By Agwụ Kenneth Ọgọnna
I can deal with imperfection, but I can’t deal with people who lie to themselves and lie to the world to make the world feel better. – Bibi Bourelly
I can’t but agree with Badriia Ines Bourelly famously known as Bibi Bourelly, an American-German singer and songwriter.
Consistently, we as a people, have created false image of ourselves. We pretend, we lie, and worst of all, we spin the truth. How did we arrive at this ignoble state?
There is no doubt that Nigeria is corrupt. Let me borrow a metaphor from Achebe in relation to corruption in Nigeria to put things in perspective. With the current realities, “anyone who says that corruption in Nigeria has not reached alarming proportions is, in my frank and honest opinion either a fool, a crook or else does not live in this country. Corruption in Nigeria has passed the alarming and entered the fatal stage; and Nigeria will die if we keep pretending that she is only slightly indisposed.”
Historical facts show that it hasn’t always been like this. When we compare the Nigeria of the past to the present, one incontrovertible fact remains that we fared far better in the past, especially in the period following Independence – those were the golden era, than we are doing presently.
Every society has bad eggs but as at 1960s, we had leaders who though corrupt, were more nationalistic in their outlooks and orientations in contrast to the brass and inept power grabbers of the present.
But I refuse to believe that Nigeria is short of visionary leaders, leaders who have the ability to turn the wheel. To cite Achebe once more, “such leaders are rare in any time or place. But it is the duty of enlightened citizens to lead the way in their discovery and to create an atmosphere conducive to their emergence. If this conscious effort is not made, good leaders, like good money, will be driven out by bad.” That exactly is what has happened to Nigeria leadership. The elites have failed to show the way.
Yes, gradually but surely, the bad leaders have driven out the good ones and have usurped power at the wake. Once tightly foisted on their saddles, their brazen incompetence permeated everywhere spreading the odium of corruption. The ominous consequence is that every facet of our life as people have been dented by blatant corruption.
By the way what is corruption? For our purpose here, let’s say it is dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery.
This is our sorry state today. Public servants expect little kickbacks to do the jobs that they have been employed to do. Civil servants who feel they are smart enough keep double jobs; one government, and the other private, with little or no attention to the former and yet are paid. What ought to be the natural due of the citizens are denied unless of course you have connection. You just need to go to any public office in Nigeria as a nobody to ascertain the quiddity of these claims and many more.
It isn’t a surprise therefore that in most elections, politicians have made and continue to make fighting corruption a major campaign tidbit. This in itself is quite revealing. It shows that we acknowledge its existence in our midst but surprisingly, “We have turned out to be like a bunch of stage clowns who bump their heads into the same heavy obstacles again and again because they are too stupid to remember what hit them only a short while ago.” No effective means has been adopted to tackle it. Worst of all, we might hypocritically condemn it outwardly but deep within, we indulge it.
This raises Aesop’s question, who will bell the cat? As it were, Aesop was a Greek fabulist and storyteller credited with a number of fables now collectively known as Aesop’s Fables. Although his existence remains unclear and no writings by him survive, numerous tales credited to him were gathered across the centuries and in many languages in a storytelling tradition that continues to this day. Many of the tales are characterized by animals and inanimate objects that speak, solve problems, and generally have human characteristics.
One of his most famous idioms is, “Who will bell the cat?” To bell the cat means to attempt or agree to attempt an impossibly difficult task that if achieved, will benefit the entire community. The idiom bell the cat comes from a fable called the ‘Mice in Council.’
Within Nigerian context, fighting corruption has been recognized to be dangerous. In fact, this was the caption of the celebrated work of the former Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, published in 2018. Our course in this regard is not helped by the penchant of our leaders to surround themselves with inept cronies and sharks whose main jobs understandably are sycophancy. Merit irretrievably seems to have been sacrificed on the altar of mediocrity and clannishness.
