The Cost of Corruption & Kola (CoCK): Nigerian vs. Indonesian

A Nigerian and an Indonesian go to London as students in the 1960s and become friends. Forty years pass, and the university invites them back for an alumni meal. Retired and free to travel, they come, and on the night of the reunion the two old friends meet and, after sharing stories of their student days, invite each other to visit back at home. It is the year 2000.

The first to take up the offer is the Nigerian. He flies to Jakarta and is met at the the airport by his friend in a chauffeur-driven limousine. They drive to his friend’s home, a mansion on a hilltop with a large swimming pool and a dozen of rooms. Impressed, the Nigerian asks his friend how he had amassed his wealth.

“Well,” his friend replies, “I was permanent secretary at the Ministry of Works and Housing in Jakarta.”

“I hope you don’t mind me saying, but it must pay well, to be permanent secretary at the Ministry of Works and Housing in Jakarta,” says the Nigerian, with a smile, looking up at his friend’s large house.

The Indonesian looks around.

“Don’t tell anyone I said this, but do you see that road?” he whispers, pointing toward a highway leading back into the city, full of cars on the busy commute.

And when the Nigerian nods, he taps his chest, and says: “Ten percent.

The next month, it is the Indonesian’s turn to visit Nigeria, and he flies to Abuja where he is met at the airport by his old friend, with a fleet of five limousines and police outriders. Driven at speed, they reach the Nigerian’s home in the hills outside the city 40 minutes later.

It is an even bigger place, a vast mansion of 40 rooms with three swimming pools, a cinema, and a bowling alley.

Astonished, the Indonesian stands on the terrace and looking at the Nigerian’s house and possessions, says, “You know when we talked, I never did ask what it was you did for a living.”

“Well,” says the Nigerian, laughing. “It is funny you ask, but I was permanent secretary at the Ministry of Works and Housing in Abuja.”

“I hope you don’t mind me saying so,” says the Indonesian, “but it must pay very well, to be permanent secretary at the Ministry of Works and Housing in Abuja.”

And the Nigerian points to an open expanse of scrub and farmland outside the city where people are trudging on foot, as poor as they ever were. And, in a voice loud enough for all to hear, he roars with laughter and booms: “See that highway there? One hundred percent!

Nigeria and Indonesia share a lot in common – from size, diversity, culture, political history to oil. These two countries had the same outlook as at 1966 when both experienced similar coups within months of each other. But over the next four decades, the human development of both countries would diverge in opposite directions – worse for Nigeria and better for Indonesia.

In his book, My Nigeria, Peter Cunliffe-Jones attempts to illustrate reasons for this very interesting divergence. The anecdote above, culled from Chapter 11 of his book illustrates the different versions of corruption found in both countries.