING to our brothers and sisters. We need to Love more in Nigeria. Let’s not wait for “Nigeria” to change. WE ARE NIGERIA.
    God bless Nigeria.
    Thank you MR. Newman.

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