Judging by comments- expressed publicly or privately- on many fora, Nigerians seem agreed on one fact: a reform of our governance methodology is long overdue. No matter a Nigerian’s political sympathy for either a presidential or gubernatorial aspirant, the Nigerian is concerned that our national ship needs steering in another direction.

There are those who think the incumbent in whichever office should be allowed another term so that he can stamp his authority on the affairs of the state in order to effect a systemic change. Yet another school of thought wants a complete break with present incompetency.

The perspective you hold does not really matter; it’s your desire to want some reform of the system that is paramount. There is no gainsaying the fact that our nation really needs it now.

The call for revolution ties into this, for a reform of a system skewed to benefit a privileged few can not be easily steered without some fight. In serfdom, no lords let their serfs walked away free without a fight. Something must give.

While Nigerians want to witness a better lease of life, fighting to bring about that isn’t on their menu. One has vigorously canvassed a revolt of some sort- peaceful at the least. Responses to that and many other calls have tended towards a sort of:

“Talk is cheap, very cheap”
“Hey Idowu, wetin be your own sef? Leave Nigerians to their wahala now!”
“You this Buhari/Ribadu/Atiku/Jonathan boy, your eyes will be clear when so and so wins!”

Quite a few do actually see the necessity for a meaningful discourse of our present situation as Nigerians.

It’s not a palatable one. Devoid of comfort, the average Nigerian tries to wiggle himself out of challenging situations as does a foetus in the womb. And as I argued in Did You know a Better Nigeria? and other commentaries, the present situation seems comfortable enough for poor suffering Nigerians. Therefore I posit, and it’s arguable, that this is because they do not know a better system.

Unfortunately, those who point to existing intangibles such as mass interest in voters’ registration as a sign of growing political consciousness among Nigerians fail to see the unethical incentives driving this very Nigerian way of paying to be offered public service, like registering to vote.

We know that some state governors have conditioned salary payment, primary school enrolment etc on the production of a voter’s card. It’s even a requirement for a volunteer to produce his voter’s card before Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign group will hire him. This is why even quite knowledgeable Nigerians paid for a spot on the queue or awoke very early to form a line to be registered. Fist cuts broke out at some voting centres because of these facts.

Whereas at least 59 million Nigerians have registered to vote, results of the coming general elections will show that a far lesser number of eligible voters would eventually vote. It happened in 2007 but no one took note.

The reason, I think, is that the electorate registers to vote so that salaries and meagre public entitlement like primary school enrolments for kids can be accessed, in view of the threat issued by public officials.

Otherwise it makes no sense to struggle and pay to register and then fail to vote, assuming the elections day atmosphere isn’t tense. Already, registered voters are selling their voters cards in Akwa Ibom State for ten thousand naira.

My point is that we can not continue to live a lie of a life in our country. It’s intriguing that as Nigerians we live in duality. There is the lower class Nigerian who, wanting to outdo his neighbours, borrows money to throw a birthday or baby christening party only to start dodging creditors the day after. There is also the jobless Nigerian who refuses to admit that he is unemployed.

The latter’s self-deception is induced by enslavement to the clergy. His pastor or imam, on one of the many praying sessions, may have advised against using certain language when discussing his situation. They commonly say:

“There’s power in words, brother. Confess positive things.”

 And so you him hear declare:

“In Jesus’ name, I am not jobless.”

The other day, when deliberating on taking a day off work, I was advised to:

“Call in well”, instead of the standard phrase, “call in sick”

It’s the Nigerian way. We are holier than thou; but wait a minute: how come the one who refuses to admit his joblessness readily devise means to cheat others? How is it that “a bible believing Christian” steals from his employer to pay tithe in the church? The corrupt Muslim is devout when he attends Friday prayers but adorns a different toga on all other days.

If you follow the life of a religious Nigerian, he’s not different from some of his secular fellows. Elsewhere, I have argued that many Nigerian youths and adults are carried away by an ostentatious life style that only helps to plaster the festering sore instead of healing the defective tissue.

Clearly, the albatross to the nation’s development is not only corruption and bad leadership. The citizens’ mindset has a lot to do with where we are right now. Many Nigerians have been brainwashed to accept the status quo and strive to get into position in order to pillage the treasury when their time comes.

On the occasion of the flagging off of Goodluck Jonathan’s presidential campaign at Ibadan, Oyo State, on Tuesday February 8, 2011, Olusegun Obasanjo said to PDP supporters:

“If you’re not there you can’t ask how the largesse was shared.”

