“To expose corruption in government is the highest obligation of patriotism”, G. Edward Griffin(Author and Filmmaker). Every day we are inundated with different stories of how much of our country’s wealth was stolen by a select number of charlatans who we directly and indirectly put as our leaders in the past sixteen years of our latest foray in democracy.
Corruption is more or less a synonym for our country Nigeria. A professor of History of mine always say, no leader can be corrupt in isolation. Every leader is either a product of systemic corruption as can be found in the populace or like in the western world, a product of the corruption of the corporations. A great percentage of Nigerians are endemically corrupt and as its often said a people get the kind of leaders they deserve. Corruption is like the staple food of Nigerians and so ingrained in us that even out of the country, when you meet a fellow Nigerian, the next topic of discussion after normal greeting, is on corruption.
I have always been an ardent supporter of capitalism in the form it is practiced in the United States of America because it encourages free enterprise. Unfortunately, as in all things that pertain to our country, capitalism has been so defiled that it is barely recognizable as practiced in Nigeria. People tend to see politics as a business and engaging in it as a free enterprise where you can gorge on the wealth of nation with careless abandon not minding whose ox is gored.
It is always easy for those not in the corridors of power to point accusing fingers and take the sanctimonious stand of being purists but the truth remains that corruption is systemic in our country. When a parent would rather spend hundreds of thousands to ‘sort’ exams for their wards instead of paying a lesser amount on employing teachers to brush up same ward, then you begin to understand corruption. A philosopher once said, the more a country is corrupt, the more they make laws and this is in line with present realities on ground in our country. So many laws, so many agencies to fight corruption yet corruption thrives as if it derives sustenance from same structures designed to destroy it.
This brings me to two incidents that makes the thought process of most Nigerians, clear in regards to cutting corners.
The first case in point was some years back when I was privileged to stay with some Nigerians in a building. There is this western culture of having coffee dispensing machines where you pay coins and have a cup of coffee. Within weeks of our arriving, the Nigerians devised a means of paying less than ten percent of the required payment by tricking the machine into dispensing coffee for a far lesser amount. It wasn’t like they did not have the wherewithal to buy at the stipulated price. Suffice to say the owner of the coffee machine packed it up within weeks of our arrival.
Another example was an incident that occurred while I was taking an evening stroll one day in the middle class residential area I happen to live in. I was walking with a companion at about eight pm. A boy of about five years of age came out of his folk’s compound with an IPAD and crossed the street to another compound. We were really impressed knowing that back home no child would have access to that kind of gadget and if the child even has it, it would be foolhardy to let that child go out with it. That would be tantamount to giving it as a free gift to thieves ever ready to fleece you.
Corruption is therefore a part and parcel of existence in Nigeria but what occurred in the last dispensation is akin to what Chinua Achebe referred to in his book “things fall apart” as stealing too much for the owner to see. Even among thieves there are those who are ‘primus inter pare’ that is first among equals. The spate of stealing with careless abandon came to the height in the last dispensation with sums being pandered running into ludicrous amounts. It almost became like it was a competition to see the best thief and if you have not stolen up to the tune of billions of dollars, you do not belong.
My fear in all this hue and cry on corruption is that Nigerians are mentally lazy and if they adopt a form of doing things and it works, they never want to change it. The ruling party APC has seen that making the level of corruption and corrupt individuals a matter of public discourse, helped them attain power at the center. They have therefore failed to remove themselves from the opposition mentality. While they were the opposition, and incapable of doing anything about corruption it was all well and good but, regaling us with stories of sums of such unimaginable magnitude stolen from our nation’s coffers when they have the power to do something about it is no longer funny.
Imagine what the sight of such sums would do to a hardworking civil servant who has not been paid for two to three months on his way to a job that he has no assurance of being paid a mere pittance at the end of that month.
Imagine what the sight of such money would do to a jobless graduate who goes hungry to the newspaper stand in search of adverts of job vacancies even if not lucrative.
Imagine the effect on parents who in their bid to stem the vicious cycle of poverty use all they have to send their child abroad to study only to find out that the money they budgeted to see them through the period of their child’s education is no longer enough due to increased disparity of the dollar naira exchange rate occasioned by this mass pilfering.
