I was in my tattered knickers playing football on the streets of Lagos when the Ghanaian Revolution took place in 1979. Its progenitor, Flt. Jerry Rawlings just got out of prison. With help from his fellow junior officers, he embarked on a crusade against corruption. He came, he saw, and the magnitude thereof led him to execute his predecessors. In that year in Nigeria, similar orgies of corruption were rife – my father used to let us look at Daily Times newspaper, and together with eavesdropping on adult discussions, I found out that even though there were ‘austerity measures’, politicians were brewing customized bottles of wines for themselves, were buying homes in the UK, and being generally irresponsible. While they were at it, they made Nigerians believe that Ghanaians were responsible for our declining fortunes. So when the duo of Muhammadu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon showed up, our parents thought that this was the Nigerian Revolution. Alas it was not so – people were complaining of the ‘draconian’ style of the duo – oh they were not smiling, oh they were killing drug peddlers, and oh they were dishing out stupid prison sentences to tried-and-convicted corrupt politicians and etcetera. In fact, there were also allegations that even the duo was as culpable as the people they were hounding – there was a story of 49 suitcases stuffed with cash belonging to them but pardon me I cannot remember the now-foggy details.
In no time, a gap-toothed-smiling-maradonic guy showed up. According to the grownups at that time, the man was an egunje exponent, the I-chop-you-chop kind of person, and as soon as the gist filtered through from Dodan Barracks, Nigeria started a schuss on the road to perdition. Our naira – which used to be at par with the British pound – became the proverbial Ugandan toilet paper. The gap between the haves and the have-nots increased significantly and if you look at this significant increase critically, nothing should have been wrong with it. However, another critical analysis showed that that significant increase in the now-expanding clique of the haves were stupendously wealthy, not from ‘solid personal achievements’ but from the looting of the easy monies that sauntered in from crude oil sales. Even as teenagers we were sometimes appalled at the rising cases of unemployment, the high cost of living and the infrastructural decay that were the hallmarks of that time. We were. But having said that, we must be fair in this analysis and say that that did not mean that the person in power did not try to do something about these things – he did. But all the attempts were stymied by the overwhelming background of his egunje philosophy which had pervaded the system and impacted very negatively on any attempt at raising our GDP as a nation.
For me, one occasion summarized the entire thing – my father had just been retrenched, we were unable to go to school, and things were generally bad. One evening, he had visitors and still the eavesdropper I would listen in to their conversations. Before I knew it, I exploded and said that when I am grown, I would do what Rawlings had done in Ghana. Oops, my hands flew to my mouth but I had already broken a rule in our home – we don’t speak when the elders were talking. Just as I was edging away, one of my daddy’s friends asked me to come closer to him. He delivered a devastating judgment that still sends shivers down my spine each time I remember it. ‘When you get there, you may want to be Rawlings but you cannot. Your people will come and say, ‘’our son, we thank God that you are there now. It is our turn to eat. Others have eaten, and it is God that has put you there for our sake’’. If you do not open up the store house for them to steal, your entire family will be ostracized and you risk banishment from your own people’, he said sadly.
I have read some of the outrage some of us have expressed concerning the lavish and tumultuous reception that heralded Bode George’s release from prison. While some can be excused for the honest expression of their outrage, others are just being good old hypocrites. You want to know why? Just last year here, most parents seriously considered renaming their children ‘Goodluck’. They traced the well-known grass-to-grace antecedents of the man in power now and naively think that if they do, of course, their own children and wards will also have the ‘Goodluck’ to also come to occupy Aso Rock someday. Now, being named ‘Goodluck’ is one thing but being named ‘Goodluck’ because you hope that your child will one day occupy a big position carries a caveat with it – that everyone who goes to serve actually helps himself to the cash in the purse to raise the fortunes of his clan and reposition the destiny of his people. You can see it in the do-or-die way politicians are going about clinching power and the congratulatory messages on the pages of newspapers.
I have done this analysis not to condone the shameful show that took place in Lagos about two week ago. No sirs. I have done it so that we could use that incident as a mirror to look critically at ourselves as the Bode Georges of this country. We all see power as a shortcut to wealth. It is wrong. We must change.