Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning!
“The government being the people’s business, it necessarily follows that its operations should be at all times open to the public view. Publicity is therefore as essential to honest administration as freedom of speech is to representative government. “Equal rights to all and special privileges to none” is the maxim which should control in all departments of government.”
~ William Jennings
I have taken a position of “nothing surprises me anymore” with President Jonathan. He has elevated the act of poor public speaking and un-presidential conduct to an art. Recently he was reported to have retorted that airing the documentary on the deplorable condition of the police college in Ikeja, Lagos, was an attempt to smear his government. One will think a sensible leader will see that as an opportunity to address the obvious and glaring problems, but, hey! This is Goodluck we are talking about here. Therefore being the accidental, unprepared and the happy- go- lucky ruler that he is, some opposing forces must have been at work.
He was also seen fidgeting on CNN as he was grilled by Christine Amanpour and you could have been excused if you thought it was a question and answer session by a Madam to her houseboy. Amanpour appeared to have a better grasp and understanding of happenings in Nigeria than even the president himself. He lied freely without much conviction, while berating his unseen enemies as usual. How does a leader who does not accept or acknowledge glaring problems, be expected to solve such problems? The Jonathanian era has turned the game of shifting blames to a national pastime. His government never acknowledges nor admit to any problem, he would rather turn a blind eye while hoping such problems disappear and if they persist, take the easiest route– blame those unseen forces as usual. The forces range from anyone who disagrees with the government to, the clincher: “evil spirits”. Yes, evil spirits are even part of our problems!
But as much as I have refused to let Jonathan and his horde of presidential aides and minions bother my life, something happened recently in Bayelsa, during the burial of General Owoeye Azazi that has refused to go away. The president took his ignominious position on national issues to another level. He denied that corruption was the problem of Nigeria, he blamed ”our attitude.” He even went as far as saying more accidents happened on well tarred road, than on roads with crater-sized potholes.
Permit me to ask some serious questions: Are Nigerians inherently a bad people? Are we truly as beastly as these privileged government officials are wont to make us appear? I would normally have dismissed those claims as the usual ramblings of a misguided but excited owner of a new pair of shoes, but for the various debates it generated on twitter and its unsavory aftermath. Some people argued that truly Nigerians are an undisciplined and unruly people who will rather seek to break the law and seek a short cut, instead of doing the right thing.
These arguments, germane as they seem, have very faulty bases and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the core of our discourse in this treatise.
Some of the ills of Nigerians, as highlighted by those who blame the citizens for our woes, include (but are not limited to) not paying taxes, jumping queues, running the red light in traffic etc. Some even blame the citizens for voting the present crop of looters, sorry, I mean leaders, in to government, effectively blaming the common man for our woes. Another school of thought says the people in power are not from Mars, they are Nigerians and as such must be a true reflection of how we are as a people and so on and so forth.
On the surface, these arguments look okay, but when you examine them deeper and scratch below the surface, there is a huge lacuna inherent in such fallacious and faulty premise and that is what we shall attempt to fill in this essay.
The UK is a great place to live, an extremely organized society. Citizens pay their taxes, they don’t run red lights, they keep within the speed limits etc. That for most Nigerians is a model society. I have equally witnessed how fellow Nigerians maintained a queue at Heathrow Airport, but the same Nigerians became rowdy the moment our plane taxied into the Murtala Mohammed International airport. What was the reason for that?
On our initial arrival in London, the air conditioners were in pristine conditions, they worked fine. We did not have to pay for trolleys and when we had successfully passed through immigration, our luggage came out pretty effortlessly– the conveyor worked nicely. The immigration officers were courteous and nobody solicited for cash or gifts from us. Please judge for yourself why did the same people who were organized suddenly became so unruly after just 6 hours? Upon our arrival in Lagos, Nigeria, the only thing that looked international about the airport was the insignia below the control tower proclaiming it. The air conditioners were not working, the immigration officials were as unfriendly as they could be, trolleys weren’t enough and if you were lucky to get one, you had to pay for it. At the point of baggage claims, the conveyor was not working. As a matter of fact, everything was the opposite of our experience in Heathrow airport, London.
London is the capital of England, with an organized people. But on the 4th of August, 2011 an event occurred: the Police shot and killed a certain Mark Duggan and between the 6th and 10th of the same month, there was an unprecedented breakdown of law and order. Violence, arson, mass and widespread looting broke out in most London boroughs. The rule of law became an aberration; the rule of the jungle became the order of the day. Unimaginable crimes were reportedly committed and hitherto unseen gory sights became normal in that magnificent city called London. What happened? The rule of law broke down.
