By Tabia Princewill

HIDDEN motives and agendas dominate our politics and processes where the single shared objective is often how to defraud the state and its citizens. Nigeria gradually corrupts even the purest of souls who become convinced that it is impossible to get ahead without sullying one’s self. I had a conversation recently with a lawyer whose firm is involved in the defence of some persons on trial for corruption. Upon learning that I was a journalist, he proceeded to complain about how unfair the media in Nigeria is to politicians on trial for corruption.

I pointed out how unfair life in Nigeria is to persons who don’t have access to the money, power and status which corruption provides. It’s injustice all round, I said, with much amusement.

Nigeria is a crazy country where people will look you in the eye and justify wrongdoing or pretend not to understand what all the fuss is about. This lawyer argued passionately, like all those who make their money from peddling moral relativism, that until proven innocent, his clients were not guilty. The problem here is that unlike in other nations where one can trust the courts not to have been bought over by corrupt forces, hardly anyone in Nigeria besides those too poor to afford the services of morally dubious lawyers, ever goes to jail no matter their offense.

In our country, no matter the evidence stacked against them, the majority of those with the blood of innocent Nigerians on their hands, walk free. Ironically, many of those who defend corruption are also its victims. This lawyer’s parents were civil servants who were robbed of their pensions during another famous scandal. In America, this would have been the moment a young lawyer decided his calling in life would be to put corrupt people behind bars so as to avenge his parents.

In Nigeria, it was the moment a young man decided that honesty and hard work don’t pay and that he was better off siding with the strong than the weak like his parents whom no one had cared to defend. Now he has been able to buy his parents a nice house, all from the alleged proceeds of corruption, by defending the same sort of people who wrecked the lives of his parents. His parents are happy and content now. They don’t question the irony of their son’s choices or the fact that his defence of possibly guilty people is killing some other parents or some other sons out there. What a sick country.

Anywhere you go in Nigeria as an average joe without rich or well-connected backers, you are more than likely destined to fail. It sounds horribly pessimistic and I do pride myself on my optimism but the truth is that the odds are stacked against the average Nigerian. Everybody is looking for what to eat in Nigeria, not how they can do their best, make an impact or improve themselves. We’d all rather not think about the people our actions impact: we personally circumvent any hope of progress then resort to blaming our leaders, ignoring the many small ways in which we contribute to national failure.

The lawyer ended his rant against journalists and anyone who opposes his clients by screaming about the need for an Igbo Presidency. I patiently asked him to explain what zoning arrangements and our obsession with ethno-religious sentiment have contributed to our national development. If a President happens to be from the South-East, fine, but shouldn’t we be discussing first and foremost what his credentials and plans for Nigeria are?

What I found most ironic about our conversation was that the gentleman didn’t see that by couching the idea of an “Igbo Presidency” in the vocabulary of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu and would-be revolutionary mystique, he got further and further away from the idea of what the Presidency should be. In fact, the possibility of any one of Igbo descent taking the Presidency “by force” as one hears supporters of Nnamdi Kanu and their twisted ideas of Biafra call it, are lessened by their overt sectionalism which would hardly be acceptable to the rest of Nigeria.

You can’t blackmail Nigerians using ethnicity or stir up trouble and violence then ride on its coat tails to the Presidency; things no longer quite work that way. Even the proponents of “the North must do eight years” might just be surprised by how quickly Nigeria is changing, despite the flawed mind-sets of many. It will be difficult for anyone in 2019 to campaign on the basis of ethnicity alone. Nigerians are a bit wiser this time.

I asked the lawyer if he loved Nigeria. I was surprised by his answer. He claimed to love Nigeria but to love justice more. I asked him if the concepts of justice and Nigeria were the same, if they were intertwined or synonymous with each other. He said they weren’t and never could be so long as corruption trials targeted only members of the opposition. I gave up on the conversation. Each and every one of us will be tested, during the course of our lives in Nigeria, asked to give up the person we once were, who perhaps thought of others and their suffering.

If we ask for one thing, it should be the grace to resist when we are tested, to not sell our souls, or if we must involve ourselves in actions which the Nigerian system as presently constituted demands of anyone seeking to get ahead, we must pray for the ability not to lose ourselves, to remember to “be in the world but not of the world”. We can be physically present in the world without buying into its values. There has to be some middle ground between a shrewd understanding and ability to cope with the way a system works and the ability to not be fully changed or corrupted by it. Whoever finds this answer, the way to get into the system and then implant a “kill switch” to radically change it, will be the Nigerian the history books remember.

 

DSS

The Department of State Services’, DSS,   recent recruitment process which overwhelmingly favoured cadets from the North over those from the rest of the country, is further proof that we need to do away with antiquated systems such as Federal Character which don’t work to either propel the best into the state’s employment or to guarantee that all faiths and ethnicities are represented.

We have chosen over the years to employ quick-fix measures as opposed to tackling the real issues. Had we built institutions (or an economy) which enabled anyone to rise, regardless of their state of origin, we wouldn’t need policies such as federal character which are in fact routinely side-stepped by those powerful enough to do so, precisely, again, because our institutions are not strong enough to guarantee that due process is followed anywhere. Federal Character, much like “zoning”, has failed Nigeria. What we need are the best of the best to lead us at all times, not the best depending on what ethnic group you look at. People will try to take advantage of the system, especially in a country where it is most profitable and permissible to do so. If the best man or woman gets the job however, persons of quality, competence and character, then the likelihood of anyone taking advantage of the system lessens and so you no longer need policies such as Federal Character or zoning which paradoxically heighten ethnic competition and distrust rather than quell them.

 

Dino Melaye

The Senator recently launched a book, Antidotes for Corruption: The Nigerian Story. A great irony given that many of the  attendees at the event were accused of corruption at one time or another, without any court ever being allowed to decide, without interference, of their guilt or innocence.

Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.

 

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