Sunday, 23 August 2015 14:13

Of Corruption and Nigeria's willing oppressed

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A disregarded anti-corruption box in NigeriaViewing corruption through the prism of the oppressed and the looted in Africa in general and Nigeria, in particular, is an interesting exercise. Growing up in the city of Enugu in Nigeria, I often wondered why my father would laugh, smile and/ or get visibly angry while perusing the content of news materials.

I think this is one of the gestures that triggered my enthusiasm in the things of the State in Nigeria.

As a young lad, I often eavesdropped on my father’s frequent chats, conversations and debates with his friends. I think I was about 8 years old at then, but my very young imagination was captured by this single recurrent sentence- "He is a stupid man; he was there for 5 years yet he could not build a house of his own”. This was usually the line of argument that one of my father’s friends of yesteryears used to put forward conversations with my father who would admonish him and laugh over it later.

As I got older, I began to realize that the glorification of corruption, mismanagement, nepotism and blatant looting was one of the past times of the oppressed and the looted. I realized that our politician’s main motive for looting and mismanaging with reckless abandon is not only founded on greed, but it’s also triggered by what one could tag “peer group pressure”. Albeit, this time, I would call it “communal pressure to loot". Hence, even an innocent man whose main aim for joining politics is to help salvage the rot in the system could easily be turned towards the direction of looting by the same people whose commonwealth is being looted.

Relatives and friends who are supposed to be a politician's main watchdogs and encouragers to desist from acts of crime and impunity, tend to become your main instigators, behind-the-scene-supporters, encouragers and conspirators to launch one to the abyss of corruption.

Mr Okorongwu, a very decent gentleman who understands the main advantages of being incorruptible, straightforward, and sound managerial accountability, instead of being celebrated by the people who entrusted him with the mantle of leadership becomes a thing of comedic references for not engaging in looting. When he finishes his terms as a ward councilor of one the local government areas that constitute the 747 local government of Nigeria, he would be greatly ridiculed and called weak.

KIDS EVENTS

Of what offence is he subjected to mockery and ridicule? One may ask. Simply put, he did not allow himself to be carried away by the systematic plague called corruption in Nigeria, which seems to have infected most of the public servants who are in Nigerias corridors of power.

Mr Okorongwu was a very different man. In his eight years in power, he continued to reside in a two bedroom apartment with his 5 kids and wife. He did not acquire those things that we have come to associate Nigerian politicians with. Things like luxurious cars and top of the range properties at choice locations of in Nigeria and abroad.

In my Nigeria, there is a strong and normalized expectation on the side of the masses for every politician to loot with impunity. The normality of this situation have become engrained in our psyche, hence, even the looted have assumed a 'siddon-dey-look' akimbo position. The very inheritance of Nigeria's unborn children is constantly being looted bare and the citizenry seems to have made peace with this situation.

The unfortunate slogan from the electorate Nigerian populace now is “It is our turn”. I ask, is it your turn to do what?. To loot?. Believe it or not, even the most honest Nigerian Politician, no matter how honest he/she can be, might be skewed towards the negative corrupt direction, by the aforementioned thought and beliefs encapsulated in the slogans of the populace.

To lay credence to my claims that the populace encourage looting of Nigeria's public funds, sometime in the past, a former Nigerian state Governor brazenly opined in the National Dailies that "We(Politicians)steal because you (the citizens) to do not stone us”.

In a scenario like that of the former Governor, it becomes crystal clear that the problem of corruption is endemic and hence should not be solely blamed on the leadership. In fact, the populace who bear most of the brunt of a very corrupt society takes the lion share of the blame.

Our Mr. Okorongwu through the use of government funds allocated to him by the Government of Nigeria embarked on a lot of infrastructural developments. He. Built bridges, youth empowerment became a top priority for his administration in the presence of high level of unemployment and hopelessness. He brought in investors from all works of life into the community. Medical practitioners were wooed in to man the community's health centers so that the sick would not have to travel kilometers to seek medical help. Schools were built for the children who used to trek hundreds of kilometers just to be in the four walls of a learning institution.

