FEATURE ARTICLE

Patrick AlabiTuesday, June 24, 2008
patrick.alabi@usask.ca
Saskatchewan, Canada

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AS CORRUPTION HAS RUINED NIGERIA:
ABOVE AND BEYOND: A BETTER YOU, A BETTER NIGERIA. PART [1]

t was a dewy Saturday morning. The flowers and the trees were dancing in the breeze. The buildings towered dizzily above me. Here she lay sprawled across the sofa, in an unusual attitude of complete abandon. And occasionally, through her apartment window, catching a fleeting glimpse as the water drifted from the surface of her car's misty windscreen. The thought of the breakfast I was about to be served made me salivate. As soon as I alighted from my own car, she gave me that "deer in the headlights" look, as if she was surprised to see me visiting, but then immediately said okay thank God you are here. "I'm so pleased to see you," she grinned as I watched her "speech" contradict her initial seemingly unwelcome body language. With a surge of undeclared happiness and that "now you are talking" glance, I whispered calmly "thank you." But, instantly I just knew something was wrong. Still searching through my mind on what could be the reason for her strange behaviour, and before I even took my seat she had started speaking.


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"I just finish talking to my folks in Nigeria who told me how terrible things are, still. From poor road conditions to poor health services, from fire incident at Ijegun to security issues, from high cost of rice to that of cement," she began to complain. She continued, "The most painful thing is that we even lost a family friend to the inferno at Ijegun! At every rung in his campaign ladder, President Umaru Yar'Adua promised us hope in the country. What has become of our President Yar'Adua's seven point agenda? The menu on his agenda I think included those of Niger delta, security, power, food security, infrastructure, education, health and political reforms. So Surprising, even with his 'I feel your pain' maiden speech of May last year he has not hit the right notes ever since as the President." She had now paused expecting me to say something.

I beamed with delight at her remarks. I said to myself, I thought I was coming for breakfast. But I got more than the continental breakfast with the discussion that soon ensued. The talk drifted in a meaningful way from one subject to another.

"You guys only write about corruption mainly these days. But why is it that people dwelled more on only curbing corruption these days when there are other tons of problems afflicting us in Nigeria?" She had asked.

"Was that not obvious already," I said, "as I began to speak."

She jumped in, now more articulate, "I know that is exactly what you are going to say, but curbing corruption cannot be the only arrow in the solution quiver of the multiple problems facing our country"

"But one arrow can kill someone, jokingly I said."

"Tell me, on a more serious note what is going on in Nigeria?" She broke in.

"Corruption nowadays is one devil that is attracting more disciples in Nigeria as magnet attracts objects to itself." I started to speak. "Corruption is getting more Nigerians to "his" side these days than "anything", spreading like uncontrollable virus."

She jumped in again. "Yes, I know, corruption is the bane of our society, but our basket of problems contains many other items as well. In the interim we should also address the other little problems that are facing us. Problems like Niger delta, environmental issue, militant kidnapping spree, security issue, pipeline vandalizing, fire disaster to mention but a few."

"I am not trying to trivialize all the other problematic issues in Nigeria, but I think it is important to pay attention to the vital few and not to the relatively trivial many. Corruption is "

Just as I started making my points, she cut in again. "Are you saying all the other issues are not important?" "I am serious, what is happening in Nigeria? It is always one sad news or the other."

"Don't misunderstand me, I am not saying all the other issues are not important.."

"So what are you driving at?" she seemed more determined now?

"Hold on first, if you give me the chance I will shed more light, I said as I began to give an impromptu speech that I did not bargain for. You know, corruption is.."

"I know, we only talk about corruption in Nigeria all the time, but there is corruption everywhere in the world and despite that, some countries still developed" She uttered.

"Now a bit frustrated, I wish you'd just stop jumping in and finishing my sentences for me all the time, I responded."

". I am just worried about the situation of our people in Nigeria" Nothing seems to work well in our country." She said.

"I see, but don't be too worried. Remember the saying: "Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but gets you nowhere." I advised.

As if she was also frustrated and tired; she now helplessly simmered down like a pot of soup, as I began to speak.

