What are the worst vices affecting Nigerian society today? Squalor, poverty, illiteracy, perversion or even its brother-in law – corruption? Most people would argue that corruption is the greatest of them all.
What does corruption stem from? Why has this cankerworm, tapeworm, earthworm, eroded every facet of our national life. It all has to do with our flawed reward system.
Corruption exists because treasury looters and crooked people are celebrated because they have cash to burn. In England, a corrupt public officer would be stared at, pointed out and maybe even spat on in the streets. In Nigeria, he would be called to the high table at a function, and politely asked his choice of liquor.
In Jand and Yankee, the names of ex-sex offenders (people who have either been convicted of rape, sexual harassment or sleeping with under-age persons) would be put in a Sexual Offenders List, and they would be prevented in living in certain areas (especially near schools, daycares and nurseries), and the public would have access to their records. In some cases, if they embarked on a bus, someone may stand up to avoid having to share a seat with them.
In Nigeria, a sex offender could move to Abuja or another state, get connections or a government contract and get nominated to become a State Commissioner or Special Adviser.
Only in Nigeria can an ex-con become a president or senator, or an ex 419-er own a bank. Our system seems to encourage people to do whatever is necessary to stack paper, and the rewards are uncountable – recognition, fame, chieftaincy titles, streets named after you, honorary degrees from dodgy state universities, your name being toasted to by a juju musician at an owambe and your pick of cream aristo girls.
There was a lot of brouhaha late last year when Chinua Achebe declined to receive a national award from President GEJ. A lot of people were a bit miffed with the manner in which our national awards have been cheaply dished out to men of questionable characters and achievements who have done nothing to uplift this nation. Sometimes some of the recepients are serving public office holders, who happily accept the award, use it as a paper-holder on their office table, and proceed to award themselves and their cronies contracts, misappropriating public funds.
And I wondered to myself, a national award should be the highest form of reward for excellence giving to a citizen. Look at the United Kingdom for example – Sir Alex Ferguson (manager of Manchester United) was not knighted till 1999, a whole 13 years after he joined the club, and only after he had won a historic treble of trophies. The year before, he had won his 5 Premiership title, but Mama Charlie had not yet deemed it right to knight him.
David Beckham, soccer star, actor, perfumer, icon, poster-boy is not even yet a knight of the realm. The Queen’s honor roll is only reserved for distinguished personalities, not pudgy bankers who have not paid their workers for the past 2 months, or who pimp female markets to secure lucrative accounts. It is not for half-assed civil servants who flood their ministries with only their blood relations and party members.
If Beckham were a Nigerian, he would have been award more titles than his passport book could bear – Chief Otunba Nze Sir Architect David Beckham, GON, MFR, GCON, MFON.
And it is because people who have wealth, rather than those who are committed to selfless national service that are accorded recognition, it makes people want to lie, cheat and steal for glory. There are more award ceremonies conducted in Nigeria than there are credible recipients. There are a gazillion award ceremonies to honor musicians and entertainers, including the ones who are encouraging us to party and be merry while Nigeria is burning around us. It seems Nigerians were in danger of becoming Emperor Nero who played the harp while Rome was up in flames around him. There are award ceremonies to honor bankers and banks, even though not a single bank in Nigeria is capable of giving the common man a loan unless he has a C of O for land in Ikoyi, 3 gaurantors who must be senators and commissioners, and he agrees to sign away his life with the shylock interest rates. EFCC may even be engaged by the bank as a ‘signatory’ to the loan agreement. You are what EFCC says you are.
In Nigeria, there are award ceremonies for event planners, though I have not gone to a single event which has not had African time computed into the start time. I have even been to a wedding, where the groom came late, and had to be fined by the bride’s family. The bride, was just relieved that he had shown up at all; she had been sweating buckets, and had almost eaten her bouquet in anxiety, thinking that her fella had abandoned her at the altar.
There are award ceremonies to honor brands in Nigeria, even though Indomie noodles has been in Nigeria for more than a decade, and is in every home’s dinner table in the country but the price has never dropped. Multichoice also does brisk business here, but you still have to pay for the decoder and dish, a practice which is obsolete among the major cable companies in the world. But why?
We have award ceremonies to honor politicians and state governors of the year – usually available to the highest bidder (paid from the treasury).
And sometimes parents and relatives are also to blame for coercing their kids or wards to crime or steal money. Even in the villages and rural areas, there are mothers who warn their sons leaving for city not to come back without riches, no matter the cost. And it is the same in the cities as well.
I remember someone complaining to me about his mother some years back. This was circa the summer of 1996, just after the Summer Olympics in Atlanta. The guy’s mum kept on ‘yabbing’ him:” See what your fellow man is doing. Kanu just won the football gold medal for his country and would receive millions of naira and parcels of land from Abacha. Meanwhile you are here, sitting at home and consuming 15 wraps of eba every day. You are a disgrace! You wont go out and hustle like your fellow man”
And this guy replied his mum” But mummy, Kanu is 20 years old (his football age in 1996), so we are not mates. I am only 16, and I am waiting for Jamb results.”
His mum didn’t want to hear that one o. This boy was later caught trying to steal high power drills and equipment from a neighbors warehouse. He was lucky there was fuel scarcity around that time, because they had already put a tire round his neck.
That policeman who asks for a bribe, or that immigration officer at the airport who begs you to tip him or risk being stripped searched for contraband, does so out of greed. But he also does so because by the time he accumulates all the 20 and 50 naira notes he has received for the week, the tidy sum becomes a pretty penny, and he can go to his community and enjoy being a local champion. Nobody would question how a cop ends up being able to buy beer for everyone at the beer palour. It is just classified that he is doing ‘runs’.
It is time we took our values back. Point out that dodgy millionaire whose generator looks like a small nuclear plant to EFCC and Egbesu Boys. High-jack that loot stealing ex- governor when you see his convoy in traffic, and seize one of the keys of the cars – it is rightfully yours, as it was bought by money stolen from our commonwealth. Watch out for his security orderly though.
Interrupt that wedding between that oil baron son and the cabal member’s daughter, when the pastor/bishop asks “if there is anybody who thinks that this wedding should not go on, speak now or forever hold your peace.” Put up your hands and scream “This wedding should not go on. This Civic Center wedding has been bankrolled with stolen oil subsidy money. The bride’s wedding gown was bought with bribe money received in a Ghana Must Go bag on the floor of the Senate. The catering was done by the same cabal who claim that they spend over N1 billion on food in Aso Rock. I submit that this illicit union should be prevented forthwith, and the food and cake should be distributed to Ijewere Motherless Babies Home. Thank you”