By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye
If you are in Nigeria and you have not done this before, try and do it right away. Just open a Nigerian newspaper near you. Go through its pages to find out how many people were described in that particular edition as “credible” politicians or “honest and selfless” Nigerians. You would be shocked to see the number of people that recklessly allowed themselves to be associated with such superb qualities even when they are fully aware that by what most people know about their character and vile history, it might even be considered a generous compliment to dress them up in the very opposites of those terms.
Indeed, these are some of the words and phrases that have been so callously and horribly subjected to the worst kinds of abuses in Nigeria with hardly anyone making any attempt to intervene. I won’t in the least, therefore, be surprised if I wake up tomorrow to hear that decent people in this country (or even outside the country) have begun to protest and resist any attempt to associate them with those terms any more.
In these parts, we appear to be such exceptional experts in the effective devaluation of all that ought to inspire awe and noble feelings. I can confidently predict that there are now some Nigerians who would, for instance, feel greatly insulted should their dogs be nominated for our country’s “National Honours.” Especially, since the Obasanjo regime, the “National Honours List” in this country has sadly distinguished itself by the ease with which people who ought to be in jail star prominently in it.
And as you look at the haggard or even dilapidated and grossly impoverished nature of a country with a long list of “illustrious” and “honest” sons and daughters annually honoured for their “selfless” and “invaluable” services to their fatherland, you cannot help wondering how indeed their so-called “immense contributions to the growth and progress of the their country” were not able to leave some bit of positive impact on the same country and its people. Why is a country with such a long and intimidating list of “patriotic achievers” and “nation builders” still one of the most backward in the world despite being endowed with enviably abundant natural resources?
Many Nigerians, especially, politicians, do not care about the credibility of their pronouncements before they open their mouths to drop them, especially, before mammoth crowds. It is in Nigeria that a very tall man would not have the slightest hint of restraint telling everyone how incredibly short he is (because of the rich gains such a gross misrepresentation would attract to him at that time) without bothering about the evidence before everybody’s eyes which brutally contradicts what he is saying. We live in a country where consequences hardly follow actions, so, people everywhere flaunt their ability to behave anyhow and make wild claims with utmost impunity.
Now, I feel very highly insulted each time I see a public officer, say a Nigerian governor, who virtually everyone seems to agree deserves to head straight to jail once he leaves office due to his mindless plunder of the country’s resources, come out (before an election) to tell the world with sickening brazenness how his party would wage a successful war against corruption if elected into power! By allowing himself the revolting recklessness of uttering such an outstanding blasphemy, the person is only calling all of us fools who are incapable of using our brains. And the mere fact that this same odious fellow would automatically be rewarded with very ecstatic ovations from supposedly rational human beings who constitute his audience and who would also go ahead to give him their votes is one reason most people easily conclude that something is very horribly and disastrously wrong with Nigeria, and that we live in one of the most unserious societies on earth.
In Nigeria , anybody can suddenly become an “esteemed” and “respected “anti-corruption” crusader. Even if you have a very horrible criminal past, it would not matter. Somebody once boasted to me that the only way to effect lasting, positive change in Nigeria is to become a public officer, acquire boundless wealth by looting the treasury pale, and then with your enormous loot, seek to sanitize the system. Moreover, Nigerians are always interested in the present. The same Nigerians who had called you horrible names while you were busy criminally accumulating humongous wealth would start hailing you once you start attacking the incumbent regime. Soon, you will be crowned an “eminent statesman” or even the “conscience of the nation,” celebrated by all.
Even the foreign media which will not tolerate such hideousness in their own land will join their local counterparts to decorate you. And if the current government attempts to investigate the organized banditry you effectively supervised during your tenure, you would just call a press conference and grant lengthy interviews to allege that they are persecuting you because you are exposing their corrupt acts and then promise Nigerians that you would not be deterred by any acts aimed at intimidating you into silence! I can assure you that if you act “wisely,” you would get eager influential defenders in the media, among opinion moulders and even from some of your “more liberal comrades” in the human rights community.