"To start with, I offer my sympathy to you on the demise of your family friend in Nigeria; may his soul rest in perfect peace." I began to deliver my speech. "Now, to throw some light on your question, corruption is endemic in Nigeria. Corruption is an act of dishonestly using one position or power to one's own advantage, especially for money. In other words, it is an illegal, immoral or dishonest behaviour, especially by people in positions of power just as we have in Nigeria. Corruption is a subject which has aroused a lot of interest."

Now, she looked earnestly at me as I spoke, and it appeared to me that I had never seen so anxious and questioning an eye. Her look which depicted such "we have heard that a million times" aroused my curiosity.

"Some say we practice corruption," I continued, "because we don't want to slip through the cracks of economic earthquake that has been visiting Nigeria. In Nigeria today, there is this mental arithmetic that we will only make it by enriching ourselves at public expense or by embezzling money through other shady deals. These mental patterns are already ingrained in our brains like information on a hard drive. And like a computer, our minds play them over and over again as fast as the speed of light anytime it is booted up."

As if I was now addressing a large group of people, I continued with my speech.

Corruption, particularly in Nigeria is a little like a chicken and egg scenario. It is impossible to tell categorically if our problems caused corruption in our midst or if corruption gave birth to our problems. Was it that corruption arose in the midst of an economic chaos? Or was it that corruption brought about the chaos itself? Why is everybody in our country corrupt? While one school of thought may say that corruption arose as a result of empty stomachs, greediness and the fear of the future, some other schools may say that corruption brought about the empty stomachs, the greediness and the fear we see today. Supporting a particular view in my own opinion will amount to only telling one side of the story. I don't even want to go there, debating or writing on which of the two things (corruption vs. problems) existed first will fill a thousand tapes and a hundred of textbooks, respectively. With this in mind, I will discuss the issues of corruption here with you without the topically wide subject of corruption still losing its pregnancy.

As it can now be seen clearly, the trickle of corruption here and there before has now turned into a flood. It just reminds me of the term "Tipping point." The term "Tipping point" is a terminology in sociology that is used to refer to the moment when something earlier unique becomes common. The term describes a point at which a slow gradual change becomes irreversible and then proceeds with gathering pace (from linear to something geometric). Consistent with the theory of tipping point in sociology, in engineering, the tipping point is the maximum stable slope a bulk granular material (such as sand, powder) can assume before it slips or topples down the slope.

To put it into a better perspective, Nigeria is now on the tipping point where the "Egunje" that once "spoiled" Lagos and which was most typified of Lagos and among the few has now spread, propagating itself across the nation, gaining unprecedented popularity among the rich and the poor, the old and the young, and male and female alike. In the country today, we have knowingly been paying the double-edged compliment to corruption. As a nation just on the tipping point of corruption and like every case of double-edged sword situation, there is the dual presentation of potential opportunity and threat depending on the course of action we choose to chart. Yes, a potential opportunity and threat that can equally change a nation entire path, definitely in different directions, depending on what path we choose to tread. A potential opportunity in the sense that it is a quick money making scheme in which people in privileged positions make quick money at the expense of others not so fortunately to make it there. A threat in the sense that it banishes a nation further down the abyss of obscurity as far as national development is concerned. Specifically, the effect of such threat and opportunity is why we would have forest of new houses springing up in our towns and cities but without the essential supporting infrastructure like paved street roads and pipe borne water. Since people who stole money to build new houses in new areas are not very generous enough to either build roads or provide pipe borne water, they make do with noisy generators and glorified dug well we called drilled well or water borehole. On the other hand, Nigeria which has now been striped naked by her own masters and servants has no enough funds to provide the much needed facilities for its citizenry. Resultantly, because of our greediness, we buckled under our own weight. Worse still, with our "deal with it later" mentality, addressing in earnest the issue of corruption in Nigeria is something we will do not now. Nigeria has now toppled down the slope.

Our situation in Nigeria once again allows me to remember Vilfredo Pareto. As well as being a Philosopher, Pareto an Italian sociologist and economist (1848-1923) came up with what was called Pareto's rule. At that time, he observed that 80% of income in Italy went to 20% of the population. He then opined that the only way to improve the lot of the poor is to raise the overall income levels of a society. In Nigeria today, it seems 99% of our resources are being drained away into the purses of our corrupt leaders.

