Cultural cringe and the theory of best practice in Nigeria

When the idea for this article came up, the initial title was “cultural inferiority and the theory of best practice,” however, while doing my research I realised a term relating to the same idea already existed.

The term cultural cringe was developed by A.A. Philips, in his controversial 1950 essay of the same name. Cultural cringe is an internalized inferiority complex that causes people in a country to dismiss their own culture as inferior to the culture of other countries. It is defined by the Collins dictionary as “the perception that one’s own culture is inferior to that of another group or country.” In his essay, A.A. Philips described the ingrained feelings of inferiority that local intellectuals struggled against, and which were most clearly pronounced in the Australian theatre, music, art and letters. The term cultural cringe can also be traced to other environments and it has been associated many times with colonial mentality.

Best practice is a method or technique that has been generally accepted as superior to any alternatives because it produces results that are superior to those achieved by other means or because it has become a standard of doing things e.g a standard way of complying with legal or ethical requirements. It is a working method or set of working methods that is officially accepted as being the best to use in a particular business or industry. Best practices exist in various industries such as health, agriculture, business and it has also been used by authorities in defining public policy or making decisions.

Best practice is an efficient way of taking actions in many situations, however, in many other situations it is prone to flaws due to the ambiguity of the term which stems from the word “best.” Questions arise such as “is what is best in this situation/environment what is best in this other situation/environment?”

In Nigeria, cultural cringe has gradually become synonymous with best practice. There is a general belief held by many Nigerians that whatever is Nigerian is naturally inferior to its western counterpart and in some cases, any foreign culture or that whatever is not Nigerian is best practice.

And so, in many situations, we hear public officials and ordinary Nigerians recommend a certain thing for no reason than its foreignness. Very commonly, we hear phrases like “in America” or “according to how it is done in” these recommendations are in many situations made without proper evaluation of the two environments, and in most cases have dire effects.

In a lecture delivered by Femi Falana, a senior advocate of Nigeria and human rights lawyer at Oduduwa hall in Obafemi Awolowo University, an example of cultural cringe was discussed. While speaking on the role of traditional rulers in traditional Yoruba setting (the occasion was the birthday of the Ooni of Ife), the lecturer spoke about the recent rise in alternative dispute resolution in the Nigerian legal system and then decried how this system had always been in existence in traditional Yoruba culture as the Ooni’s court had always been the ultimate venue for resolving dispute amicably and that  the adversatorial system of litigation was an introduction of western culture.  Today, ADR is being regarded as a foreign concept and  recommended as a best practice, and the Ooni of Ife must look on in amusement.

Cultural cringe in Nigeria is also evident in many other areas, from parents who scold their children for speaking indegenous language to the preference of foreign writers and writing over home grown writers.

The reason behind cultural cringe in Nigeria is not far fetched. The effects of colonialism and neo-colonialism are to blame. Our traditions and cultures were conciously replaced with foreign ones by the colonialists, our values were decried and our way of life regarded as second rate. This instilled a feeling of inferiority which has been passed down from generation to genration either conciously or unconciously.

Cultural cringe has affected Nigeria in a lot of ways which are to be seen in many aspects of Nigerian life but I’ll focus on one; political culture. A typical example is the decadence in leadership and governance which is found in Nigerian political spheres. The reason behind the poor service of public officials lies majorly in the fact that our system of governance is not home grown. There is a huge disconnection between our system of government and the cultural make up of the people in it. Politicians and political leaders are raised from birth with traditional values among which include socio-political values and ethos. When they go into politics, they still hold these values which in many situations do not match with the western socio-political values and system.

In many traditional political structures for example, leadership is hereditory and leadership reign is perpetual. The western system however favours a  periodical reign of leadership. When these two system meet, it creates a clash which is bound to ensure unproductivity. This clash causes a negative result. For example, the perpetuity of tenure of leaders in traditional societies which is supposed to ensure continuity and consistency in the leadership of rulers or a ruling family who are literally raised for the leadership is reflected as the greed of politicians who are selected by popular demand, when placed in a western system. It is pretty simple, the Nigerian political culture and mindset is sharply different from the western political system and mindset. When the two come together, it creates confusion. Some may argue that there are certain people who exude such political values that fit in the western system, but the questions to be asked are? Are these values present in the general populace? Can these people survive in an environment structured in a different way?

When these questions are answered, it would be obvious that the correct answer to this is that a political system structured to accomodate the pecularities of Nigerians and not a direct prototype of western socio-political culture should be adopted, since the only reason why the current political system or structure exists is because this system is regarded as a “best practice.” Moreover, don’t our traditional political systems still exist. Should’nt a reform of these systems be a more practical approach since they were formed by us for us? These are the questions.