You can also always rely on our media to never attempt to remember your past, but to continue to emphasize how you are the hope of the country. They will readily help our nice and easily forgiving and forgetting populace to quickly consign your past to the bin and embrace your new “Mr. Clean” image.
Former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), late Alao Aka-Bashorun, one of the country’s most principled activists and legal luminaries, once said that if a gang of armed robbers rose in Nigeria and seized power that he knew some of his colleagues who would fall over themselves to “serve” in that regime and blame patriotism for their abominable choice. Aka-Bashorun made this statement during the heyday of military rule when coups and counter-coups were the country’s worst afflictions, and military adventurists, largely motivated by selfish interests, did not seek the mandate of the people to rule them, but just seized power and imposed themselves on all of us.
I wonder what Mr. Aka-Bashorun would have said today if he were still alive to see overfed and belching thieving public officers addressing mammoth crowds and receiving deafening ovations from the same people whose commonwealth they were busy mindlessly plundering and whose future and that of their children they are zealously mortgaging. One is at loss as to how to categorise a people with such a tragic mindset.
Late Lawrence Anini was once a nationally dreaded Benin-based armed robber. But, were it possible for him to reappear today and use the polluted proceeds of his violent robbery to become a wealthy and influential politician, and is able to get very efficient “professionals” to duly “package” him, he can comfortably win an election in Nigeria . Of course, he would very easily get some in our media to describe him as very “credible”! Indeed, I am now willing to believe that most of those who pen those flowery profiles do not really care to understand the meaning of some of the words they carelessly throw about.
Nigeria may, perhaps, be one of the few countries where a man who once, as the head of an anti-graft agency, investigated some public officers for looting the public treasury, told the world how horribly corrupt they were, and even charged some to court (where some of the cases, however, eventually died quietly) could turn around to collaborate with the same set of people in the same party to seek power. And such a man would not even feel any shame or sense of self-diminishment as he mounts the podium to tell the same audience (that once heard him call those men thieves) that the men were our new messiahs, the most “credible” (that word again!) politicians in town. How human beings are able to do this without doing untold damage to themselves remains a horrendous mystery? And because this is able to continue to happening is the core reason Nigeria goes nowhere and might remain stuck at a place for a long time to come.
Now, to say that politics in Nigeria is largely about crude self-interests is merely to state (or rather restate) something that has since become all too obvious even to the worst hare-brained fellow out there. It is difficult to see today a Nigerian who is seeking public office whose eyes are not solely glued to the amount of money he is intending to cart away and the influence he is itching to peddle once he assumes office. But what is most heart-shattering is that there’s hardly any adult Nigerian who is yet to come to a full realization of this brazen fact; yet this same Nigerians still willingly and eagerly submit themselves as very cheap preys to the crude, unintelligent lies by these politicians that they are in politics to seek their welfare. Rather than look them directly in the face and dismissively call them shameless liars, Nigerians, most pathetically, still largely prefer to loudly demonstrate that they believe them (even when they may not) and troop out en masse to hail them as the new set of messiahs just arrived in town.
Now the matter would not have been so hideous if our elected public officers were content to make do with their already outrageously inflated salaries and allowances. No! They will also massively and heartlessly loot the public treasury under their watch and cart away millions and billions of naira with utmost impunity to ensure that long after they have left office and become professional idlers, they would continue to wallow in limitless luxury serviced with mounds and pyramids of unearned wealth.
But instead of the people from whom they brazenly stole all this money to feel outraged and rejoice at any opportunity to make them face the consequences of their crude thievery, they would go out of their ways and take additional pains to defend and offer them support in their well-earned travails. Not a few would engage in verbal and even physical combats and might end up even wasting their lives to defend and support the right of these public officers to loot the treasury pale. Yet, deep down their hearts, they are fully aware that many of these officers are no better than common thieves out there.
