The way to national recovery
It is no longer news that the Nigerian economy is in recession. The consequential human suffering, hardship and pervasive poverty among the Nigerian populace is also a given. Corruption has been generally acknowledged as the cause of the economic woes of the country, but what has not been similarly identified and agreed upon is the reason we as a people became so grossly corrupt to have, jointly and severally, wantonly plundered our nation.
There was a windfall of oil revenue, which in its utter abundance robbed our leaders of the motivation for leadership ingenuity and turned them into indolent rent seekers. The backdrop of military autocracy and absolutism, finagled our leadership psyche with a culture of impunity that dealt a fatal blow to the principles of accountability and the rule of law. So much money in the hands of irresponsible and unaccountable leaders engendered the penchant for avarice; thus governance positions became synonymous with exponential and dizzying ostentation and profligacy. It was at this unfortunate juncture in our historical narrative that we lost direction, and derailed from the vision of our ‘heroes past’ – the champions of our independence. The more successive stole from the national treasury the more they impoverished and subjugated the people, and thus invented a regime of neo-colonialism against their own people.
Thus a new orientation, absolutely and completely averse to the concept of leadership as service to the people, was enthroned. The values of altruism, patriotism, service, accountability, resourcefulness, prudence and modesty consequently became eroded in the idea of leadership and public service. Therefore, political and public service positions became extremely attractive. This is why partisan politics in Nigeria is devoid of any ideology, and people identify with political parties just as platforms to scale through elections and clinch power. Winning elections is hence a do or die affair – monumental state and personal resources are channeled towards the quest to win or rig elections at all cost. Youths are armed to assassinate political opponents or commandeer ballot boxes; and sometimes diabolical rituals and covenants are performed or entered into all in the bid to acquire political power. All these absurd extremities are considered fair game by the desperate candidates because of the high stake.
The Nigerian civil service is similarly afflicted by the same virus of perverted value system. There is very little discipline and effectiveness in the civil service. Monumental resources are injected into the service, with very little output relative to the resources. Civil servants often expect so much for doing so little. Lateness, absenteeism and early closure from work are the order of the day. Ghost workers in some MDAs are often more populous than the real workers. The public they are meant to serve are often treated with ignominy, or compulsorily required to pay tangible tips before a civil servant would render the same service he or she is being paid for. This attitude is rife in public service because staffers, regardless of their level of education or grade in the service, wish to meet up with the pervasive Nigerian pen-chant for materialism, consumerism, class and showoffism.
Those in business are not left behind, hence the proliferation of fake, and expired products in the Nigerian markets because the business moguls are desperate to make astronomical profits and therefore able to partake of the ostentatious lifestyle institutionalised by our leaders. In the education sector, the language of teachers reward being in heaven is now a taboo, and rightly so. But then in a bid to secure their rewards here on earth, the teachers delve into sordid and outrageous practices. In the universities especially, the open secret is that you purchase whatever grade you want in cash or in kind – i.e. money or sex for mark. The corporate world in Nigeria on its part, is fraught with fraud, malpractices and unbridled competition. Consumers of products and services are arrantly swindled because the corporate bodies want to maximise profit at all cost and yield massive returns to their executives. Expensive advertisements on CNN have now become the exclusive preserve of Nigerian corporate entities even whilst their corporate social responsibilities are virtually left unattended.
The religious institutions are not exempt from this value negation. Leaders of faith in Nigeria preach prosperity and often come too close to placing curses on those who refuse to pay tithes or donate generously to ‘God’. The church in Nigeria has virtually departed from its mandate to identify with and show charity to the poor. The church is awash with greedy and materialistic ‘men and women of God’ who understand only the language of money. Far be it from them to question the source of any money – the refrain always is ‘God loves a cheerful giver’. The pastor, priest or bishop only maintains close alliance and friendship with the rich members of his congregation. If the rich man is celebrating or dies, the Bishop will surely be in attendance, but if the poor man is celebrating or dies, regardless of his commitment to the church, the Bishop will be too busy to attend. In my dear Catholic church for instance, no matter how poor a dead person was, his or her debts in the church must be cleared before the church can accord him or her a Christian burial.
The crime industry in Nigeria is peopled to some degree by unemployed graduates and youths who feel aggrieved by the wanton social injustice in the country.
The change must begin with our leaders! We must make political offices in Nigeria less attractive, and put in place more robust constitutional checks and balances to make for greater accountability of public office holders. Those who speak the language of change must be prepared and willing to walk the talk.
We must learn to question the source and trajectory of wealth – to renounce and investigate inexplicable accumulation of wealth, and where they are found to have been corruptly or criminally amassed, bring the full wrath of the law to bear on the culprits. Those who commit crimes overseas and run back to Nigeria to spend such money should be tracked down by the law enforcement agencies, prosecuted here or repatriated to the locus of their crimes to face trial and punishment. In so doing, we will not only begin to positively transform our national value system and orientation, but will also gradually begin to salvage the battered image of Nigeria in the international community.
• Francis Chigozie Moneke, is Executive Director, Human Rights and Empowerment Project Ltd/Gte (HREP).