…Contemplating on our practice of taking shortcuts
The news of the judgement of a suit filed by the former Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun broke a few weeks ago. The suit, filed to determine whether she had needed an NYSC certificate to serve as Minister, was declared in her favour. She hadn’t needed one. She had sent out a statement after the judgement was released to say she had been vindicated. In her words, “I wish to add, in the light of the Court’s ruling, I will at the appropriate time, and without hesitation, take all further steps necessary within the law to protect my reputation.”
I found this quite interesting as she had failed to address the pesky matter of the circumstances surrounding her obtaining the exemption certificate. The NYSC at the time had denied issuing it which meant that the certificate was forged. She had previously stated that the exemption certificate had been procured for her when she had served as Commissioner of Finance in Ogun State.
I wondered why she had not addressed the certificate forgery as I felt that was the more important matter. Was it surprising that she had sent someone to process the exemption certificate? I had never heard such before. As far as I was concerned, there is a formal process that requires people in that situation to present themselves to the NYSC and request for the certificate by themselves.
As I reflected on the matter, I assured myself that I could never have done such. It then occurred to me that, many years ago, I had paid someone to obtain my first driver’s license. That license was eventually discovered to be fake when I tried to renew it. Then as I thought about it some more, I reflected on the number of times I had paid someone to either manage or expedite a process for me such as renewing my driver’s license or obtaining a new passport. How different was I from Mrs Adeosun?
After my first experience renewing my driver’s license, I still paid someone to manage the process for me. All I had to do was show up, take a picture, and get my biometrics captured. Six years ago, however, I decided to take a risk and handle the renewal process by myself. It was quite a stressful experience as I had to make about three or four visits to the processing centre before I could get my temporary driver’s license. It took another six months before I could get the actual license. If I had paid someone to do it for me, I would most likely have got the license earlier and I would have avoided the stress involved.
I decided to test the system again three years later when the previous license expired. This time around, it took me almost two hours from registration to collecting my temporary driver’s license, and almost four months before I picked up the license, a significant improvement from my first experience. In both cases, I still dropped a little something for the boys not out of compulsion though.
Conversely, I have never been brave enough to attempt handling my passport renewal process by myself. Anyone attempting to either get a fresh passport or a renewal in a place like Lagos or any other commercial city in Nigeria knows that it is most likely easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle. If you have a Nigerian passport, you most likely know what I am talking about.
My driver’s license is the only official document I have procured by myself without having to know anyone or find an intermediary. Registering for the national identity number (NIN) was easier although the process did have its hiccups. I was lucky as a friend referred me to someone who helped me to jump the long queue. Surprisingly, the contact didn’t ask for anything and when I offered to give a little “thank you”, I was rebuffed: quite a surprise.
Doing the right thing in these circumstances is possible but it honestly can be a challenge as many official systems appear structured to frustrate you. Officials will waste your time for no reason, treat you shabbily, or even request supporting documents that may even not be required. A visit to any busy public office will convince you. The alternate reality is to go through the system as is and endure all the challenges you will face till you get served and achieve your goal. This is not an option many people would take.
Feeling justified in taking the faster route in securing a driver’s license or passport is one thing, what about beating the traffic lights? Or driving one-way to quickly enter the street you are going to because you are running late for an appointment? Or applying for a job with a minimum age requirement and swearing an affidavit to declare you are 26 years old when you are 30 years old. Are there any differences between these two groups of events?
Thinking about it, many of us would readily say that we strive to do the right thing every time but if we drill down, we will notice that there have been times we have done otherwise. Sometimes, we even have reasons for seeking shortcuts and to be fair, some of these reasons appear genuine. For example, some people would never beat a red light but if they are out at night on a lonely road, waiting for the traffic light to turn green might just be a death sentence.
We cut corners to save time, whether we consider the means to our end justified or not. Time is a luxury and in environments such as ours where people are focused on achievement, many are unprepared for the time-wasting. What ordinarily could be an easy process is usually fraught with hardship. It’s like the unspoken mantra is “if it isn’t complicated, it’s not worth it”. Many who want ease and speed cannot cope with this and typically decide to take a shortcut.
Our penchant for seeking shortcuts also comes with its costs. As a people, it reveals our character issues. The fact that many people cut corners does not justify us doing the same. Our laid down processes are constantly circumvented till the alternate processes end up becoming the main processes. Extra revenue that could have also gone into government coffers is lost as it gets directed to private pockets. And the people who encourage the shortcuts become further emboldened. They arrogate powers to themselves and adopt god-like status thus becoming stumbling blocks in the path of well-meaning citizens.
How then can we encourage more people to do the right thing? We need to review processes and encourage speed and efficiency. Automating processes and reducing human involvement would also enhance efficiency. Fast track options could also be introduced for people who are ready to pay more for good service. We also need to emphasise the consequences of bad behaviour and ensure compliance.
To be honest, it is increasingly harder to do the right thing but we cannot keep on like this. We need to focus on building a more efficient society. To achieve this requires that we will lose in some areas but ultimately, we will be the better for it and this is the way I see things today.