By Mazi Sam-Ohuabunwa
NIGERIA is an intriguing nation. A 58- year adult nation that is still crawling like a toddler, while most of its mates are running on sure feet. Many people including political, traditional and religious leaders have expressed their bewilderment with Nigeria’s chronic inability to truly rise. Never mind that a tiny minority including some who earn N12 billion as annual dividend will argue differently that Nigeria is rising. Many ordinary folks in Nigeria have raised their hands in desperation as they find themselves daily pushed into poverty despite their best efforts.
This is evidenced by the fact that Nigeria the seventh most populous nation with a ‘tiny’ population of about 198 million people has become the global poverty headquarters, beating India (with a population of over 1.2 billion ) according to the Brookings Institution. Nigeria is said to have 87 million of its citizens in extreme poverty as at today and according to Melinda Gates Foundation, this number may grow to 152 million in 2050 and we say Nigeria is rising. Yes Africa may be rising but not Nigeria and if anything, Nigeria is dragging Africa down!
What is the trouble with Nigeria? Chinua Achebe tried to answer this question in his book. Many other authors have posed this question and some have proffered answers. Many have blamed the leadership, others the followership, and some both. Majority have rightly blamed corruption but we have failed to reach a national agreement on what constitutes corruption and how to identify corruption and how to prevent or punish corrupt acts.
Even the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, seems to have a limited view of what constitutes a corrupt practice. For example appointing a serving Minister who is maintained by tax payers to serve as DG of a partisan campaign organization is a corrupt practice in my view.
Indeed using official time or resources to serve private or partisan interests spells corrupt practice in my dictionary. But those who claim to be fighting corruption are actually only fighting stealing of money in Nigeria. They seem to think that stealing or frank financial crimes constitute the total essence of corruption. I fully accept that stealing is a corrupt act but it is not all. In my opinion it is not the most weighty act of corruption. Indeed for me, it is one aspect of corruption that is easiest to fight or even to prevent.
There are more insidious and damaging corrupt acts than straight forward thieving. Which was the point I believe President Goodluck Jonathan was trying to make, but his detractors refused and failed to understand his point, preferring to confuse issues in order to mock him. One of such corrupt acts which has become so pervasive in Nigeria is faking. Fake educational certificates, fake NYSC certificates, fake drugs, fake doctors, fake motor parts, fake identity cards, fake Naira notes, fake letters of employment, fake policemen, fake soldiers, fake election results, fake politicians, fake news, etc.
Some thing tells me that the problem of faking in Nigeria is perhaps at the root of our national malaise. Who knows how many of our political leaders in the executive and legislative arms of government are in office with fake or forged certificates. If people can forge a mere NYSC exemption certificate which ordinarily is not difficult to get in the right way, imagine the number of our so called leaders at local, state and Federal governments parading fake secondary and university certificates, diplomas and degrees.
We can not easily forget the story of the House of Representative speaker Salisu Buhari who came to power with a fake university degree. That incident quickly opened a can of worms which threatened to cause a lot of damage to the 1999 class of our political leaders at all tiers of government. That was when we became aware of the difference between Chicago University and University of Chicago. Can we possibly estimate the damage such fake leaders have caused in our polity and economy?
In the private sector where we operate, the matter is worse. Everything is being faked. I once employed a staff who promised to be faithful, dutiful and honest. When I tried to check on his references, I found that the referees knew him by different first name from the one on his papers. Subsequently I discovered that this “ honest” employee was impersonating his deceased elder brother. At another occasion I interviewed a candidate for a job. The guy showed Master’s degree certificate but could not string together one grammatically correct sentence. We all know that many Nigerians have been despatched to untimely death by fake drugs. Many have been involved in preventable auto accidents because of fake brake pads or brake fluid. And then we say we are fighting corruption!
As I was completing this article, my friend, the one that was with me when we ran into the interminable traffic gridlock caused by the overloading of the Lagos ports to the utter neglect of the Eastern ports. Those who read this column regularly will remember that this my friend knows how to stoke trouble. He asked me what I was writing about this week. I announced to him that I was writing on a ‘nation of fakes’ He quickly jumped in and asserted that the real reason that there is so much faking in Nigeria is that the nation itself is a fake nation. I remonstrated and asked why he would say such a thing.
He looked at me and said “Mazi, it is only logical that a nation of fakes can not but be a fake nation.” I asked him for evidence. He referred to the preamble of the 1999 constitution. He said that General Abdulsalami Abubukar sat with a few of his friends and put up the 1999 constitution but ended up saying that it was done by “we the people of Nigeria.” He concluded that this is master faking and that if we wanted to change his assertion that Nigeria is a fake nation, then we should abandon the fake constitution and get the true people of Nigeria to draw up a true constitution for the good and peaceful governance of Nigeria. Truth is that I could not help but agree with my friend.