Corruption on sabbatical…By Fola Ojo
I was seated in my office when the telephone rang. The call was from Lagos, Nigeria.
“Hello, Pastor. This is John,” (not his real name) the voice at the other end said.
“How are you John? Thanks for your support at my event last month.”
“You are welcome anytime, Man of God. I have been following your write-ups in The PUNCH”, John expressed.
“Thank you. I hope they are a blessing to you.”
“Yes, thanks, Sir. I like the last one on character and corruption. The series opened up my eyes to a lot of things I think we should do as a people, and not just leave them to the government.”
“I agree with you, my brother.”
“But Sir; you are missing a lot of things here in Nigeria, and I just want to tell you so that when next you write, you will take some of them into consideration.”
“Okay, what am I missing?” I asked.
“This corruption fight thing everybody is talking about is not going anywhere. Unfortunately, Sir, this is our life here. All our politicians, including the man on the street too, live and breathe corruption. If the President wins the fight, it will be temporary. Corruption will only be taking a sabbatical leave. It will come back when President Muhammadu Buhari is gone.”
I have heard this many times before even from men and women serving in various capacities in government. And each time they said it to my face, I hated it.
“I disagree with you. We will kill corruption”; I responded with boldness as if I serve on Nigeria’s corruption-fighting team. Well, maybe, I do. Maybe, we all do.
“Remember I am a Nigerian too; although I may not be living there”, I reminded John.
“Man of God, Sir, you only have Nigerian names, you are not a Nigerian. You are no longer a Nigerian.”
“I am a Nigerian forever. Many nations have won this war all across the world. We will win it too”. My affirmation was bold.
“Okay o! I hope so, Man of God. I just pray that I am wrong and you are right.”
“Nobody is right or wrong. Let’s see how this one ends. We will have failed only if we refuse to try.”
“I agree, Sir”. The conversation ended.
The word “sabbatical” is the Latin word “sabbaticus” which is defined as a period of time during which someone does not work at his or her regular job and is able to rest, travel, do research. John’s overt allusion was that corruption is a regular job in Nigeria. Its absence from the scene at any time is only for a moment when it faces true and real opposition. It will come back after a while and be seated among us like a pummeling principality. That is what it means when corruption takes a sabbatical.
Men like John in Nigeria want things done right in the only country they know and claim as theirs; but a frustrating, stumbling block of opposition frequently dampens their hopes. Men like John want Nigeria cleansed and scrubbed up from the debris of depraved behaviours of our leaders, but they don’t think it will happen in their lifetime. Men like John believe that corruption and all other vices that work against Nigeria are cocooned in a web of uncanny cohort of powerful , mean, menacing and cryptic men and vicious viragos of venality whose souls are sold out to the god of gold and Lucifer of lewdness and lasciviousness. Men like John believe that corruption is only on a sabbatical leave; and it will return in full force when this present season is over, whenever that is.
In many people’s sub-conscious mind, evicting corruption out of Nigeria is like changing the chromosomes of a black man and transposing his DNA into a white human being’s. This is a biological impossibility. The reverberating echo of this sentiment can be heard all around the world; not just within the four walls of Nigeria.
Many years ago, a US retired General, Colin Powell, had reportedly publicly referred to all Nigerians as “crooks”. “Nigeria, for example, leads the world in criminal enterprises. Every level of Nigerian society is criminal, with the smart ones running Internet scams, the mid-range ones running car theft rings, and the stupid ones engaging in piracy and kidnapping. At the University of Lagos, you can major in credit card fraud.”
In 1992, Washington Post Foreign Service Correspondent, Keith Richburg, said, “Welcome to Nigeria, world capitol of the business scam. Shake hands, but be sure to count your fingers.” The “Ambassador of Corruption”, the late King of Oil, Swiss Marc Rich, once said this; “Nigeria is the global capital of corruption”. The US talk show hostess and philanthropist, Oprah Winfrey, had once called Nigeria world’s most corrupt, and said “All Nigerians – regardless of their level of education – are corrupt.”
In the countries where the personalities I quoted above hold citizenship, horrible cases of corruption and stealing that even crawled up into the presidency have been recorded in history. So, before they talk about Nigerians, they need to read up on their own history. Although not all Nigerians are thieves as these traducers will want the world to believe, there are some heartless, obstreperous, and schizophrenic looters and larcenists among our people. There are overweening men and women who have taken a descent into tawdriness and smudged up in the chichi of blatant banditry. In the Nigerian courts these men are called “corrupt”. But on the Nigerian streets, we call them “thieves”. And they don’t care!
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo recently said that some influential Nigerians were scrambling to prevail on President Muhammadu Buhari to ease up on the intensity of the prosecution of perpetrators of public funds purloining. Buhari, however, has assured us all that he will neither budge nor blink.
A whopping N41.6tn was made as revenue from crude oil proceeds and taxes, as well as duties between fiscal years 2011 and 2014. Most of it has flowed into private purses. It has become impossible to pay the salaries of public sector workers who do not constitute 10 per cent of the population at both federal and state levels as a result of corruption. According to a recent World Bank study, Nigeria needs about $14.2bn per year to bridge the infrastructure gap, with about $10.5bn needed for federal infrastructure alone. Corruption will never get our infrastructures out of its present state of stupor and lethargy. Whether it is killed or crippled, corruption has to be dealt a severely banishing blow from our midst. Even if the ongoing crusade does not achieve a total cleansing of the debris of thievery in public office, President Buhari and others will not be seen to have failed because they have not refused to try.
Corruption is wickedness; and corruption anywhere is wickedness everywhere. I spoke to a focus group lately in the US where I likened corruption to the spirit of wickedness that cannot die, but can only be hedged and curtailed. My Holy Guide explains that wickedness exists with the existence of humans; and wickedness dies only when a man is in internment. So, was my friend, John, right that corruption in Nigeria is only on sabbatical? Well, what do you think?