Columns

January 13, 2024

OAU example of a pervasive National Malaise, By Muyiwa Adetiba

OAU student

Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife , OAU

Even when tribes and tongues differ, and religions differ, there is at least one thing that unites Nigerians; one thing that is as common to us as the air we breathe. It is the practice of self-interest above national or even group interest and it manifests itself in almost all of us irrespective of status or stature. Sometimes it is masked as national interest especially among those who call themselves leaders.

Oftentimes, it is a naked stand-alone especially among the rank and file. We see the basest form of it on the streets where drivers of different tribes, religion and educational levels behave almost as one in their lawless and often lunatic push for ‘right of way’. It often results in a stalemate and a gridlock which would then take a beggar or an area boy to unlock.

We see it in politicians who claim to represent their people but are actually representing their interests. We see it in the Labour Union leaders who benefit from the confusion and hardship they create ostensibly on behalf of the masses. We see it in elders who are supposed to represent the interests of their communities but are in reality lining their pockets.

We see it among Civil Servants who push or kill projects based on what they stand to gain. We see it in the upper echelons of governance where personal interests and goals masquerade as national interests. But when we begin to see it in the ivory tower and among those who, because of their professed pursuits of intellectual ideals and their rarified scholarly attainments, are supposed to be above such mundane gratifications, then we should know we have finally lost it as a people.

A post recently circulating on the social media platforms, came to my notice. It was centered on two incidents which allegedly happened at Obafemi Awolowo University(OAU). In one, children of a man who retired on turning 70, decided to donate to a fund at OAU Teaching Hospital which helps in paying bills of poor patients. It is also meant to benefit accident victims who need emergency treatments.

Unfortunately, some of those in charge of the fund did what most Nigerians do. They found a way to syphon the money through relatives who pretend to be sick and in need of assistance. Their desire for self- gratification and self-interest having blinded them to the over-all good such a fund is meant to achieve. Or to the fact that what they were doing is actually criminal and worthy of a jail term in saner climes.

Among these social workers would be people of diverse backgrounds. Yet, they are united in crime in spite of the difference in age, gender and religion. In the other incident, a group of people in the diaspora donated twelve state- of- the -art dialysis machines to Ife. The administrators allegedly demanded bribe from the donors and eventually sold the equipment to a private businessman. The import of this act of greed is that those who are seriously in need but have little financial means are going to be denied a life-saving medical aid. The second import is that potential donors would be very reluctant to give the push given what has happened to past donors. The State and the country are then the losers.

I’d be lying if I said I had not heard similar incidents before or that I was surprised when I heard of this one. I have heard narrations, including first hand ones, of similar and sometimes more disheartening incidents in the past twenty years at least. I have heard of a young man who passed out from the University of Lagos in flying colours and went abroad for post graduate studies.

As a Professor of Law in Canada, he saw an opportunity to give back to his alma mater. He took a deal meant for West Africa to Lagos and his alma mater. He was surprised at the reception he got and the demands made despite the fact that the people and the system were known to him. That opportunity eventually went to a university in Ghana. I have heard of a senior police officer who went to the United States for a forensic course at a time Nigeria was still using manual procedures to identify fingerprints.

He must have performed brilliantly at the course – most diligent Nigerians perform brilliantly abroad – because he was offered the County’s computerized system to take back to Nigeria for free. He was as surprised as the donors were, when his boss refused the offer on the grounds that they were old and he would rather wait and buy a bigger, newer one. It doesn’t take a discerning mind to see self-interest masquerading as national interest here. 

Yes, I have heard of so many unpatriotic incidents that each fresh one becomes a refrain. But it does not stop me from feeling sad each time I hear of another incident. After all, a refrain of a sad song still has the power to make one feel melancholic each time one hears it. I once came back from a trip to Mexico and was enthused by their money spinning holiday resorts by the beaches. This was when a financial expert and a young friend told me of his bitter experience.

Leveraging on his relationship with a Governor who was his college classmate, he packaged an impressive proposal for a resort. On getting an enthusiastic go-ahead, he sourced for land and funds to execute the project. Then the Governor wanted such a chunk of the ‘action’ that he felt the financiers would find difficult to accept. Everything went dead after that. The Governor became incommunicado. All the enthusiasm about the quantum of dollars that would be poured into the State, or the number of people that would be employed directly and indirectly didn’t matter anymore. Self-interest took precedence over State interest.

I remain convinced that lots of funds and opportunities would come to Nigeria from the diaspora if her people could stop being inordinately self-centered and greedy. Much like a highway which grinds into a gridlock because of selfishness and lack of decency of drivers on it, Nigeria will continue to be at a standstill or crawl at a snail speed until its people decide to be nationalistic or at least other-centered. The media should begin to name and shame those who use their positions for self-enrichment especially at the expense of a larger interest. The State should begin to prosecute them. A few examples will send a message and a chill down the spine of the society.