Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Nigerian Hydra

The Nigerian Hydra

by Kamal Adamu*

I have often wondered how a country so rich could equally be poor. Nigeria’s situation is an enigma; a disappointing one at that. Nigeria is a West African country plagued by many ills including insecurity, lack of infrastructure and poverty. Despite being one of the world's largest producers of oil and possessing a large population, majority of Nigerians live below the poverty line and without access to basic amenities. 

Arguably, the Nigerian government has invested heavily in boosting security, fighting poverty and restoring power, however these problems remain prevalent. The Nigerian people hear of billions being spent on infrastructure, education, poverty alleviation and other issues nonetheless, there is barely anything to  show for it. As I will explain, this is not because enough is not being spent, but rather because it is not efficiently spent. 

I conjecture that Nigeria's difficulties are interconnected and that they are merely consequent of a nuisance that continuously rears its ugly head time and time again-corruption. Dishonesty, fraud, negligence, misconduct, bribery, profiteering, who cares- its all corruption. Like the mythical Learnen hydra, most of Nigeria’s problems are simply false heads that multiply after being severed. Many have made attempt at slaying the beast, yet it breathes.  

A Costly Labor

The Learnen Hydra: image taken from pantheon.org
In Greek mythology, the Learnen hydra is a reptilian creature bearing many heads. If a head were severed, two more would grow in its place. Its breath is poisonous and so is its tracks; it consumes those unfortunate to meet it. Indeed the hydra is a troublesome beast to defeat. 

The key to defeating the Hydra lies in severing a specific head. In Hercules' (Heracles') Twelve  Labors, Hercules is tasked with defeating the hydra; this was Hercules’ second labor. Hercules covered his mouth to avoid breathing the hydra’s fumes however, after realizing the hydra grows stronger, feeding on Hercules' failure, Hercules enrolled the help of his nephew, Lolaus. Lolaus advised that each neck be cauterized immediately after severing the head that stood on it.

The number of heads on the hydra is potentially limitless, however lets assume there are initially three heads on the Hydra.  On first attempt, the probability of striking the "right" head is 1/3 and if the first attempt were met with failure, the probability of being victorious on the second attempt is 1/4 (1/3-1+2). On one hand, the probability of being successful decreases exponentially with each failed trial while on the other hand, a well-directed blow at the ‘right’ head will lead to the hydra’s demise. It would seem the beast does not forgive mistakes. 

Similar to Hercules, the Nigerian government has made several attempts at dealing with the Nigerian Hydra, all of which have cost the government vast amounts of money. Ultimately, the Nigerian citizen continues to pay for the government’s mistake, its failed attempts at slaying the wretched hydra. Given that every failed attempt at slaying the Nigerian hydra is costly, a systematic and cost effective approach is needed in finally laying the beast to rest. Brute force is simply too expensive.

"Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results "     

The Nigerian Hydra: two head scenario. ( Select, click image to expand)

Given that Nigeria's resources are limited and the greed of its corrupt citizens is potentially limitless, the country cannot afford to throw truck loads of petro-dollars at its problems and expect results. Like Hercules and Lolaus, the country must find a heuristic for slaying its Hydra.      
I think the key to defeating the Nigerian hydra is a fatal blow struck at corruption, a systematic approach at finally laying the beast to rest. As a proof of concept, I have employed the use of a simple cause-effect analysis in demonstrating this point (See figure above: The Nigerian Hydra). 

Nigeria's Hercules 
Arguably, Nigeria's anti-corruption crusaders, EFCC, embody the Nigerian Hercules. Over recent years, the EFCC has charged high profile figures to court however, it would appear the accused have really good lawyers. Alternatively, the Nigerian justice system has fallen victim to the Hydra's fumes; unlike Hercules, lady justice failed to cover her mouth and nose. If lady justice were a sword, she would be wielded by Hercules, but Hercules' sword is blunt. How else could Mr X, a former governor found guilty of crimes in the UK and elsewhere be acquitted in Nigeria for the same crimes they were charged with in the UK?   
Fortunately, unlike Hercules, Nigeria has at least 50 million cousins (Lolaus) capable of suggesting heuristics for defeating the Hydra;  100 million are all potentially Hercules and would protect themselves from the Hydra's poisonous fume; the remaining set of people are so addicted to the Hydra's fumes they have adopted the beast as a pet. 


  1. One way could be to use its own heads against it; people underestimate their strength in numbers, especially when they are angry. Example, Arab Spring(uprising), and Occupy movement for Fuel subsidy. Both can be considered successful.

    If a significant amount of people decide, its enough, we want to change our course today: I believe it would be the end of the hydra.

    Politicians forget that they are part of a community, and if the community decided to say "NO YOU CAN'T" against their wrongs; they certainly will have to change, or walk the highway.

    Question is, when will the community decide its enough. Personally, I think its Now.

    Miyagi: Hercule, sometimes the fall of the beast is by the beast itself.

    Hercule: I don't get it.

    Miyagi: When the time comes, you shall...