Let me reinforce this a bit further. Our situation in Nigeria also reminds me of "Ronnie Hawkins who said some years ago that he spent 90% of his money whisking women and fast cars and the remaining 10% he wasted. Thanks to the high-ceilinged price of our mono product, crude oil, that we sell; in Nigeria today, the rate at which we make money relatively increases in arithmetic projection but the rate at which the money is wasted is geometrical. Yet our government is moving at a snail pace at combating corruption which has kept us dizzily off balance. The more we make the more the accumulated wealth suddenly melts away like snow. Yet no tolerance line has been drawn!

Even with their tornadonic activities, our leaders constantly preach the same sermon of "selfless devotion to duty" but their attitudes show a selfish disregard for others." To satisfy their insatiable appetite, they have the habit of cropping for their selfish use all of the juicy parts of our national cake, doling out only the crumb to the larger population. As if that is not enough, dispersing the corruption seeds to everywhere in the country, our leaders function well both as the trees of corruption as well as corruption dispersal agents. The corruption seeds have been dispersed to every nook and cranny of Nigeria, spreading from the valley to the mountain, from the sea to the dune, from the forest to the savannah and from the delta via the confluence town to the Chad basin. Germinated and well nurtured, our strange species of corruption which could grow on any soil, poor or rich, have never failed to develop into gigantic trees at any available place they touch. We also have a strange climate that will support the growth of any corruption species.

Our style of democracy is a no-name-brand which takes all the bad features of different types of government ever known to mankind, bringing them into one unnamed brand of government that we ignorantly called democracy. It is what I will christen "corruptocrazy", which is a system of government in which a large number of people are grouped by corruption and stacked by corruption.

It's just typical of our leaders to spend all that time campaigning, saying insincerely all the campaign rhetoric they know they cannot achieve only to lose interest half way through the course when they now get there through much arm-twisting. With zero momentum to achieve anything meaningful, this will explain the snail speed at which Yar'Adua is moving. Yet, our leaders' home are oasis of peace and wealth amid the surrounding desert of pandemonium and poverty in the country. Our government is more reactive rather than proactive. We have a lot of irons in the fire but nobody is actually planning anything. Everybody is in fire fighting mode. Don't we need to go past this?

Like another chaos theory, things are so bad, even if you bring an imaginary "Mr. Honesty" himself from another planet to Nigeria today to oversee the affairs of our country, he is likely to acclimatize and be initiated into the deity of corruption. It is a matter of time before he too becomes corrupt. Although it sounds like inkling but I'm serious. It's like there is something there. It is as if there is something on our sky that changes people. It's as if you can only survive in Nigeria today by playing the same ball of corruption. Even if you try to be a saint in Nigeria today you won't last long in any career. They will find a way to butt you out either alive or otherwise. As if we are a cursed nation, many people including some Pastors are as corrupt as anything you can imagine in Nigeria. We read their stories online everyday. Many of us troop to churches every Sunday in our multitude not to serve God though but to showcase our new and expensive dresses and flashy cars to our friends. Not practicing what we preach always, and to demonstrate consistently our sheer hypocrisy as Christians, we pray fervently like prayer warriors and as if we are God's vice Presidents on earth but our hearts are as dirty as waste in the latrine. If only the crowd in churches and our prayers could translate into wealth, Nigeria will be the richest place on earth. As if we mean it, we cry loud deceivably everyday, God where are you in the midst of all these calamities. But can we deceive God? No! God can see deeply into the manifold wickedness of our hearts. People who don't even go to churches are more dependable, kinder, more honest and exhibit the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5 vs. 22-23) than us. On the other hand, we that flood the churches have our necks deep in 'deeds of the flesh' (Galatians 5 vs. 19-20). We worship wholeheartedly the houses and the cars and not the Gift Giver Himself. My people, God only looks at people's hearts and not the number of flashy cars, dresses, the houses and not even our insincere prayers and the tithe we pay out of our stolen money. Likewise, our Muslim brothers and sisters who sleep in the Mosques, it is the same story. Even young children in Nigeria can recite the Holy-Quran from cover to cover. Even with all of these, many Nigerians are stuck in the mud of corruption and other known and faceless sins. Where are we going with all of these?

