By Rich Odu
David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, found himself in the dock before the Nigerian court of public opinion, recently, for what he was quoted as saying at the global conference on corruption in London. Indeed, Nigerians wanted his head for breakfast when news came that Cameron described the nation as “fantastically corrupt.”
Reactions to the prime minister’s words were typical of Nigeria, a nation lacking in introspection, never circumspect and constantly in a state of flux. Cameron did touch the sour point of Nigeria to generate an uproar of that magnitude, but it did not cross the mind of Nigerians that their president had sold the country cheap just last year when he traversed the land of Europe with tales of how his countrymen were so corrupt that it needed only his ascendance to the throne to bring sanity to the nation. We forget that what you call your dog is what others would also call it.
This, however, is not about whether Nigeria is “fantastically” or “cocastically” corrupt, but it is to remind Cameron of what he should be mindful of, just in case he has lost his sense of history. He may have forgotten that his forefathers planted that seed of corruption in Nigeria and must be seen in all ramifications as responsible for the enormous sleaze that has since characterized Nigeria.
Numberless times the late MKO Abiola, when he was alive, had pushed for reparation from Britain on account of the plundering of Nigeria and Africa on the whole. But in its colonial arrogance, the country had ignored the call. What could be more corrupt than the rape of a people’s economy, culture and traditional dignity in the name of colonization?
During the scramble for Africa, it was Britain that grabbed the area which they eventually named Nigeria after amalgamating the northern and southern protectorates. History has it that the merger was basically because the north was economically unviable and so needed the south. The British government was running away from sending money for the maintenance of that region at that time.
Since Lord Frederick Lugard knotted the north and south together to form Nigeria, things have not been the same with the people. The injustice of robbing Peter to pay Paul, which Britain instituted in the country, has been the bane of the country as it tended to encourage indolence while a group now assumes that it is normal to reap from where they did not sow, and brazenly too. This attitude has permeated the society and has caused a culture of scrambling that metamorphosed into corruption.
Cameron and Nigerian leaders are enmeshed in the pursuit of seemingly financially corrupt officials and so-called oil thieves. Perhaps they also need to take into consideration the societal corruption that is even a more serious threat to the unity of the country and the safety of its citizens. While Nigerians collectively fought for independence and got it in the 1950s and 1960s, the North turned round and began a war of dependence, dependence on what is not in their land and does not belong to them. The nomads among them forcefully occupy other people’s land with their cattle and kill and maim the land owners, destroying their farms. The generals among them monopolize the oil wealth to the exclusion of the minority who suffer the after effects of oil exploration. What corruption is greater than that?
No one should be surprised that things are the way they are in Nigeria, a fake federation, where the minority is grossly abused, where resources are not equitably shared, where injustice lives as king, where laws are tilted to favour a section of the people and foisted on the rest (talk about the proposed grazing reserves law, monopoly of oil blocks, federal character that stipulates that a fast and upcoming region must be slowed down to wait for a sluggish and unwilling region, etc), where the best is stifled within but blooms on getting abroad, where nepotism is a religion and its priests are presidents, where wars are fought to ‘keep Nigeria one’ not for the love of brother but for the love of oil. As a matter of fact, what graft is greater than the fact that we run a federal government which operates way off the principles of a federal state known to all right-thinking persons?
Beyond his corruption “fantasy” about Nigeria, Cameron should be interested in ending or minimizing the strife in that country, if not for the sake of righting the wrongs of his fathers, at least, to avoid an escalation of the refugee crisis in his nation’s hands occasioned by the Arab spring and its consequences of war and economic hardship in that region. Britain, its Caucasian brothers and other countries of the world, especially the ECOWAS nations, should be concerned about the problem of Nigeria because when another crisis begins in Africa’s most populous country and the refugees begin to gush out, the world will not rest.
Dealing with the Nigerian problem involves a total review of the union of strange bed fellows. In a union not negotiated, a union where a party is an unrepentant parasite, the host always looks for a way to get rid of the parasite while the parasite latches tenaciously on the host, refusing to be shaken off. It is discomforting. More like a peaceful society is one built on mutuality and symbiosis. It begins with true federalism, where every unit recognizes its strengths and weaknesses and brings mutually beneficial ideas to a negotiating table. Our false federal system, no doubt, is a huge encumbrance to our progress in this country.
Under true federalism, where federating units manage some aspects of their economic lives and bring an agreed percentage to the centre, true leaders rather than charlatans, gluttons and ethnic jingoists will emerge. As long as substantial resources are moved to the centre and distributed according to the whims of whoever controls the centre, only hawks will continue to emerge as “leaders.” So also will there be agitations for self determination, such as Boko haram looking Islamic state, MASSOB asking for the creation of Biafra, and so on. True federalism creates a situation where none of the federating units would feel a deep sense of loss when they are not at the centre and would prevent the seeming gang-up of the majority against the minority which our present system appears to be.
It is least expected that Britain would watch Nigeria split, and dangerously too, a situation which does no one any good. But it would amount to sadism and another crime against humanity if it allows its former colony to perpetually be in strife while human and natural resources are wasted in senseless struggles. The lasting package Nigeria should expect from Cameron and his folks is nothing more than a thought and a deliberate action for Nigeria to return to the path of true federalism. It is not even a return of the looted funds because cases abound where the returned loots were re-looted.
Britain must loosen the naughty knots it tied up in 1914 for Nigeria to heave a sigh of relief. It is difficult if not impossible to achieve this internally without resistance which is likely to turn bloody. Only an external effort, spearheaded by Britain, the colonial masters and architects of a confused political system in the country, will work.