By Tabia Princewill
On Election Day 2015, Nigerians decided they preferred order to chaos and seemed united in the belief that we must finally have a country where hard work and merit, rather than looting public funds, amount to something. This war is not about APC or PDP, we must learn in this country to dissociate facts and logic from ethno-religious sentiment and party affiliations.
This is a war against corrupt practices, against the distortion of our economy to suit the whims of a few. Nigeria is a country where individual earnings do not reflect real productivity, talent or work. Rent collectors institutionalised a process whereby feeding off the state and public assets is the most profitable occupation, while the majority suffer in silence as their commonwealth is sucked away.
The war is against the oligarchic tendencies of our flawed republic where a handful of people impede the progress and development of millions. How such people attain power is a fascinating subject: The appointment of incompetent men and women to public office is the worst form of corruption; it is the fundamental distortion of governance we are paying for today.
Weak policy decisions
It results in poor planning, weak policy decisions and outright theft. It is a shame we have generalised mediocrity through Federal Character but I have no doubt that the further Nigerians push the war against corruption, the more inclined the public will be to fearlessly debate and take on issues whose failures have been proven setbacks to national development. What is lacking now is a mobilisation of Nigerians against unruliness and confusion, the climate within which inequality and injustice thrive. I will share a short story to exemplify the insufficiencies,madness and commotion ruling our society.
I was on my way back to Lagos from a trip to Abuja last week. The Lagos-Abuja leg of my journey was cancelled barely a few hours before departure and I had to purchase a new ticket on another airline because the initial airline’s website was down and its phone lines unreachable. Airlines in Nigeria, as we all know and unfortunately accept, routinely cancel their flights without any explanation or apology to passengers and I was attempting to get a refund which in our society almost amounts to an act of rebellion as one is supposed to accept poor service (much like bad governance) without complaints despite being a paying customer (or a tax-paying citizen). The ticketing queue was a long one, which Nigerians in our usual loud, brash way, attempted to bypass. Everyone believes they are a big man in Nigeria, someone with more rights than others, whose needs are far more urgent. Local flights within Nigeria are no better organised than public transportation where shoving and pushing to get unto a bus or haggling with its conductor, are the order of the day. It would be interesting for sociologists to study why there seems to be no major difference between the behaviour of the upper and lower classes, all motivated by greed, desperation and most of all, survival.
A lack of decorum and orderliness seemingly pervades almost everything a Nigerian does and it seems as if to be a “complete Nigerian” one must detest politeness and show a marked disdain for any and all regulation. These traits, inherited or copied from “big-men” whose cultural influence amounts to bragging over stolen public funds and outrageous spending, are the reason why we must have the courage for introspection:
We must look at ourselves, not just our leaders and see how we anticipate and prepare their failings, granting them “soft-landings” because their behaviour only mirrors what is acceptable or justifiable within our society.Like many others, I was unable to get a refund and almost missed my flight in the process. Tempers and frustrations were running high, unhindered by the airport’s lack of ventilation and functioning ACs. By the time I reached the gates for boarding what awaited me was much worse.
A vapid, uninterested voice announced on the airport’s intercom system that yet another flight had been cancelled. Groans of pain ensued. Passengers who had already been waiting several hours without an update grew angry till a mob formed and attacked ground staff, prompting others to join them in blocking the boarding gates. They were adamant that no other passengers would board their flights until airport authorities and the airlines provided them with adequate information in regards to their flights. So another fight ensued between passengers attempting to board their flights and those whose flights had been cancelled for the umpteenth time. I
n the chaos that followed, no security operatives were visible for almost an hour. Airport staff issued contradictory statements further enraging passengers on both ends of the divide and those with access to the protocol lounge fled and barricaded themselves within it. I took refuge with a few others behind a standing AC once we had identified our corresponding interests, that is, to board our flight which was ready to depart, with or without us.
Ethnic slurs were bandied around as it turned out that those blocking the boarding gates were mostly of Northern extraction, while those attempting to board where headed towards the South East or South West. The airport on that day was a mini-Nigeria, ruled by chaos and brute force, a country where ethnic thinking overtakes reason and selfishness trumps solidarity in the face of a common, oppressive enemy.
A country where the only way to be heard is to pose a threat because no one respects well behaved, law abiding citizens. Victims hurt other victims while the real perpetrators of unfairness go unchallenged. My newfound allies and I used Roman infantry tactics to manoeuvreour way towards the boarding gates.
All in all, it was a surreal experience, which brought me to the following conclusion: ending corruption and indiscipline in this country is certainly government’s responsibility, but it also hinges on the citizenry’s support and understanding of the issues at hand.
Why should we change? Why is our individual comportment linked to our national development and progress? The relevant authorities have so far done a poor job of ensuring service providers in Nigeria (airlines, telecoms companies, banks etc.) offer good services instead of exploiting Nigerians. The Presidency has the moral standing to spark debates and guide a national conversation on all the issues holding us back.
Now is the time for something different, governance that goes beyond accusations, allegations and simplistic press releases. Change is within our reach.
NASS constitutional amendments
Every time one thinks things in Nigeria can’t get stranger or any more illegal, or morally reprehensible, they simply do, proving the political class has no shortage of ideas and inventiveness when it comes to ensuring its wrongfully amassed privileges go unchallenged.
So unbothered are they by public perception, the laws and ethics the National Assembly is supposed to defend, that some Senators would dare propose constitutional amendments which in essence amount to decriminalising corruption.
To say that they misunderstand their own role as guardians of the people’s rights and of democracy would mean misjudging the deliberate nature of this subterfuge. This can only be perceived as a ruse deployed by the system to protect itself but Nigerians see the duplicity and machinations of anti-people political figures.
The problem with foreign journalists is that they are often unable to gain reliable information on African political appointees beyond a white- washed picture. In an interview granted to Le Monde, the former Minister claimed it was impossible for Jonathan to save for a rainy day because the governors were against it.
We’ve placed too much emphasis on foreign work experience without checking what were the actual successes of our diasporan would-be talents. It is still too easy in Nigeria to conjure up smoke and mirrors and to be praised for falsehoods and deliberate deceptions. Fighting indiscipline also means reviewing our so-called idols and smashing those with clay feet.