Breaking the Cord of Power, Ambivalence and the Nigerian Factor

In African societies, power is often viewed ambivalently by the people. A person who possesses power can be perceived favourably whilst simultaneously exhibiting signs of questionable morals and ethics. Many people who denounce corruption also participate in its social reproduction, whether willingly or unwillingly. Consequently, there is an implicit acceptance within our society that a person cannot be completely ‘good’ and that in fact, such contradictions are necessary for a person’s survival and more importantly their success.

In Nigeria, from passport offices to road checkpoints, requests for bribes by Public servants and Policemen are the norm. People patronize ‘Area Boys’ who demand some form of payment before allowing them to park their vehicles. These scams and corrupt practices are such a widespread and central part of Nigeria’s domestic cultural landscape that it is now simply referred to as “the Nigerian factor.”

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At the root of this problem lies the fear of being labelled ‘over righteous’ and more importantly, the risk of not getting most of the things you deserve. It, therefore, seems that indulging in these unethical practices may not be a personal decision. It is a survival strategy and partly the result of subtle social coercion.

With this spot of corruption, it becomes hypocritical for people to challenge corrupt and powerful people in society. This is the root of ambivalence.


A three-fold cord is not easily broken…but it can be broken.

We must rid ourselves of these actions (giving and demanding little bribes) that have tied our tongues and smeared our consciences, so we can speak boldly against the wrong in society. A conscience that is soiled with guilt or has been bought with money cannot speak against corruption.

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If we can openly fight corruption, we can drive the message that it is not just uncool to be corrupt, it is wrong.

And power?

“Power is a curious thing. It resides where men believe it does.”

Where do you think it lies?

Power should lie with the people but until we realize this, we would continue to publicly worship corrupt but ‘powerful’ people. Social media platforms have the potential to drive the discourse on governance and ethics. They lengthen the arm of the lever of power in our hands and amplify our voices against institutionalised corruption.

These tools are good, but we need more. Africa needs a paradigm shift that will begin with individuals. The greatest battle is personal. We must look inwards and remember that power is in our hands. We can break this cord of power, ambivalence and corruption.

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