You get a call from a Big Man who is kindhearted, or has been told remarkable things about you. He invites you over. You honour the invitation and there is a job offer. For you. No competition. No stated qualification. No test.
“I just like you!” Just like that.
In the past few months, three of such privileges came my way. And because I have a pending contract, I recommended ‘deserving’ friends – my own contribution to the corruption. God forgive me. None was considered. One response was classic: “Gimba, if I need just anybody I would’ve advertised this vacancy in a national daily!”
And this is the reason I get hurt anytime I read Nigerian public servants boasting about their exceptionalities, and what made them the best of a pack, in memoirs and authorised biographies. Nigeria is a fount of incredibly educated and talented people, and whoever makes it to the top should, at least for honesty’s sake, not romanticise such privilege or consider it proof that s/he is the best. We have all benefited from the corruption of this dysfunctional country in ways we may never wish to admit in public.
Any attempt by a citizen to portray his/her rise as an act of incomparable genius makes me sick. This is the reason I’m yet to forgive Mallam Nasir El-Rufai’s embarrassing masturbations in his terribly written memoirs. For a man who, before opportunism favoured and attracted him to public service, had never worked in an organisation where promotions are competitive – a man who, in a critical sense, may never pass for a technocrat – to have such audacity to boast is disquieting. We are all El-Rufais, local champions whose membership of, or fraternity with, a clique, ethnicity, religion and region, may bring good things.
But there’s always an understandable denial among Nigerians – most are quick to state that they have never benefitted from the system. This is understandable. Corruption is evil. And for fears of the strength of its destructive influence, we deny the benefits to protect our integrity. What we do not acknowledge is, we’re psychologically prone to be flippant or disregard the law in a system where impunity is easily acquired. And you don’t need Freud to tell you that. Scientifically, it’s impossible to not, even if unintentionally, be a scofflaw where laws are not enforced.
Sometimes, as a law-abiding citizen, you find yourself in a fix where obedience is not even possible. You visit a federal ministry to have a document stamped and you’re told the officer in charge is not available. You return the following day, there’s still nobody to attend to you. After many futile visits, you dial a relative who knows the man who knows a head of the ministry, and voila! your misery ends, and the others who have no “powerful” somebody to intervene in their case, the others who have been frequenting the same ministry for similar purpose, remain frustrated by that institutional collapse. Almost all government institutions are dominated by the relatives and children of the friends of the head, and only a few are variables of our federal character principles. In a sane country, the next step, after weeks of futile visits, may be to report the said ministry or officer to a relevant authority. But we know our system; heading to another government institution to report a dysfunctional one may be a more frustrating experience!
The questions to ask our citified saints of denial are: did you go to the VIO office and then hit the road with the officers to test your driving skill – in applying for your Driver’s Licence as required by the law? Wait, did you even obtain a Learner’s Permit before being on the wheel to learn how to drive? How often have you delayed payments of your electricity bills – knowing you can beg or bribe when the marshals show up to disconnect your supply? How up to date is your tax record? Have your ever driven a car without, or with an expired, licence? When, say, policemen, stop you for a wrong, do you not say “Abeg, Officer” just to be let go?
Many of us use company property, especially cars, for personal and unofficial activities, abusing trust, perpetrating corruption. Please let’s be true to ourselves. Yes, as long as Nigeria is dysfunctional, we will all benefit from the system as much as it destroys us. The only difference here is, benefits are of various proportions.
Fellow countrymen in the villages whose benefits should be minimal for little or no relationship with the Law have shown us their sides of the civic sin in their vulnerability to monetary inducements by politicians during election campaigns. We have also seen how they subject themselves to accepting gifts instead of demanding for executions of promised projects by their political representatives. The statistical power of compromised Nigerians is not a proof that we’re genetically criminal; it’s just a statement that ours is a morally knocked down country!
Sometime in December last year, a friend contacted me on Facebook, said flattering things about my column and that his father has all of my essays printed out. He gave me the Dad’s number, that the old man would like to discuss with me. The old man, in his 60s, called, and we discussed almost 16 of my articles on, and with passing references to, moral corruption, corporate corruption, spiritual corruption and whatnot. At the end, he asked, “Do you fear that you’ll be corrupt if you ever find yourself managing public funds?”
“Yes,” I said.
“The people are not the trouble with Nigeria, it’s the system. Our institutions are so slimy that even a saint won’t come out of one unstained. Our sensitivity to gaining impunity on mismanaging funds encourages corruption. It’s a system that has turned an average good Nigerian into a psychological criminal or so to say. We are humans and we have our needs, and the pressure is always high in a prebendal system. Every Nigerian is potentially corrupt in a system where due process is perceived as the way of the politically naive!”
And I stand by those words; the only way to repair this country is by establishing a functional judiciary, adopting and enforcing rigid laws, and effecting capital punishment for the heavily corrupt.
It won’t be harsh to have a man who stole a hundred million naira dangling from the hangman’s noose. And many of us, as my big brother once highlighted, may suffer the day Nigeria starts functioning like a decent nation of “upright men.” May God save us from us!
By Gimba Kakanda
@gimbakakanda on Twitter