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Why Nigeria is fantastically corrupt

The Prime Minister of Britain, Mr. David Cameron used two terrible words for Nigeria and Afghanistan. He was briefing the Queen on the anti-corruption summit being hosted by his government when he said that two “fantastically corrupt” countries, Nigeria and Afghanistan were in attendance. When he said this there was uproar as when there is a goal in a big football match. It has been the talk in town since then.
I don’t know how Afghanistan took the insult, if you may call it that. The Nigerian President, on the other hand was not offended. Asked (by reporters in London) if he agreed that Nigeria was fantastically corrupt, he said unequivocally, yes. He did not mince words. He did not delay in answering. Did he want an apology on the disgrace? He said, no. And was he embarrassed by the British PM’s remark? He again said, no. All I want is for Cameron to hasten and return all the money deposited in his country by looters, he said. He closed the matter there. But that was not to be the end of it.
Well, Nigerian commentators have different views on the matter and the views are coming in torrents. It has been like riot. Some feel that Cameron and his country should take the blame for Nigeria being corrupt and fantastically so, that being the foundation they laid as the colonizers. Many agree with Cameron on his remark saying that the remark is true. It is however regarded as unkind considering Britain’s historical relationship with Nigeria as the first administrators of the country they created. His argument would only be that this is not what they left behind. But it is. Their example of corruption was worse. He could have considered his country’s involvement in and contributions to Nigeria’s current developmental handicaps. Good reasons abound to think that Britain has a hand in what Nigeria has turned out to be, with regards to its corrupt character. Britain as such could have managed to continue in its patronizing attitude to see if pitifully any magic can occur and Nigeria convinces its people to stop lining their pockets with their country’s money, and rather live for the common good. People were disappointed that the British leader made such a tantalizing scandal of Nigeria in a world forum where that would get her the widest bad publicity.
All the same, one can understand the frustration of the British PM. His statement portrays his disappointment. He feels like many do that Nigeria ought to be told the bitter truth for once and that things better began to shape up in Nigeria before it is too late. That, I agree totally with. Cameron on behalf of his country was acknowledging the rot in Nigeria and excusing his people from it, in case it becomes a failed state eventually sooner or later. Perhaps Britain has joined America is expecting the failed state sooner.
To Buhari’s reply: he hardly understood the politics in what Cameron said. The PM was speaking the mind of many Britons. Nigeria would soon be an electoral issue in the UK. A British leader was wanted to handle Nigeria’s embarrassment. Nigeria had to be told off. That would make Cameron popular as a forthright politician who could look Nigeria straight in the face and tell her the embarrassment she has become. Earlier British leaders had been either shy or afraid of doing this. The indirect message was: go home, sit down a little and take care of things before you people become another Somalia, another Rwanda. Another Afghanistan, Eritrea, Yemen, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Iraq,  the Philippines or Uzbekistan where al-Qaeda has spread uncontrollably and some of which went from insurgency to insurrection and became bottomless pits for international aid. If such should happen in Nigeria, Britain would be irretrievably implicated. That’s what Mr. Cameron was warning about. He was trying to nip an impending calamity in the bud. It is a statement only those who have ear to hear can hear.
A commentator said: “if Buhari did not agree with Cameron that corruption did exist in its worst form in Nigeria, what then is he out fighting?” He had on earlier occasions admitted that his country was corrupt. He could only take exception to the use of the word “fantastically”. He had to concur to what Cameron said. Cameron, being an astute politician used a word that would confound all possible interpretations by critics. By the word fantastically, which has never been used in that parlance and context while talking about another country, he meant that Nigeria’s case of corruption has become, to say the least, incurable, or too entrenched if you like. It is at the mortality stage of the malady. It can now kill the country. If he didn’t say it mercilessly acerbically that way and it happened, it would be said that he was insincere to people his country brought up and “showed the light”. That’s after all what they claimed to be doing under colonization. How could the world develop without being discovered and protected by the British? Was that not the British thinking then for colonizing places and peoples? Fighting corruption was Buhari’s main reason for seeking desperately to be the Nigerian president again. He went as far as saying that he was the only fit and proper person to deal with corruption. Cameron thus knew he was stoking a burning zeal in Buhari. He was not dampening it or being impolite or undiplomatic. The Nigerian leader would be most grateful to him for that statement. He must have felt that they were nearly on the same page on the matter and Cameron’s statement was the international moral support he needed to continue the fight against corruption in Nigeria.
In accepting the Cameron insult, Buhari of course exonerates himself. If the whole of Nigeria was corrupt, Buhari could have thought that he was the only exception. That’s why he responded the way he did. But it is possible both Buhari and Cameron were getting it all wrong about corruption.
Let me repeat here what I said in an earlier article, years back. I said that Nigerians are not corrupt. What they do does not fit the definition of corruption. If they are carrying away what should have belonged to their state, you must justify the way the state acquired what it owns in the first place. You must also say how equitable the collective resources of the country are disbursed. What is called corruption is a tradition from Nigeria’s origin. People of other lands by force of arms came here and confiscated everything and owned both the people and all their properties. We might say since that has happened and it is nobody’s fault, let the state hold what it has. Let’s leave for Caesar what is Caesar’s. Yes this is simpler said than done. But the people have imbibed skin-deep how to plunder and take what they can and wait for the consequences exactly the way the British colonizers did. Unfortunately those who are to impose the penalties for plundering are those who do the plundering, starting from the colonial administration. How about that? Ironically the British today are condemning the tradition they started. Why was it not corruption when they were in charge, doing the same thing?
If in this case, the state or country still has no capacity to check its plunderers, and to distribute what it owns as resources, what do its members do? They must join in a scrambling extravaganza, and take often more than their due. This makes the scramble alarming and practically speaking fantastic, if you look at the amount of money and quantity of property people are carrying away. Without looking at the conditions that led to the scramble, Cameron and Buhari are calling what is happening corruption. How dare they? Who will ever believe them? Is what is going on now worse than what the colonizers did? Since we have become self-governing and free from colonial rule, why don’t we unlearn the self-destructive practice of robbing ourselves? To do that, the state or country must purge itself of the plundering character of the colonial administration. It has to drop all colonial legacies which alienated the people with the state. The country must find the political will to first of all let its members enjoy an equitable distribution of its resources, and then prevent their need to scramble. Nigerians are in competition: who will plunder most? Since it is the same corrupt people who arrest, try and punish corrupt people, who will find them guilty?  Who will enforce their punishment? What type of punishment will correct or reform all the people for Nigeria to return to the path of rectitude? How can the country be convinced to abandon the legacies of colonialism, including corruption?  That is the issue now.

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