The current leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari is a pointer to this reality when we think of several anomalies that has trailed it right from inception till date. In fact, the present reflection was motivated by the masterpiece of the urbane New Telegraph columnist, Kassim Afegbua. On Tuesday, November 6, 2018, he penned what I considered a revolutionary piece captioned “Blood on their hands.” In this delightful write-up he took a critical view on key elements of our national life and noted:
“There is nothing more appropriate to underscore a nation with broken consciousness and moral fibre than its present army of occupation across the country. It is a sign of dithering hope, fractured nationality, broken dialogue, and a clear absence of national cohesion and unanimity of purpose. Under democracy, the Police are vested with the responsibility of maintaining law and order, and not the military by whatever guise. The present scenario playing out under the Buhari’s administration is an unusual situation in an unusual country, governed by unusual president struggling hard to defend an unusual certificate in a country of sins without sinners.”
Despite the fact that our nation has been soaked in the blood of fellow citizens, not one person to my knowledge has been found guilty in any court of law of the dastardly act. We trudge on as if nothing happens because those whose lives are cut short by our recklessness probably are nobodies. But this is a too dangerous a trend to be condoned and this administration seem not bordered as yet.
According to Afegbua in his “New Year, New Vote” of Tuesday, January 1, 2019 in the New Telegraph, it was only on Friday, December 28, 2018, that the APC-led government under President Buhari for first time spoke to Nigerians about what they have done since 2015; and the three areas of focus were: security, anti-corruption, and economy.
In Afegbua’s view, the statistics as presented by President Buhari are alarmingly damning but it’s his view on anti-corruption that is of interest to this writer.
“Our anti-corruption fight,” he says, “has been a selective engagement and almost becoming like a fight against those who are not in support of the President’s re-election. You are witch-hunted and pursued to the entry point of the APC house of contradictions and sinners. Once you get to the border of the APC territory, you are baptized to become a saint defined by the vocabulary of APC chieftains. It has become a blame game by APC and its power oligarchs.”
Already, in his famous work The Trouble With Nigeria, Achebe lampooned our anti-corruption strategy. He notes, “Although Nigeria is without any shadow of doubt one of the most corrupt nations in the world, there has not been one high public officer who has been made to face the music for official corruption. And so, from fairly timid manifestations in the 1960s, corruption has grown bold and ravenous as with each succeeding regime, our public servants have become more reckless and blatant.
“As we have sunk more and more deeply into the quagmire we have been ‘blessed’ with a succession of leaders who are said to possess impeccable integrity but unfortunately are surrounded by sharks and crooks. I do confess to some personal difficulty in even beginning to visualize genuine integrity in that kind of fix; for it has always seemed to me that the test of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.” Yes, I too believe that the test of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.
In fact, this was one of the reasons Nigerians “elected” Buhari as their President in 2015. He was believed to be a man of integrity, even today, some holds that view. However, the realities on ground have casted serious doubts on the hyped integrity of President Buhari. Few instances will serve us well here. He swore that “Whoever is caught accepting bribe will be dealt with.” Not long ago, the Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje was caught red handed accepting dollars as kickback. Following public outcry, the Kano State Assembly began probing the bribery allegation but was stopped.
According to the PUNCH report on Sunday, November 16, 2018, not long after, a Twitter user, SophyBest @SophyBest2 alleged in a tweet that Ganduje had “just donated N50bn and 200 buses for President Muhammadu Buhari 2019 reelection campaign.” She asserted it wasn’t a wonder that “the EFCC and other security agencies are still waiting for Mr. President’s assent to investigate Ganduje.”
Under President Buhari still, Engr. Buba Galadima after laying bare what many already know, alleged that both Orji Uzor Kalu and Godswill Akpabio were accused of corruption and they decamped to APC and were absolved of their crimes. The question is; Who is fooling who? Who is fighting corruption? So, “we are all living witnesses,” Achebe said, “to the failure of helpless integrity to solve the problem of rampart corruption which threatens now to paralyse this country in every sinew and every limb.
“Obviously, this situation which has built up over the years will take some time to correct, assuming we want to do it peacefully. But to initiate change the President of this country must take, and be seen to take, a decisive first step of ridding his administration of all persons on whom the slightest wind of corruption and scandal has blown. When he can summon up the courage to do that, he will find himself grown overnight to such stature and authority that he will become Nigeria’s leader, not just its president. Only then can he take on and conquer corruption in the nation.”