I have been writing this weekly column for more than two and a half years, and, in the process, reaching out to millions of Nigerians and the outside world. In that time frame, I have received many comments, both positive and negative. One of them I have found remarkably interesting and would like to dedicate today’s essay to is the issue of the baggage we all carry. The critic enquired to know why I began writing on all these topical national issues, especially on corruption, in my 80s. I informed this friend that I started writing in my middle 60s after I retired from active service.
I have written five books and over 200 published essays, mainly on the environment and corruption. I dedicated my fourth book, Hunger for Power, to those who wish to escape their past and forge a future, and to all those who dare to dream more and do more. Chapter 16 of that book was on “Corruption, a. k. a. Gifting in Contract,” and I quote: “Having gone through the whole spectrum of professional life, rising from a fairly junior position in my organisation to the very top, I have come to the conclusion that there is no way I can talk about corruption without being self-indicting.”
I will refrain from saying much more so that these critics may find time to read the book. As discussed in my last column, corruption is the biggest vice we have to fight, and win.
On the war on corruption, we need to define what a win means, for a total eradication may require new, freshly minted Nigerians from heaven, not the ones that are here now. The leaders of the moment are tacitly accepting failure and it appears to me that the present state of affairs will have nothing left of Nigeria in 10 years’ time, leading to anarchy and total destruction.
Every national administration since 1960 had presided over monumental looting of the nation state, setting us back 50 years at the minimum. The rest of the world sees us as being fantastically corrupt. Today, the amounts of monies we hear that are missing or stolen are unimaginable and unconscionable.
The shameless ways these are being discussed even in open courts foreshadow the numbness we now feel about the fantastic stealing that goes on and on. Accused persons now talk about billions of naira received or given as gifts. What on earth are we telling our citizens, the younger generation, that may want to render service to their nation, or those coming after them? Do we even understand that we are taking away hope from our children because they may never find anything to live on, let alone to steal?
I am not glamourizing embezzlement here, only stating the obvious, because all civil servants now act on the basic principle that they have to steal to get by. It pains me that we are discussing this sordid mess at a time like this when we have the one and arguably most conscientious anti-corruption warrior this country has ever known at the helm of the nation’s administration. It breaks my heart and those of many to see him retreat and surrender in a most humiliating manner.
One major implication of all these is arrested national development. The other is the absence of role models in our country, with the disappearance of patriotism. We are no longer able to promote or call for unity. Drivers may soon be driving their vehicles into the ocean, while students of politics are now stealing more than their leaders, and soldiers are no longer looking up to their generals.
In an eulogy for Professor James Nwoye, the first Nigerian professor of statistics, who sadly passed away recently, his friend and mate, Professor Bisi Afonja lamented the fact that the sung heroes of Nigeria are usually politicians, military generals, and businessmen, most of whose sources of wealth are ill-defined. The few real heroes, the likes of Prof. Adichie, are not celebrated.
In the next few days, the world will hold a low-key celebration of the life of the iconic Nelson Mandela. In his “Long Walk to Freedom,” our Professor Wole Soyinka wrote of him: “Unexpectedly, a sociological treasure trove, a work of constant revelations.”
Mandela spent 67 years of his 95 years on Earth embroiled in a life-and-death struggle for the emancipation of his people. And he did it with nothing but his beliefs and convictions. Imprisoned for 27 years, he went into politics after regaining his freedom as the leader of his party and President of a free South Africa, again with nothing. After serving for one term, he stepped down due to age, and left for his home in retirement, with nothing but his pension. Mandela in retirement was never in want of anything and before he passed on the world was already celebrating him. Why can we not be a little bit like him?
Most frequently, I listen to the voices of our vibrant youths. Depressingly, they see a bleak future for the nation. They experience a weak and poverty-ridden nation that offers little hopes to the ambitious. The current COVID-19 pandemic that is ravaging the world has further exposed the fragility of our nation. The global lockdown during the second quarter of the year had crashed oil prices worldwide, with some oil companies in the United States filing for bankruptcy, while here our national revenue was eroded by nearly 70 per cent.
The Nigerian economy is now on free-fall and, to stem the tide, the government had eased the lockdown way too early in the pandemic situation in Nigeria, which may eventually hurt the economy some more. Now, rather than look for ways to contain an impending disaster of possible monumental proportions, we are looking for what more to steal.
I know that I may not be much liked for writing all these, but I derive strength from the words of Margaret Thatcher, who once said, if you just set out to be liked, you will be prepared to compromise on anything at any time and you will achieve nothing.
I have realised that, in order to be liked, we have all been compromising because of the baggage we carry.