Perhaps the most interesting – some would say most bizarre – story out of Nigeria this past week was that involving some of the country’s journalists in the capital city, Abuja. We have had tales of inducement of journalists, and its impact on their job in the past, so this aspect of the story was not particularly enthralling.

I shall tell the other side of the story, which would have been quite comical if not that it is tragic. According to reports, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Senator Bala Mohammed, made a cash “donation” of N500,000 to journalists covering the State House in Abuja. The journalist who received the money on behalf of his colleagues had declared N400, 000 instead of N500, 000, allegedly given to him, claiming he was asked to keep N100, 000 for himself.

Suspecting foul play, the journalists under the aegis of the State House Press Corps, after an emergency congress meeting held at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, “constituted a three-man committee to investigate corruption allegation leveled against” the erring journalist.
The committee after days of investigation found their colleague guilty of corruptly enriching himself at their expense. He was asked to refund the money, and reprimanded. “Haven (sic) returned the N100,000, (the erring journalist) should however be warned to desist from collecting monies on behalf of the Press Corps without the knowledge of the house since he is not an executive member. If any member collects monies on behalf of the Corps, deductions must not be made off front without the conscent (sic) of those concerned if it is the case of an assignment,” the report concluded.

This is the abysmal depth our journalists, the watchdog of the society, have sunken to. While the government is shortchanging the masses, compromised journalists are shortchanging other journalists, and busy investigating one another. Any wonder then that you hardly see investigative stories or thorough analysis of the problems facing the country in the media? You only read about the sleaze and corruption going on  in the government from online media based outside Nigeria. How can journalists do their job effectively when they are busy chasing “donations” and setting up committees to investigate themselves when they ought to be raising critical issues about how the country is being mismanaged?

Nigeria is in the mess it is in today because our journalists have given up their role as watchdogs. But if we focus only on the action of those journalists referenced in the story above, we will be missing the point. The demise of the journalism profession in Nigeria is emblematic of the general malaise of the Nigerian society. Like other Nigerians in various walks of life, Nigerian journalists are poorly paid where they are paid at all.

All manner of charlatans – governors, ministers, and corrupt politicians of every hue – set up media organizations to further their personal and political interests, not because they are interested in running a successful business, or expanding the frontiers of public discourse. They recruit journalists who a few months later will be begging to be paid. Nobody holds the proprietors to account! Though there are standards as well as rules and regulations, nobody adheres to them.

Even when the media houses are set up by professionals, journalists do not fare better. Journalists in some media houses have to contend with non-payment of salaries for months on end. Those who die in the line of duty are easily forgotten. Journalists compete with each for who will suppress or better underreport the malfeasance in government. And they compete with politicians in primitive accumulation. Every journalist looks forward to the big pay day when he or she will be made a commissioner for information or special adviser on media.

So, it is understandable, though not excusable, if the president has to be dragged to court to declare his asset, and journalists do not question the president – no editorials, no commentaries -- why he has refused to comply with a constitutional provision.

There is an allegation of impropriety in a land buy back scam in which the name of President Goodluck Jonathan, the AGF, Mohammed Adoke, and the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, have featured prominently, yet the mainstream media has not deemed it necessary to get to the bottom of the case. Even though the CBN has come out to acknowledge that it paid almost N20 billion for a piece of land, originally owned by NITEL, to build “a world class conference centre”, there are many issues arising. I am sure the public is interested in knowing who effected this huge appropriation and how the funds were transferred after payments were made.

The point I am trying to make here is that we shouldn’t blame the journalists, even though they ought to be held responsible because of the nature of their calling. To say Nigeria has collapsed is a terrible understatement. The system is broken completely. And the collapse of the journalism profession is a reflection of the rot. There is no establishment you go to in Nigeria where anybody smiles at you or is willing to do a job without wanting something in return. It is a rat race; the survival of the fittest. The stress you have to go through to get anything done in Nigeria is better imagined. Majority of working class Nigerians are one pay cheque away from destitution.
It is difficult if not impossible to earn a decent living in Nigeria; there is hardly anything you can get on merit. You need a godfather to succeed. Married women will have to sleep with oga in the office to be able to augment the chop money from their husbands or gain  promotion. Lecturers trade grades for sex. Parents traffic their children and subject them to child labour in order to support the family. Some of our best brains are outside the country doing menial jobs. Yet, in the midst of this debilitating situation, we pretend that all is well. We hope that one day we too will make it!

Very much like the journalist’s,  is the story of the police. Only recently, I had the misfortune of going to the police station to report an incident. After keeping me for a while and taking my statement, I was made to part with N1,000 for the cost of “a file” to document my case. When I asked the police officer why he had to charge for a file, he said that was the standard practice. When I asked him how convenient it was for a citizen on N10,000 a month salary to part with N1,000 just to report a case, he reminded me that the minimum wage was N18,000.
That is the Nigerian dilemma. The police station that is supposed to provide succor has been turned into a centre of extortion. If you can pay the right price, you can use the Nigeria police as your personal militia.  The police that claims to be your friend, and is funded by our collective wealth to protect us, has become the ubiquitous enemy. No day passes without reports of extra-judicial killings by the police. Just last week, Emmanuel Victor, a 20-year-old boy was reportedly gunned down in the presence of his mother by a policeman in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State for “condemning the policeman for extorting money from motorists at a police checkpoint”.