An event that took place a few weeks before the 2015 general elections helped to solidify my doubts about the willingness and ability of the perennially deprived and impoverished Nigerians to participate in the urgent reclamation work this country requires – to rescue it from the hands of resilient leeches who are bent on sucking the very life out of it.
I was in one of the state capitals and what were on virtually everybody’s lips at that period were the media reports on some choice structures and juicy investments allegedly belonging to a former governor which were believed to have been acquired with the proceeds of his mindless looting of the state treasury. Opinions were divided on the mind-blowing report. Although some people rose in stout defense of the fellow, what I thought was unimaginable was that some others could go to the sickening extent of openly boasting that what the man was alleged to have stolen was “their” money, so, why should it be the business of anyone who was not from the state!
One evening, I went to a nearby kiosk to make a purchase, and there, I saw two young men who, judging by their haggard appearance, should belong to the lowest wrung of the country’s social and economic setting – the worst victims of the programme of impoverishment that successive thieving politicians have unleashed on this country. As one of the young men expressed outrage at such mindless stealing by the former governor, the other one barked at him: “go back to your state and talk about the stealing taking place there and leave our state alone. It is our money that was stolen and it does not concern you! Just shut your mouth, we are okay with that.”
It was difficult to comprehend what I had just heard, but the fellow was dead serious repeating the same words to the other young man, becoming angrier as he spoke and showing clearly that he could initiate a physical combat if the other fellow continued to discuss the matter that “did not concern” him. With people who reason like this fellow abundantly existing across our country, why should any thieving public officer ever think of exercising any restraint?
Now, when Nigerian leaders advertise their resolve to fight corruption, they usually have in mind some particular corrupt people they are targeting. And while they go all out with undue fanfare to arrest and prosecute them (or just rubbish them with elaborate media trials and sentencing), they surround themselves with even more horribly corrupt fellows – unrepentant criminals who are still neck-deep in their vile but very lucrative career of criminal accumulation, even under the “anti-corruption” regime.
And what about us – the perennially exploited Nigerians? What is our attitude towards corruption? Indeed, what is very difficult to deny is that when we shout against corruption and the need to punish those involved in it, we, like our leaders, always have a set of people in our minds. And so, when the anti-corruption effort now goes beyond our expectations and starts straying into the camp of our sacred cows, we would immediately discard our loudly advertised revulsion against corruption and rise in solidarity with the looters. We will try to dig up reasons why we think they are rather being persecuted. And politicians always take full advantage of this to shield themselves from the just consequences of their shameless thievery by igniting some fire among us with two prominent inflammable substances, namely, Religion and Ethnicity. But when they gather to steal the nation blind, they do not consider these two intoxicants.
Before I sign off, let’s narrow this discussion to the present situation in our country. There are Nigerians today who would eagerly go to any length and might even lay down their lives to defend the Buhari administration, despite the fact that it is becoming obvious that, perhaps, the only difference between the former regime and the current one is, like somebody said recently, the broom, and maybe, a more effective propaganda machinery deployed by the latter. The undisguisable truth is that they are all members of the same decadent and ultra-greedy political class which has held this country down for several decades sucking it to death like unrelenting leeches.
As I opened my laptop bag a few minutes ago, I saw again a copy of theNigerian Observer of March 23, 2015, which a friend in Benin had helped me to obtain when we learnt that it had republished one of my articles entitled, “Is Robert Mugabe’s Fall Symbolic?” As I leafed through the good oldObserver, I wondered how such a paper with the enviable history of having helped to groom several reputable journalists in this country since it debuted on May 29, 1968 could have been allowed to so badly depreciate in quality, even under the very watch of the “People’s Comrade,” the fire-spitting Governor Adams Oshiomole.
Well, on page 3 of the paper, I saw a full-page advert placed by an association that called itself “Change Advocates of Nigeria (CAN)” asking us to give our votes to General Muhammadu Buhari, then presidential candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC). The association gave four really tantalizing reasons why we should give our votes to Buhari. Permit me to reproduce three:
1. “Vote for a leader who will not appoint any corrupt person in his government.”
