“But the late Professor Olikoye Ransome Kuti served under the IBB administration. How was he able to serve and leave without any allegations of corruption or ineptitude in the same administration and in the same country?” Oh well, I guess
that's like asking “but I grew up in Nigeria, how did I turn out alright?” I recall one of my elementary science classes in primary school. We had been given two identical healthy seeds from the same pod to plant in two dissimilar pots. One of the pots had fertile soil and the other had sandy soil with some stones in it. A few days later…..
Teacher: So class, do you now see how you can plant two identical seeds in two different types of soil and get two completely different results?
Class: Yes sir
Teacher: Who can tell me why the first seed grew to be stronger and healthier than the second seed?
A boy: Because the first seed grew in fertile soil so it had the enabling environment and the right nutrients and it was also facing the sunlight, but the second seed was planted in gravel with very little earth, it didn't have the nutrients needed for growth and development.
Teacher: Please clap for him
“I wonder if one can argue the same for human beings, but does this theory really hold water?” It has been said time and time again that everyone is a product of their environment because the environment where you find yourself must play a factor in defining who you turn out to be. “But what do you say about two individuals who grow up in the same country face the same challenges but turn out different people. One turns out to be a person of high integrity while the other turns out to be a crook. Does it have to do with the smaller social groups which they belonged to for example the nuclear family, the church, the school, the peer groups, the extended family?” By this time I am yawning and hoping no one else can hear me talking to myself, asking myself these questions. I really must go to bed now.
“I knew there was no escaping from that topic. My conscious body may have gone to bed but my sub-conscious one wasn't going anywhere. I plunged right into the dream.” It was of my friend Adanma and her dad. It was a dream but it also happened in real life. I remember that particular incident vividly. In the dream, Adanma has just received her WAEC results and has made the required number of credits to gain admission into the University. But the problem is the credits are not all in the required subjects. She has actually failed a core subject, Mathematics and the fear of what her University Professor father will say is greater than the shame of not going to University with her mates. She enters the living room with wobbly feet and tear filled eyes, hoping to buy his sympathy.
Dad: Hmmm Ada, are you back? I hear results are out, have you gone to check yours?
Adanma: Y..es daddy. (she speaks in a faltering voice and looks away)
Dad: Any good news?
Adanma: Ermm, I got 5 credits and 2 distinctions.
Dad: Wow that is great news my daughter, well done. So why is your face so downcast then?
Adanma: I failed Maths!
Dad: Aww, what a shame……………oh dear and you need it to enter the University don't you?
Adanma: (Big sobs fill the room now) I really thought I'd get at least a credit in it, I don't know what happened. (even bigger sobs).
Dad: No need to cry, no need to cry my dear. If I were you, I'd go quickly and get the forms for the next WAEC exams and start preparing for a resit. (By this time her Dad had left the living room…..and I had woken up)
Fast forward to few months later, all Adanma's friends have now gained admission including those who had all the required credits and those who didn't. Some of them had paid for their names to show up on the list. Others had contacted people they knew could help. She couldn't believe how 'heartless' her daddy was. Even after a close friend of his had come to talk to him saying how it will look very shameful for the child of a University professor not to gain admission into the University, still he was bent on her re-taking the exams and getting her admission on merit and not because he knew several people who could help squeeze her in.
“Which Nigerian parent does that?” I thought to myself. “Is this the right thing to do or is it just wrong?”
“Why is it that majority of the disciplinarian parents were teachers whether it be primary secondary or University teachers?” Of course there were other non-teaching parents who were also disciplinarians. They were the ones who brought up their kids in a strict way, establishing a high sense of integrity. These kids then grew to imbibe these virtues innately (remember the agricultural science class in the first scene). They went into University knowing that dad and mom were not going to give you 'sorting money', you'd be damned to sleep with a lecturer for pass marks and even if 'bullets' were thrown at you in the exam hall, they were to be avoided like a plague. It wasn't that dad's ghost was watching you like Big Brother, it was that an internal code of conduct had already been established early on.
“But what about the other kids who didn't have disciplinarians as parents. What about those kids who had parents that were politicians or business tycoons, okay some politicians and business men and women still had the time to train their kids so let's just say those parents that didn't have the time or the sense to build character because they were busy chasing the 'Benjamin'. Can't we say that such kids grew up under a not so enabling environment and therefore had no other option than to turn out wrong? Is it right to condemn them in spite of the fact that they obviously do not know any better? Why am I asking myself all these questions when I know I do not have the answers?” Oh no there I go again……. I find that it is when I am tired that I go into these monologues.
