A Show of Shame in Bayelsa State?

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

“We the Ijaw have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Whatever happened to the thousands of public officials who were dismissed by the government of General Murtala Muhammed, on account of corruption and corrupt practices? Whatever happened to all the men and women who were probed and or prosecuted by the General Buhari and Idiagbon government? They are free: free from arrest, free from prosecution and free from shame. Some have become honorable Ministers, pastors and elders, Even the fellow General Buhari attempted to kidnap from Britain, Umaru Dikko, is alive and well and has become a respectable citizen.

The history of fighting corruption is a history of falsity. No one in Nigeria takes anti-corruption crusades seriously. The only people who get burnt and suffer the penalty are petty thieves, street urchins, and armed robbers. You get away stealing millions and billions of dollars. History has shown that the more outrageous the amount stolen, the higher the chances of you getting away with it — or away with just a slap on the wrist. In the thirty or so years of fighting corruption only a select few have ever really suffered the consequences.

What connects thousands of Nigerian, including these men: Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, Abdusalami Abubakar, Olusegun Obasanjo, Abubakar Atiku, Joshua Dariye, Orji Uzor Kalu, Nnamani, Peter Odili, Turaki, James Ibori, Jolly Nyame, Lucky Igbinedion, Tafa Balogun, and Mike Ehindero. In fact, virtually all the immediate-past governors have been overlooked; along with several ministers. Are their hands clean? By the way: when will the EFCC and the Attorney General of the Federation summon the courage to take on Chief Lamidu Adedibu even though he has publicly “confessed” to dipping his hands in his state’s cookie jars.

Save for General Abacha who is dead, is any of these men in jail for the atrocities and malpractices they committed? Foolishly, Obasanjo even posthumously honored Abacha for “his service to the nation.” And in fact, in the not too distant future, most of these men will be ordained religious ministers, chiefs, or will be given chieftaincy titles. Others will be given honorary PhDs by universities in and out of the country. It is sad, but that is the reality of the Nigerian way.

It is also a reality that a growing segment of the Ijaw ethnic nationality has begun to perceive — rightly or wrongly — a double standard in the way corrupt public servants are treated. The Obasanjo-boys, who are as corrupt as Chief Alamieyeseigha, are today roaming the Nigerian landscape, free from arrest and prosecution. The EFCC-favorites are today thumbing their noses at the courts and public opinion. James Ibori, alleged to be one of the most decadent and corrupt ex-governors is today a “special adviser” to President Yar’Adua. Andy Uba, a man Dr. Okey Ndibe and others consider one of the most corrupt and treacherous Nigerians (dead or alive), is today a kingmaker and day-saver.

When President Obasanjo was done — done with killing hopes and dreams; done with stealing and mismanaging the economy; and done with bastardizing our institutions and the rule of law — he rode into his village and his state a hero. A hero! Some are calling him the father of modern Nigeria. Others think he is the best thing that has ever happened to our moribund country. Before it’s all done, he will probably accumulate more chieftaincy titles, have streets and schools named after him. And Yar’Adua will award him Nigeria’s highest national honor. Is Obasanjo any better than Alamieyeseigha? Heck no! Olusegun Obasanjo is worse than Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.

That brings me to the recent submission of Mr. Michael Egbejumi-David: “A Show of Shame in Bayelsa.” Contrary to what he may think, the vast majority of the state indigenes are not happy with Alamieyeseigha. I won’t say he is terribly despised and hated. No, I have no way of knowing that. All I know is that the vast majority of the people — my people — are dissatisfied with him. They know he is a monumental failure. They know he squandered their resources. They know he wasted his life and their future. They know he was an ass of the highest order. They know these and much more. But at the end of the day, what do you do to your wayward son? There lies the contradiction, and the paradox.

Such contradiction of the mind and its attendant paradox makes my heart ache. It makes the life of people like me hellish and unbearable. For years now I have been breathing down Alamieyeseigha’s neck, criticizing him, attacking him in the pages of newspapers and on the internet. I am not alone in this endeavor. There are several other fearless and audacious Ijaw sons and daughters who have been at it, calling for the sanitization of Ijaw culture and politics; calling for the internal cleaning of Ijaw nation. There are simply too many Judas, too many Oyenusis and Aninis and damn too many political bastards. In all of this, the Ijaw land will come out victorious. Mark my words.

