Sir, In the natural order of newsworthiness, the higher the standing of a public officer, the more heft his words would have and consequently the more damage they can cause. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) recently found itself scrambling into a damage limitation operation over comments attributed to its Chairman Ibrahim Magu who allegedly said that the deadly coronavirus sweeping many countries of the world was a result of corruption. Now, whether Magus said it or not would remain an object of debate in a country where the wide reach of social media has spread the epidemic of fake news like wild fire.
This epidemic can, however, be no justification for the much-maligned Social Media Bill. In that bill, Nigerians can clearly hear the voice of their enemies. The storm around Magu`s alleged linking of the coronavirus to corruption brings to mind a former Governor of Zamfara State who was overwhelmed by the scourge of meningitis then rampaging the State attributed it to sin.
Now, over steaming bowls of pepper soup and frothing cups of palm wine in drinking joints, a lot can be said and ignored. However, where the setting is a public office, the speaker a public officer and the occasion public affairs, delicate care must accompany every word lest Nigerians be insulted. As a result of gross mischief on the part of elements of chaos that inevitably form part of every society, words from public office holders are usually driven out of context and embellished to whip up emotions and upset the delicate balance of the society.
Nigeria`s balance could not be more delicate than at this moment. Yet, there is a reason Nigerians are more likely to believe rather than dismiss derogatory comments attributed to public office holders. It is because leadership has been a bad struggle in Nigeria. Nigeria has had unsavoury experiences with people who rise from obscurity to assume power.
These people, quickly overwhelmed by the insane power of the average Nigerian public office, soon get intoxicated. In this state of being drunk with power, most of them talk before they think, leaving Nigerians scandalized and traumatized by their opinions which can have far-reaching effects. In their more sober states, they send out their hapless media aides to mop up after them and do damage limitation. The more defiant among them thumb their noses in defiance.
Nigerians have had long and sour experiences with people that grovel before them during elections but who once in power replace their ill-fitting borrowed robes of humility and altruism with the expensive and expansive garments of contempt and condescension towards the Nigerian people. Magu`s time atop Nigeria`s main anti-corruption agency has been a largely tortuous one. He has been caught in different battles from the beginning. He continues to head the EFCC in an acting capacity today because the last Senate exercised its powers of rejection against him multiple times until the presidency grew weary of what it dismissed as politics. Nigerians are divided in their opinions about Magu`s performance.
He has remained under huge pressure from the presidency to deliver on one of the president`s key promises. Those who are close to him tout him as a man of uncompromising integrity. But a lot of grey areas remain. He must watch his words more closely. If indeed he said what has been attributed to him, he would only have been continuing his employer`s policy of rubbing salt into Nigerian wounds directly or by proxy for it was not long ago that long suffering Nigerian youths were dismissed as lazy. As Nigeria burns, those who should put out the fires cannot afford the luxury of a rat race.
Kene Obiezu wrote from Abuja.
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