Beyond ‘who will bell the cat’?
A very strong conversation has arisen in the wake of Dr. Arikana Chihombori Quao, the African Union Ambassador to the United Nations’ address to Africans in the Diaspora which recently went viral on the social media. She spoke basically about the kinds of colonial experiences some African countries had in the past and how they have continued to impact negatively on the political performance of Africans.
In the case of Nigeria, the primary point to consider is that many countries around the world are corrupt and that corruption is not only limited to Nigeria. It is all over the place and at practically all levels of administration even in the European Union.
Many years ago, the situation was very different. In terms of commerce, such goods as cars, bicycles, irons, microwaves, fridges and so on were made to last, especially those made in Europe. If you bought any products made in Europe in those days, they would last and last and last. You didn’t need to send them for repairs because they were strongly built to last. And that made it possible for, especially, working class families to retain some money in their pockets for the rainy day.
Then came a new era and the emergence of a new economic vision introduced into the world by countries like Taiwan and China. In order to drive profit into businesses, products were made to look glossy and attractive. But they were also deliberately made fragile to encourage repetition of purchases. So, you could look at a product like a radio or a mobile phone and it is very beautiful. But it had been made to be delicate. It had been deliberately made not to last the test of time. You buy it, attracted by its beauty. And in a few weeks or months, it gets spoilt and you had no option than to discard it and buy another one. In such a way these entrepreneurs advertently or inadvertently made the rich manufacturing and business families to get richer while the poor consuming families got poorer.
The development coincided with the computer age of the early 1970s and a subsequent change in the art of making money, from labour to gambling. Before this period, people earned money working. But from that period onwards, people began to make money by gambling. Those who worked in financial institutions called it trading. Sometimes they made huge sums of money and sometimes they lost huge sums of money. And all this continued to influence the value system in the society. People began to adore money and whoever had it, irrespective of how the money was made. The political system was not exculpated from all these trends. It became a victim of the socio-economic development. For Nigeria, this was also the period of oil boom when the country was exporting millions of barrels of its crude oil under the watch of the military and earning huge sums of money as a result.
From the very beginning, the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates in 1914 had already created its own additional problems, complicating Nigeria’s case. The north was operating a feudal system – a system that favoured a two class society of the extremely rich families and the extremely poor families. As we speak, the rich ruling families which dominated, still dominate the economy of not only the north but the entire country. Despite this fact, they are the ones who have continued to shed crocodile tears about poverty and lack of education in the north. They are the ones who have deliberately refused to create uniform cut-off marks for all the schools in the country and instead, they have cunningly kept the cut-off marks in northern schools extremely low in order not to encourage northern youths to put more effort in their education. All these measures were put in place by ‘government’ to ensure that a two-class system worked in the north.
The south practised republicanism. There were three classes of the rich, the middle class and the poor. The importance of the middle class was that it served as a bridge between the very rich families and the very poor ones so that the economic inequality became less glaring and in such a way, the society was able to mitigate criminal or get-rich-quick tendencies. Social mobility was also put in place in the society to ensure that people born of poor parentage were not necessarily condemned to poverty: they could still grow to take on responsible positions in the country if they worked hard enough and were focused.
For the avoidance of doubt, when two cultures clash, the stronger culture submerges the weaker one. That was why when the Europeans came to Africa with guns, the Africans could not stand them with bows and arrows, and they were able to submerge the African people and their culture and introduced their God and their Bible to them. So, in Nigeria’s case, when feudalism ‘clashed’ as it were with republicanism, there was a tendency for feudalism to have the upper hand. And the reason was not far-fetched. Southerners loved money, especially the Igbo. They were enterprising and they appreciated what money could do – they valued the power of money. And so, generally they had a tendency to align with the rich families and that created more problems for the country.
A typical Igbo always valued his independence. He would undergo an apprenticeship in the hands of a successful Igbo business man. He would serve for between two and five years while understudying the business models. And after the duration of his apprenticeship, his master would set him up in business to stand on his own feet and manage his own life. So, the typical Igbo believed in ‘show me how to fish’ and not in ‘give me fish.’ To some extent too, the Yoruba practised a similar way of life.