As a part of a larger scheme of corruption and 'pay-to-play' politics in the country, our major appointments and profitable contracts are freely traded for campaign contributions and billions of Naira in kickbacks. Against their earlier promises to be a Hoover to suck up our problems selflessly, our leaders go into strange Nigerian politics in form of a sponge, ready to soak up any of our national resources they encounter after they get there. How I wish they will love us as much as they love our resources! As if this is not enough, they sometimes unleash the dragon of psychological warfare and mental cruelty on the masses and those that have opposing political views. Suffice to say; if only they have their ways even the masses and the opposition are just as corrupt if not worse. What not is impossible in Nigeria, today? It now seems there are no saints anywhere in Nigeria.

One can't be so serious, as the sideline is not usually where one would look for a good seat in a stadium! And also, one cannot be dreaming about dieting when one is in a Chinese buffet queue! They all only must be vision of tortoise! Then, when will one ever be serious? In Nigeria today, we say we are fighting corruption but it is all talk and no action. Many Nigerians have fallen in love with corruption. Many others need corruption as much as they need food and air. As if we are possessed, corruption is the water we drink, the air will breathe and it is also the food we eat. It is our way of life. Are we really serious at all? Are we really fighting corruption or we are propagating it? This one that we are babysitting "corruption", feeding "him" with Indo-mee noodles and peak milk, and nourishing "him" for good health! Responding well to our treatment, 'he' looks happy and well nourished! Yet, we deceive ourselves saying we are fighting corruption. We are not "f"ighting it after all; we are only "s"ighting" it, "l"ighting and fanning it for more flames! Not mindful of the after effect of overdosage, corruption is the survival pill that every individual in Nigeria wants to willingly swallow these days. It is so bad. Many Nigerians want the status quo of corruption to continue and the rest are sitting on the fence refusing to talk, saying it would only reopen old wounds. Yet, we cannot lick our wounds. Which manna are we then expecting from heaven? My people, you are either in support of corruption or not. If we are fighting corruption let us fight it and if not let us not.

Sherlock Holmes in "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" said and I quote: "The temptation of sudden wealth so easily acquired was too much for you, as it has been for better men before you; but you were not very scrupulous in the means you used. It seems to me that there is the making of a very pretty villain in you." Here, Sherlock Holmes pretty much captured the situation we find ourselves in Nigeria, today. Is Nigeria now a lost nation where everything seems to be disintegrating into corruption?

Like a little donkey struggling under its heavy burden, as cumbersome as our burden seems, we matched on the same spot as if there is nothing on our back. Even though the whole world labeled us as the happiest people in the world but (un)known to them our happiness fluctuates as dramatically as the stock market. Mr. and Mrs. Ojo who are break-dancing to the Makossa rhythm at a party do not know where the next meal will come from! Anyway, I supposed it was one of those flatter to deceive statistics! Happiness amid the organized chaos of crisis, one would ask? The whole world damned us with faint praise and we are liking it. Happiness they say is free but not a gift. Unable to sustain it, our happiness is so short-lived. But we know it. We know the reason. We know that we are only happy after drinking our catalyst to happiness such as Guinness Stout aka "baba dudu", Star lager, Guilder, 3-3 lager beer aka "uku uku", and host of other "ogogoro" families.

The corrupt leaders are very precautious of their own security as they behave strangely all the time as if someone somewhere is going to hit them with a two by four wooden plank. They beefed up security only around themselves because of their wicked deeds to our economy. Nowadays, many patriotic Nigerians and many others also find themselves in a pitiable state of agitation (perhaps for a change) and of something akin to fear and worries. Rich or poor, everybody is worried and fearful in our country. As the wounded in Nigeria, we say everyday that we are worried because of our problems but we don't do anything strategic about them.We often take the philosophy that time heals every wound. But my people, this is not always true if we don't do anything. We are like a bear with a sore head. Worry will only increase the size of our pain. Worry is like playing a bad video all over and over again. And when you keep on playing that video you magnify and exaggerate your disappointment, pain and hurt. Even if we spend a million of years on treadmill; it still will not get us anywhere unless we do something strategic. Who will bear the scars? Every Nigerian of course!

