There is this bombshell of a book I got from my barber last week. He seemed excited by the book, and asked if I had read it. “Oga, you have to read it,” he said. “It tells you everything, how our leaders, especially the military, destroyed this country. It tells you the reason we are the way we are. Kai, dem chop this country dry!”
I was curious, and wanted to find out more about the book. After my haircut, he whipped it out: SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE, written by an Oxford University-trained lawyer cum historian, Max Siollun. Of course, I had heard of the much-regarded political narrative on the years of the locusts, when martial music replaced martial music, and coup experts held the nation by the jugular. But, I had searched frantically for a copy, until last week. I immediately borrowed it, and all through the night till dawn of the next day, I quickly ‘devoured’ it. It was all through refreshing. It brought back memories of Nigeria’s better forgotten years of coups and counter-coups, the dramatis personae, collapse of the first and second republics; how the retired Generals have continued to exert over-bearing influence on the polity.
It’s about how greed and avarice, and corruption have continued to destroy Africa’s most populous nation; a materially rich and blessed nation, ravaged by poverty of majority of her citizens. A nation of hope turned hopeless by predators over the years!
Even though, I am fortunate to now have my personal copy from Abuja, I am grateful to my barber whose copy I first read. The book is certainly not a perfect work (no book is) and has some inaccuracies here and there, but that does not detract from its historical and political relevance.
However, I am not as struck by the political intrigues that have often dominated Nigeria’s governance as three major ethnic groups jostle for power, as I was by Max Siollun’s dissertation of the reason corruption thrives in our country. It reinforces the beliefs of some of us that corruption is much more endemic than many think or believe. That to fight corruption, we must go to the roots of this evil that shames our country and degrades our citizens. It is both sociological and communal, permeating every facet of the Nigerian society. Of course, it’s top to bottom.
Permit me, dear readers to bring you excerpts of the well-researched treatise and thesis of corruption in Nigeria in the eyes and mouth of a foreigner, hoping that we will learn valuable lessons.
Max coins the term “Patrimonialism” where a man in government sees himself as a representative of his community in the criminal act of stealing disguised as sharing of the national cake.
He says: “Patrimonialism is at the heart of Nigerian government, politics and society. Political leaders compete to appropriate a ‘share’ of national resources, which they can then redistribute to their own community and personal network of followers. The resources accumulated are used to maintain their power. The need to obtain access to state resources is often camouflaged in verbal metaphors referencing basic necessities, such as food and clothing. For example, Nigerians frequently refer to the practice of consuming state financial resources for personal gain as “eating”. State resources are seen as food or cake to be consumed by public officials. A politician that has become rich through the state is often referred to as having “eaten” government money. Patrimonialism has led to failure to distinguish between public purse and private pockets.”
Are many Nigerians often and generally sincere in their condemnation of corruption and corrupt practices? No, says Max Siollun. He argues: “Nigerians only condemn corruption when they are not the beneficiaries of it. Corruption and dishonesty have become so normalised that Nigerians have become so desensitised to it, and are quick to condemn and dispense with governments that promote the elimination of corruption as a major policy platform. While the government must take primary blame for not cracking down on corruption, the public deserves its share of blame for encouraging it, and letting the government get away with it. The fact that brazen acts of corruption were perpetrated with no public outrage is testament to the silent complicity of civil society in these practices. There is a corruption continuum.”
So, why is there not much public outrage, beyond denunciations and occasional private murmurings? The author advances his reasons: “The lack of public outrage at corruption is linked to the large numbers of people who have a personal stake in it, and who do not wish to compromise their own positions by complaining too loudly about practices they hope to benefit from, or have benefitted from in the past. There is a revolving door mentality to public office in Nigeria. Many people were, and remain, reluctant to speak up or object to corruption for fear of jeopardising their turn to get their slice of the “national cake.”
Another reason corruption thrives in Nigeria, in Max Siollun’s view is that, “A public official is seen as a financial representative of his community, who will take a slice of the national cake and bring it home to share with his community. Thus, the family and community members of a public official have a personal stake in inciting corruption. Government officials are usually inundated with near-irresistible requests for assistance, finance, contracts, and favours from members of their family and community. Corruptly acquiring state resources for the use and enjoyment of one’s family and community is regarded as an act of benevolence.”
The author further asserts: “Large-scale corruption was made possible by the Nigerian public’s worship of money without questioning the moral basis of its acquisition. There is no moral consensus in Nigeria that corruption is necessarily negative. Nigerian society became monetised to the extent that power and respect were accorded to those with money, whether legitimately or dishonestly acquired. Thus, in order to gain respect and prestige, the citizens engaged in dishonest “get-rich-quick” schemes that usually deployed subterfuge to defraud others.”
Max also speaks of young, rich millionaires with no visible means of livelihood and the society’s passive acceptance of such filthy wealth. Max will be shocked to read the story of a young man called Kola Aluko, the billionaire oil magnate, whose story has been trending in the nation’s media in the past couple of weeks, accused of conniving with flambuoyant ex-petroleum minister, Diezani Allison-Madueke, to fleece the nation of billions of dollars, which they allegedly lavished on exotic lifestyle. The revelations are shameful and embarrassing. Nigerians deserve to get to the root of this matter. Justice must be served, to serve as a deterrence to others still running around the collective till.
Do I agree with everything the author says in “Soldiers of Fortune”? Not necessarily. For example, not every act of corruption has been communal. Some people simply stole for their families and generations. But, I agree entirely that there can be no doubt that corruption has been the major bane of our country before and since independence. The challenge before our country is how to get out of the malaise.