When it comes to corruption, Nigeria can’t compete with U.S.A.!
Every full moon or so, Nigeria is featured in somebody’s perversely construed ranking—or personal estimate—as one of the world’s most “corrupt” countries. Though patently false, these repeated and widely publicised assertions are hardly surprising. They serve an insidious purpose: That being to demoralize Nigerians and undermine their loyalty to the state.
Oddly enough, much of this upbraiding commentary emanates from the U.S.A., where I lived for quite a long time—long enough to know that corruption there is far greater than in Nigeria! What concerns me, is the number of intelligent and well-intended individuals who are taken in by what is, in reality, a sustained campaign of disinformation.
Some even acquiesce in foreign assaults on the moral identity of their own country, in the mistaken belief that they are honour-bound to be “objective”. In truth, they’re not. Criticism of a particular administration, a policy, a minister, or other functionary, can be helpful, within responsible limits.
But a patriot is never objective, about the state—which is the people, as a cohesive, enduring unity, apart from a political administration. Critics should avoid uttering the word “Nigeria,” negatively. Being “objective,” according to my phone dictionary, means that one’s views and decisions are “undistorted by emotion or personal bias” or “based on observable phenomena”.
The notion that Nigerians shouldn’t have a personal bias towards Nigeria is irrational—especially since foreign critics tend to conceal quite a lot of “observable phenomena” about their own countries. Note, for example, issues in the U.S. presidential election and the struggle against the Mexican drug cartel—and the cartel’s connection with U.S. banks.
Yet it is very doubtful that a blanket condemnation of Mexico or the U.S.A., to one of their nationals would draw a pleasant reaction. It is no more reasonable to be “objective” about one’s Fatherland, than it would be for a lover to call for bedroom assistance!
Every sexually experienced man knows, that there are times when you can’t get your partner exactly where she needs to be. Well, “objectively,” you should let someone else come and relieve her!
“Objectivity” obviously has its limits! Nigeria is home to Nigerians. No assault on its embodiment, as a collective entity—verbally, symbolically or otherwise—ought to be tolerated.
As far as foreigners are concerned, it should be, “My country, right or wrong!” When Nigerians trash their own nation, in the interest of “objectivity,” they are not earning anyone’s respect or admiration.
Quite to the contrary, self-deprecation presents Nigeria—and, by extension, the Black Race—as a carpet, for the rest of the world to walk on.
Competitors are only too happy to oblige: As the former British Prime Minister did, when he characterized Nigeria as one of the two most corrupt countries in the world (along with Afghanistan).
One of Cameron’s motives, may have been to put President Muhammadu Buhari on the defensive, because he was pressing Britain to return allegedly laundered Nigerian money.
There are nearly 200 sovereign states on Earth. If all “observable phenomena” were known, I doubt Nigeria would rank, even among the top 50, in terms of corruption.
Countries like India, Mexico, Italy and the U.S.A. would certainly hold positions much higher up, on the corruption pyramid.
I know only what I’ve read about Italy and India. But I did cross the Mexican border, to Tijuana, a couple of times as a student in California—looking for Mexican women!
I could recount experiences in Mexico that would be beyond the imagination of any Nigerian. But I won’t: Because school teachers might want to use this article!
In any event, my Bachelor’s degree is in American History; and I lived in in the U.S.A. for nearly 40 years, during much of which I was actively involved, socially and professionally.
The main vices some Nigerians throw vile on their country for, occur in America on an even larger scale. In fact, this country couldn’t endure the same level of corruption. It would vanish in thin air!
A notable difference, is that corruption in the U.S.A. is more organised, less visible and usually very discreet. One normally doesn’t proposition a U.S. functionary directly, especially at higher levels.
Generally, protocol requires that you go through a trusted associate. Or else, you could get embarrassed, or possibly arrested—even though the person approached, may actually do deals daily!
This protocol confuses many Nigerians, even some who have lived there. Yet corrupt practices occur from the lowest to the highest echelons of American society, in both the public and private sectors.
It came to public knowledge, not long ago, for example, that some Nigerians report the “wrong-doings” of their countrymen to the U.S. Ambassador here.