A child’s story

Chidera Agu had always been a fiesty girl. She never showed shyness of any kind, or slowed when speaking her mind. She said what she wanted, how she wanted, and when she wanted to.
The first time I met her, she had looked me straight in the eyes, pointed to a packet of “rubber” in her palm and said “lets go and play in my father’s room.”
Although I wasn’t certain, I nodded in affirmation as she took my hands and led me into a poorly lit room.
We were only kids then, and the only rubber we knew was used for tying hair and making catapults.
Chidera was the new girl in my area. Her father was an engineer in the army and her mother worked at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, attending to women under labour. I was her classmate and next door neighbour.
When Chidera first arrived, I hated her because on her first day of resumption, she answered all the questions mrs Bakare our social studies teacher asked and everyone called her “efiko”, a name that was previously attached to me alone. I stared at her from the corner of my eyes as she blushed and adjusted her glasses over eyes which knew nothing about proportion -judging from the way they dominated her tiny face- and wished she would go back to Borno, Chad, or wherever they said she had come from. Later that day, she had looked at me smiling through her harmattan cracked lips and said “do you know that Lagos is no more the capital of Nigeria? It is now Abuja.”
I didnt know but I replied with a hiss and muttered “shut up, you talk too much” then watched the edges of her lips quickly turn into a frown… exactly how I wanted.
The next day in class, I knew she had gotten my message because mrs Bakare asked who knew the new capital of Nigeria and she shrunk deeper into her chair while I shouted “Abuja”, reclaiming my title of “efiko”.
But Chidera never went back to Borno. She continued to live in Lagos and we remained classmates for about 4 years until her father was posted to Enugu. At that time we had become very close, almost inseperable. We played together, fought together, and even did chores together. If I was washing plates she would be rinsing them, we were like yin and yang, bonnie and clyde, roasted plantain and groundnut.
The day her family moved out, I sat at the edge of her bed watching her fold clothes into a brown duffel bag. Her hands moved rhythimically, feeling the texture of each fabric before placing it on the bed. If she found any crease, she would unfold and begin to fold the cloth again.
That was the way Chidera was. Extremely carefull with mundane acts, yet suprisingly carefree in spirit.
“Can you just fold this thing quick?” “You are making me sick.” I said.
“Mr Agu wouldn’t want the clothes he bought to be treated badly” she replied, rolling her eyes in the way she did whenever she was resolute.
After a few minutes of silence and the sound of fabric rubbing against fabric passed, she picked the bag from the bed and said “oya, lets go. I’m done packing” before heading to the stairs that led outside.
We were halfway down the stairs when she turned to me and said “wait, I forgot something,” and then ran back up the stairs returning with a yellow object in her hands.
“Take this” she said “A little gift from me. If its bitter then it means you would forget me, if its sweet then you won’t.”
I opened my hand and she dropped a stick of lollipop into it “Okay” I said.
Later that evening, as I washed the dishes, I unconciously placed the washed plates for Chidera to do the rinsing before realising that I was alone. I remembered her tiny feet tiptoeing to reach the sink and dipped my hands into my jean pocket to bring out the lollipop she had given me in the afternoon. I unwrapped it and placed it in my mouth. As I licked Chidera’s lollipop, my mind flipped through pages of memories and moments which had occured in the past and I felt pain grip my chest. I remebered her sweet voice as she sang every morning in the school bus, I remembered how she had taught me the multiplication table after mrs Tunji had called my a dullard for not knowing it, and how her dimples dug into her gum revealing perfect dentition and her beautiful eyes had grown larger the day I told her she was beautiful.
I remembered the bad times too, like when she fell sick for a month after her sickle cell had gotten worse and the doctors said she wouldn’t survive. I remembered her mother crying and telling her she was sorry for bringing her into the world and her father’s silent grunts and cold stares at the ceiling. I wished Chidera had not left, I wished she had spent a whole day folding her clothes, but most of all, I wished she didn’t have a poor taste in sweets.
The lollipop she had given me tasted bitter, but I wasn’t sure whether it was the taste of the sweet or the tear drops that mixed with it.