Coming face to face with the option of a two class system and a three-class system, most of the southerners who should have naturally belonged to the middle class society preferred to be counted among the rich and mighty in the society. As a result, a good number of them took to crime – armed robbery, highway robbery, bank robbery, kidnapping, cultism, ritual murders and so on. The country suffered a proliferation of crime in the society as a result of this fusion of feudalism and republicanism. This situation further fueled the challenges that already faced the country.
The invasion of the democratic process by the military in 1966 worsened the Nigerian case. It further created conditions that were favourable breeding grounds for rogue politicians and their criminal-minded partners in the business community. Some men in uniform were known to have sold government arms and ammunitions to armed robbers for money and thereby abetting the increase in violent crimes. In cases, they even escorted these bandits with their loot to safe destinations.
All these developments affected the political vision of Nigeria’s leaderships and the sort of people the system more or less encouraged to run for public offices. Nigerians began to vote for whoever had the money to pay for their votes regardless of how the money was made. They even voted for contestants who they knew had the money but no visible means of income. Once the public office seeker could ‘spray’ the money, he was sure of the votes. But that upfront pay also meant that the politicians who claim they spent huge sums of money on campaigns also had to loot the national treasury to “recoup” their expenses.
Soon, Nigerians accepted the trend as their political way of life. They branded it ‘politics of stomach loyalty’ . Some branded the process ‘politics of stomach infrastructure’. Many ill-informed but wealthy Nigerians regarded this trend as ‘democracy’, even in the National Assembly. The rot so permeated the society that every attempt to eradicate bribery and corruption met a brick wall. And that situation has remained the same even as I write this.
But something can still be done to salvage the country and bring it back to the path of true democracy and respectable nationhood. In Nigeria’s case, there is a great need to make public offices unattractive to rogue politicians who have come, over the years, to regard public offices as gold mines. To do this, the remunerations of public office holders must first be drastically curtailed. But who will bell the cat? Those responsible for the exercise are those that will be affected. So, they will need the political will to embark on the exercise in the interest of the people who elected them into public office. And that is the problem. The dilemma is that the mediocre crop of politicians who have been in control of the national economy will do anything possible to ensure that their betters are never given the opportunity to rule.
Many of the good ones who could have turned the fortunes of the country around for better know that they might risk their lives in trying to contest for public offices and so they stay out and serve foreign countries. The story was told, for example, of a financial windfall that accrued to Nigeria when Iraq was invaded by the US and Britain in 2003. The money was shared out among the top officers of the oil industry. And there was this accountant who was offered US $2 million as his share. The man turned down the offer. He could not see himself duping his own country. And guess what? That same night, assassins were sent to his house to kill him. He had to be silenced because it was feared he might reveal their secret! So, that too, is as difficult as it could be to become a concerned Nigerian, willing to turn the country’s fortunes around in the interest of the poor masses. As a result of such complications, many citizens who could have been useful in modernizing the country abscond to Europe and America to work for their governments. Nigeria is left with half-educated greedy leaders who have little or no knowledge of the art of governance and are ready to kill each other in their insatiable quest for public offices to manage the country.
But the buck doesn’t stop there. These Nigerian ‘leaders’ set up Diaspora departments in their governments and, in an attempt to eat with both hands at the same time, they come to Europe and America, seeking the financial and moral support of the same Nigerians they literarily forced away from their country.
About ten months ago, one Ehidiamen Afama-Eromsele posted a very interesting piece on the “#Take Nigeria Back” website. In that posting, he passionately appealed to the collective conscience of Nigerians. There was the point raised by the young man during the match between Nigeria and Iceland. And I consider that posting most relevant in any understanding of the real problem with Nigeria, and its solution. He said: “So you think Nigeria is actually divided? Look at the line-up of the game between Nigeria and Iceland. Not less than 70% of the footballers were from the eastern part of Nigeria. Did anyone complain? No. Many did not even care to notice that fact. Again, when Ahmed Musa scored the first goal, was it only the Hausa who celebrated? No. Were the Igbo and Yoruba sad? No. Did they protest? No. When he scored the second goal, did anybody complain why it was only this Hausa man that was scoring the goals? No. You know why nobody cared about those things? We were all after the goal! One vision! One victory! The problem of Nigeria has never been our diversity but lack of corporate and formidable national vision. When we have a goal, a vision, nobody cares where anybody comes from! The greatest harm that our leaders have done is to succeed in making us believe we are divided. No, we are not! They are the ones who don't have goals, solid visions attractive enough to bring us together. Trust me. Our diversity is our strength and not our disaster. We must take deliberate steps to knock out visionless leaders. Then, we can have a true and grand celebration of our democracy as a people, united and strong.”
