When are we going to realise that this is not the way to run a country? A Nigerian, who had spent about 27 years in the UK, was given an appointment in one of the southern states in 1999. He was very excited about what he perceived then to be an opportunity to help his people, his state and Nigeria. He reckoned it was an opportunity to help improve the standard of life for his people, to give them basic and lasting amenities and most especially to translate what he had learnt abroad into practical realities at home. He was full of ideas and vigour. He was assured by the Governor that he will be given a free hand to do everything he wanted to do. He wanted to build a modern estate in his state, which will consist of low cost homes that ordinary people will be able to afford.
By his third year in office as the Chief Executive of the project, he was in trouble with the Governor (a really major disappointment and disgrace, eventually to his state, considering his educational and political background), the Deputy Governor, the Commissioners, the Secretary to the State Government, the Accountant-General of the state, etc. The poor guy was sacked on the radio, and they were going to bring false charges of embezzlement against him. Over 2 billion naira was allocated to the project, 220 million of it was released, and shared by these corrupt officials without this man approving anything or knowing about it. Later he was offered part of the loot and he refused. That was to prove his undoing. He was hounded out of office and disgraced publicly. The man is now a broken man with serious high blood pressure and facing ruin.
A little digression: Once upon a time in America, a man named Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks. He replied: “`Cos that’s where the money is”. It was an uncomplicated philosophy which served him well until he was caught and marched off to prison. Today, Mr Sutton would not have risked incarceration. Today, were Mr Sutton to be a Nigerian, he would have had the choice of being a Nigerian Politician, a Nigerian civil servant or a Nigerian contractor. Better still, he could have been a Nigerian Policeman, although he would have been severely limited as to making loads of money, but at least he could be in official authorised uniform and waylay people on the highway and collect money from them without facing any charges of armed robbery.
Of course, as one who operated outside the law, Mr Sutton might have experienced problems in working with this brotherhood of political and civil uprightness and patriotism. But the vast mountains of easy Naira and foreign currency on offer would surely have stifled his reservations.
You normally don’t need any qualifications to be corrupt, but in Nigeria, you do, in the sense that before you can reach a position where you can have your hands in the till, you need to be educated to some point. You need to be educated to be a civil servant and even for a politician to run for or hold a public office, he or she must have a minimum educational credentials. After you have scaled that hurdle, the sky is the limit. You can steal as much as like. Erm, another necessary qualification, you must have at least one godfather who can protect you in case you get found out. You must therefore also ensure that your godfather or godfathers are appropriately well oiled and well placed in the Nigerian society. It is the case of a big thief protecting a small thief and ensuring that the small thief survives to be a big thief in future. It is a vicious cycle of corruption.
About two years ago, the Chief Executive of Shell Oil Company was forced to resign, because he was heavily involved in the scandal of exaggerating the oil reserves found by Shell. No prizes for guessing, but Nigeria’s was the main country whose oil reserves had been deliberately boosted up. There are several issues here. Shell Nigeria claim they do so in order to receive generous tax allowances. Corruption. Secondly, and very importantly, that means we are not really sure of the exact quantity of our oil reserves. For all we know, the oil wells might dry up within the next 5 years or 20 years. We are not sure. Thirdly, we are not sure of how much oil Nigeria even produces.
In UK newspapers, following the Shell scandal, Nigeria was variously (and appropriately) described as an “impoverished country, notorious for its corruption” (Mail on Sunday, 7 March 2004). If descriptions such as this do not make our governments, ambassadors or High Commissioner, civil servants and politicians and even the whole of Nigeria ashamed, then we are truly immune to shame. Our High Commission did not even write rejoinders in the papers to at least fight their corner (Probably because they themselves know they can’t fight the stigma). When I read it, I was ashamed. Mind you, I have read worse about Nigeria, but every time, that feeling of shame is there. What can I do? When my Government is not even in a position to deny anything.
Why nobody, no successive governments, even including the Obasanjo Administration’s half-hearted and insincere attempts to fight corruption, and political leaders seem unwilling to do anything about battling corruption in the Nigerian society baffles me, when it is obvious that it is the one horrible vice dragging us down as a people and as a country. It is the one malaise that is a major block to our development. It is the one thing that has been causing death, disease, crime, illiteracy, mismanagement, insecurity of life and property and a lot of other things in our country for the past forty-seven years.
The country is replete with examples. If we could catalogue all incidents of corruption in Nigeria, the mere volume of the book will qualify for entry into the Guinness Book of Records, not to talk of the sordid details. The mind-boggling details of each corrupt incident will surpass the other. It would be unbelievable that in this world, a country of people so educated, so sophisticated and knowledgeable, could be ruled for the past forty-seven years by corrupt idiots. Enormous stuff, mind-boggling, unbelievable.
Corruption is a consequence of greed, not poverty, not power. There are many indigent people in the world, yet they are not corrupt. When you are greedy, you become corrupt, because you always want more, no matter how much you have. You are never satisfied. So when a greedy man finds himself in power, he uses that power to be greedier and acquire more than he needs, not considering the consequences to the people he is supposed to help or serve with his power. It is a sin in the eyes of God and Man. It can never be forgiven nor forgotten nor excused. When God gives a human being power, He expects that human being to use it to protect, to make life better for his fellow man who does not have that power. Power, especially political power, is not meant to be used brutally or to oppress. It’s purpose is for the good of other people who are not in the same strong position as you. Use the power given to you by God to help other people who are weaker than you, who are poorer than you, and who, without their consent and goodwill, would not have enabled you to wield that power in the first place. Whether you got the power by hook or crook or deservedly, you owe the people and God your power. They can take that power away from you, no matter how long you hang on.
Rev. Fr. Ajakaye, the Diocesan Secretary General and Communications Director, The Catholic Diocese of Ekiti, has this to say in an article titled “Nigeria and Corruption”
Nigerians should learn to act honestly. I know a Vice-Chancellor of one of the Nation’s universities, a revered Professor of international Law and Jurisprudence, who refused to use his status of offer admission to his son who scored 198 marks in the last exams of the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board (JAMB), emphasising that the cut-off marks for the Law faculty where his son was seeking admission for were 200. To date, some people, including students and lecturers of the university, cannot comprehend why the VC had to behave like that to his son. According to them, he should have bent the rule for his son since he was only 2 marks short of the cut-off marks.
This is the Nigerian mentality that calls for urgent change. The generality of Nigerians tend to love to promote dishonesty at the expense of honesty. The honest professor believes in merits and he is prepared to make the university conducive for learning rather than allowing it to be congested due to pressure for admissions from parents and guardians for their wards. With the disciplined attitude of the VC, it will be difficult for anybody to influence him unnecessarily, while sanity will prevail in honest environment. This is the type of thing Nigerians are expected to practice daily.”
So who is the real patriot? The Vice-Chancellor or our political leaders? Patriotism, Nigerian-style, goes hand in hand with corruption, Nigerian-style.