Egunje (Nigeria)

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Egunje
Nigeria map.png
Location: Nigeria
Author: Dhikru Adewale Yagboyaju
Affiliation: University of Ibadan, Nigeria

Original Text: Dhikru Adewale Yagboyaju, University of Ibadan, Nigeria

Egunje is a form of involuntary giving. Colloquially, the extorted ‘gifts’ are ‘cursed’ by the donor, who does not want the recipient, most commonly a predatory official, to enjoy them. Egunje is a pejorative term that refers to the fact that the given ‘gifts’ are not really gifts under certain circumstances. It conveys popular displeasure, particularly because the ‘gift’ has to be given despite the entitlement of a citizen to receive a public service from an official. Officials who receive egunje can include security personnel, medical personnel, judicial staff, petrol station attendants, school teachers, marriage registry officials, public servants in charge of core services such as import licenses, planning approval, allocation of agricultural inputs and other resources, and other types of bureaucrats.

The practice of egunje derives from traditional practices of gift-giving shared by most of the prominent ethnic and tribal groups in Nigeria. Among the Yorubas of South Western Nigeria (one of the three dominant ethnic nationalities), gift-giving (ore or ebun) is an age-long practice which is encouraged to further strengthen communal living. The term ore or ebun stands for a legitimate, open and voluntary gift signaling goodwill (Akinseye-George 2000:7)[1]. The worth of a gift (ore or ebun) is not in its size or quantity, but in the spirit of kindness that is supposed to be behind it. Although kindness may be given in response to the request of a recipient, it is generally regarded more honourable when it is volunteered by the donor. Givers of ore or ebun are expected to be blessed by God, as reflected in the popular expression: ‘givers are never short of (anything).’ Ore or ebun can be given in the form of a tip (dash) to appreciate a service rendered. It may also be given in the form of support for expenses incurred by individuals or families organizing ceremonies, such as funerals, weddings, house commissioning and child-naming, in which a large number of invited guests will be fed and entertained.

The Hausas of Northern Nigeria distinguish between voluntary gifts that are generally regarded as tips (dash) and involuntary ones, which can be described as tribute or bribe. The Hausas disparage the involuntary ones, using such terms as hanci (‘eating of nose’), or toshiyar baki (‘plugging of mouths’) (Auwal 1987:293)[2]. Alongside egunje among the Yorubas and hanci and toshiyar baki for the Hausas, other euphemisms have emerged to denote the necessity of paing public officials: ‘public relations’ (PR), ‘welfare package,’ gworo, and kolanut. ‘Public relations’ and ‘welfare package’ in their original sense may be used to mean hospitality, and are used here as an adulterated adoption of the terms. Gworo (kolanut in the Hausa language) is used in a subtle reference to the common hospitable practice of offering kolanuts to guests.

While viewed as involuntary and extortive, such forms of tribute are linked to the practices of lobbying in Nigeria’s recent democratisation under the Fourth Republic (1999 onwards) (Ribadu 2005[3]; Abolarin 2003[4]). Lobbying, essentially carried out through various methods of political advocacy for certain interests, involves applying pressure to public officials (especially legislators) to influence pending action or legislation, in terms of policy agenda setting or formulation (Encyclopedia Britanica 1980[5]; Bello-Imam 2005[6]). Although lobbying can be associated with cases of bribery (for example the ‘Abscam’ and ‘Koreagate’ cases in the USA (Rodee et al 1983: 176[7]), the practices of lobbying are not only regulated in most advanced democratic systems, but also monitored by political opponents and the press. The situation in Nigeria, where a culture of impunity for lobbying prevails, is rather different. Thus, during the alleged attempt in 2006 by the Obasanjo administration to change the constitution to legalise a third presidential term (the ‘Third Term Agenda’), many independent television stations reported cash-filled ‘Ghana-Must-Go’ (GMB) bags as evidence of bribes paid to those national legislators who ostensibly refused to agree on the tenure extension allegedly requested by the president. Pushing for involuntary decisions by means of bribes was also referred to as egunje.

Notes

  1. Akinseye-George, Y. 2000. Legal System, Corruption and Governance in Nigeria, Lagos: New Century Law Publishers Limited.
  2. Auwal, N. 1987. A Hausa Vocabulary on Corruption and Political Oppression, Corruption and Reform, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 293-296.
  3. Ribadu, N. 2005. Explaining the bastardized forms of lobbying in Nigeria, The Guardian newspaper (Lagos, Nigeria), April 7, p. 6.
  4. Abolarin, D. 2005. Lobbying in Nigeria, quoted in TELL Newsmagazine (Lagos, Nigeria), April 4, p. 48.
  5. The Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. 1980. Macropedia, Vol. VI, 15th Edition, USA: University of Chicago.
  6. Bello-Imam, I. B. 2005. The War Against Corruption in Nigeria: Problems and Prospects, Ibadan: Lead City University.
  7. Rodee, C. C., Christol, C. Q., Anderson, T. J. and Greene, T. H. 1983. Introduction to Political Science, Japan: McGraw Hill International.