Imagine same child abroad, who has been used to managing a certain amount abroad sent by his/her parents on a monthly basis when converted and is no longer the same with less than forty percent the previous expected sum when it is exchanged. The list is endless but put yourself in the shoes of the aforementioned and you would understand why reading about these stolen sums is no longer funny to the average citizen.
The opposition party PDP always point out PMB’s promise of paying unemployed graduates as a pipe dream because it is not feasible they laugh and feel justified that, that promise is an example of the fantasies the ruling party painted in order to have us vote them into power. Lets us now play a game of local economics since we have seen that the so called enlightened economics and economists have been of injurious effect to us. Prior to the “much ado about nothing trip” (apologies to Shakespeare) embarked on by PMB to The United States Of America, the media was awash with an ex-minister offering to refund two hundred and fifty million dollars of stolen money and President Buhari refused. Lets for a moment imagine the unthinkable. Imagine that PMB took that money in its raw dollar form and shared to the populace at one million dollar each. It means that at the end of that exercise, every Nigerian, will by the going official exchange rate, which is in no way the real exchange rate, be worth a whooping two hundred and thirty five million each. PMB would even have an excess of about seventy million dollars with ten million give or take. This should put in perspective the magnitude of thievery.
Amit Abraham a renowned psychologist, postulates that “procrastination is also a subtle act of corruption because it corrupts valuable time. The average Joe in Nigeria is no longer interested in seeing sums that they would not make in ten life times of honest work being stolen by people who are no better than themselves. People whose opportunity only arose from engaging in the murky waters of Nigerian politics. The average Joe is not interested in seeing Mr. Or Mrs. so and so invited to the Economic and Financial crimes commission for questioning and release. No one is interested in the array of analysis on how the ill gotten wealth was stolen. No one cares if America gave PMB the list of thieves and the various countries they deposited their loot. None of us would be shocked by anyone found in that list as far as I am concerned, that ship has since sailed. There is nothing commendable or excusable about inviting these elements and letting them go with the excuse of further investigation. Desperate situations call for desperate measures.
As far as the average citizen of Nigeria is concerned, we are all unequivocal in our expectations.
The EFCC as a matter of urgency, should contract even more vibrant radical lawyers to handle the prosecution of these cases with a deadline for finalization. The case files are already there so arrest and charge them, let the courts decide. Let them defend themselves in the court of law.
PMB should shelve his misgivings with the senate president Senator Bukola Saraki who has shown willingness to fight corruption and work together to create emergency bills that will facilitate quick prosecution of these people. This is no time for petty squabbling. The soul of the nation as it were is at stake. Six months into PMB’s rule, we want to see at least thirty people already serving jail time.
We want to read in the dailies, the progress of their trials not their invitations. The outcome of this pursuit of the corrupt elements and the expeditious manner with which it is handled will serve as a template for posterity to judge PMB. Columnists and online activists should forego analysis and put pressure on results, we cannot keep analyzing their crimes while they walk free and laugh at our collective stupidity. Like Nigerian Catholics usually say “no long talk for evening mass”. The time for proselytizing and use of highfalutin lexicon has passed. One philosphy I respect is that of Friedrich Nietzsche that says “if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze into you. The danger this dilly dallying portends, is that even the prosecutors of corruption are not immune, everyone has a price and delayed rigmarole may end up making them susceptible to the corruption they are fighting. Like I always say, “be careful in your bid to destroy a negativity, you don’t imbibe the traits of the same negativity”. If there are no available cells, judges should let petty thieves go with a slap on the wrist and a promise that we would get back to them when we are done with these major looters because as Unoka in the novel things fall apart would say ‘the sun will first shine on those standing before getting to those squatting’. Realistically, apart some distinct cases of criminality, these criminals are a collateral effect of the stealing at the top. The police and EFCC should stop being local champions or toothless bulldogs and start biting because we know they have it in them to bite and also be effective. A word we hope, is enough for the wise. We know PMB is wise and that is what gives us hope. God bless Nigeria, its citizens and our sincere leaders whoever and wherever they may be.