The transformation that proceeded from Mr. Okorongwu’s administration was unprecedented. However, some community members amazingly frown at his inability to loot, his inability to acquire the latest model of the 4x4 automobiles. Some members in his constituency mocked him at public events saying...”The stupid councilor will retire broke. He will die a poor man because he does not seem to realize what golden opportunity he has in his hands”. The immediate members of his family (including his wife) will at some point say that he is being stupid by availing the lowly populace with the dividends of democracy(supposedly reserved for the rich).

The effects of institutionalized corruption have showcased first-hand the depth at which corruption has dug deep into the fabrics of African societies. Even the masses who are supposed to vilify bad deeds, seem to have accepted the now enshrined norm that a public officer can help themselves to public funds. The checks and balances which should be part of the functions of the citizenry have been thrown to the dogs. Men like Mr. Okoronwgu who seems to be in tandem with what real democracy should is now being viewed as the villains in this horror movie titled Corruption. He is expected to shop at high end clothing shops, buying up all the designer clothing labels. Leaving the locality of the place where he was elected to represent and residing in the posh suburbs following the footsteps of his colleagues in leadership. The electorate citizenry feels let down because one of their own did not follow the cue of what has become a new normal. Stepping out of line from what the populace considers a tradition no matter how positive or noble your reasons may be is being frowned at. The honest man is now perceived as a fool thereby laying credence to the saying that says “I will give a nation the leaders they deserve”.

Mr. Okorongwu’s family will not be left out in this communal vilification. In fact, his kids will be ridiculed by their friends and fellow students whom they attend school with. Okorongwu’s kid’s only sin will be that their father did not take advantage of the government funds at his disposal to send his kids to very expensive private school just like his predecessors did.

The marvelous aspect of this scenario is that kids who are supposed to be oblivious of the political goings-on in their surroundings are now very much in tandem with what corrupt politicians cum leaders are expected to do. This can only give more insight to the level of entrenchment corruption have attained in the minds of not only the senior citizens but of that of supposedly below-high-school-age children.

The rot in the system is monumental and very discouraging, so much that even the most honest man/woman will find it extremely difficult to do what is right. When absurdity and a new normal become possible in a society, evil cannot be done anymore. Mr. Okorogwu’s wife was laughed at and made a thing of joke because she refused to shop at high-end shops; she bought her jewelry from the local shop to encourage local products while her counterparts make trips to top stores in Paris and Dubai buying up top of the range designer clothing and very valuable jewelry. Once again instead of being celebrated for these noble deeds, the Okorongwus will be vilified.

With his 1995 Toyota Camry, Mr. Okorogwu should be called a saint when his counterparts are cruising around in the latest 4x4 SUVs. The definition of corruption in Nigeria, I guess, should be given a new meaning because the conventional meaning of corruption cannot be contextualized in the mainstream Nigerian. To abolish corruption in Nigeria will take more than a miracle to accomplish. When people who are supposed to be the regulators becomes the operators as well, it becomes difficult to fight one of the evilest trends that are known to bedraggle any political and social entity.

The Nigerian masses who are supposed to ensure proper checks and balances have deliberately decided to enter the 'it is our turn' bandwagon of bandits. To be able to defeat corruption in Nigeria, one have to be able to initiate a total re-orientation of the masses, their thought patterns and be able to twist it away from the now normal 'It is our turn' perspective, to a more acceptable 'the wealth belongs to all of us', 'an official is a public servant' and 'it should be used to develop our communities' perspective.

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Johnson-Ehidonye Patrick Sopuruchukwu Bernard

Mr. Johnson-Ehidonye Patrick Sopuruchukwu Bernard is Political activist and social critic on Nigerian, African and World affairs. Ambassador at the University of the People, Pasadena California. U.S.A