with DANN JACOBS
Corruption is the talk in town. All kinds of theorist and dreamer lecturers have become chatter boxes on the subject matter, road side experts and all that. Even the President is talking. People are on the rostrum everywhere, pulpits, newspaper columns, news stands, public and private places, discussions, hotels and restaurants, mechanic sheds, studies, workshops and seminars, name it.
I am personally bored by the topic. But I find myself drawn constantly to it against my will. What can I do? Since we don’t want to give up on it and people are making uneducated and sometimes stupid guesses at the matter that need to be straightened, let me try and reluctantly get into the fray once more and finally. I won’t be part of the fruitless discussion again, until the country becomes sane, serious or result-oriented enough about it. In reply to high public expectation, the president gets endlessly ready to fight corruption. But the real action never starts. We may be talking for the next four years as usual. In Imo state, it has been a sing song on radio and TV for 4 years. No pin was lifted on corruption. Rather we saw the worst type of it.
I have a very good friend I have not met for a long time, Sir, Hon. Onyenso Nwachukwu (Aba – based). He is not a friend of the sort you call your mates. He is an oga, a father. He is a model I not only admire, but adore. I think he is not the type that will accept the bastardized chieftaincy title to enhance his status, not when the church made him a Knight when the licence was in gold tablet. If he happens to read this, which I doubt or somebody shows it to him, let it be a sort of hello, sir once again and a reminder that I still remember him fondly. I as well remember his amiable and kind wife. I cherish still my few visits to their home when I lived in Aba.
Do you know what he does when you visit his home? Once you are let in into his cozy, European-style, sparking and spotless sitting room, from nowhere a serene music, usually classical, invades you from all directions. It was my first time of seeing that style. One of the days I visited, it was Handel’s Messiah. You drown in it first with the soothing air-conditioning that overpowers all your feelings. You calm down. You become yourself before he emerges to call you by name. You feel very, very welcome. He joins you, radiating his unusual kindheartedness, humanity and very hospitable mien. He appears modest and condescending. But he is very considerate, reflective and deeply philosophical, a delight to converse with. He has certainly read a lot. He is well versed in Nigeria’s political history.
Usually, his Lady comes out first. She doesn’t leave you vacant, or wondering about anything. She attends to everything in the sitting room that will make your stay comfortable – curtains, letting the sunshine in or drawing them to keep the room warmer for you. Then she switches on or off the lights for effect, looks at the thermometer, adjusts the air-conditioning level and arranges the table covers and flowers that may not be in place. She serves you cold drinks in waiting with sparkling glasses. She sits by and assures you “Daddy is coming,” keeping you company for the brief time it takes daddy to come out. He takes his time to come out at his age, being a man of great dignity and highly respected everywhere. But he does not waste your time, keeping you waiting unduly. No mistake about that. She then serves the kola when he is seated. He offers it, practically pours blessing on it and gives to you to break, after which he takes his own. Then he gives you to take.
While there on one occasion, his son called from the US. They talked very affectionately at the end of which he said to him as final greeting “BE YOUR SELF”. That impressed me. I wanted to learn that and adopt it for my own children who were toddlers then. I can’t say I completely understood what he meant. But now, I am seeing the point he was making. I link it with the problem of Nigeria with corruption which people have misconstrued completely in terms of what money somebody pocketed from public office. If the amount is not much, it is not regarded as corruption. It is only when it is in dizzying amounts (billions) that it is corruption.
The point is that not being ones self is the ultimate Nigerian peril. That is what corruption is all about. Corruption means not being what or who you are. The original thing or person is pure. It has not been corrupted. Think of if Nigerians were to be themselves; pure so to say. If you break it down there are words that describe purity – not contaminated, mixed with impurity (impure), disfigured, dirty, infected, tainted, unhygienic, polluted and grimy. In human terms to be corrupt on the other hand: unworthy, unreliable, false, grumpy, irritable, cranky, ill-tempered, grouchy, complaining, cross and petulant. In the extreme, it may connote being useless, lacking in reasoning and compassion, not feeling for others, being unpatriotic, impudence, being conscienceless, being selfish, greed, covetousness and stealing. They were not our original behaviors as Africans. Certainly not.