Though well-intended, such behaviour is naïve in the extreme. Not all American ambassadors are themselves appointed on merit! Politics and finance are frequently factored in.
According to some allegations I’ve read, emissaries to important commercial and financial centres usually have one or more “sponsors.”
But instead of paying money directly to the President, or the Secretary of State, the sponsors make remittances to the Republican or Democratic parties—and the party bosses then work their magic.
The Ambassador, in turn, is expected to advance the business or commercial interests of sponsors, in the country where he or she is deployed.
But my own personal experiences are at lower levels, where the protocol is simpler and the route to a corrupt deal less circuitous.
Let’s start, with a courtroom drama I witnessed, in the early 1970s, while waiting to face a Los Angeles judge (magistrate) for failing to pay a traffic fine.
A white man, who had been arrested for fighting on an American Airlines flight, stood up and offered the Caucasian judge a bribe, in open court.
The offender was handcuffed to a policeman. Speaking loudly from the rear of the courtroom, and quite out of turn, he urged the judge to release him quickly, because he had a flight to catch.
“I‘ll pay you whatever you charge,” he added, matter-of-factly.
Shouting from the audience, in a California courtroom, is enough to get you “86ed” (if I recall correctly)—an oblique reference to the legal code, under which such offenders are punished.
Offering a U.S. magistrate (or any other public official) a bribe, is an even more serious infringement, than poor courtroom demeanor.
Yet the judge’s response, was equally matter-of-fact. “Your case is not supposed to be in my court,” he mused. “But I‘ll see what I can do.”
My case was last on the docket. After paying my fine, I saw the man emerge, un-manacled, from the judge’s chamber. The judge followed, grinning—and counting money.
The briber was obviously a gangster (as, in all likelihood, was the judge). Only a mobster would be so audacious: Because he knows no one will report the matter. That would simply be suicide.
If the media is the “fourth estate,” in America, organised crime is the fifth. It functions like a branch of government—controlling cities, states, professional boxing and operating banks.
Donald Trump, for example, is known to have interacted socially with mobsters. During the U.S. presidential elections, a photograph of him in the company of a gangster appeared in the press.
Cities such as Las Vegas Nevada, Phoenix Arizona and New Orleans Louisiana are known to be mob jurisdictions. So is the State of Florida.
I married in Las Vegas. (You rent a ring and slip it on your fiancee’s finger. The official then pronounces you “man and wife”—and the next couple takes the ring!)
After the 15 minute or so ceremony, my new wife and I went to a casino at Caesar’s Palace Hotel where—much to our surprise—the renowned former heavyweight boxer, Joe Louis, was the doorman!
The implications, may elude most Nigerians. But Caesars Palace is reputedly a Mafia asset. Famous figures, allegedly mob-connected—such as the late Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr—hang out there.
Joe Louis also had mob ties; and this explains his presence at Caesar’s Palace. He worked there, until his passing, not long after we shook hands with him.
I later read, in Jet Magazine (a stablemate to Ebony), that Mae West—a legendary white Broadway and Hollywood star—claimed her mobster boyfriend had arranged Louis’s first title fight.
In 1974, I joined the Opinion Section of The Los Angeles Times, as an assistant editor and staff writer—and made my first outside assignment, an interview with Mae West.
The late jazz critic, Leonard Feather (who worked in the “View” section), arranged the interview. Feather had cautioned, that West wouldn’t allow me to use a recorder. So I didn’t carry one.
Mae West confirmed the Jet report. She went further, and introduced me to another retired black boxer, with long arms, whom she’d helped.
When West started talking about the mob, a muscular white man with crewcut hair (who’d been listening nearby) joined us. And she quickly changed the subject.
Nothing ever appeared in the L.A. Times. I started taking notes. Then, the actress did her famous line, from a classic W.C. Fields comedy: “Come up and see me sometime!” After that, I forgot about notes!
Organised crime in the U.S.A.—known as “Cosa Nostra,” “the Mafia,” ‘the Mob,’ etc.—consist primarily of Italians, Jews and Americans of French ancestry (possibly in that order of importance).