Again, if we fixate on the Nigeria police, we miss the big picture. Everywhere you turn, there is mind boggling reports of corruption. We have just been told by the Chairman of the House Committee on Finance, Abdulmumuni Jibrin that “the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is conniving with crude oil lifters to defraud the nation to the tune of $50 billion”. Those who run the government do not believe in the country, so they steal as much as they can, pending when the country will implode. We have no shared values or ideals of nationhood. The minister of education does not believe enough in our public schools to send her children there; our health minister does not trust our health system enough to visit our hospitals.

Government agencies rather than building their own permanent structures are content renting private buildings which are owned by top government officials and prominent politicians. Earlier in the week, the Head of Service of the Federation, Alhaji Isa Bello Sali, made a revelation that did not come as a surprise. He said the Federal Government had uncovered 71,135 ghost workers on its payroll which cost the country N28bn annually. There must be people, Nigerians, behind this scam; yet, nobody is going to be put on trial, much less imprisoned for this monumental fraud.  

Our law makers are not left out. When they are not busy increasing their salaries and allowances (as one Dimeji Bankole, former speaker of the House of Representatives, who is standing trial for sundry criminal activities once did when in complete disregard for existing laws he increased the quarterly constituency allowance of members of the House of Representatives from N28 million to N43 million), they are pushing sinister legislations.

And now, an “honourable member”, Bassey Ewa, is trying to bury an already comatose institution, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), with his bill seeking to amend the EFCC Act. Mr. Ewa, from Cross River State, wants a retired Justice of the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal to head the anti-corruption agency, as if the profession of who heads the agency really matters. If Mr. Ewa does not have a retired judge in mind for the job, then he should know that his bill which is swiftly moving through the House of Representatives like a knife through butter is not in the public interest.

Are we talking about the same judiciary that is mired in corruption? Fighting corruption requires serious political will which is lacking in Nigeria. But the interesting aspect of Ewa’s bill which the media ignored completely, was the section calling for the abrogation of the anonymity clause, which protects whistle blowers. The EFCC relies mainly on petitioners to carry out its job. Imagine what will happen when whistleblowers are not protected.

We have been cursed with leaders who never aspired to lead in order to serve the public, therefore, there is little or no preparation for what to do when they get to power. The president is busy junketing around the world when there are pressing national issues. Nobody knows how much his recent visit to Australia cost taxpayers. With a delegation of 120, you would think that the government of Nigeria had abdicated its 5-month old mandate to “Occupy Australia”.

Our leaders are so overwhelmed by oil money they have become unimaginative, unproductive, and numb to the suffering of citizens. On Friday, October 28, 2011, Daily Trust newspaper reported that the Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi, chairman of the Governors’ Fourm and the lead antagonist of paying N18,000 minimum wage was planning to buy a helicopter at the cost of N5 billion naira ($30 million)

According to the paper, Amaechi, whose  plan was greeted with loud murmurs of protests from dozens of youths, said the helicopter is specially equipped with a camera which will be used for aerial security surveillance to fight armed robbers across the state. “The helicopter has a camera and it will be flying round for security surveillance. When  there are armed robbers, the camera will focus on them and even if they enter into any house the helicopter’s camera will capture the house and will be trailing the armed robbers until security men track them down,” the governor said.

In the same story, the newspaper reported that the Plateau State Government had signed a N4.4billion contract with Eagle Construction Limited for the construction of a new government house in Jos. The Secretary to the State Government (SSG) Professor Shedrack Best who signed the contract said the project was in “consonance with the ten point agenda of the administration.” According to Professor Best, “the project will serve as an edifice that the people in the state will look at with pride because ‘it will be second to none in the country’”.

“The new government house will encompass the governor’s residence, first lady’s office, a banquette hall, series of government offices and auditorium, among other features. The SSG described the project as ‘a peoples project’ and urged people in the state to treat it as their own and visit the site of the construction whenever they feel like,” the paper reported. For those who care to remember, Plateau State is the violence capital of Nigeria. And I am told all the higher institutions of learning owned by the state are under lock and key while primary school teachers are owed five months salary.

Nigeria is a country where the only meaningful job is putting oneself in the service of the government of the day. That is the only reason a first class mind like Reuben Abati, lawyer and doctorate degree holder, who has had a long and glorious career as a journalist, columnist, chairman of the editorial board of Nigeria’s flagship newspaper, the Guardian, and a long time critic of governments in Nigeria, including the present, will jump at the job of a presidential  spokesman.

It is for the same reason that Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) is drumming up support for the proposed removal of oil subsidy. “I am not for or against the proposal for the removal of oil subsidy and therefore I will not be able to take a stand on the issue, Pastor Oritsejafor said. As one writer put it, our religious leaders are “no longer concerned about God and His people, but rather concerned about government and their pocket”.

Some people are calling for blood to flow to wash away the injustice in the land and water our freedom. It may well get to that stage. Our big men ride in big cars, and live in mansions that are the envy of Arabian kings. And this is solely because they have unrestricted access to the national treasury, so they don’t feel what a writer has described as “miscellaneous miseries”, which is the unenviable state of majority of Nigerians. The common people who bear the brunt of the inefficiency and profligacy, are the only ones who can change this situation.
We may decide as usual, to pray through our problems, fold our arms, wish them away, or do something to alter the rot. The choice is ours.
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Time to Reclaim Nigeria (1) http://saharareporters.com/column/time-reclaim-nigeria-chido-onumah

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