Those who know, will correctly testify that the disciplinarian parents I am referring to, may have lived in the 60s, 70's and early 80's but surely not in today's Nigeria, where there is no longer black or white, everything is now grey. No wrong or right, everything is a 'doctrine of necessity'. It is now necessary to go to University even if you haven't made your papers so it is alright to pay for special Jamb Centres so you can pass automatically. It is now necessary to create work for the street cleaners so you can throw your thrash on the ground. It's not rare to hear parents telling their kids in the car to throw their dirt out the window. It is now an urgent necessity to be rich so it is okay to steal company, government or any money at all. After all no one cares how you made the money just be flamboyant about it and you will be hailed, respected, adored and even celebrated.
These days in Nigeria, virtues of hard work, patience,
resilience, uprightness, truth, honesty, and humility no longer exist. What we have now as replacement is wealth, influence, flamboyance, power, fame, popularity, self seeking, get-rich-quickly-or-die-trying mentality and unfortunately lots of stupidity.
But it irks me a bit when we constantly put down all of these our new 'virtues' to public officers alone. As a friend of mine rightly said, these 'virtues' also abound in the private sector. If in doubt, read on………
Mike: So how far now? You still dey go your Abuja trip so?
John: Before nko? See this man ooh, how I wan take survive the rest of this month na? Abi you don forget say madam just born and I don already settle you my gbese with like half my salary last week?
Mike: Ah na true o, I no even remember sef. But you don tell chairman abi?
John: I don tell am now, na today? Trust me now, you know say anything about that Project X, chairman go authorise trip automatic.
Mike : Na so, Project X must fly ooh otherwise yawa go dey o.
John: That one concern you, me I dey think of how to organize my invoices, flight, hotel, airport taxi bills, wait ooh I no even gist you sef, you know that last time wey I travel, Omo I amost enter wahala with those Oluwole guys ooh, my guy no been dey that day now. Ol boy dem almost fall my hand ooh but God no gree. I be God pikin now
Mike: Abi o, whom God has blessed no man can curse. Men Johnny boy, e get something wey I wan yarn you but you go hole am for your shest (chest) ooh.
John: Wetin be that?
Mike: I fit leave this company by next month, make you dey pray make the interview wey I get favour me.
John: ha ah, na im you dey talk small small like that, Guy, na drinks for Swe this evening be that o. Which day be the interview na, for which company?
Mike: Na next week. Na Don Juan Co Plc
John: Kpere, my Gee don arrive ooo shebi you don organize yourself sha?
Mike: As in?
John: Your papers now, current employment letter with the kind pay you wan earn.
Mike: I no understand o.
John: See this ju-man, no go do mumu o, how much you wan tell them say you dey earn for here, na the N60k per month abi? No go organize your letters oh, dey here dey ask me foolish questions.
Mike: Cool down now, na you be actor now, give me the koko.
John: My guy, I don fade, I go text you Baba Jimi GSM later. E go arrange am for you. Later men.If you work in Nigeria, the above scenario may not be new to you but it may be normal.
“But surely anyone who engages in the ills illustrated above should not have the audacity to complain of our looting government workers or public officers. Or should they? After all they are the ones who made all of us turn into fraudsters, they showed us the way and taught us to steal money by adding more zeros.” I can feel my insanity creeping in again. Going back to the 'no black-no white-all grey' phenomenon in Nigeria today, it has become increasingly difficult to differentiate between wrong and right. It's so bad that even the social institutions (yes, the churches, the schools, the tertiary institutions, the judiciary, the mosques, and I was going to add the Girl Guides but I'm not too sure if they still exist in our dear country) that used to be responsible for building character have gone under, and need rebuilding themselves, call it a moral crunch. Personally I am wont to lay blame on a faulty system, a system gone totally wrong.
