I’m staunchly determined not to write about the sentencing, today, of former Governor James Onanefe Ibori in a UK court. There are sound reasons not to dwell on the subject of Ibori’s troubles.
Whatever happens in London today is not going to matter in the least. Whether Mr. Ibori is ordered to spend one year or a decade as an incarcerated guest of the British crown and people is bound to be immaterial. The fact is: Nigerian public officials will continue to pilfer or misuse public funds, and to abuse their offices in a myriad ways. For sure, they won’t consider taking a one-day holiday today from their criminal, contemptible activities – not even as a gesture to remember the travails of Mr. Ibori, an eminent member of their confraternity. Today, as yesterday, the army of Nigerian political office holders, elected or appointed, will continue to dip their filthy fingers into the national garri – and to gorge alone on what, properly speaking, belongs to the collectivity of Nigerian citizens.
I will not focus on Mr. Ibori’s sentencing. I won’t because that extraordinary phenomenon, the self-styled “Ogidigbodigbo of Africa,” is not the only person being put to shame today. True, Ibori alone will be marched off to the Queen’s jail, but he’s bearing not only his own sins but the transgressions of a multitude of other thieves, embezzlers, and plunderers.
As I see it, Mr. Ibori is merely a sort of synecdoche – a part that represents the whole. He will stand in the dock today as a lone, lost figure. Yet, in an important sense, he’s standing in for – as a representative of – the broad class of the accursed Nigerian public official whose specialties are ineptitude, mediocrity, corruption, the primitive accumulation of lucre.
I won’t zero in on Ibori, for he is, after all, a small effect of a vast, pervasive cause. I realize that to make him, this day, the core of one’s disdain is to forget a little the way in which he is but a speck in a universe of venal grubbers and bloody thieves. To fix on Ibori is to leave the impression that he is somehow exceptional in Nigeria’s political planet. We all know that there are many Iboris out there. What’s worse, the Nigerian system daily manufactures and graduates many more Iboris. These new Iboris daily enter the leeching enterprise. They take to that despicable business of a few dispossessing the many, tiny cohorts aggrandizing themselves by seizing the public harvest and doing with it as they please.
To fix on Ibori today is to risk falling into a foolish temptation. That temptation is to celebrate the comeuppance of a man who reaped where the people sowed, a man who reduced the sacred business of governance to the art, and act, of personal greed.
One must by all means run away from the celebratory temptation. There is no cause for celebration in Mr. Ibori’s downfall today. I will go as far as declaring that there’s no victory for the people of Delta, for Nigerians. There is for all of us only defeat and shame.
What do I mean by that? Simply that the incarceration of Ibori mocks Nigerians with the memory of all those who should be in jail as well, but instead are swaggering in and out of plum offices, with seats in legislatures, Government Houses, positions as ministers or commissioners, men and women whose bank accounts hold obscene sums that are neither earned nor scrutinized. Why would anybody declare today a glorious day when many who should be docked alongside Ibori are, instead, on the national honor rolls, bracketed as “stake/steak holders,” frequent guests at the president’s or governors’ tables, recipients of numerous chieftaincy (thieftaincy) titles, the best seats or spots reserved for them at churches, mosques and social events.
No, I won’t write about Ibori today because there are too many replicas of the man parading – polluting – the streets of Nigeria. Despite today’s sentencing of Ibori in a London court, it is unlikely that a single Nigerian governor (or president, minister, local government councilor, “first lady”) has learned any good lesson. I doubt that any politician in Abuja or one of the thirty-six states is going to pause for a moment and say, “It could have been me in that dock today.”
Last week, one of my readers wrote to me with a suggestion that I explore the possibility that the rampancy of corruption in Nigeria is a function of low IQ on the part of all of us. Why else would a few of us steal so much, so gleefully, and why would their victims – the disinherited hordes – sometimes rise to their oppressors’ defense? That reader’s idea isn’t a new one. It was first expressed by Europeans, philosophers, journalists and adventurers alike. They claimed that the African was incontinent, driven by primal impulses, a being prone to moral recklessness.
Of course, that is all bunkum. How did the European who refined the sport of stealing the resources of Africa get the gumption to call Africans world champions in stealing? It’s all silliness, and worse. Even so, there are moments of despair when one looks at the depths of depredation in Nigeria – and in some other African countries – and is shaken to one’s foundations.
To look at what Ibori stole from his impoverished, pauperized people is to be bewildered. But why allow oneself to be obsessed with that fact? To dwell on Ibori alone is to risk forgetting that Nigeria is overrun by festering legions, mutants of the Ibori idea. Even as the English judge pronounces his sentence on the former governor of Delta State, these clones of Ibori are hard at work. They are doing the exact things that catapulted their fellow into the dock in the UK, and they are doing them often with more fervor.
I won’t write about Ibori today because I won’t know which one to write about. There are too many Iboris crawling within the Nigerian space. Despite their man’s fall in London today, the rat race is on. The rats are as fixated on the rat race today – Ibori’s day of shame – as they were all the yesterdays of their puny lives. And the rats include magistrates and judges who accept cash to set the country’s most unconscionable thieves free. They include anti-corruption investigators and prosecutors who collude to sabotage the cases against those who profit from the misery of the Nigerian people. The rats can be found in the ranks of bishops, imams and pastors who, for a slice of the pie, canonize impunity. They include civil servants who raid pension funds; journalists who accept crumbs to venerate banality; lecturers who sell grades for sex or cash; police men and women who importune hapless drivers for bribes; manufacturers of fake drugs; and doctors who deliberately misdiagnose their patients’ ailments. With these sectors of depravity a part of our lives, why should I write today on a single tragic figure called Ibori?