By Adeola Aderounmu
(The Guardian, 9-11-2002)
THE problems in Nigeria are becoming too numerous to elucidate and an encounter with a typical Nigerian shows that many have resigned to fate for the solution to Nigeria’s problem if it will ever come. I have not stopped telling people that we can pray for now till eternity and Nigeria will get worse. We can have more churches than the Vatican city and more mosques than the Kingdom of Arabia and the standard of our lives will continue to drop and our worries multiply. It is not enough to pray, nay, but to act and take positive steps that will show that we are serious to help ourselves as a people and then heaven will help those who help themselves. Perhaps we are yet to realise that religion is one of our weaknesses, not because of upheavals attached to it, but because we always turn to God for help rather than demand our rights and privileges from those who rule us unjustly either by force or by deceiving us to get our votes. They are aware that we will not ask them, so they always take us for a ride. Despite all that has been over-flogged on the issue of corruption, is it not amazing that there are still sacred cows in the past and present dispensations?
One of the things that has constantly exposed us to the politicians and ex-military public office holders who constantly parade themselves around the corridors of power to loot and steal, is the inability of a neutral and genuine regulatory body to expose corruption and probe such when they are in or our of office. As a matter of fact, in advanced countries and in places where democracy is conventional (not home-grown), it is a matter of honour for a man or woman to resign or serve suspension when faced with speculations or allegations of impropriety in whatever form. The subsequent inquiry will make or mar such a soul. His image is dented forever. The immediate past President of America knows what it is to walk around with the life-long stigma of his former intern.
In Nigeria and maybe in our part of the world, people steal from us, we know it and they still come back to steal again. Hardly does anyone quit office even in the face of alleged or obvious financial misappropriation of funds and exaggeration of estacodes. This baffles me. Is there no way we can arraign all the former military and civilian public officers to come and give an account of their stewardship in office? Is it too late? Could there be so much silence and cover-ups because everybody who goes there steals? Is it a way to keep Nigeria one at the expense of the suffering masses? Is there no law against stealing, self-enrichment through public funds and corruption? Are there no provisions for these in our constitution? Those who are the custodians of our constitution owe us an explanation if we are not to take them as accomplices. Besides, because we have refused to ask them, some have summoned the courage to stage a return to our lives. Someone looted for eight years and even refused till date to tell us where the windfall of the gulf war is. Almost invariably, these rogues don’t act alone, they use our money to confuse a few accomplices who clear the terrain for them when the need arises. Some of us directly and indirectly are beneficiaries of these looted funds and therefore prefer to keep mute and act as if everything is in order.
If we must discourage looting of public funds or tax-payer’s money, then offenders should not only be removed or impeached from offices but also be made to refund until the last kobo and serve appropriate jail terms as dictated by the constitution. Some people should not be above the law. If the policemen involved in the Otokoto saga could face judgement, what happens to those who did worse things while in power? Are some human beings in Nigeria more equal than the others? Whatever happened to the funds recently recovered from the family of a former dictator, maybe it also ended in a new private account: who knows? Such money should have been dedicated to obvious public utility for posterity to see. The unarguable reality on ground is that the path to glory for Nigeria would mean a collective fight on all frontiers of our lives. We cannot afford to leave any stone unturned all in the name of national reconciliation; this will be a license to continuous looting of our treasury be it at the local or national level.
The handwriting on the wall is very legible right now with the hustling and race to government houses in the forthcoming elections. We have seen councillors who built houses in the last three years, we know those who used the present opportunity to travel to holy lands using taxpayers money. We have lost count of the numbers of cars that some politicians own. A House of representatives member bought GSM phones for the “powers that be” in his ward. Before now, he had disappeared and was out of reach of the people who voted for him.
Unless we check the abusive use of public money and privileges, politicians in this country will never know what it means to serve the people. It is about time the judiciary took its rightful diligent place in the present dispensation and a well-oriented police force will be a useful tool in this regard. The essence of our lives is being eroded, it must stop and we must start from somewhere.