I know we all do even if it is once in awhile; we do give a look of commiseration to 'Nigeria' herself for some kinds of citizens who live on her soil. If only 'Nigeria' could talk, she will cry out loud saying enough is enough. But, is this status quo what we really want? If you are not getting the results you want they say improve the system.

Have we not been paying attention? What we need now most is perspective. This can turn out to be a recipe for adventure. For once, we need to go mentally to the top of the mountain, not to be tempted though, but to look down on our nation to see which activities are eroding away our wealth reserves and which ones are building them.

In the "Adventure of the Beryl Coronet", Sherlock Holmes also said and I quote "It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Undeniably, there a lot of problems on our plate today. We have a lot of items on our "to do" list. But there are problems and there are problems. I say now, as I said then, in my own opinion, corruption is the main issue. Take it from me, all the other problems are all red-herrings and therefore secondary to the corruption problem we have. If you don't agree with this then you still don't get it.

Although, curbing corruption is not the finishing line but it's the most important beginning of the marathon race. Thus, it gives us a place to start. In other words, even if we shut down the tap of corruption tomorrow, there are still some other problems. Our problems in Nigeria are multifarious just as their causes and effects. Expectedly, there can be several causes of a problem; a root cause is that which when eliminated removes most other causes. Although our problems in Nigeria can be attributed to confluence of factors, the one that contributed mostly to our lack of development is corruption. Corruption is the root cause of our problem in Nigeria. And like the saying "do first thing first," Nigeria is submerged deeper in various problems because we have failed to tackle the root cause of our problems- corruption. If we are able to weed out corruption, our problems will be half way solved if not more. Corruption is a 'disapproving' show-stopper and thus, we need to deflate that balloon that is filled with corruption that has been occupying our space, and flying high on our sky. If we are able to eliminate or reduce-at-best corruption in Nigeria other good things will follow. In simplicity, we will have more funds to provide infrastructure and unarguably, even if the funds are not utilized for providing infrastructure, they will remain in our vault because there is no corruption.

It is a little like a 'Shopping cart scenario;' if you go to the shopping mall with certain amount of money on you, the more goods you have in your cart the more money you are likely to spend and all things being equal, the less amount of money you will have left. The reverse is also the case. So if you return some goods from your cart, it will translate to more money at hand. Therefore, if we are able to reduce corruption in our midst to the minimum it will mean more money, and a lot to our country. Shouldn't we therefore turn over the page of corruption?

Even though we have our own web to weave, while theirs are already woven, many Nigerians follow American politics closely more than one could imagine. While this is not a bad idea in any way, but one thing that I have learned from American politics is that Americans know how best to drill, scrutinize and screen their political aspirants. Maybe if we borrow a leaf from their method maybe things will be different a little in Nigeria. To drive home my point, what more could you have expected from a farmer who just came back from prison and found himself in the palace? Just as we cannot expect everybody to be like Joseph in the Bible, but honestly the man OBJ tried his best. Or what else could you expect from a 'Governor turned a President' who never for once wanted to be one but was persuaded to take up the responsibility on a platter of gold? And what else could you have expected from leaders who gained power at gun point? What can you expect from Ministers who did not even know how they found their ways to their various positions except that they could only remember the names of god-fathers who nominated them as the anointed candidates? These people were never prepared for the levels of responsibilities we placed on their shoulders. Or what more can you expect from office holders who before their appointments were peacefully enjoying their retirement only to be called upon to come and hold political positions, oh, sorry to come and eat? Not everyone could be as ready and prepared as the fire brigade! Thus, we all knew beforehand that they could only do so much. Well, if you don't know before now you know! If it were like the story of that fairy godmother who waved her magic wand over the cabbages and they turned into horses, Nigerians will be happy. But there is none anywhere! We cannot expect our unprepared leaders to now wave that imaginary wand!