A good bet, would be that the illegal activities of these three groups, in the U.S.A. alone, generate more ill-gotten gains in a week, than all the black criminals on Earth (Nigeria included) earn annually.
Omitted from this speculation, is the powerful Chinese mob and the Mexican-American and South American crime syndicates.
Malfeasance in this country, can never match that of the U.S.A. There may be corruption in Nigerian banks, for instance. But white organized crime has banks and other financial institutions of its own.
I unwittingly opened an account, at a mob bank in New Orleans! This too occurred in the ‘70s, when I was touring the South, for The New York Times Magazine—and needed to secure my cash advance.
The mobsters spoke, as if I were not present. “Talking about ‘legit’,” one boasted, whipping out a photograph of himself, posing with a politician. “Look at this! Am I legitimate, or not!?”
Mafiosi enjoy being seen with elected officials and prominent public figures. They do so, out of contempt as much as pride: Since, behind their law-and-order façade, many “legit” are also big crooks!
Certain social critics in this country, have a habit that is both embarrassing and amusing. They like to go on CNN, to complain about corruption in Nigeria!
Be apprised, that CNN is based in Atlanta—formerly the clearing house for African slaves, imported illegally through Savannah port and marched overland. Capital from this trade, help build the city.
In case you consider that “ancient history,” Atlanta is still the commercial hub of an illicit, and highly lucrative, trade: But today, its cocaine and other hard drugs, rather than human contraband.
The drugs originate in Central and/or South America, enter the U.S.A. through Florida and move up Route 75 to Atlanta. Couriers drop off consignments to pushers, in small towns along the way.
As a result, many local communities now have serious drug problems whereas, before, their biggest headache was “moonshine”—a once outlawed hot drink that was distilled in the forest by moonlight.
The U.S. government had to legalise moonshine, because it couldn’t eradicate the industry. In most counties, corrupt but powerful sheriffs, either owned the forest distilleries or protected the operators.
Drug trafficking too, probably won’t be suppressed entirely, for the same reason. Florida, where the drugs enter the U.S., is a mob state; and local police, along route 75, protect the pushers.
During my tour of the American South, I was seeking to interview a policeman, in a small Georgia town, when a young white drug dealer rushed into the station, swearing obstreperously.
A certain “bastard,” he fumed, had taken a consignment of his drugs and was very late paying. The policemen remained focused on the dealer’s fulminations—flashing only a fleeting glance at me.
Editors and reporters at CNN are, of course, aware of this. Rest assured, that when Nigerians are running their country down, the interviewers are laughing within.
Unfortunately, Nigerians generally don’t read history. Or they’d know, that many of the most prestigious U.S. families, had progenitors who were more corrupt than anyone here could hope to be.
Nigeria’s biggest embezzlers, swindlers and business cheats, could not shake a stick at the avaricious industrialists of the 19th and early 20th centuries—whom U.S. historians have dubbed “Robber Barons.”
The origins of the appellation, shows just how out of kilter critics of the Nigerian state are. It stems from the German “raubritter”—Feudal landowners, who resorted to banditry in the Late Middle Ages.
“Robber Baron,” Wikipedia notes, is a modern historiographical coinage, by U.S. scholars, “based on (their) observations of the German nobility.”
The antics of the American Robber Barons included every conceivable variety of fraud, bribery, swindle and, when it suited their purpose, murder.
Typical, was the effort of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the 19th century railroad tycoon, to seize control of the Erie line in New York. As Vanderbilt bought up shares, the board of directors put out new ones.
Then, writes T. J. Stiles, in the Journal of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
“A famously corrupt judge… issued arrest warrants for the directors,” who fled to nearby New Jersey.Vanderbilt’s enemy, in turn, went to the state capital, “with a suitcase full of greenbacks [dollars] and checkbooks—which convinced the suddenly enriched [New York] legislators to legalize the new shares.”
OZY, the Internet magazine, recently ran an instructive piece on John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who dispatched National Guardsmen to attack striking coal miners and their families, in 1914.