Taxation and the emergence of a sharp eyed eagle

In recent times, the Nigerian socio-political atmosphere has been consumed by unprecedented vigour in the fight against corruption. This has largely been stirred up by the introduction of the “whistle blower policy”, a policy which encourages the disclosure of information and intelligence on activities that are deemed illegal or unethical. While the major drivers of this policy are anti-graft agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Federal government, Nigerians are also not left out as most people are either bemused by the large amounts of discovered loot, or by the depth in which corruption has eaten deep into our systems.
Varying reactions have trailed the government’s efforts at tackling corruption. Some have given it a thumbs up while others a knock. Regardless of this, the fact that corruption is a menace which affects every area of our national life still remains undoubted. Many commentators have made reservations on the procedure of the government’s fight against corruption. They claim that the current effort by the government is personalised, and that if the government intends to reduce corruption in the society, it must fight it on an institutional basis. One of such opinions is held by Femi Falana, a Senior advocate of Nigeria and human rights activist who said “if you want to fight corruption, apart from trying to institutionalise and empower agencies, you must mobilise critical segments of the society to fight corruption.” In simpler terms, their opinion is that deterrents must not only be caught and prosecuted, but the government must remove the system of bureaucratic corruption from every institution of governance and social engineering, be it education, business, governance, or the judiciary. As an attempt to examine corruption in various sectors, this essay is a study on corruption in tax administration.
Taxation and tax administration are vital parts of every society. It is a means through which many countries have achieved development and progress. Due to this, it is very important that a country’s tax administration system must be devoid of unproductive practices such as corruption. In fact according to the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) “Bribery and corruption represent serious threats to economic growth, individual livelihoods and civil society across the world.” Despite such known fact, corruption still prevails in Nigeria as a system of business and tax administration.
Data collated by the World Bank Group’s “Enterprise surveys”measuring the prevalence of different types of bribery in the manufacturing sector of 139 countries shows that bribery incidence (percent of firms experiencing at least one bribe payment request) in Nigeria stands at 28.9%. In addition, 28.6% of firms were expected to give gifts to secure government contract, while 24.2% of firms were expected to give gifts to get an operating license. The implications of these on the Nigerian economy are very important. Firstly, investors are discouraged from doing business in Nigeria, businesses (especially SME’s) die as a result of the inability to cope with illegal taxes and fees, and in the long run tax revenue is drastically undermined.
Tax administration and law enforcement institutions in Africa often suffer from high levels of corruption, making the collection and management of public resources very challenging. According to experts, weak and often corrupt revenue administration remains a fundamental barrier to effective and fair taxation and to building trust between government and citizens in many countries (Fjeldstad 2013; Tax Justice Network Africa 2011). In many African countries including Nigeria, the level of trust between tax administrators and tax payers is discouraging. Many taxpayers simply do not pay taxes because they believe that their money would not be used to fund government projects. Majority of these people are more confident that taxpayer’s money would be misappropriated by corrupt officials. Furthermore, the perceptions of corruption among tax officials is high. In Cameroon and Nigeria (59% each) of tax officials say corruption is widespread, in Sierra Leone (57%), whereas in Benin (54%) hold this view -Aiko & Logan 2014.The issue of corruption in tax administration has been on the forefront for a long time due its devastating consequences. Many people have suggested various methods of tackling this vice but the results have still not been achieved. How then can this endemic problem be resolved?
Tax policy is often used to encourage or discourage certain behaviours and countering corruption is no exception. This is because tax administrations are increasingly involved not only in enforcing tax measures but also in the detection of possible crimes, particularly financial crimes. Why? Tax examiners are highly trained financial investigators and thousands of tax inspectors around the world routinely examine the financial affairs and transactions of millions of individuals, companies, partnerships, trusts, foundations and other taxpayers in the course of tax audits or other tax administration activities. They are thus ideally placed to detect and report suspicions of criminal activity such as payments of bribes to the appropriate authorities (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development). The various ways through which corruption can be curbed in tax administration would be discussed in the following paragraphs.
Firstly, for corruption to be reduced in tax administration, the computerisation of procedures cannot be overemphasised. A large number of Illegal payments to tax/custom officials to reduce taxation or to be granted tax exemptions, licenses, and clearances occur majorly because tax administration is conducted in the physical form i.e face to face transaction, and this provides avenues through which tax officials can connive with taxpayers or exercise undue influence. Conducting transactions face to face further makes it hard for corruption to be tracked since illegal payments are often made through cash or gifts which are hard to track or record. In Nigeria for example, rice importers have reported having to pay NGN 2.5 million per truck to custom officials to clear the border (United States Trade Representatives 2014).

Corruption can also be reduced in tax administration through the reformation of tax policies and laws. Although recent reforms such as the introduction of TIN (unique tax identification number) in 2008, introduction of e-payment systems, and special purpose tax officers have had positive impact in tax administration, a lot is still to be done. obsolete tax laws should be amended and replaced with more suitable ones. Disputes on tax authority and jurisdiction should also be determined in order to establish a sense of certainty in our laws, thirdly, incidences of multiple taxation should be resolved as they serve as incentives for tax evasion.

Extortion by Tax/customs officials who take advantage of the lack of knowledge of taxpayers regarding tax laws is another issue. This can be reduced if tax laws are simplified and made available for the easy understanding of the illiterate population. An easy way to achieve this simplification is the production of tax laws and policies in native language. This way, more people would be aware of their rights and obligations, and tax awareness would be improved. Administrative exercises such as recruitment, appointment, transfer and promotion of officials should be monitored to ensure that due procedure is followed and that such exercises are not conducted on the basis of nepotism or favouritism. Tax officials who are caught engaging in corrupt practices should be made to face legal prosecution and penalties for offenders should be severe and just.

Finally, it is important to note that public officials and political leaders play a major role in curbing corruption especially tax evasion. First, the government must be able to show its determination towards the fight against corruption by its language and actions. Public officials must hold themselves accountable to the electorate and they must also fulfil their constitutional and primary duties of providing social amenities and good governance. In simple terms, there must be renewed dedication and commitment towards improvinging social welfare. This would encourage tax compliance; strengthen the existing trust between tax administrators and taxpayers, and give taxpayers value for their taxes. If these recommendations are implemented correctly, the result would be that corruption would be rendered unprofitable, tax revenue generation would begin to live up to its potential, and tax agencies/bodies would experience an unprecedented functionality.