What Michael Egbejumi-David observed was not the norm. Anybody can rent a crowd. Sometimes, some crowds are simply curious: some may want to see the masquerade, see the naked dancer, see a duplicitous magician or see a man make a fool of himself; or they simply may want to see an angel passing by. The scene Michael was alluding to was not “the commemoration of the homecoming of the convicted ex-governor of Bayelsa State,” no; most of the crowd simply came to see the return of a wayward son. There is a lesson in that — a lesson that may not be easily obvious, a lesson to be discussed some other time.

Having said that: What did Nigeria do to Umaru Dikko, Babangida, and others from the West, East and Northern parts of the country when they stole and have been stealing since the early years of Nigeria’s political independence? What punishment was meted out to all those thieving governors, minister and legislators? How many corrupt Yoruba men have been banned and sent into exile? How many Igbo crooks have ever been thrown out of their villages for decadent acts? How many thieving Hausa-Fulani men or women have ever been arrested, arraigned, prosecuted and jailed in spite of several decades of high level stealing and mismanagement?

Alamieyseigha is not the first, and he won’t be the last in a line of disgraceful Nigerians. As far as I am concerned, Alamieyeseigha should have rotted in jail. And left to me alone, thousands of Nigerians, from all parts of the country, would have been Jerry Rawlinged or given the Chinese solution. Unfortunately, Nigeria is not such a country. And because Nigeria is not, we cannot ask for a different set of punishment: one for Alamieyeseigha, and the other for the rest of the country. Oh no. Fair is fair! Since a properly positioned court of law has set him free, that should be end of the matter. The rest we leave to our people, his conscience and his God.

For us the Ijaw — from Ondo state through Delta, Rivers and Bayelsa — this was not a show of shame. Contrary to what Michael Egbejumi-David and others may think, what happened in Yenagoa and Amasoma in no way diminished our pride, our essence and our humanity. In no way did it diminish our legal and rightful political struggles. In no way did it shame our ancestors and posterity. It is an aberration alright; it is not the Ijaw way. One of our sons sinned. He sinned. But once he paid his debt to society (as required by the prevailing law), we cannot punish him twice.

He knows who he is. He knows what he did wrong, and even went as far as asking for forgiveness. Who are we to not forgive? His role and place within our community may diminish, but he has the right to make amend and start all over again. He has suffered, in and out of prison, far more than any past or present public official who was ever accused and tried for corruption.

As far as Nigeria goes, we the Ijaw have to be realistic. We understand Nigerian politics. And so we cannot be more Catholic than the Pope. We cannot be more righteous than the Saints. If the Bayelsa State legislature had done its duty, Alamieyeseigha’s greed and excesses would have been curtailed; if the political class of the state was not timid and taken, it too would have done its job; if the traditional rulers had been more vigilant, perhaps, perhaps, we wouldn’t have had a monster and a rogue like Alamieyeseigha.

If we have strong and viable institutions in the country, perhaps none of these would have happened. But we don’t. That said, eternally corrupt Nigeria cannot now point to the Ijaw and say we are accepting of roguish and crooked behaviors. Nigeria and Nigerians do not have the right to point their fingers at us. No. Only the ethnic groups who have not sinned have the right to point their fingers at us. In today’s Nigeria, there are no such groups.

Diepreye Alamieyeseigha is ours. Good or bad, he is ours. That’s a fact that cannot be changed. Egbejumi-David and others must remember that no mother kills her own child from stealing from her; the same mother would invoke thunder and lightening if an outsider steals from her. That’s a fact of life.

When Michael Egbejumi-David wrote: “from here on in, let no Bayelsa person complain anymore, anywhere, to anybody about conditions in Bayelsa State …” How insulting. How daft. He must have been unaware of all the men and women who aligned themselves against Alamieyeseigha’s shenanigans. He must be unaware of all the men and women from Bayelsa State who spoke the truth in spite of the danger to their lives. But whether we challenged Alamieyeseigha or not does not take away our rights to complain about Nigeria’s injustices, inequity, and outright criminality towards the Ijaw nation.

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