By Donu Kogbara
LAST week, while I was discussing the ongoing quarrel between the DG of the Securities & Exchange Commission (Ms Arunma Oteh) and the Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Capital Markets (Hon. Herman Hembe), I said I was bored by the whole drama and made the following remarks:
“As these two senior public servants sling all manner of bribery-related allegations at each other, the question that keeps reverberating through my world-weary mind is: “Who Cares Who Offered Whom What And Why?”
Yes, it has finally happened, Dear Vanguard Readers! I have been exposed to the relentlessly corrupt atmosphere in this country for so long that I am no longer shocked – or even remotely interested in the minutiae – when I hear government officials being accused of giving and/or receiving bribes…”
I explained my attitude by pointing out that corruption is so deeply embedded in Nigerian society that anyone who isn’t corrupt is widely regarded as stupid rather than admirable…and that I have been punished rather than rewarded for not corruptly enriching myself when I was in government…
…and that I’d recently advised a young civil servant cousin of mine against defying his boss (whom he’d accused of unethical conduct) because rebelling against powerful people and their institutionalized wuru-wuru simply doesn’t pay here; and I don’t want my kith and kin to go through what I have been through.
Much to my surprise, several readers wrote to tell me how disappointed they were in me for giving my cousin “bad” advice. I was also roundly told off for saying that there have been times when I have bleakly concluded that I must have been insane to leave my ministerial aide job with near-empty pockets. Then there were those who didn’t criticize me and just touchingly declared that they believe that I am highly principled by nature and will be very sad if I change.
Why did these reactions surprise me?
Because I didn’t realize that so many Nigerians are so passionately and genuinely convinced that one must be scrupulously straightforward at all times, no matter what the personal cost. I’m used to being told that honesty is the best policy in an ideal world, but not realistic in this corner of the globe.
I am used to being informed that I should grow up and wise up and never repeat my “foolish mistake” if I am ever again invited to chop from a juicy government pot! I am used to being assured – when I complain about normal problems like the struggle to pay school fees or rent – that I don’t deserve help because it is entirely my fault that I am not a billionaires who owns 20 huge houses in choice locations and can easily provide her offspring with an expensive education.
So when I indicated that I’d started to take corruption for granted and occasionally regret my failure to exploit my government job and have tried to protect my cousin from the traumas that are routinely inflicted on those who possess integrity, I expected a barrage of “I don’t blame you” texts and emails.
But I didn’t receive a single approving email or text! Nobody who contacted me said stuff like “Life is hard, so do whatever you can to survive and thrive.” And I’m actually extremely pleased, on reflection, that so many Vanguard readers were unimpressed and upset by my comments. It means that uncompromising moral rectitude is not as scarce as I’d hitherto assumed and that there is hope.
For what it’s worth, let me promise those who kindly regard me as a role model – and shining beacon of light in an environment that has been darkened by endemic dubiousness – that I never really intended to suddenly become a thief!
I was just saying that we are all human and that when you receive insult after insult because your bank account is not stuffed with ill-gotten gains – and see folks who have looted the Treasury without conscience being hailed – you can be forgiven for beginning to wonder why you bothered to do the right thing.
Having said all this, I can afford to stubbornly cling to my preference for integrity because I am not trapped. I was trained abroad, have lots of influential foreign pals and can earn a living in any English-speaking nation.
But my cousin isn’t as lucky as I am; and I’m unrepentantly and absolutely sure that I gave him correct advice, given the circumstances he’s battling with.
He doesn’t have much spare cash. He doesn’t have the option of taking off to the UK or US or Canada or wherever if Nigeria becomes impossible.
Challenging his oga
Meanwhile, the relatives and friends he is closest to are not swimming in excess funds and can’t bail him out sufficiently if he runs out of money. So what will happen to the poor boy if he is thrown out because he dared to challenge his Oga?
Would those of you who have urged me to urge him to take suicidal risks be as valiant as they want him to be if they were in his shoes? Do all of you make trouble in your workplaces whenever your superiors inflict irregularities on you and your organisations? Will any of you be willing or able to provide my cousin with sustenance if he joins the teeming unemployed masses?
I doubt it!
Is it not somewhat dishonourable and disingenuous to insist that others embrace martyrdom when you know that you cannot be equally courageous or that you can’t or won’t generously bankroll them if they fall on hard times?!
DR. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, our Minister of Finance, has just been nominated for the soon-to-be-vacant top slot at the World Bank in Washington.
I’ve heard and seen various distinguished individuals describing her as a good candidate on various international TV channels. And, sure, it is also being said that she probably won’t get the job because the Americans – who are the main funders of the World Bank – always want one of their own to sit in that seat.
But isn’t it just so amazingly fantastic that so many serious international analysts think that a Nigerian and black woman is worthy of such an elevated position? How many citizens of this country are respected outside this country?
We should all – President Jonathan included – be exceedingly proud of Our Girl.