The virulence and magnitude with which Nigerians engage in crime has been explained in many
ways. Some writers trace the root to 3 (three) main events: the incursion of the military into
politics in January 15, 1966, the 1967 – 1970 civil war, and the oil boom of the 1970’s but I decided to add the fourth one on the advancement in technology . These events, it was claimed, led to the devaluation in the virtues of honesty, morality, integrity and honour. The attendant consequence was the worship of money rather than honour and achievement. Money, it is suggested, became the main qualification for recognition and respect with hard work and honesty relegated to the background. For example, according to Therese Nweke, the fallout from the civil war and other “natural disasters, both national and man-made” led to the erosion of ethical values and virtues among Nigerians”. Some individuals blame the penchant of Nigerians for crime to the quality of our leaders, the inevitable crises of underdevelopment, greed, avarice, get-rich attitude of Nigerians, imported western movies, and American trained Nigerians. In a display of naivety, one writer said: “Since large numbers of American trained Nigerians returned in the 1980s, American style (gangsterism) has grown in leaps and bounds”. Others attribute it to the advent of “Western education” which led to weaker family ties and its consequential effects on our moral values and crime”.
Yet other commentators attribute the propensity of Nigerians to commit crime to what is called
the “Nigerian factor”:- “an alibi readily and complacently employed to explain away why
nothing seems to work in our country. Loosely defined, it means a justification or rationalization
of why everything — be it a system, machine or idea — that works in other environment would
not function well in Nigeria. Other factors which have been identified as a cause for the penchant for Nigerians to commit crime are that we are “just smart”, “clever” and “fast” individuals who steal in order to help ourselves and by extension, the State; after all, crime, it is claimed, creates avenues for gainful employment. Others rationalize our involvement in crime as one way in which we share in the “national cake” or a way in which the “national cake”, which is owned by all, trickles down to us instead of just a few individuals. In some extreme cases, crimes are explained away as our own way or type of reparation — after all, there is nothing wrong in robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Involvement in crime is justified as a kind of redress for society’s injustice: a way of
redistributing wealth and bridging the gap between the rich and the poor. “Crime” in Nigeria,
argues Nninnmo Bassey is “a calculated political struggle”: “The ‘have-nots’ want to tackle the
heavily protected big-man, they descend on the other Nigerians who are easy prey, perhaps, as a
stopgap” . You should not be angry if the messenger, the clerk, the secretary, the police at checkpoints, the officials at the passport or motor licensing office, or anywhere else demands something at every opportunity that arises. They cannot see the logic in losing the opportunity to grab N100 when the people that employ them are getting away with billions. For Utomi,
Nigerians behave the way they do because of the “incentives” offered by government policy. The consequence, he concludes, is that “if you pay peanuts, you get monkies”. Some conspiratory theorists believe our propensity to commit crime is not different from other nationalities worldwide; rather, our criminal tendencies they argue, get more mention because our detractors, encouraged by the local press and unpatriotic Nigerians, want to pull the country and people down in what is referred to nebulously as the “pull-down-syndrome”. For example, Adebo-Kienche suggests that Nigerians are pushed into crime by foreigner collaborators. “A foreigner who is duped”, she argues, “is in most cases himself not quite clean”. Other commentators put up the same thesis. The editorial of the Daily Times states: “Operation 419” is not exclusively a Nigerian crime. All the foreigners and the others duped are potential cheats; eager to reap where they never sowed. For many years when such fraud was perpetrated by highly organized mafia and billions of Nigeria’s money was siphoned with the collusion of greedy foreigners, the Western countries now blackmailing Nigeria saw nothing wrong in it. The London-based Johnson Mattley Bank scandal of a few years ago readily comes to mind. Now that fortune seems to have changed and unsuspecting foreigners are being conned by smart, albeit dubious Nigerians, there is concerted effort by foreign governments and their media to paint an image of Nigeria as a country bound to crime. This tactic is unacceptable … if we may ask: why is it that none of the affected foreign countries have arrested and tried their own greedy citizens involved in the fraudulent deals?.
Former Information and Culture Minister, Walter Ofonagoro blamed the increasing wave of
crime by Nigerians on foreign collaborators. He said foreign “419ers” should be held responsible
for scams in Nigeria, because they introduced Nigerians into the act. “Why would somebody
abroad who had not invested in Nigeria, collude with someone to pull out huge sums of money
from the country?” He noted that the foreign collaborators only raised false alarm when they
were outplayed by their Nigerian counterparts: “Would they have cried out if they cheated Nigeria?”, he asked, adding, “it takes two to tango in the 419 scam. If the foreigners withdraw
from the trade, I am sure their colleagues will be frustrated” .
To Chinweizu, what promotes crime in Nigeria is the “absence of the political will to do what is both right and necessary” which he feels, is “a symptom of mental illness”. He concludes that Nigeria “may well be a nut case”. The late Retired General Joseph Garba located the problem elsewhere: in “some evil subterranean influences” that “guides our polity”.
Although there might be some elements of truth in all these, some of the “reasons” which have
been suggested as “causes” of crime in Nigeria are extremely quixotic, weak, and lame. To put it
mildly, they are mere rhetorical excuses, complete poppycock. The questions one needs to
answer are: Why must Nigeria acquire universal notoriety for crime and criminality? Is Nigeria
the only developing country in the world? Are we the only human species in the whole planet? If there is a conspiracy against us by foreigners, why must our own nationals even collude
with them to “bash” and malign us? Indeed, why is the rest of the world so desperate to gang up
against us? Are we the only black nation in the world? Are we not just one nation among the
comity of nations on the globe? Why is it that we are going through the magnitude, propensity
and virulence of the criminal malaise that is our onerous lot today? What theories can we advance to explain these phenomenal happenings? And, what is the way forward?
However, addressing criminality in Nigeria requires an integrated holistic approach. Truly, Shortcuts will not work. The World Bank 2008 report advocates for a comprehensive model that caters for rural development, rural-urban migration, preparation of young people for the labor market and investments in agriculture.
The aim of Nigerian government politics and process should be to create enabling environment to promote investments and job opportunities for the youths. This includes provision of power, maintaining law and order, and adequate security. The justice system must also be strong to enforce law, facilitate strong contracts and protect mutual trust. Free movement of people and goods should be allowed, within the limits of regional and international trade treaties.
Education curriculum must be immediately revised to incorporate skills and morals acquisitions exercise, Entrepreneurship Development, and enterprise to limit the rat of paper works. A special program should be designed for low-skilled youth in vocational centres. Incentives should be provided to SMEs that promote student internships. The current state of youth unemployment in Nigeria requires shared responsibilities to tackle it. It will take the ‘Power of We’ to solve it. Businesses will thrive in a safe and secure society. Government can implement developmental programs only in an atmosphere of peace of security. It is therefore incumbent on government to work closely with the private sector to promote internships, graduate trainee programmes, and community-based projects that create jobs for young people.
Agriculture is a viable source of investments for young people if it is made attractive. There should be a swift transition from subsistence to commercialized mechanized farming. Farm and non-farm activities should be better packaged to make them really attractive. There should also be adequate investment in rural education. This will boost rural opportunities and reduce rural-urban migration and its concomitant challenges.
The levels of crime control span local, national and international boundaries. It is not just individualised but also applies to both nation states and the global community. Crime control in these spheres has both similarities and dissimilarities with regards to modus operandi, although the intensity of enforcement differs significantly. Crime control is so essential that a pot pourri of electronic, mechanical, cultural and personnel factors are employed by governments, institutions, organisations and private citizens to ensure safety of life and property.