Ogbeni Dimeji Bankole:
Calvary greetings to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I hope this letter meets you in good condition of health, if so, doxology. You can see that I am using the proper Naija phraseology for letter writing. That’s because I need to do something really patriotic by apologizing to you for all the horrible things I wrote about you in my columns during your tenure as Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives. Hardly a week passed without a screaming op-ed from my fiery pen calling you every name under the sun. Igba aimo ni o. I just didn’t know better.
You see, I was one of those who high-fived and “declared surplus” in pubs and beer parlors after you emerged as Speaker. Finally a bright speck of hope in Nigeria’s permanent penumbra! Here was a young, urbane, cosmopolitan man. Measured, well spoken, educated, and certainly blessed with an intellect and analytical mind that could help him grasp not just the urgency of our national situation but the truly historic dimension of his emergence at that level in Nigeria’s political pecking order. Surely, he would understand that the hopes of an entire generation for paradigmatic shifts in how we run and envision Nigeria now rested squarely on his shoulders? Surely, he had whatever it took to understand the power and symbolism of the personal example?
I have always believed that what it will ultimately take to rescue Nigeria from her comfortable niche in the dustbin of history is one, just one courageous official who dares to become a singular speck of light radiating in our collective darkness. An individual cannot work miracles in Nigeria’s Hobbesian world of corruption and ireedeemable collapse of morality, ethos, and every sense of civic responsibility. But a courageous individual could take little baby steps every day. Baby steps that would not go unnoticed by the people. You could, for instance, cut down on the gap between power and the Nigerian people. Very simple steps: reduce the convoy, reduce the arrogance of power, say no to corruption or inducement to corruption whenever and wherever possible.
I am not naïve. If you refuse to accept your share of the money, they could kill you. If you refuse to accept your own car every time the National Assembly decides to purchase cars for Senators and Reps, they could kill you. Teamwork and collective bargaining are critical to the architecture of corruption in Nigeria. I understand all that. But, surely, a little courage, vision, and will could make you identify tiny little areas where you could episodically say no and gradually begin to instill the idea of the personal example in all the souls lost to corruption in the National Assembly?
These were the little baby steps one thought you would at least take. You would have done your part and would be in the position to leave the rest to the Nigerian people. We would then hope, pray, and struggle for a worthy successor to come and build on your initial baby steps of rectitude. Did you do any of these things? No. Instead, you settled neatly into the status quo and rapidly developed an acquisitive appetite second only to Mobutu Sese Seko’s. You became a supervisor of corruption as teamwork, rolling from one corruption scandal to another. You stole and stole and stole again. You stole big and you stole small. When there was nothing left to steal, you supervised the idea of collectively borrowing money for plunder in the name of the National Assembly.
So, I went to town. I screamed myself hoarse. I called you a thief. I called you visionless and shameless. I called you reprobate because you betrayed the mission that my generation identified in the area of a paradigm shift for Nigeria. You were a colossal disgrace and I called you so in my columns.
When the EFCC came after you, I was not impressed. I did not celebrate. I know enough about Nigeria to understand that anybody who has stolen the kind of money you raked in as Speaker would never receive his or her just desserts from the Nigerian criminal justice system. Tafa Balogun got a rap on the wrist. Ditto Lucky Igbinedion, Cecilia Ibru, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, Bode George, Joshua Dariye, etc. Only those who are dumb enough not to steal hundreds of billions face the full wrath of the law in Nigeria. I knew you would beat that useless EFCC rap. You did. Congrats.
What I fervently hoped for, though, is the justice of the people. Not jungle justice. I was sort of hoping that a collective sentiment of repulsion for you and everything you stand for would seep through the Nigerian society, turning you into a pariah. I was looking forward to your social death. I hoped and prayed that Nigerians would treat you like the disgraceful outcast that you truly are; that you would search for tears and even tears would avoid the company of your leprous eyes. I thought the people would pelt you with eggs and rotten tomatoes wherever you dragged your odoriferous self in Nigeria.
What do I see these days instead? You are still there in Nigeria, strutting your stuff in the social terrain. You are still moving in the circles of cool people. When you enter a gathering, the MC still stops proceedings to “recognize the presence of…” To make matters worse, I saw pictures of you at the public presentation of the laudable Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) in Lagos. There you were among the very best from that region. I very nearly mistook you for a credible, responsible person when I first saw the pictures. But I looked closely and was alarmed that nobody in that hall seemed to be minimally worried to be in the same room with you. No outrage. Nothing. Since when do people whose conduct in public office not only represents a disgrace to their race but also, and more importantly, the very antithesis of vision get to be present at the presentation of a document representing vision?
Something snapped in me when I saw pictures of you beaming among respectable people in that hall. I got tired. So, what did I spend all this time abusing you for? If the people you stole black, blue, and dry say “carry go”; if they are cool with you junketing around in Nigeria like an elder statesman; if they are cool with the idea that you are now even a landlord of the Nigerian people, having stole enough money to purchase the official residence of the Speaker at a criminally reduced price and now renting it to your successor; if Nigerians are cool with all these things, who am I to keep screaming and calling you names? After all, vox populi…
Abeg my broda, no vex for me o. If Nigerians say to you: “go on soun” and “nothing do you”; if they tell people like me to “leave matter jare”, then I must remember that Igbo proverb about the individual waging war against the community. If your people say they are okay with paying you rent for property you stole from them, my brother carry go. I will no longer take panadol when my neighbor says he has no headache.