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What Nigeria can learn from Saudi Arabia on the war against corruption

By Tabia Prinewill

The crown Prince of Saudi Arabia recently began an anti-corruption drive in his country which took many by surprise. It targeted members of his own family, top businessmen who had criminally benefitted from the regime, and a whole host of officials accused of corrupt practices ranging from a breach of public trust, misuse of public funds and embezzlement. Two hundred and one people were held in conjunction with $100 billion of misused public funds while 1700 bank accounts linked to these individuals have been frozen. Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia heading this effort, is 32 years old. Please let that sink in: 32 years old! What are we doing in Nigeria?

Some might accuse the young, shrewd and tenacious Prince of getting rid of political rivals. But in the court of public opinion in Saudi Arabia, particularly amongst young people basking in the euphoria of the modern, somewhat relaxed social norms and reforms he has installed (one of which is the law allowing women to drive), the Prince is nothing short of a hero.

In Nigeria, his efforts would have been curtailed by our propensity to make excuses for looters based on ethnicity and religion, our overall desire to turn logic on its head and to work against our own interests as a people. I was engaging with a reader of this column on social media who told me that President Muhammadu Buhari should abandon the war against corruption and focus on “other things”. When asked what other things and how that would be possible when consistently, over the past 30 or so years, budgets in Nigeria are poorly implemented due to corruption; the person went on a rant about islamisation.

I have long been an advocate of religious understanding and tolerance, I have always refused the politicisation of religion, and encouraged people to ask themselves questions about religious leaders who preside over poor congregations yet fly private jets, people who spend church funds on their own luxury and comfort rather than improving the lives of their church members, forgetting that an entire class of public figures today were educated in missionary schools which were either free or operated at a subsidised cost; so why do today’s pastors seemingly start businesses for profit alone rather than to impact the lives of those who need it the most?

They advocate patience, prayer and poverty for their followers while they and their families live in luxury, they ironically call on their followers to accept bad leadership when they bestow blessings on those who have been accused of looting, when they call them to the front of the church or accept their tainted donations. They encourage their followers not to eat with Muslims, not to befriend them etc… as if we weren’t all human beings, as if there were more than one God in the sky, as if Judaism, Christianity and Islam didn’t all stem from the same teachings.

If not for today’s political manipulation and the failure of public education, why should any young person defend or excuse corruption, brush it away to talk instead about islamisation, a figment of some people’s imagination, another tool used to divide us and distract us, so some people can claim to be persecuted by anti-corruption efforts? For a fleeting moment I thought, “my God, have they won?” By “they”, I meant the people holding us hostage, because of whom Nigeria records little progress despite the bright minds and talents it houses.

Prince Mohammed’s critics claim the purge is destined to victimise and side-line them in order for him to cement his power. Luckily for Prince Mohammed, the young people in his country are desperate not to allow their own talents and abilities to stay hidden away due to nepotism and the cycle of corruption. They are refusing a system which only works for a few, unfortunately our own political awakening here in Nigeria is yet to come. We yearn for something different, we recognise our system’s dysfunction, but in reality we are all still too complicit, too attached to the structure that’s killing us.

The crown Prince’s motives might not be clear but quite honestly, that’s unimportant, irrelevant to the masses who need change. His motives only matter to the elite involved in the politics of staying relevant and able to access public funds. The key to Prince Mohammed’s apparent success is decisiveness. Charting one’s course and surrounding oneself with competent information managers who can sell the agenda not once but constantly, breaking each issue down into digestible, easily understandable bits, to an easily distracted and easily manipulated public would have made a huge difference for President Muhammadu Buhari.


El Rufai vs Kaduna State teachers

The governor of Kaduna State is attempting to sack 21,700 primary school teachers who failed a Primary 4 test which is ironic because one wonders how they would have been able to correct those test papers given that they don’t even possess the knowledge to answer those questions themselves. Public education was destroyed by the military, for obvious reasons: a thinking public can’t be easily led.

It is however surprising and worrisome that Senator Shehu Sani also from Kaduna who disagrees with the governor on almost everything (this might not be unrelated to his perceived gubernatorial ambition), says he is “standing firmly” with the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC and the Nigeria Union of Teachers,NUT and protesting the sack. Whose interest does he serve? Do his children attend schools where Primary 4 teachers can’t even pass the tests they give their students?

The NLC and NUT have a long history of self-serving actions and getting the issues mixed-up (none of which is in favour of the man on the street) and this is all the more tragic because it jeopardises children’s future. How were such teachers employed in the first place? What would be the outcome if a similar exercise was conducted across Nigeria?

All over Nigeria, corruption, nepotism and the “Nigerian factor” get people jobs they aren’t qualified for. This purge should extend across the civil service if we are truly serious about getting the public sector to perform at optimum level. The idea might not be popular in cabinet offices and amongst those who benefit from poor standards, but if properly communicated to Nigerians and if there is a plan to assist or reconvert those who are being let go into some other more suitable occupation, by finding out from them, for example, what else they would have chosen to do had they had the option (teaching and civil service jobs in today’s Nigeria are unfortunately chosen by default) then governments could handle the rising discontent.


Ellen Sirleaf Johnson

The Liberian President hopes that the statue of her commissioned by the Governor of Imo State will inspire young girls to emulate her achievements. I’m hoping she was misquoted or misunderstood. If not, her sentence is typical of the African megalomaniac in power. Can a statue inspire women to live their dreams? The one billion naira spent to erect it would have been better spent on scholarships for girls or anything more impactful in concrete terms if the goal truly was women development rather than self-aggrandisement and flattery.

The statue won’t provide women, young and old, with running water, buy them textbooks or help them start a business. Surely,Mrs Johnson must see that the people of Imo have more pressing needs than this statue? Why not build and commission new schools in her name if it was so important for her to be recognised? Where exactly did the funds to build the statue come from?

The statue only solidifies the entrenched belief that political figures are to be worshipped and almost deified. Does Mrs. Johnson want to see more women in Nigeria carrying placards to defend the corruption of their oppressors simply because they’ve been paid N1000 to do so? This is how you perpetuate that system.


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