With mouth agape, a friend of mine, on a first visit to Ghana, narrated how efficient the country works and how far behind we have been left as a nation. On another occasion, he was with a top Ghanaian player in the Nigerian private sector and the story was how perfectly efficient sectors that fumble and wobble in Nigeria work so well in Ghana.
Even as there was this agreement that Ghana is a smaller country, there was no confusing the fact that she had managed to get her acts together and today, the people of Ghana are collectively enjoying the pay off from a conscious effort to get things right. My friend was even awed that Ghanaians ride big cars and live in well furnished houses and all and his Ghanaian friend was beaming with suppressed satisfaction at such patronizing remarks about his country.
For me, I was in Ghana in March 1998, at the height of the Abacha tyranny. I sneaked into Ghana from the land borders on a Democracy and Human Rights Seminar in Ghana, together with some other notable pro democracy and human rights activists like the late Chima Ubani, Dr. Udenta O. Udenta, Tony Iyare, Comfort Idika, Jiti Ogunye, and many other fighters against the crude Abacha regime. We stayed one week in Ghana and after we came back, the late Wada Nas, that irrepressible propagandist to Sani Abacha alleged that he ‘uncovered’ a plot, hatched in Ghana, by Nigerian activists to overthrow the Abacha government. He went further to allege that the plot was hatched in a hotel in Ghana and all other bla, bla, but we knew he was talking of our seminar that merely centered on advancing human rights and democratic practices in Nigeria and was sponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy.
I found rhythm in the glee my friend demonstrated as he talked about Ghana, where attention of investors and foreigners to West Africa have shifted to and which shows resounding signs of growth in the midst of the bleak economic profile the region was facing. I had heard such enlivening stories about Botswana, Angola and (you can’t believe it) Equatorial Guinea and as I heard one encouraging story after another of sprouting African oasis of hope, my heart skips a bit about the floundering fortune of our dear country, Nigeria; a land so richly blessed yet so horribly afflicted by derelict leadership to the extent that it has become a stuff in contradiction and a looming negative travel advisory. My fear is that we may never get to witness how a country gets to be well governed in our lifetime, given the way out leadership is going and that is a certain death sentence for a country and its inhabitants. We may end up with an amenable leviathan that has defied all solutions, if nothing drastic is done to arrest the present predilection to disaster our leaders have busied themselves charting and this is a clear and present danger that lurks over the entire length and breadth of Nigeria. And talking about drastic measures, not a few people, most of them Nigerians, believe that Ghana’s reversal from uppity decay and moral crassness was prosecuted with the revolutionary action of Jerry Rawlings who sent a very clear message to future leaders when he tied three former heads of state at the stake and shot them for corruption. Not a few Nigerians believe that with the unrepentant manner Nigerian leaders are conducting themselves on the issue of corruption, we need the Ghanaian template to rescue Nigeria from certain perdition but this is a discourse for another day.
Apart from the lip service we pay the issue of fighting corruption; we have not made any conscious effort to tackle this decibel. It has gotten to the stage where corruption is the only thing that thrives in Nigeria today and sadly governance is conducted in a manner that solidifies this stranglehold. At every level of government there is this audacious effort to ensure that the borders of corruption are widened to assume a pervasive influence over every aspect of Nigerian life and governance. One is assaulted at every corner by the putrefying stench of corruption so much so that nothing is spared of the corrosive effects of this pandemic. And official corruption, with its gargantuan size and its multiplier effects ranks foremost in the many variants of this decibel that afflict our country. Nigeria’s formal sector is firmly anchored on corruption such that the country has no prospect with the astronomical way corruption is being grown in Nigeria. The culture of corruption is the reason why, in utter disregard with our economic prospects, the country still insists on running a bloated government, a padded reward system that takes care of the gluttonous appetite of those in government.
But lest we digress from our point of discussion. Time was when it was apt to say that the world is leaving Nigeria behind. Today, the reality is that Africa is leaving Nigeria behind and this is a fearful scenario that should pinch any serious people and government to action. We are doomed to repeating the same old, dawdy, corrupt ways of doing things and we don’t seem to be bothered that these return unending strings of dreary results that rather exacerbate the socio-economic problems of Nigeria, widen the gloom in the hand, provoke citizens to such deadly expression of disillusionment as we have seen in various forms and guises all over the country. The bottomline to the country’s many problems is corruption and any attempt to recover the mileage we have wasted in the rudderless maze of the last fifty years must start by tackling corruption, not as a road show but in such decisive way as to discourage prospective generation of leaders from having their hands permanently glued in the public till. Perhaps, because we have not been decisive enough to do this, most Nigerians have seen no road outside the purview of revolution.
In essence then, Nigeria and Nigerians must do something else we will soon be loners on the paths of decay. The leadership must wean itself of this pervasive inclination to enrich its members and lead the citizenry on the paths of uprightness. The nation must do something radical about corruption for if we fail to do so, that pestilence will do us in sooner than expected. The red lights are on and the signal are that Africa, yes Africa, is leaving Nigeria in the quest for development and this certainly is the very nadir we can get as a nation. Something must certainly give or else, we are permanently doomed as a nation.
Peter Claver Oparah.