By Ijabia Raymond
It creates insatiable greed when it afflicts the mind. I find that people from societies where poverty is endemic have a mortal fear of becoming poor. This is not a bad thing in itself but it becomes dangerous when it leads to the compulsion to get rich by all means. This is because it causes corruption which in turn impoverishes the society, which then leads to more fear, and a vicious cycle forms. This is what I refer to as the “poverty mentality”. Only one thing matters to someone with a poverty mentality – to get rich by any means or to die trying.
The poverty mentality is one of the important factors that drive the corruption we see in Nigeria and the rest of Africa. It is evident in the way the average Nigerian is preoccupied with the thoughts of accumulating wealth, acquiring power and influence, and in his fear of becoming poor. He wants money, power and influence, not to better his community, but so he can show off and earn the admiration and respect of those who do not have (as much as him). It is what makes us vulnerable to exploitations by pastorpreneurs and charlatans. It is the reason religion thrives in our society.
If you wear the most expensive clothes and jewellery; ride the best cars; talk in a loud, commanding voice; strut around with an air of authority; hand out “change” to the hungry workers in the offices you visit, then you are the quintessential Nigerian “big” (wo)man who is worthy of respect. The culture of deference and the undying desire to be “respected” drive our people to insane lengths. They induce them to live above their means and make poor choices, for instance, borrowing money for flamboyant wedding and burial parties even when they struggle with paying school fees or feeding their families. When you are a big (wo)man, people will listen to anything you say, whether or not you make any sense, and they will run around to serve you. It does not matter how you became rich. You could be the most intelligent and most well-mannered person ever but no one will regard you if you do not have money. Therefore, the temptation to steal to keep up with the Joneses and win the admiration of the society becomes immense.
Social functions such as weddings and naming ceremonies provide opportunities for the ostentatious display of wealth. The have-nots look on with a mixture of admiration and envy, praying earnestly that they too will “hammer” someday. In reality, this is a prayer to be PRESENTED WITH THE OPPORTUNITY to steal from the government. The spraying of dollar bills in this video (http://youtu.be/0Y-VPnrUfgg) is specifically for the benefit of the have-nots. It is to remind them of their lowly position. The compulsion to show off our wealth has driven us to the point of inventing money-spraying guns which are now in common use at Nigerian parties both at home and abroad . Undoubtedly, ostentatiousness is one of the important drivers of corruption in our society.
When the money is too much, just use a spray gun, E money When the money is too much, just use a spray gun, E money
I do not need to go over the well-articulated points that Olaleye Samson, an unemployed university graduate, makes in this heart-wrenching interview because, quite frankly, his argument cannot be bettered. He describes how rich Nigerians have stolen the commonwealth and built themselves far too many houses and homes (which all lie unoccupied) than they need whilst thousands of youths sleep under our bridges. These looters make fat donations to churches and are given front-row seats. Religious and political leaders have an unholy alliance to defraud the masses. Their collective greed has impoverished the society and led to high youth unemployment and prostitution but in a weird and ironic way, their extravagant lifestyles are admired and celebrated by the society and the very people they have impoverished. This is how we have come to internalise negative attitudes and normalise bad behaviour, and it is how corruption has become entrenched in our society.
I fear that we are sitting on a time bomb – something is going to have to give way. The high walls, barbed wire fences and massive gates will not protect the looters and their loots. No matter the amount of money, houses, cars and gold one has, one is really not rich if one is surrounded by abject poverty. What is the point of all that money if one has to fly abroad every time one gets a headache? There will come a day when circumstances will force one to receive emergency care in those poorly resourced hospitals e.g. following a road traffic accident in a rural town. What is the point of all that money if one has to sleep with one closed eye for fear of armed robbers? I recall the incident in 2014 when the Nigerian Immigration Service organised a bogus recruitment exercise which saw thousands of unemployed graduates flock to stadia across the country. According to some sources, there were only 4000 jobs but about 6.5 million Nigerians across the country paid N1000 each to buy the application forms for these jobs. The overcrowding and poor planning led to stampedes which resulted in many of our young men and women being crushed to death. It has been two and half years since this incident occurred but there have been zero prosecutions . Why is that? It is estimated that nearly 1 in 4 Nigerian is unemployed, and according to Pew research in 2014, Nigeria is expected to replace the U.S. as the third most populous nation in the world by 2050! I will leave the reader to ponder on that but I will say this – we are sitting on a ticking time bomb, and both the government and we the citizens need to act decisively.
It is counter-intuitive and against the natural instinct of self-preservation to steal so much from the community as to impoverish it. The implication is stark – everyone on the sinking ship is going down with it. It is easy to blame the government for corruption but our leaders did not drop from the sky – they are a representation of us and our society. Every society gets the kind of leadership it deserves. Ultimately, the most effective way for the society to fight corruption is to build strong government institutions but we cannot ignore that the society is made up of individuals. A society of corrupt individuals is itself a corrupt society. Change must start with the man in the mirror – each of us must examine our attitude towards money and riches, the compulsion to show off to keep up with the Joneses, and the cultural obsession with “respect”. Only we can save ourselves and our country, and the time to act is, now!