He had a point. And yet, why is dismantling the social and political structures which have consolidated the country’s vision and sense of unity in the hands of a few visionless rogue leaders, appearing to be so difficult?
The first reason is that there is no place for trust on the part of those who seem to be clamouring for change in the system. Instead, betrayers wait in line at every turn of event, to collect a pittance from their very oppressors to enable them perpetuate their greedy ‘governance’ over the majority of the largely uninformed masses. So, the question Nigerians need to address is: who are the real enemies of national development – the greedy politicians who are bent on greasing the palms of willing Nigerians to enable them remain “relevant” in the scheme of things in the country or those unpatriotic Nigerians who are willing to be bribed in order to swing their votes in favour of their benefactors and thereby deprive Nigerians of the legitimate leaders they deserve?
While there are reasons to line up and fight the “common enemy” whoever he is or whatever it is, it has become necessary for Nigerians to guard against surprises if they are in for this battle. Only those who have the experience of war truly know what is involved in a battle. Surprises could spring up when you least expected them. So, I quite agree with whoever said only a revolution of the masses can set Nigeria free. Even the Europe that we talk about today and innocently accuse of being our detractors, which of them did not pass through a revolution of the masses to become what they are today? Was it France whose revolution was said to be most bloody? Was it England? Was it Portugal, Spain, Greece, Germany, Belgium or Russia?
A more important consideration is that most Nigerians seem to be comfortable staying together as one huge country, the most populated and most influential in Africa but they also want to see a more equitable democratic system in place. That is probably why, despite all the agitations of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB and the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB purportedly angling for the creation of the Republic of Biafra, the Igbo have never gone underground, never taken to guerrilla warfare to achieve their aim. That is also probably why, despite all the great men and women they have who have won global respect in their fields of endeavour, the Igbo have not found it necessary to send any of them to put up pressure or a strong case with the United Nations Assembly, for the recognition of Biafra as a nation-state. Somehow, everybody seems to believe in everybody, that it shall be well.
But for it to be well, Nigerians need to know that there is need to decentralize the economy and the political power from Abuja. There is a need to break the backbone of the extremely rich families ganging up in Abuja from the north, the west and the east to create a feudalistic society, a two-class social system of extremely rich and extremely poor families and thereby encourage criminal activities in the Nigerian society. There is a need to be truly republic as in the ‘Federal Republic of Nigeria’. Nigeria cannot be a republic while in actual fact the people are practising feudalism and soldiers are brought in at the least perceived provocation to come do the snake dance in citizens’ homes.
The choice is very clear. If there is going to be a revolutionary change, it must not be a revolution of the Muslims against the Christians. It must not be a revolution of the south against the north. It must be a revolution against a system that continues to make Nigeria a paradox – a system that creates the scope for the richer families to get richer while the poorer families get poorer. The north typifies the two examples of extremely rich and extremely poor families. So, if indeed there could be a revolution, it should start in the north with the northern elites who have been to school and are disgusted with the system as it is now leading the way. They should have the southerners standing shoulder to shoulder with them in the struggle to liberate the downtrodden people of the north from the shackles of economic slavery perpetrated on them by their leaders. And considering the issue of sabotage, they should make up their minds how to deal with betrayers among them. Nigeria cannot move forward unless the system is sanitized. But the legislators at the moment can also sanitize the system and save Nigerians possible bloodshed if only they can summon the political will to do so. For, indeed, Nigeria’s case has gone beyond ‘who will bell the cat’?
Chief Sir Emeka Asinugo is a London-based journalist, author of ‘The Presidential Years: From Dr. Jonathan to Gen. Buhari (Vol. 1 & 2) and publisher of Imo State Business Link Magazine (imostateblm.com)
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