2. “Vote for a leader who will give social welfare package to the unemployed monthly in our nation Nigeria ”
3. Vote for a leader who matches his words with action for the overall benefit of the people of Nigeria .”
That sounded so nice, didn’t it? But why am I suddenly having this feeling that these statements sound even more hollow now than they did when they were first uttered? Indeed, how many people who had eagerly swallowed those sweet promises which the APC, its candidates and agents were recklessly throwing about during the campaigns would still be able to view them with even the tiniest bit of seriousness today, given the very demoralizing starting signals the APC regime has already served Nigerians these past few months?
Now, is it possible to find any reasonable person in Nigeria today (even among die-hard APC warriors) who still believes in all sincerity, I mean, deep down his “heart of hearts,” that President Buhari “will not appoint any corrupt person in his government” as boldly proclaimed in the Observer advert?
Again, how many APC chieftains would still be able to repeat today the (now clearly fraudulent) assurance Buhari gave Nigerians during the campaigns that he would “give social welfare package to the unemployed monthly in our nation Nigeria ?” And with what we have already seen in the past couple of months since this regime took over in Abuja, who in Nigeria today can confidently say that we now have a leader who “matches his words with action for the overall benefit of the people of Nigeria,” except, perhaps, the APC megaphone, Mr. Lai Mohammed, and some others of identical mindset.
But these are the very attractive but empty packets the APC boldly waved before Nigerians in order to obtain their votes. Today, the party’s “credible” leaders and the regime they installed are not only by their words and ‘body language’ distancing themselves from those very marvelous promises which they had clearly made, stressed and repeated on countless forums during the electoral campaigns, they are equally showing that those who believed any of them did so at their own risks. And to thoroughly erase any lingering doubts about their exact intentions and completely remove any further pressure on them to fulfill their campaign promises, the Buhari presidency and the APC came out recently to disown in an unambiguous language the very documents that contained those mouth-watering promises with which they persuaded Nigerians to give them their votes – after the votes had put them in power! Can you beat that?
No doubt, President Buhari and the APC are yet to realize that Nigerians are already feeling that they were deluded into pouring their water into a leaking vessel. Mostly on the social media, the APC foot soldiers are always quick to ask “what about Jonathan” any time anyone pointed to any of the howling failings of the current regime. Much as former President Goodluck Jonathan deserves to take his fair share of blame for the dilapidated state of this country, the truth is that his regime is now history. Rather than bore us daily with drab tales of the sins of the previous regime, Buhari should motivate the various anti-corruption agencies to go after those who had abused their offices and ensure they are duly prosecuted.
Corruption is not combated with countless front-page-grabbing pronouncements which sometimes sound as if they are merely targeted at removing our attention from the obvious lack of clear direction of the current regime. Nigerians want to see concrete actions. Let the looters (in the PDP and APC, the North and South) be thoroughly investigated, tried and jailed if found guilty by duly constituted courts. The APC-led regime should, therefore, shake off its campaign mood (since the elections are over), roll up its sleeves and start fixing the rot it met on ground instead wasting a lot time and resources in endless and debilitating lamentations.
By the way, one had thought that the current regime had announced itself as a healthy alternative to the previous one, so why is this penchant to use the failure of the last regime to justify its own failures? Are we to take it then that the “change” the APC promised is nothing but the amplification of all the failings of the Jonathan regime? If that is the case (as it is gradually appearing to be), then, indeed, Nigeria has moved from disaster to more, unmitigated disaster. And the fact that many Nigerians are still trapped in the false feelings created by the tantalizing campaign promises the APC was dropping like overripe fruits during the elections (and which the party has long disowned) and so are unable to see through the fog of the continuing propaganda to read the very clear, ominous handwriting on the wall is the real tragedy.
*Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye, a Nigerian journalist and writer, is columnist with a national newspaper (email@example.com; Blog: http://www.ugowrite.blogspot.com; twitter: @ugowrite)