Chief Asara Asara, a South-South political chieftain and federal government delegate to the 2014 National Conference can never be forgotten in a hurry by conference delegates.
At plenary on a particular day, he threw the entire conference into prolonged laughter with his “Only in Nigeria” mantra. He reeled out a long list of unbecoming things that happen “only in Nigeria”. He would either start with “It is only in Nigeria that….” or end with “…only in Nigeria.” Sometimes he will be dramatic, stretching both arms wide and raising his voice, “Only in Nigeria o”, and then lower his arms and voice, and add, “Only in Nigeria!”
The irony was that when the time allowed him to speak was up, he was still talking, in spite of the time-keeper’s repeated signal. That prompted the Conference Chairman, Justice Idris Kutigi, to intervene with “it is only in Nigeria that when the time is up, someone is still talking; only in Nigeria!” Although it provoked a prolonged laughter, the joke was not lost on the delegates that it typified the Nigerian situation. We complain about others even when we are cast in worst moulds.
In the last one week when the Godswill Akpabio versus Joi Nunieh episode hit the theatre, the hysteric public has been agog with all sorts of commentaries and reviews – some cosmetic, some caustic. It is blockbuster time in Nigeria as one big screen event after the other comes to the theatre in quick succession. Penultimate week, it was the Ibrahim Magu Show; and you would have noticed that it was the same movie critics that were, and still, reviewing the epics with scathing commentaries. They get excited that the events are turning out the way they have; and try to justify their predictions which may not have been borne out of any empirical or spiritual engagement but more from a mindset.
The issue here is not that these events took the turn they did or that commentaries are completely unnecessary or irrelevant, it is that the public seem to be carried away by the hysteria of the critics rather than the real challenge or the embedded intrigues about the events. Yes, the issues thrown up by both incidents are good enough for public discourse, but the angle of concentration seem to eclipse the main issues involved. It normally provides an avenue for vested interests and dubious characters not just to hide under, but pontificate on issues which they would ordinarily be hiding their soiled faces in shame. These characters take the Nigerian public for granted and often get away with it because of our indulgences.
When the Magu saga came up, those who have pending cases with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) not only celebrated that the chairman of the commission is being investigated, but started sermonising about the pervasiveness of corruption in high places. They made it look as if the incident had suddenly cleared the allegations hanging on their own necks. They pranced around shamelessly granting press interviews, issuing press releases and spending all the time they could afford pumping their social media handles. Even those who saw financial recklessness as an apostle’s creed went to town and asked not only for Magu’s head on the platter but painted the anti-corruption campaign in unflattering colours.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with people taking a swipe at wrong doings but there is absolutely something wrong with joining dubious characters to celebrate the taking down of a law officer. It might seem natural for people to rejoice at the fall of their nemesis but there seem to be something wrong in a decent society if attention seekers are given underserved consideration. They do not deserve the celebrity toga they often covet; neither should they be indulged while playing the victim card until they are properly cleared of allegations against them. If they decide to see themselves as victims, that should be their own cup of tea.
If we must quit this perennial wailing about corruption in our public establishments, we must face the real issues and give only passive glances to deliberately orchestrated distractions. It gets on the off-side when someone accused of, and is actually being tried for corruption or any financial crime for that matter, tries to preach about the issue pointing to another “culprit”; and pretending to be either a saint or a scape-goat. It is worse when people payattention instead of asking him to shut up and face his own case. It is sickening!
Probably the reason why things do not seem to work well in this country is because the people themselves do not actually know what they want and so get pulled by the nose by those who do; even if for selfish purposes. Ordinarily, Magu’s investigation, whether the motive is genuine or contrived, would have been a pointer in the direction that no one is above the law, as far as the anti-corruption war is concerned; but the same people who have all along been talking about sectional and selective prosecution of the campaign are the same now talking about the current administration’s proclivity with using and dumping its functionaries. They are the ones sarcastically pointing to the corruption-infested nature of the government.
