By Design, Nigeria Is Working Perfectly

We will start this discourse with a concept. And it is not a concept in governance or politics. It is a concept in business management.


There is a concept in business performance management known as “Kaizen”. Kaizen was developed by the Japanese to facilitate more efficient production using “Lean manufacturing”. Forget the technical jargon, kaizen simply means “a drive to zero waste”. What is actually of interest to us here is kaizen’s view of waste. Kaizen says waste is never accidental. It says waste is a direct result of design inefficiency & basically says the producer has intentionally or inadvertently designed his production process to encourage waste.

It is this kaizen’s view of waste that applies to corruption and inefficiency in the Nigerian state. Contrary to popular opinion, Nigeria’s corruption is not by “greed” or “bad behavior”. It is by design. We will come back to this momentarily but lets dig a little further.

You see, man is an economic animal. And all economic activity stems from this. All economics, no matter how complex, is based on a loop that begins with human wants and ends with resources. Economic activity is simply what people are compelled to do to appropriate resources to satisfy their wants. For example, a man who wants to buy a car, plants rice, sells the harvest, then buys car. You can see the chain of events clearly from human wants (need for car) to resources (money for car/car).

Now governance systems & structures are uniquely placed to control what people do to get resources to satisfy their wants. This is the interesting part about what the Nigerian state has done with its design in terms of an economic model. The question has never been whether people want resources to satisfy their wants – they do. The question has always been “what does your system make people do to get those resources?”. Now let us examine the economic behavior our system has been designed to motivate people to do to get resources.

The Nigerian constitution allocates resources to people on the basis of “population”. What does that make people do to get these resources? Falsify & inflate census figures, organize state government-sponsored mass weddings for more children, invite illegal aliens for censuses, document underaged children to vote. People do not do these things by accident. They do them because the Nigerian state, by its design & reward system, has placed a premium on them & made them the best means to an end.

The Nigerian constitution grants people resources on the basis of “Land mass”. What does that make people do to get these resources? Fight for more states to have their own “land mass” to get money & have border disputes.

The Nigerian constitution grants people resources on the basis of “Equality”(To equalize development across states). What does a person who gets more resources simply because he is not pulling his weight & lagging behind do? Its simple, he lags behind so he can get paid. You cannot base benefit on underperformance and expect people to perform.

The Nigerian constitution grants state governors billions of Naira at the end of every month for doing nothing exactly to earn it. What does that incentivize the governor to do? Yes, you guessed right – Nothing. This even affects voter choices. State voters see no need to bother with a man of productive ideas as the ideas are not needed to yield resources. All they need to do is support anybody who will share the resources guaranteed to come monthly with them.

You see a clear trend of a system incentivizing bad behavior. It is simple, what you reward, you encourage. “Greed” is a result of want. And human wants are constant. So in essence, all people have some measure of greed. It is what the system encourages & permits people to do to satisfy this greed that is the problem. Corruption does not exist despite the system, it exists because of the system. For decades, we have been chasing people around to “fight corruption” with scant success when the corruption we should be focused on fighting is the one that is in our constitution.

Our constitution & the internal political architecture as currently constituted, is designed to encourage and reward all the things we claim to hate. Our dysfunction is not by accident, it is simply the system doing what it was designed to do. Yet many fight tooth and nail to make sure it does not change. But as the saying goes, “Only a fool does the same thing over and over & expects a different result”.

Nigeria is working perfectly as designed. If you want different results, change the design.

King Alfred is a finance professional and a lover of the social sciences. He tweets from @KingDouyeAlfred


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