Categories: ColumnsShola Oshunkeye

Cobras’ Colony

He is venerated as the type of civil servant Nigeria needs for its much desired renewal. God-fearing, straight-talking, honest, and excellent  servant-leader, he is widely celebrated as an honourable man who sees office not as a conduit for filthy lucre but a means to deepen his connection with God and serve humanity. But rather than gloat in the accolades that trail him wherever he goes and whatever beat he covers, Professor Ishaq Oloyede, first class Islamic Scholar, Executive Secretary of National Inter-Religious Council, NIREC, former Vice Chancellor, University of Ilorin, and incumbent Registrar and Chief Executive of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Examination Board, JAMB, is a sad man. An angry man.

Oloyede, also President of the Association of African Universities, AAU, never veiled his anger, last Tuesday, as he fielded questions from Ray Power F.M., during the station’s flagship morning programme, POLITICAL PLATFORM. He fulminated, not at the discovery of past massive looting of the examination body by rogue officials nor the absurd explanations by some thieves now in the net, but the manner in which Nigerians have been trivialising the shock finds.

Since the salacious story of Philomena Chieshe, a thieving sales clerk in JAMB, broke about two weeks ago, with a few other equally absurd tales in tow, the social media (even the traditional media) have been brimming with comic posts about naira-swallowing snakes and other gory stories. Even a Senator visited the JAMB office in the FCT with anti-snake venoms and snake charmers to mock the ridiculous lies spewed by the thieves in JAMB.

Before I return to Prof. Oloyede, a man, who though not an angel, has been marching where even celestial beings dread to tread, let’s refresh our memory on the Pandora box in JAMB. 

After she was busted, Philomena Chieshe, the psychedelic sales clerk, had lied to auditors that her house-help conspired with one Joan Asen, another JAMB staff, and used a mystery (or is it spiritual) snake to suck the whole of N36 million she made through sales of Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination scratch cards to students! Labaran Tanko, another JAMB staff member in Nasarawa State, was a little bit scientific in his looting methodology. He lied that some unsold scratch cards, worth N26 million, got burnt with his car while travelling to Abuja to remit the cards. Lies from the bottom of hell. God knows how many times the thieves must have memorised and rehearsed those lines of lies.

That’s not all. The sleaze is still pouring. There have been reports that JAMB is also probing new cases of looting amounting to a staggering N83 million in its offices at Kano, Edo, Kogi, Gombe and Plateau respectively. Saturday PUNCH, in a recent edition, gave the breakdown as: Edo (N31 million), Kano (N20million), Plateau (over N15 million), Gombe (N10million), and Kogi (7million). Couple these with the about N300 million that hackers creamed off desperate and lazy students and their collaborating parents, and watch if Satan himself would not scream blue murder! The sleaze in JAMB is the stuff legends are made. They are both comic and tragic.

Naturally, these are the kind of stories that should so enrage a people that they bay for the blood of the criminals. But in a nation where big thieves are honoured, proven criminals are given power on a platter, and only minor thieves get nailed to the bleeding cross; where thieves only regret being caught rather than being thieves; people cannot but find episodes like the one oozing out of JAMB a tragic comedy. 

People like Professor Oloyede may be boiling in righteous indignation. Anti-corruption crusaders may knock their heads against the wall for all you care. But when you consider the fact that Nigeria is one huge colony of monster cobras, vampires that would do just about anything to whet their evil appetite for lucre, you cannot but laugh at the tragic comedy unfurling in JAMB. What do you do amid a colony of cobras that could swallow a whole ship laden with 30,000 barrels of crude oil in the custody of the Navy (September 2004) and the nation gets nothing more than a whimper in official response? What could hapless citizens do in a colony of cobras that could swallow N220 million from funds meant for IDPs and tell whoever cares to listen that same was expended on cutting stubborn weeds?

Indeed, what could any citizen do in a colony of cobras that could swallow $2.9 billion of funds earmarked for the people’s defence against imminent death in the hands of Boko Haram insurgents?  Or, a colony of cobras that could swallow US$20 billion of unremitted oil money (between January 2012 and July 2013) and consume the CBN Governor who dares to raise his voice against the malfeasance? Or, a colony of cobras that sucks N17 billion of pension funds and the vampire not only gets reinstated but is also rewarded with an exponential promotion for quickening the death of many retirees? Or a colony of vampire cobras that would suck their states to death while at the helm and rig their way to the National Assembly to continue with their unfinished business?

I can go on and on. But that would be enough for official cobras and vampires in high places who do not care a hoot if this nation bleeds to death or survives on a body with bones jutting out of its skeletal system. 

What about the cobras in our homes, in our worship places? It is the cobras in our homes, the very foundation on which society is built, that is the basis of Prof. Oloyede’s fulmination; if I did not misinterpret his interview on Ray Power F.M. 

The breeding point or nursery for the cobras that stalk our nation is the home. Or, what product do you expect from a home where parents not only bribe to get their wards enrolled in a secondary school of their choice but also pay heavily for such wards to write their WASCE in “special centres” and get them incredible results; results that are several thousands of kilometres away from reality? Still, the unscrupulous parents would not stop at that. They also procure live question papers ahead of the exam; or, in some cases, hire “exam contractors” to write the exam for their children? Of a truth, what does a society get if not colonies of cobras and vampires when parents bribe JAMB officials to post their children to “Miracle Centres” to write the matriculation exam; and, thereafter, invade their choice universities to soften the ground for the post-JME exercise? Even after, gaining admission, the irresponsible parents would not quit. Instead, they would step up their game. They would bribe lecturers to score their spoilt brats high, irrespective of whether they attend classes or are frolicking abroad while their colleagues are swotting.

Of course, you must have heard or read about the true story of an unconscionable mother whose daughter was defiled but would not press charges so long as her daughter was admitted into the university.  Did you say ‘Haba!’

Well, what do you say of a dysfunctional system that, prior to 2017 when JAMB, under Oloyede, introduced the 120 cut-off mark, was using discriminatory cut-off marks for university placements among the states of the Federation? What do you say about the so-called ‘Quota System’? A system that sacrifices merit for mediocrity as against the international best practice of ‘the best man gets the job’?    

The truth must be told. As long as our current warped system remains intact, as long as we build our homes on shifting sand and parents continue to chase the wind, so long would our country be plagued with pastors who would accept N32 million tithes from an hotel clerk that earns less than N32, 000 per month and organise special prayers for him; governors who do abracadabra with their states’ meagre earnings, and ministers who must build bridges across the Sahara Desert and dam the Atlantic Ocean.

So long as our society remains the same, as long as we keep doing business the way we currently do, so long would we continue to produce cobras and vampires that would, one day, attempt to swallow the NNPC and Central Bank in one gulp, and suck all the oil beneath our soil and shores dry. And nobody would be able to stop anybody from using derogatory terms to describe our country and continent.

They would say worse things than what Donald Trump said recently about Africa, when he used those horrible words. The best way to stop people like Trump is to do the right things. And charity must begin from our different homes. I rest my case. God bless Nigeria.

Uche Atuma :

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