The suspended EFCC chairman may have danced into the “sacred places of the most high” and should contend with the “shadow of the almighty” now on his back, but it is rather unfortunate that an allegation is now being treated as indictment in our clime. From the orchestrated media swipes, one would think Magu has been convicted already and is on his way to Kuje, Kirikiri or Gashua. Meanwhile investigations are still on-going and the trial panel has yet not issued any official statement on the matter. This is a panel sitting in camera. In Nigeria today, once allegations are made, the suspect is ‘guilty as alleged’. Even if he is cleared eventually, it doesn’t change the position in the minds of those who passed the guilty verdict.
To worsen the case, if an accused is suspended from office while investigation is on-going, the public verdict is obvious. It does not matter that it has always been the demand of the same critical public that anyone accused of any act of infringement must be asked to step down from the position pending the conclusion of the matter. It has now become a situation of “damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”
It is not just a matter of opinion, it portends something more sinister. It shows the criticisms are just for the sake of it, not because of any genuine inclination to sanitise the system or correct anomalies. No society is free of corrupt tendencies; the push to deal with the situation is what counts for good. It is only a permissive society that looks the other when infractions are gnawing at its ribs, just to avoid being labelled. The “name and shame” mantra is an anathema in such societies. Any attempt therefore to deal with untoward tendencies, no matter how feeble, must be encouraged for the good of the larger society.
On a very serious note, the issues regarding the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) should not be allowed to be eclipsed by the side-event of the Akpabio/Nunieh trailer. The Nunieh drama smells like a deliberate attempt by some persons to take attention away from the very critical issue of mindless plundering that has bedevilled the Commission for decades. Each time there is an attempt to look into the sleaze in the establishment, some comic shows will be enacted to divert attention from the main issue. What is going on between Joi Nunieh, a former acting Managing Director of NDDC and Senator Godswill Akpabio, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, is just a distraction and it should be treated as such. The main issues should not be allowed to fizzle out.
There are a number of very serious issues about the NDDC and the Niger Delta situation than the shenanigans of two old folks talking about sexual harassment and marrying a battalion of husbands. The NDDC has been bleeding seriously and the Niger Delta region has been feeling the pangs. Unfortunately, all the characters in the destructive escapades are Niger Deltans. The producers and actors of the comedies that follow are Niger Deltans. Those who are sponsoring, assisting, hailing and protecting them are Niger Deltans and those suffering are equally Niger Deltans; so who is going to help the Niger Deltans when unfortunately the spectators in the circus are also more interested in the drama than the main theme – corruption!
There is the issue of the ransacking of the stores of the Commission by successive managements and their acolytes, for which government has instituted a forensic auditing of financial activities. There is also the alleged squandermania by the Interim Management Committee (IMC) for which the National Assembly is investigating. There is also the alleged unholy interference of the supervising Ministry in the activities of the Commission. These are the main issues that should be given deserving attention.
Incidentally it seems those whose hands are sullied in the whole saga are the ones behind the comedies, to take attention away from the main issue. The main issues should be brought back to the front burner while the side events should be treated as such.
A section of the media seem to be having a field day and like the unsuspecting crowd, they have abandoned the sense of interrogation and watch dog role and have joined the puppy dogs in scrounging for the cookies. It could be a pretty dangerous situation for the society if the hangman wields both the noose and the pen. It might be debatable if the pen is still mightier than the sword but it is pretty clear that the hangman’s gesture is adulterating the ink in the pen.
The plunderers know they can always get away with blue murder; that is why they indulge. They have made escapades look like fanfares because there are always a conglomeration of cheerleaders and spectators. They have guardians who will issue threats at the slightest indication. The guardians vow to protect their own against any adversary. There seem to be no serious attention on the implications. For how long will we continue to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land! We complain and do nothing! When an opportunity presents itself for accountability, we hug inanities.
In both the EFCC and NDDC cases, what Nigerians should be more interested in should be the speedy and diligent handling of the main matters and the significance of their outcomes instead of the orchestrated distractions deliberately pushed by vested interests to divert attention and provide them with escape routes as usual.
Until we stop glorifying inanities and face our collective challenges, these pests who have made our heritage their farmlands will continue to plunder our commonwealth and invite our feeble frames to watch circus shows and applaud their shameless display of tantrums and character deficiencies.
• James, a communications consultant, lives in Abuja