This was apparently a reference to angry PDP members who are thinking of ditching the party over the conduct of its election primaries in the Southwest. The statement, irresponsible to say the least, shows the mindset of Nigeria’s leaders. The objective for seeking power is not to govern for the people’s good; it is to partake in the sharing of the largesse.

If you belong to the ruling party, you will share in the loot.

This mentality controls our psyche and dictates, for the most part, the one’s daily interaction with the other. If you query a public servant on the basis for demanding a bribe before rendering free public service, it is common to hear him say:

“Abeg, na so we dey do am for here. No come comot food from my mouth o!”

Some years back, upon the announcement of the availability of commonwealth scholarship forms on national television, I visited my state’s ministry of education- as is the procedure- to obtain a form. The lady in charge told me that the forms had not arrived from Abuja. I was advised to report back some days later. When I returned, the forms had been exhausted given that they were actually available on the first day I came. It turned out that the forms had been allocated even before they arrived from Abuja!

In similar fashion, before I could obtain a copy of my academic transcripts from the University of Benin, after paying the prescribed sum, the lady in charge- a headscarf-tying, earring-less member of the Deeper Christian Life Church- solicited bribe!

I know of cases of bank cashiers conniving with fraudsters to impersonate people in order to claim money sent through Money Gram or Western Union Money transfer services.

We cry about lack of transparency by our leaders but we, the commoners, are worse when it comes to cheating others. That access to government services is commercialized and out of the reach of ordinary Nigerians is the handiwork of clerical and administrative staff in government offices.

Haven’t you had to pay a clerical staff just to move a file from one desk to the other? How many times have you had to address a junior staff in a government office as “madam” or grease her palms so as to enjoy your right as a citizen of Nigeria? This is not corruption in high places. It’s the chicken coming home to roost. In order to survive, the poor feasts on the desperate. With us, it has always been a case of dog eating dog.

Our minds are corrupted. It’s a fact. They need cleansing. It’s unarguable.

This is why the first step to staging a claim for our rightful place as citizens is to put our individual house in order. Legal scholars say he who comes to equity must come with clean hands. Since our hands are not clean, we can’t throw the first stone at our corrupt leaders. Though they steal in millions and billions, we pilfer in the thousands. A thief is a thief; whether he steals in billions or thousands is unimportant.

How did we get here? And how far can we go with this?

Historically, wastages and zero inventiveness have characterised our national life. Can you recall Yakubu Gowon, as military head of state, announcing to the nation that our problem is not money but how to spend it? And do you also remember that the same Gowon was recently said, through Wikileaks, to have connived with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals in shortchanging victims of the drug testing scandal in Kano?

Ironically, Gowon heads the “Nigeria Prays” initiative.

When God decides to call him tomorrow, the Federal government will spend millions to host a state burial for a man who has benefitted more than he has given Nigeria. No other Nigerian may ever enjoy the privileges of leading the nation at twenty-nine years, getting married with all expenses paid while in office, and witnessing the oil-boom Oscar Udoji years of the country! One will expect this man to, at the least, retire into oblivion or take to farming somewhere in Jos. His recent actions have shown that the “Nigerian Prays” project is all a charade.

Instances of private citizen-public official collaboration in perpetuating wastages/frauds abound. Early into Obasanjo’s presidency, the media reported a lavish fortieth offshore birthday party for one Terry Wayas. Many serving governors, law makers and public servants flew to London for that party. Mr. Wayas was a close confidante of and money launderer to many serving governors. Even Obasanjo derisively classed the party as “owanbe” (E dey there) in a national interview.

Today, it’s idiosyncratic of some Nigerians to celebrate birthdays or wedding anniversaries in Dubai, Durban or Johannesburg! Going to these places to shop has long been in vogue.

How can our economy grow when we spend so much money outside the country?

Since neither economic growth nor downturn has a significant impact on the lives of many Nigerians, it does not matter to them to know that, comparatively, Egypt’s 2010 inflation rate was 12.8%, Tunisia 4.5%, Algeria 5% and Nigeria was 13.9 %. Of course these are numbers but in reality more Nigerians are worse off than Egyptians, Tunisians and Algerians.

Until we exorcise the demons in our minds, our liberation struggle will be stillbirth. We need to be in a position to be able to challenge the oppressors for their corrupt ways. Unfortunately our hands are not clean.

[email protected]

You may also like

Read Next