Man is man anywhere: what distinguishes and differentiates societies and civilizations is the strict adherence to the rule of law. No normal human being loves to pay taxes or stay far behind in a long queue on a hot afternoon. What compels people to doing right is the principle of cause and effect. Wherever people are aware that every action has a consequence, it is natural for them to not want to be on the wrong side of the law.
It is worthy of note that throughout my three week stay in London, there was no power outage and my host had never heard of power generating sets. I also visited Edinburgh, in Scotland, a ten hour journey by coach. I noticed the smoothness of the roads and how the drivers kept to speed limits. As the coach gets to a particular city, a new driver took over the wheels, thereby mitigating effects of fatigue and poor judgement.
So why did the same people empty into the streets and behaved like savages between the 6th to 10th of August 2011, when there was a breakdown of law and order? Simple! they are humans and since there was a break down in law and order, they behaved like human would without any inhibition. In Nigeria, we have a permanent breakdown of law and order. The rulers are subjected to different laws from the commoners. We have all witnessed how people who stole few goats get jailed for years, whereas those convicted of stealing N13 billion, bag 6 months jail terms. Most of them don’t even get locked up for a day– the jury smacking of a mere charade. We all witnessed how Zamfara State Governor amputated a certain, Jangebe for stealing a cow, meanwhile years later, the same governor has been accused of stealing billions of naira, yet he walks around freely as a federal senator.
From the foregoing, attitude is always an issue in any human setting, but where the rule of law is supreme, majority of the citizens will fall in line. The immediate head of the American secret service, the CIA, resigned his appointment due to an allegation of sexual impropriety. Note that he wasn’t accused of stealing, embezzlement or human rights violation. Compare and contrast it with Nigeria, where Diezani Alison-Madueke who has been serially indicted of huge financial misappropriation running into trillions of naira, struts her stuff with uncanny flippancy across the land. But rather than resign or get fired, she not only continues to preside over the most lucrative ministry in Nigeria, she is also a regular on the entourage of the president to any of his numerous junkets around the globe.
Also in the year 2009 four UK lawmakers were accused of false claims bordering on over-expensing. They were charged to court for doctoring expenses ranging from £2,000 to £ 30,500. The issue was thoroughly dealt with and justice was served. Back in Nigeria, lawmakers have been accused of various misdemeanor, ranging from over bloated pays, to bribe taking and generally reprehensible conducts. But Despite plausible accusations, including recorded bribe giving and taking, not one case has been successfully prosecuted with diligence.
Workers pensions, running into hundreds of billions of naira was allegedly stolen, almost a year after the discovery, not one person has been made to face the law, while pensioners are daily dying of hunger and starvation. Another N2.1billion took a stroll from the vault of the security printing and minting company. ‘Ba wahala’, life goes on. Crude oil running into thousands of barrels daily disappears with no trace. All “Na carry go”. The laissez faire attitude of the Nigerian government officials towards corruption and misgovernance is such that the average Nigerians do not see any need to be good or model citizens. It is a rat race for survival. Most people have come to accept that it is everyman for himself, God for us all.
Why should I pay taxes when the roads are nothing but death traps; when I have to generate my own power, and provide my water through boreholes? Why should I obey the law when I have to provide personal security and still feel insecure? Why pay tax when I have to pay through my nose to ensure my kids get a decent education in unnecessarily expensive private schools, since the public schools have become a junkyard for the production of schooled illiterates?
For every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction. The malaise inherent in the Nigerian government has ensured that most Nigerians do the opposite of what is expected of the citizens. If Nigerians are alive to their civic responsibility abroad, then the environment back home is largely responsible for the haphazard nature of our lives. Until corruption and irresponsibility in government is curbed to the barest minimum and the rule of law is supreme, where none is above the law, even a change in the attitude of the commoners will be mere tear drops in an ocean of despondency. War against corruption must be thorough and total. Like my friend Efe Wanogho will say, “there should be no middle grounds”.
Enough of paying lip service to the fight against corruption. For as long as the people are alienated and those in power are immune to the reality of the suffering inherent in the land, there’s not much that attitudinal change can achieve. Nigerians are good people. All you need do to confirm my assertion is to travel around the world and see the good works they have achieved. But back home, corruption, nepotism and irresponsibility of the rulers have created such a huge gap between the rich and the poor and this has bred so much resentment that the masses don’t care about the country. But I am certain that with the right leadership that is disciplined and focused, Nigeria can be great again.
Nigerians are a good people and a great nation, but like sheep without a shepherd, are scattered and divided, seeking for pasture and succor. We can be great again, if we get real leaders who understand the business of leadership. Our prayer to God should be getting the requisite leadership. Thus far, the worst of us superintend over the best of us. A real shame, if you ask me.
I am @Ayourb on twitter
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