Popular culture as a site for counter-hegemonic politics would not be an unfamiliar subject to many in the study of power but not as a domain for fighting corruption specifically. Not until recently when MacArthur Foundation became its most elaborate practitioner in Nigeria. That flank of the war against corruption is so specific to it that it should not be confused or conflated with the Federal Government’s largely judicial war against corruption even though Macarthur also supports FGN’s anti-corruption efforts. Students of power would be interested or are watching which one would undo the past better, the past of personalisation of public office and looting public resourses by political office holders.
What exactly is MacArthur doing? It offers a point of departure in the struggle against corruption by selecting a number of platforms of popular culture and gives them financial resources to, in its own words, amplify voices from below in favour of transparency and accountability or against corruption. That is how nine such platforms got $6.3m on October 2nd, 2019 in what the Foundation calls “journalism and media funding” in continuation of its efforts to strengthen investigative and data-driven journalism in Nigeria and to reinforce the role independent media and citizens can play in revealing and documenting corruption. According to MacArthur, the grant will support a range of projects to increase their reach and effectiveness.
The platforms in question are Bayero University, Kano; Cable Newspaper Journalism Foundation; Daily Trust Foundation; International Centre for Investigative Reporting; OYA Media; Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism. Others are Sahara Reporters; Tiger Eye Social Foundation; Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism. “These organizations, said Kole Shettima, MacArthur Foundation Nigeria Office Director, have proven that media, citizens, and advocates can play an important watchdog role to guard against corruption in Nigeria” and they can be relied upon to strengthen transparency, empower independent voices, and hold authorities to account.
Beyond this batch, there are other batches or cohorts at work, researching, articulating and promoting values of transparency and accountability or probity, all aimed at undermining corruption which the Foundation’s qualitative survey in 2014 concluded is what explains much of Nigeria’s crisis. In other words, the Foundation has come to the battle against corruption from the point of view that how platforms of popular culture, especially the media, frames accountability and probity issues can create the basis for popular action against corruption. By implication, it subscribes to how ‘voices from below’ can off-set the imbalance in the discourses of corruption in Nigeria in favour of the elite, leading to empowerment of the members of the ‘voices from below’ constituency.
Started only in 2016/17, it is still too recent for anybody to know how impactful already and what the longer term impact would be vis-à-vis routing corruption. But it would be difficult to find anyone doubting the capacity of the approach to de-naturalise the looting culture in Nigeria and the power relations it reflects between those who loot and those whose patrimony are looted and used to dominate them. So, it can be interesting how the ideas that will be popularized will sediment in popular consciousness and the sort of impact that would be created across Nigeria, depending, of course, on the language as well as packaging of the messages, signifiers used and analogies drawn upon.
In the age of opinion journalism or discursive practices, how the narratives are constructed and pushed within the limits of the objectivity MacArthur insists on and yet be that categorically anti-corruption in mobilisational terms would be equally interesting to watch. But, whatever it is, something is cooking by way of inserting what one may call signifiers of popular culture into Nigeria’s historic war – war against corruption by which every government in the history of Nigeria has legitimated itself.