Where did it all start? Not being ourselves started when all of a sudden, some people invaded this part of the world on expedition in search of how to survive in their own part of the world which was very cold, scanty in resources (human and material) and poor. Their hash living conditions made them desperate to take the risk of venturing into the wild ocean, sailing in rickety boats to unknown places, with no destination in mind, unsure of their lives. In that extreme hardship they were turned into die-hard savages, bandits, swindlers, hoodlums, touts human traffickers, slave dealers, war-mongers, marauders, pirates, robbers, kidnappers and very bad people. These words are revolting, blood-chilling, unbelievable and unacceptable being used for any human being, let alone the English people who claimed to have Christianized, enlightened an civilized us. But that is in truth what they did. They wanted to see what they could get by plundering, to augment what they had at home, which was meager. That was their big motive in taking all that risk. It paid off however. Today, they have built up with what they got from here and are now ‘helping’ us. They did it not only with us but with many other peoples and parts of the world, to the point of abomination. This is what our governments and historians are timid and tongue-tied to say and disown, for us to be free from corruption. If this realization does not come and that act condemned, there is no hope for the eradication of corruption. It will only grow by leaps and bounds, even if all government corrupt people were wiped out. If you send them to jail as many naïve people are suggesting, is that where there is no corruption? If there is none there, they will bring it in there.
The first thing the colonizers did was to contaminate our people with all the corrupt ways of life which they came in with. Those who copied the lifestyle affected the others and got power. Nigerian people changed their nature and became what is known today as corrupt. This didn’t only happen here. In all other countries where corruption has been managed and rooted out, they did the simple thing we are groping in ignorance today trying to figure out. They became them selves by restoring their original nature, free from contaminations from outside. This is what I thought Mr. Buhari would have started his change with, making the change fundamental and permanent. I thought Dr. Jonathan would have bequeathed that to this country as a man with a PhD. I was disappointed. They left the disease and started to treat the symptoms. In fact I started hoping for a realistic treatment for corruption from Obasanjo, when he came from jail to have another opportunity to govern. These people make me feel that corruption and Nigeria are inseparable, and our corrupt condition is permanent, the only hope coming when it will be tackled from the root foundation and from the uncommon philosophy that one should be him self, which has complex implications still in national management. Here, people talk of corruption as a one person or few people’s issue: if you arrest them, get their “loot” and put them in jail, the problem will be over. Some say, let’s start from there. Yes, you may do that as long as crime is a matter of offence, guilt and punishment. What of the government as an establishment that is creating the conditions because it has no capacity to be equitable in distributing wealth that is there in quantum and people are dying, which makes people corrupt? Corrupt persons also buy their way out of trouble. Where then would their corruption end? People help themselves where they can. They don’t miss the chance or opportunity. People who know they have nothing to depend on at old age and when they are suddenly sacked or retired would be foolish not to take the money they can safely take when they are working, even if they would be caught or suspected. This law of self-preservation is the impetus and aid to festering corruption, in which no one will ever feel guilty until death. This is the problem. The force of gravity that sustains corruption (like sweeping water up the hill which keeps flowing back) is too much.
Somebody or circumstances must be blamed for the corruption in Nigeria, not just the Nigerian people. Corruption is the inevitable outcome of evil changes that were forced upon us under colonial occupation. That has since been replaced by a more vicious local occupation which continues to infest more of the landscape with the same virus; that attitude of wholesale imitation of foreign things and practices. A person who was black but is now fair by skin cream and soaps has been corrupted and is corrupt. Whatever he/she does to sustain this is immaterial. The point is that he/she is corrupt basically. He/she is corrupt in a corrupt environment. The question of money he/she takes is secondary. The society must retrieve the person from corrupt disposition before talking of the money the person can corruptly take. Those who must attach artificial hair are corrupted. You won’t be wrong to call them corrupt. Corruption is not the problem facing the federal government. What it has to deal with is the attitude to originality; that attitude everywhere in Nigeria not to regard any original thing as desirable unless it is falsified or contaminated. We have rejected original music in the electronic media. We have rejected original dressing, foods, languages, names of places, mode of worship and all else, signifying how endemic corruption in this country has become and will continue to be. It is only treatable with the message BE YOUR SELF. Sanction should be imposed mercilessly when persons are not them-selves, as well as if institutions such as radio and TV stations would sponsor and promote that,. That is the current indiscipline a Buhari regime of change can focus on this time. Not the one of queuing and weekly sanitation exercise. The new orientation should be to restore that original nature of our land before the colonial people came when it was uncontaminated, which forbade all the bad things we see today. Be your self. And corruption will flee from this land among the people. This I believe. I think so.