Four young men were killed. The video of their death went viral and unleashed deep-seated compassionate emotions amongst Nigerians. No matter their alleged crimes, many well-meaning Nigerians have condemned the heartless act of barbarism meted out to the young men in the strongest terms. My deepest sympathies and condolences go to the families of the deceased and their loved ones. The act was repugnant to the human mind, and many have been traumatised by watching the video. I have heard many moan and sob afterwards.
I have not watched the video, and have refused to watch it because the reports about it are rather too sickening. It comes across as a powerful visualisation meant for the brave-hearted, which I am not in this case. Many people who believe in life after death, and some holy books, often talk about the experience as the visual replay of one’s life on earth. The emphasis on the visuals is not surprising because we relate more to what we see. The eyes provide a quick access to our inner being and emotions. Such is the power of visuals that they can orchestrate social change. The visual representation of the World Trade Center in flames following the Al Quaeda attack in 2001 (the infamous 9/11), for example, definitely changed the world.
While our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the four young men gruesomely killed in Aluu, I contrast their death with millions of Nigerians who die daily as a result of bad governance, corruption, greed and selfishness. We obviously do not see and recognise these as major killers, because they are not at the fore of our consciousness. They are latent and hidden from our eyes; but would it make any difference to our collective emotions if their negative impacts on the society were visualised as the Aluu viral video? For instance, how many lives are wasted when someone embezzles funds meant for a hospital, or when someone imports fake drugs? How many people die on our roads everyday as a result of bad roads and poor transport infrastructure, which could have been saved if not for the embezzled and misappropriated funds? How many lives are lost as a result of the petroleum subsidy scam?
Corruption has become so ordinary in Nigeria – isn’t it called the Naija factor? It is no longer the preserve of the rich and the powerful, although the magnitude of the impacts of the corruption induced by this class is more harmful and far-reaching, which makes the sheer hypocrisy of the political class in hyping the Aluu killings very disgusting. Were it not for the evolution of the social media, the killings would have probably gone unnoticed. In fact, most public officials crying to high heavens do worse things everyday by their actions and omissions.
One also uncomfortably finds corruption looming and lurking in very strange places. It is public knowledge that the Nigerian Police, for instance, is the visible embodiment of corruption and its impunity in Nigeria. They exhibit unmatched competence and creative tactics in the art of extortion. It is their stock in trade, and they shamelessly don’t pretend about it. After all, “man must wack”. The public servants are also well versed in the politics and dynamics of corruption. Oftentimes, it is couched in the language of “what is in it for me?” Framed as such, corruption in the public sector, perpetrated by the public servants, comes across as a reward for work well done.
The public servants now have legitimate expectations to be paid for facilitating transactions, which are ordinarily their jobs, in addition to their salaries. Contracts are not awarded solely on merit and competence. The ability and willingness to reward the public servant has become an essential criterion in the decision making process of assessing public value. The reckless rent seeking capitalist with a penchant for the primitive acquisition of capital is often found at the other side of the story. He embodies this gory mentality at its best, and epitomises the old saying: it takes two to tango. This way, corruption is legitimised, rewarded and celebrated; anything against this legitimacy is seen as rather abnormal and obnoxious.
I am not for a minute condemning the legitimisation, celebration and reward of corruption, which the Nigerian society has happily accepted as a way of life. If not, why would one sell his vote for a pittance, and why would many of those voted-in wallow in recklessness, irresponsibility, and ineptitude? I have heard many people say Nigeria is the place to be, because that’s where the money is. When such utterances are probed, they reveal some bizarre form of happiness, contentment and fulfilment. At the end, I often wonder why anyone would condemn a society that has chosen to live by its own norms shrouded in the politics of corruption.
Despite this surreal romanticisation of Nigeria, it is either highly hypocritical or naïve of many Nigerians to be emotionally traumatised by the killing of the four young men in Aluu, when many more are killed by our everyday collective participation in corruption. The main difference between the two is that the former is visual and easily visible, and the latter is dark and hidden from our consciousness. Their death, whilst bitterly painful, is sadly a micro representation of the havoc we inflict on the country and on ourselves every day. It is only by looking inwards and visualising our actions and omissions that we can truly feel the pains we inflict on ourselves and others.
Fortunately, without others, we are nothing. The choice to be something or nothing is up to us. As we mourn for the Aluu victims, we should in the same stride mourn for ourselves and our children. At the end, we are all walking dead!
Kenneth Amaeshi is a Visiting Professor at the Lagos Business School, Nigeria and Member, Thought Leadership Forum, Nigeria.