I came to Nigeria in 2017 with a very open and objective mindset, to manage the UK funded Anti-Corruption in Nigeria Programme (ACORN). I found the scale of corruption mind blowing, far worse than anything I could have imagined. But on reflection, I would not have spent my time in Nigeria doing anything else but supporting Nigerians in their fight against corruption. The experience turned me into an Anti-Corruption Crusader!
I think many Nigerians have become quite desensitised to this very cruel aspect of their society, driven by a greedy few who use positions of power to grab public resources, leaving only crumbs for the majority. As a crusader, I found this very hurtful and gained a good insight to some of the strategies, good and bad, that ordinary Nigerians use to survive.
I think Nigeria has the potential to be one of the greatest countries in the world and I understand why some Nigerians are so steadfast in fighting corruption to secure a better future. I have worked alongside fake fighters and great fighters, this is the reality, but it’s not so difficult to distinguish between the two. Helping to drive Anti-Corruption interventions in Nigeria has really deepened my understanding of the issue and tested my ability to offer viable solutions in challenging contexts. This work requires grit, guts and determination. Corruption bites back, but crusaders learn to bite where it really hurts – I leave this open to interpretation.
Corruption cannot be placed in the “too difficult” box, this would be disastrous in the longer term. We are fighting for the rights of future generations, which is a tremendous responsibility. Fundamentally, I am proud of the extent to which ACORN is owned and driven by Nigerians. I realise that not everyone can understand the complexity of this work; and the time it takes to see results. But rather than judge impact from air-conditioned offices, I recommend stepping out in the heat and really interacting with beneficiaries to hear first-hand the difference interventions are making to their lives. Certainly, I heard and felt the impact of monthly cash transfer payments to poor women – in their words and on their turf. Of course, they deserve far more, but social investment programmes can make a difference to the poor and I strongly advocate for channelling recovered stolen loot in this direction. I have worked closely with Nigerians to demonstrate that it is possible for the poorest to benefit directly from Anti-Corruption efforts – I see this as my main achievement. I have also seen first-hand the growth of stronger relationships between government and civil society and the impact of more collaborative working. Also, how civil society coalitions can reach down to community level, mobilising ordinary citizens to play a role in protecting public funds. This represents the fertile soil from which Nigerians can grow accountability and transparency at all levels.
I have an enormous passion for civil society organisations and invested in promoting the need for such actors in the governance space. They are massively important in driving change in Nigeria. I have seen real warriors, but some trash organisations pollute the space and must be cleaned out, to avoid damaging the credibility of legitimate players.
I love the humour and familiarity of Nigerians. I also feel happy that most people have loved the passion and frankness of me. I have networked to my heart’s content in attempting to understand a diverse range of views and perspectives. I have probed deeply and in doing so, I realise that I have developed a reputation for asking challenging questions. I was fondly referred to as a “nice spy” by one valued interlocutor, which I found so amusing. Ultimately, I have extended my global family by gaining some wonderful brothers and sisters in Nigeria. I leave wishing the best for the country and people, now and always.