Almost every Nigerian I’ve met knows what is wrong with the country and what needs to be done. The challenge, however, is that no one seems ready to lift a finger. We are mostly like the signpost pointing out directions to others but will itself never go there. Put simply, pious pronouncements are not backed with positive action.
A prominent media-friendly Nigerian economist said to me recently in an interview, “In many cases you have people who preach something but think others should live it, so long as they can manage the easy gains. There are too many people who say, ‘Look, we must follow the rules except where it concerns me’. And once you yourself are willing to break the rules, rules won’t hold.”
That’s the feeling you get when you hear, “Let’s diversify the economy”. A top Nigerian businessman said recently that he started hearing talks about “diversifying our economy” long before he understood what “diversification” meant. Now politicians flaunt it as if it’s a freshly-minted word. Can we just stop talking, really, and begin to diversify?
The other word is corruption. Richard Quest, the CNN anchor, during his short visit to the country last month said virtually every Nigerian he spoke with agreed that the greatest single most important problem holding the country down was corruption.
Of course, that’s nothing new. We’ve known that all along. President Muhammadu Buhari told us in 2015 that “if we don’t kill corruption, this corruption will kill us”. Every military adventurist in this country used it to justify change of power by the barrel of the gun.
In ‘The Trouble with Nigeria’ published 34 years ago, Chinua Achebe told us that “corruption in Nigeria has passed the alarming and entered the fatal stage; and Nigeria will die if we keep pretending that she is only slightly indisposed”.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in a 2014 letter to the then President Goodluck Jonathan entitled “Before it is too late”, said, “Corruption has reached the level of impunity. It is also necessary to be mindful that corruption and injustice are fertile breeding ground for terrorism and political instability. And if you are not ready to name, shame, prosecute and stoutly fight against corruption, whatever you do will be hollow. It will be a laughing matter.”
Both Obasanjo and Buhari have had the opportunity to nail the coffin of corruption in this country, what did they do with it? Buhari still has the floor, what is he doing with it?
Now Dino Melaye, the controversial but funky senator from Kogi State who likes to rub his opulence in the faces of his mostly poverty-stricken young followers on social media by sharing photos of his lavish lifestyle, has authored a 14-chapter, 600-page epistle called ‘Antidotes for Corruption: the Nigerian Story’. He may yet be the modern-day Paul of Tarsus. But while Paul lived out his teachings, it will be hard to convince even a corrupt judge that Dino’s lifestyle is an exemplary one.
The other thing is to know how much of this antidote the senator and his colleagues in the National Assembly have taken. That’s what they do in medicine. When a new drug sample is manufactured, you don’t just introduce it for public use; it first undergoes series of clinical trials for efficacy, side/adverse effects and other concerns. That was why Z-Mapp wasn’t readily used on Ebola patients when that deadly fever ravaged parts of Africa in 2014. And the place to start these trials should have been the National Assembly where many believe corruption has built an estate. Or perhaps Brother Dino actually meant ‘Antidotes for Anti-Corruption’?
The book launch pulled crowd, not unexpectedly. Senate President Bukola Saraki, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, House of Reps Speaker Yakubu Dogara, former First Lady Patience Jonathan, FCT Minister Bello Mohammed, Labour and Productivity Minister Chris Ngige, former Senate President Anyim Pius Anyim, former Speaker Ghali Umar Na’Abba, serving and past members of the National Assembly, among others.
However, Femi Odekunle, a professor and member of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), who was billed to give the keynote speech, stayed away. Two days later, Odekunle said on Channels TV’s Sunrise Daily that he didn’t attend because the event was a “gathering of deplorables” as many of the attendees had corruption cases hanging on their necks. Attending would have meant conferring credibility on fraud and corruption.
Notwithstanding, I salute the senator’s courage to even write at all. Never mind that in sending out invitation on his Instagram page, Dino Melaye actually wrote “luaunh” instead of “launch”, prompting one “mischief-maker” to say that if the senator couldn’t spell “launch” correctly he wouldn’t bother reading the book because he already had a glimpse of what the content would be.
I’ve always held the view that, for the benefit of posterity, everyone who has held a position of authority or who was a major actor in a particular historical event owes the society a moral obligation to document their experiences or narrate their own versions of that particular episode detailing, even if from their narrow prisms, the part they and other actors around them played in the specific event at issue.
That was what Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu partly did in ‘Because I am Involved’; that was what Obasanjo did in ‘My Command’ (1980), ‘Nzeogwu’ (1987), ‘Not My Will’ (1990), and ‘My Watch’; that was what Adewale Ademoyega did in ‘Why We Struck: The Story of the First Nigerian Coup’; that was what Fola Oyewole did in ‘The Reluctant Rebel’; that was what Achebe did in ‘There was a Country’; that was what innumerable other Nigerians who have been part of the making of the history of this nation and who have documented their accounts have tried to do.
Whether these books present the true accounts of the events as they happened, it is left for the professional historian to decide. When he eventually goes to work using these different accounts as useful raw materials, he will apply the tools of historiography to study, analyse, synthesise, compare notes, filter, interpret, reinterpret and check these materials against other available sources in order, ultimately, to present what comes close to objective history – for truly, objective history is a costly, scarce commodity.
But now that we hear that Brother Dino has pegged the price of a hardback copy of the book at N50,000, how can a poor, struggling journalist or historian get a copy? May we not be compelled to be corrupt to be able to afford a book that teaches us how not to be corrupt. Let somebody shout a louder Amen!