For example, let us place under the microscope the case of some of our Ministers who are currently not performing to our expectation. Especially with the usual way in which our Senate praise-sings any candidate brought before it nowadays, and as we have also found some of these Ministers to be mediocre at best after they get there, we can only swallow our anger as we cannot now begin to find fault with them. After all we saw it coming through the door before it hit us. So bad, the ripple effect is that a struggling President himself who either inherited or is presented with some mediocre set of ministers, who he himself didn't appoint directly, cannot then be expected to perform miracle. It is like getting an unwanted or useless gift from someone. It is also like hiring a worker and he is ill-equipped with the necessary tools that he needs to perform on his duties. Can you then blame such a worker if he does not perform excellently? Still valid, they say you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. But, the good question now is: are political office holders appointed by our President himself any different? That was one area that OBJ was quite smarter.

Being the first President with a university degree in Nigeria, we had thought his choice would bring a "feel good factor" back to the political terrain in Nigeria, perhaps we are wrong. After one year of chopping and changing mode, Nigerians are left with no other option than to adopt the "let us wait and see" attitude as we wait patiently to see if the fruit of electing the first graduate as our President will ever come. If what we have seen so far of this political dispensation will serve as a living record of experience of what is to come, then we are in for it. As someone once said, good is the enemy of the best! Yorubas also philosophize by saying "In ss k jni l??mej." That is to say, the fire of the 'stinging tragia plant' does not burn a person twice. Meaning, one should always learn a lesson from the first bad experience. Our Constitution they say is under review now; shouldn't we then do something about the way we appoint our Ministers and other political appointees?

Sometimes ago, I came across this quote, that has a meaning far beyond its words - "Pull the universe inside of yourself, and make it your own". To me, it means, let each of us see our potential, the endless opportunity to do good things and the knowledge that all of us are connected to one another in the grand design of this universe we live in. Nigeria is made of glass and thus, it will take little intelligence for all Nigerians to know that no stone should be thrown. That said, if all Nigerians will behave well, we would at least be able to throw a little light through the dense darkness of corruption which envelopes us. If every Nigerian will do unto others and Nigeria that which we want do unto us, Nigeria will be a better place and a place to be. Above and beyond: A better you, a better Nigeria.

"Coincidently, I was reading the APRM report on corruption in Nigeria published by the Punch newspaper recently," I continued.

As if she was now coming out of the moon, she reluctantly cut in and said, "What is APRM?"

"APRM is an acronym for the African Peer Review Mechanism." I responded.

"Just as I was starting to shed more light on the highlights of the report, she said, "Let us leave that one for another time", "I quite understand and agree with all you said." "Summarily, you have said that corruption has really ruined our country. You have singled out corruption as the part of the equation that is not adding up because if we are able to reduce or eliminate corruption in Nigeria, other problems can reasonably be solved. If we try to tackle other problems without first laying to rest or saying good bye to corruption, we are only deceiving ourselves. Without any other treatment, it's like using a thick wrap of bandage to cover a bleeding wound, sooner or later the blood will re-appear on the surface. Therefore, we must wage war on corruption; a war that must be fought and won! Unless we want to deceive ourselves, we can only witness all the good things of life and live the way other advanced nations are living if we put our house in order. Well, to say we do have a lot of work to do is to say the least. Therefore, we should refuse to take the back seat and be in the driver's seat in an effort to put things right in our country. It is going to require a collective effort." She summarised.

"She rose briskly from her sofa with the anxiety seems all swept from her face. "I'm optimistic, we have more than enough for the task ahead, we will get there; can we now eat? She chuckled heartily.

"Anyway, I am feeling hungry as well but before I sign off I have a word of wisdom for our leaders: but some things are better said in Yoruba. One Yoruba adage says: 'Odd?r? ?y? kun, lk r ?y? o??s; b a b j?un gb, k m se je? o?n gb.' Translated as 'The Parrot is a bird of the sea, and the Kingfisher a bird of the lagoon; even though we might forget that we once partook in the food, let us never forget what we covenanted.' Meaning: 'no matter how slow you may move or roam, and however long, you should never forget promises you made.'"

Long live Nigeria!

Please watch out for the Part [2] of this article.

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