Speaking Truth to Power: Every Nigerian is corrupt?

by Olu Ojedokun

I am a creature of habits and last Sunday was no exception. I undertook a visit to my local fellowship in the morning, meeting with others and then communing together with our Maker. On return from the service I settled down into the sofa of cane chairs, sipped some tropical juice, oblivious to all around me and soaking the hot rays of the sunshine and mentally ‘devoured’ the contents of my fresh and crisp Sunday Times and its accompanying supplements.

Whilst reading through the newspaper my interest was drawn to a piece written by Rod Liddle under the title ‘New football season lacks old spice’. At the time I did not know that it would give rise to this article. However, I was drawn to a direct quote from his piece in reference to the price of football tickets of a match Manchester United played in Nigeria, he wrote:

It would take your average Nigerian several decades of writing fraudulent e-mails to Westerners claiming that they have inherited some money to earn that sort of sum.”

My initial response was to ignore it and let it pass for the reason that it might contain an element of truth or two. However, the more I considered the implication of the statement and processed it, the more I became determined to rejoin his article and to engage my fellow Nigerians in this necessary undertaking at the risk of overreacting.

After much thought I am convinced that the subtext of this article could be interpreted to mean that Nigerians are corrupt or have the genes of corruption waiting to be manifest or unleashed on an unsuspecting world.

It would appear that description in Nzeogwu’s speech is rife in many people’s perceptions about Nigerians. One of ‘political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.’

In my own naïve way of reasoning I feel the writer appears to link Nigerians to the corruption of the 419 variety. Indicating that right at the back of every Nigerian mind lurks the thoughts of corruption, but can we and should we blame Rod Liddle?

To place this in further perspective I think a brief background of Rod Little courtesy of Wikepedia would suffice. He later attended the London School of Economics. Liddle was a member of the Socialist Workers Party in his youth but worked between 1983 and 1987 for the Labour Party Shadow Cabinet. He then returned to journalism. His early journalistic experience was with the South Wales Echo in Cardiff where he was a general news reporter and, for a time, the rock and pop writer. Liddle was appointed editor of the Today programme in 1998, having previously been deputy editor. Today had an unrivalled reputation for its political interviews, but Liddle tried – with considerable success – to improve the programme’s investigative journalism, attempting to ‘break’ new stories.

This therefore is not the musing of a rabid racist but this provides a thought that this kind of thinking has gained currency in mainstream West today. We can therefore conclude that all Nigerians are corrupt, but are we?

I am full of reminiscences about my Uncle, M.O.A Ojedele, once a permanent secretary in the old Oyo State and later Osun state. This was a man who served in choice ministries and had many an opportunity to enrich himself but always stuck rigidly to the path of integrity and accountability. On several occasions to my knowledge he stood his ground refused to compromise and soil his name. Now all he has to show for his stewardship as a senior civil servant is a modest half completed house and an uncompleted one in our village. Until recently his only mode of transportation around Ibadan was the very unpublic public transportation where he had to fight his way through many obstacles to get a ride.

Another one I know of, a General. When he was retired some 20 years ago with immediate effect by the then Head of State, OBJ he had to relocate from Ikoyi official residence to Mushin. This was all because he was incapable of being corrupt during his tenure as a Federal Commissioner.

Littered around us, in our very own narrative, in Nigeria and abroad are many hard working Nigerians who are not corrupt and would rather die than visit that road of ruin and destruction. However, we are all tainted with the same brush, bribes are expected and demanded. ‘Born agains’ are not exempt as many feel compelled to fit in or suffer some consequences for taking and making a stand. Those who do not comply and have not spiritually prepared themselves always have a harrowing story to relay to their people at home. People have now come to suspect that today’s radicals sooner transform effortlessly into tomorrow’s rouge.

Whilst am not the best of examples to use since am now ensconced in ‘abroad’, however, my own personal story is instructive. At University I was elected to the position of Welfare Officer of the Student’s Union, one of my 1st official acts was to visit the many union tenants I was responsible for. At one of the meetings the restaurant proprietor ushered me into his office and without much thought offered me a bundle of naira notes. I was shocked and immediately rejected this attempt by the man to entrap me into his corrupt designs. The point here, is that the way the man offered the bribe indicated that this was a usual rite of passage and others who had gone before me had answered the call of corruption.

I venture into the next few paragraphs by drawing from and parodying a West Wing quote. I suggest that more than anytime in recent history Nigeria’s destiny is not of our own choosing. We did not seek nor did we provoke an assault on our freedoms and our way of life visited upon us by our corrupt rulers and their cronies. We did not expect nor did we invite a confrontation with this unspeakable evil that has befallen Nigeria. Yet the true measure of our strength as a people must be how we rise to master that moment to break ourselves free from the yoke of corruption when the time does arrive.

When I remember people like Dr Akanu Ibiam, Prof Ishaya Audu, Mallam Aminu Kano, Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, Prof Claude Ake, Mrs Kudirat Abiola, Mr Oriade, et al, from the position and limitations of my flawed humanity I would say that the ‘streets of heaven’ are too crowded with Nigerian angels. They are our heroes, our parents, our brothers, our sisters and our friends. Yes I realise that every time Nigerians think they have measured the capacity to meet the challenge, either of fighting corruption or resolving developmental issues, we look up and we are reminded that through God our capacity may well be limitless.

In the face of unspeakable sufferings, mindless corruption, government induced go-slows and road blocks. I end by stating that now is the time for Nigerian heroes. We of the chattering classes on the internet space and on the ground in Nigeria must do what is hard in order to achieve what is great. This is a time for Nigeria heroes and we must reach for the galaxy of stars and the glories set beyond it.

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