Egbinrin Ote(h) By Pius Adesanmi

My brother, Okey Ndibe, believes that the combination of Herman Hembe, erstwhile Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Capital Market Probe, and Ms Arunmah Oteh, embattled Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, translates to Nigeria’s loss. Okey is right but there is a slight problem with his equation. To assess Hembe as a factor in any equation – even if the result is Nigeria’s loss – is to risk admitting that the National Assembly is still a subject worthy of intellectual disquisition. I guess, deep down, Okey still dares to dream of the possibility of redemption for NASS.

Some of my readers have remarked that ever since I described Nigeria’s National Assembly as an institution “populated almost exclusively by school certificate forgers, Oluwole customers, University dropouts, active and retired political assassins, and puny election riggers” in a satirical piece in December 2010, I have hardly offered any sustained discussion of that body. They are wrong. I wrote one more time about the national assembly before I gave up. I wrote to apologize for omitting to state in my earlier demographic profile that the National Assembly is also the retirement home of failed and corrupt former governors and the nest of at least one pedophile. It was only after this correction that I stopped writing about NASS, convinced that the body is too irredeemably corrupt to merit any further waste of my intellect.

If we admit that the National Assembly, led by a scrofulous character like David Bonaventure Mark, is irredeemable, it stands to reason that the characters who strut their stuff therein, claiming to be Distinguished This and Honorable That, are also irredeemable. Furthermore, they are utterly predictable. Any Nigerian can close his eyes and hazard a relatively safe guess about the next corruption scandal to emanate from the National Assembly. Such is NASS’s deficit in credibility and integrity that any reasonable Nigerian must understand that the said institution is a black pot that can never produce the occasional white pap. It will always produce darkness.

These settled facts about the National Assembly make it unnecessary to consider Herman Hembe worthy of any sustained exegesis as we continue to critically account for the tragedy of Arunmah Oteh. Hembe is an irredeemable member of an irredeemable arm of our democracy. He did exactly the things we have come to expect of members of the National Assembly. It would have been contrary to nature if he had acted otherwise. What we must therefore do, instead of wasting valuable analysis on him, is to sustain the call for his prosecution.

If Hembe does not deserve our attention, Arunmah Oteh eminently does. Unlike Hembe, of whom nothing is expected in the arena of credibility anyway, Oteh comes to Nigeria’s public discourse and consciousness with a profile which establishes her filiation with a certain tribe of intello-technocrats who have been summoned to national responsibility in various stations and at various times since our return to a simulacrum of democracy in 1999. Urbane, cosmopolitan, brilliant, and articulate, the intello-technocrats are mostly born on or after 1960 and each of them potentially represents a significant symbolic shift from the generation of post-foundational wreckers of Nigeria such as Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida, Bode George, Tony Anenih and the like.

If you look at the CVs of the intello-technocrats, you will most likely come across stints at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, Columbia, Oxford, Cambridge; you will most likely come across stints with world bodies and international agencies: they have played and proven themselves on fields much bigger than Nigeria. While on those international fields, they excel and make their American or European counterparts look like boy scouts. This is all evidence that these minds have been humanized by the transnational sensibilities of our times. They have acquired culture, style, savoir-faire, panache, rigour, and taste. They have functioned transnationally among the best and have seen how thing are done or ought to be done. It should be clear by now that I have drawn a broad social profile of people like Charles Soludo, Femi Fani Kayode, Dimeji Bankole, Nasir El Rufai, Nuhu Ribadu, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Sam Amadi, Diezani Allison Madueke, and our subject in the present discourse, Arunmah Oteh.

This list should make it obvious that we cannot possibly subject National Assembly charlatans like Herman Hembe and Nigeria’s tribe of intello-technocrats to the same standards of assessment. Whereas I normally expect nothing from members of the National Assembly, I always expect ALL and EVERYTHING from any intello-technocrat who accepts to serve- especially those who go to head agencies, boards, parastatals, commissions, and the like. Nigerians have the right to raise the bar of expectation for the intello-technocrats. There is no reason to cut them any slack.

Because they have never really evolved patterns of behavior within the polity that would suggest that they subscribe to a collective or group identity, those of us who assess them from the standpoint of generational imperatives must proceed piecemeal from one individual to the other. I believe the verdict of the Nigerian people is already in with regard to Allison Madueke, Dimeji Bankole, and Femi Fani kayode: they are tragic failures, never mind Fani Kayode’s risible attempts to hijack Occupy Nigeria while freelancing as an activist, all the while telling Nigerians that Obasanjo and Babangida are his role models. Charles Soludo started out well but later opted for a reputation-ruining dalliance with the PDP. Sadly, tales of stupendous wealth and the scandal of the African Finance Corporation became the epitaph of the Soludo narrative.

Whatever may be their foibles, I still believe that it is not possible for an objective assessor to record Nasir el Rufai’s and Nuhu Ribadu’s service in the deficit column of Nigeria’s history. I respect your right to disagree with my take on the two men. Indeed, I have had occasion to criticize both men whenever necessary but I do like to tell people that I independently assessed El Rufai’s Abuja. That’s the only time Nigeria ever had a fully functional first world city. We know the shape of the city as it has been run by a succession of charlatans who came after him. It is no longer a second world city. And the EFCC may never again attain the heights it reached under Nuhu Ribadu.