At Ludlow, Colorado, writes Sean Braswell, encamped workers were “sprayed with machine-gun fire …and the tent colony was torched, killing at least 66, including two women and 11 children…”
The women and children suffocated, he reports, while hiding in a pit, where they had taken refuge to escape the bullets.Nor was this an isolated occurrence. The Ludlow massacre is a defining metaphor. Rockefeller’s tactics, and those of earlier Robber Barons, epitomise America in transition.
In U.S. history classes, it is grilled into the young, that these ruthless men—the Robber Barons— were shaping America: That the suffering and social upheavals of the era, are “the price of greatness”.
So it was, in the formative years of the U.S.A.; and so it is with Nigeria now. Like America in the days of Vanderbilt and Rockefeller, Nigeria is an evolving nation, working out its destiny.
But Nigeria is, by comparison, an infant state. When the Robber Barons arrived on the scene, the U.S.A. had already been evolving for 300 years—with nearly a century of independence behind it.
Taking this disparity into account—which foreign detractors and domestic critics rarely do—Nigeria comes off quite well.Domestic critics make much ado about election irregularities, for example. But while their concerns are understandable, this does not represent any kind of “Nigerian factor.”
Technology makes the rigging of elections difficult in the U.S.A. Yet the buying and selling of votes, is very much a part of the political process in that country.Americans often refer to the speech-making tours of politicians, seeking election, as the “fried chicken circuit.”
But this is a euphemism. I can infer, quite confidently, from personal experience, that a lot more than fried chicken, is dished out at those rallies!
“Necessity,” they say, “is the mother of invention.” If the U.S.A.’s experience with toll collectors is anything to go by, the introduction of voting machines was probably a response to election rigging.
Corruption was certainly a factor, in the automation of toll booths on expressways in the northeast—where collectors used to print their own tickets, hand them out to drivers and bank the money.
I have focused on the United States of America, because that’s the country whose social situation I know best, from study and personal experience.
My visits to Britain, Spain and France, in the 1960s, were too short to yield much insight into social mores—except that I left France, convinced that Paris had the world’s most corrupt taxi drivers!
Copping with corruption is part of the process of maturation that is common to most countries. Nigeria’s foreign detractors know this.
Ex-Prime Minister, David Cameron, certainly does. He knows that the activities of organised crime in the U.S.A. (and probably Britain), makes malfeasance in Nigeria pale into insignificance.
Even as Cameron impugned Nigeria’s national character, for example, he could hardly have been unaware of the U.S. Wachovia and Wells Fargo Bank scandals.
The first instance, involved over $380 billion in laundered Mexican drug money, while Wells Fargo was forced into a $1.2 billion settlement for fraudulent mortgage transactions.
Indeed, a few years ago, the editor of “Money Launder Alert,” a U.S. newsletter, told the Voice of America that the New York Stock Exchange alone harbours more than $500 billion in stolen money.
I am not “justifying” corruption in this country. But Nigerian policy makers would be well-advised, to stop allowing Western diplomats and political leaders to keep them on the defensive.
Intellectuals, activists and social critics, need to stop acquiescing in assaults on their nation’s image—most of which are ill-intended, and anything but “objective.”
They don’t seem to understand that the self-esteem of Africa’s descendants everywhere, is inseparable from the image of Nigeria. Trashing the state, offends the Black World.
Western diplomats and political leaders—especially in countries with large Africa-derived populations—are fully aware of this, even if most Nigerians aren’t.
By casting aspersions at Nigeria, Cameron had much more in mind than putting President Buhari on the defensive.
When he, or any other Western commentator, does this, they are making the political equivalent of a “Bankshot”—in which a ball is ricocheted into a net or the pocket of a billiard table.
These commentators are bouncing their slurs off Nigeria. But their target is the Black race. In other words, the indictment of the Nigerian state is an act of symbolic racial aggression.
Another objective, of course, is destabilisation. The very existence of Nigeria threatens the strategic interests of certain industrialised states.
Note carefully, the sequence of events. Repeated references to Nigeria, as one of the world’s most corrupt countries, dovetail into several years of ludicrous sing-song about it being a “failed state.”
This has the obvious imprint of an orchestrated sequence: A carefully executed campaign of psychological warfare.Its aim, can only be to promote disenchantment and weaken the foundations of the state.
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