“But who is the system, when did it all go wrong and how?” That is a stupid question to ask because some would argue that the system was faulty from the beginning, starting with the amalgamation in 1914 right through to our independence in 1960. I have read arguments for and against British Colonization. I think that if our system worked effectively, there wouldn't be room for us to become the type of people we have become today. I think that if we had clear and transparent processes, the caliber of leaders we have today would not thrive or survive. I'm thinking of a Moses who can give us total overhaul such that our system works and I think that will be more effective than trying to fight all the corrupt people we have as leaders and or followers. But I have just had a heated argument with a friend who has a differing opinion and insists that everyone, irrespective of tribe, influence, background, upbringing and family exposure should be held responsible for their actions.
My friend is convinced that people run systems, systems do not run the people and that when a person has failed to live up to expectation he should be haunted down, exposed, humiliated and given the boot so that others who may want to come in and do same will be deterred. While I may agree with this, I still do not believe it is working or can work in our system as we have it today. The reason is because the word corruption has become a legalised term in Nigeria. If you didn't catch that, let me rephrase. After 1985, it became legal to be corrupt and fraudulent in Nigeria. Being prosecuted for corruption became a case of whose good books you were in. “How do you fight something that is legal?” More than one learned, educated and exposed persons have told me that corruption has now become entrenched in the fabric of the nation. It has become our culture, our way of life, a norm and that we should be able to find away to work around that 'given', not find a way to fight it cos we simply can't. It's gone on for so long and it's gone too deep. I dare not mention names; some of them are people a lot of you reading this note will know and respect. “But are they far from the truth? I don't think so.” Let me illustrate.
A friend of mine, who lives in the UK, recently went home to her village for the Christmas festivities. She has a big beautiful house there and the village children know not to enter the house with dirty sandy feet unless you want to fall out with Big Aunty. So this 6 year old girl goes crying to her saying her slippers are lost and she doesn't have money to get another pair. Big Aunty promptly gives her money to buy a new pair. She immediately runs and alerts her elder brother who is about 8 years old, explaining how she succeeded. “Go and hide your slippers under that tree and then go bare feet to Big Aunty and tell her you can't find your slippers, she will give you money, don't forget to cry o, see my money” The little girl in her child-like innocence (?) didn't think to go far away from Big Aunty's hearing distance. “So is corruption endemic or is it genetic or both?”
Another issue is its subjectivity. Right and wrong to a lot of us is now subjective. For example 1. It is wrong to cook a pot of ofe-nsala or isi-ewu for the wife of your president if you are a minister and it isn't just the senator that holds that view. Example 2. It is wrong not to vote for anybody at all even if the candidates are all tried and tested thieves. Example 3. As long as due process is followed, even if a thief is chosen, he should be honoured and crowned King. Example 4. There is nothing wrong in wining and dining with the high and mighty even if the wine has been bought with stolen public funds. Example 5. Nothing wrong with accepting tithes from corrupt officers after all the Bible says ….'and the wealth of the Egyptians shall be transferred to the Israelites'.
Example 6. “Hey hey wait a minute, surely that example number 5 shouldn't be there at all. That one isn't a good example o. Please be wise, separate religion from
politics o. This is the Word of God we are talking about here. Surely they can steal and come and offer the money to the church. But who are the Egyptians and who are the Israelites in the Nigerian context? The last time I checked the Israelites fought their oppressors several times. But Nigerians don't want to fight oh, we will prefer to pray and pray and pray and then wait for God to fight our battles for us. Isn't it called divine intervention and I use those words a lot myself in helpless situations.”
It was this heated argument that inspired me to ask the following questions: If your close family member, husband, wife, brother, sister, father, mother, boyfriend, girlfriend was in a position of government as it is in Nigeria today, will you still be shouting out against corruption? Also if you have in any way benefitted from looted public funds, past or present, do you really have the moral right to complain about the state of our polity? If I vote you into power (yes you reading this note) how do I know that you will not go in there and be no different? What the hell is wrong with me?” When it gets to this point, I simply switch off and go to bed.
I woke up on the 4th day and found out I was a bit happier, in fact excited. I started rambling about how I had found the solution to all of our problems. In my head, I was hearing things like “Attack the root not the symptoms”, “Why do people steal public funds?” “Underdeveloped country=underdeveloped minds?” “Fear of dying poor” and only just recently, in fact only today, I was told that the solution to our problems will be via an accident, that is the solution of our problems will come upon us like a thief in the night. Of course it had to have the word thief in there.
Written by Nneka Y. Egbuna
Originating at huhuonline.com