By Ogaga Ifowodo
CHANCES are that you have read the executive summary of the report of the House of Representatives committee on fuel subsidy led by the now-disgraced Farouk Lawan.
If at this point where Lawan’s name evokes greed rather than glory I choose to return to the laudable report, it is because I would like us to ponder, as scandal yields further scandal, the cause of the swift transformation of the honourable representative from hero to villain.
What, I ask, explains this singular act of self-destruction beyond sheer greed or the catch-all word, corruption? After all, Lawan, an old hand in the House, was no stranger to the snakes-and-ladders, cloak-and-dagger, nature of the corruption game.
Especially in the lower chamber of the odious National Assembly where he is reputed to have been one of the voices that booed its first female speaker, Mrs Patricia Etteh, out of office for possessing in equal measure ignorance, lack of integrity and a grasping impulse.
One might even say that the swiftness of Lawan’s fall has something of Greek tragedy in it — the gods tripping him for their sport.
Yet, ironically enough, the best explanation for Lawan’s self-immolation comes from his own report on “endemic corruption” in the oil sector. Which means an explanation of the rot that has overtaken Nigeria from head to tail, like the proverbial fish — seeing that oil is Nigeria and Nigeria oil (you can save the pretence of nationhood for political speeches and the social studies textbooks).
In paragraph seven of the summary report, Lawan informs us as follows: “Curiously … the particular Accountant-General that served during the period 2009 was found to have made payments of equal instalments of N999 million for a record 128 times within 24 hours on the 12th and 13th of January 2009, totalling N127.872 billion.”
Incredible, all right, but it might have been defensible action; say, for instance, the dutiful accountant sprained his wrist to fulfil a neglected contractual obligation at the last minute in order to save the government from a heavy penalty. But Lawan found otherwise.
“The confirmed payments from the CBN records,” he wrote, “were made to beneficiaries yet to be disclosed by the OAGF (Office of the Accountant General of the Federation) or identified by the Committee. We … discovered that only 36 marketers were participants under the PSF Scheme during this period”.
And the staggering illogic of it all: “Even if there were 128 marketers, it was inconceivable that all would have imported the same quantity of products to warrant equal payments”.
Quite rightly, Lawan’s committee used the words “impunity” and “recklessness” to describe the actions of all involved in the oil subsidy lootfest. To act with impunity is to have no fear of punishment; to see oneself as free or exempt from sanction.
To be reckless is to act without thought of consequences; to throw caution to the wind and have no restraint. But I should like to suggest another word that even does better in capturing the astonishing behaviour of Lawan as of the shameless plunderers he was asked to investigate.
That word is MADNESS. Oil money, seen as booty, has made us mad; rendered us senseless as a nation. Anyone who ponders the unending orgy of treasury looting in Nigeria will, invariably, consider money-madness as an explanation of the blind and frenzied impulse to steal every kobo of public funds in sight.
Wole Soyinka has thought as much, as even Farida Waziri, former chairperson of EFCC, even when dogged throughout by allegations of corruption. To be mad, in the primary sense of insanity, is to be completely unrestrained by reason or judgement and so to act in a way incapable of rational explanation.
But the disturbing point to note about this explanatory use of madness for discussing the national problem of endemic corruption is that the mad person is never aware of his or her madness. When the madman strips naked and heads for the market, it is not he but his relatives and friends who are shamed. Because madness defines an alternate reality totally different and cocooned from the actually lived reality; the madwoman considers her behaviour normal and those seeking to cover up her nakedness or restrain her from dashing to the market as the truly insane.
Locked in this alternate reality of madness-as-normalcy, an accountant charged with the safe-keeping of the public purse signed 128 cheques, each for N999 million, within 24 hours. And the upstanding representative of the people asked to investigate the daylight and night-time robbery of the treasury demanded $3 million from a member of the oil cartel he was to investigate. Then he went to the house of the wrong-doer to collect $620,000 as part payment, some of which he stuffed in his suitably voluminous babanriga donned for the occasion.
Simply put, Nigeria has become an open lunatic asylum, the fury of the madness of its principal inmates multiplied to the power of 128. Consequently, such happy surprises as the Lawan committee’s attempt to drain the festering swamp of our oil politics become no more than flickering moments of lunacy that raise false hopes. What we need is nothing short of social exorcism. Some would call it revolution.
Ifowodo, who begins with this essay a fortnightly column for Vanguard under the caption, For Crying Out Loud, teaches poetry and literature at Texas State University-San Marcos.