Sam Amadi is doing everything we expect from him at the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission but he needs our support and prayers in order not to betray the ideals of his generation. It is not easy to remain standing in Nigeria’s notoriously corrupt environment. I made my stance known on Sanusi Lamido Sanusi in essays supporting his candidacy for his current job. I stand by my positive and enthusiastic assessment of that intellectual, never mind the near heart attacks he’s given me lately with his wrong-headed dalliance with Ngozi Okonjo Iweala and Diezani Allison Madueke on the oil subsidy issue, his almost endlessly elastic understanding of the concept of corporate social responsibility on account of which he is now running a parallel Federal government, doling out cash donations at the drop of a hat, and the inauspicious timing of his toying with the tinderbox of Islamic banking.

So what do Sam Amadi and Sanusi Lamido Sanusi bring to the table that we could use as the measuring rod of Arunmah Oteh’s failure? They bring style and substance. The day-to-day functioning of the Nigerian polity is pre-Medieval, crude, and totally corrupt. Nigeria’s bureaucracy is a bazaar run by charlatans and those Jesus condemned as moneychangers. When any of these intello-technocrats enter into the scene, you do not expect miracles but you do expect immediate changes in style and substance. You expect an immediately noticeable departure from the crude bureaucratic cultures and practices of the charlatans who run Nigeria. When, for instance, the First Gentleman in Malawi, Chief Justice Richard Banda, announced to State House staff that he was not entitled to a convoy and a salary, just for being the husband of the President, that’s a change in style and substance. Change that is immediate, qualitative, and measurable. Change that immediately announces the pedigree of the First Gentleman as a cultured man. Style and substance come from the domain of personal capital: you’ve got it or you ain’t got it.

Personal capital is what I see in Sam Amadi and Sanusi Lamido Sanusi despite my already stated opposition to the latter’s recent controversial actions. Personal capital is what we, Nigerians, thought we would get from Arunmah Oteh, given our knowledge of the pedigree of the tribe of intello-technocrats to which she belongs. What did we get instead? Arunmah Oteh gave us worse than business as usual. Never mind that she luxuriated in a hotel at our expense for so long; never mind her N85.000 food invoice for one day; never mind her idiotic rationalizations of these things – as if Western bureaucrats feed their visiting African counterparts on caviar and lobster. Rather, the focus should be on the sort of disappointing acquisitive appetite and consumption ethos she displayed, running the SEC the way Lamidi Adedibu ran his amala empire. What does this pattern reveal about Oteh’s level of culture and personal capital? I hope I am not even insulting the memory of Adedibu because there was some style and substance to his amala bureaucracy.

It’s a sad day when it becomes difficult to distinguish between the style and substance of Arunmah Oteh and Lamidi Adedibu. Take the example of her official cars. Yes, it is true that Nigeria’s culture of waste and brainless edification of public office accords five – yes, five! – official cars to her office. What would someone intent on changing the extant style of the charlatans who ran the show before her do in order to make a difference? Cut down on those official cars of course. What did we get from Arunmah Oteh? A silly complaint that she is even still “managing” only two official cars o. She is yet to get the jeeps o, bla bla bla. So, what’s the purpose of going to bring you home from the African Development Bank in Abidjan if your sense of style, your personal culture, your level of cultivation, and your idea of managing public resources are even worse than those of the charlatans on the ground in Abuja’s bureaucracy?

There is worse. Corruption in Nigeria’s bureaucracy is oiled by memos which travel from table to table, office to office. Officials minute on the memos as they travel back and forth, sometimes making roundtrips between various agencies and institutions in Abuja. I am sure you know those memos. They are always riddled with grammatical blunders. Even when they are typed on a computer, our bureaucrats still manage to make them look really ugly. And then there is the ritualistic opening formula: “I am directed to inform you that…” Nigeria’s memo culture is truly repulsive. You would expect a technocrat of Oteh’s standing to at least raise the level. Go and take a look at the memos that have now been made public. I printed and read them and felt truly sorry for Oteh and Nigeria.

The woman simply went to Abuja to immerse herself in that culture of corruption memos. I am not really interested in the “she said, he said” back and forth between her and the House committee investigating her. It has become a game of who wrote the first memo offering sponsorship (code word for bribe) and who minuted first. That’s really not the point. The point is: what the heck is Arunmah Oteh doing in that culture of corruption memo’s in the first place? She just couldn’t up her game, could she? Oteh is a colossal disappointment. In the culture from which she was yanked, she would have resigned her position by now and crawled into some hole. But this is Nigeria. And she has shown extraordinary intelligence in doing things the Nigerian way. So, she won’t resign.

Egbinrin ote. The leaves of conspiracy. Pluck one of those leaves off the branch of a tree and another leaf of conspiracy sprouts immediately in replacement. Every year, Nigerians in the Diaspora and those working for international agencies elsewhere in Africa scream that Nigerians in Nigeria do not know how to run Nigeria. Every year, Nigeria grants their wish and invites some of them to the steering wheel at home. They go home and their report card turns out worse than the report card of the home-based bureaucrats they arrogantly condemned. The latest was parachuted in from the African Development Bank to run the SEC. She is there now shitting on the chair. Egbinrin ote. Is there a conspiracy to go home and fail Nigeria before they tuck their tails between their legs and return abroad?

 


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