Ottawa. Sunday evening. Two weeks to the beginning of a new academic year. Time for getting your beering right with your buddies one last time in the summer before the start of the heavy grind of classes.
Downtown pub. Music. Drinks. Food. The usual pub crowd. I order a bottle of French wine. Somewhere at the border between my second glass and its successor, I notice that my buddy has barely touched his first glass.
We have been both very busy traveling since the beginning of summer, he in Europe, me in Africa. That's why we are meeting this evening to unwind and touch base and talk about our respective travels over wine and little chops.
But he is not drinking. He is preoccupied...
It is election season in Canada. We're electing a new Prime Minister soon. Campaign is in full swing.
My buddy is Canadian. We've been friends for a long time.
He wants to talk politics. Canadian politics.
Inevitably, we start with the devastating coverage of Canada's conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, in world media.
He asks if I read "The Closing of the Canadian Mind", a devastating op-ed published recently by the New York Times. Written by a Canadian, you'd be excused if you thought you were reading the familiar portrait of an African leader in a Western newspaper and not a portrait of the Prime Minister of Canada.
I reply in the affirmative. My friend seems to be shrinking in space as he discusses the politics of this country.
He is so ashamed of the corruption. He can barely bring himself to look me in the eye. He is wincing in visible discomfort.
As he discusses corruption under Mr. Harper - my friend is an unrepentant liberal. Obviously. -, I notice his adjectives: "grand scale corruption", "out-of-this-world corruption," "astronomical corruption," etc.
I get to my fourth glass and order a second bottle...
I am nodding profusely at the adjectives he is using to describe corruption in Canada.
Then we get to the Mike Duffy affair. My friend hopes the Mike Duffy affair will be the end of Mr. Harper. How on earth could the Prime Minister have allowed people around him to be involved in illegal expenses and cheque payments to themselves to the tune of 90,000 Canadian dollars?
Luckily for me, the second bottle of wine arrives at this moment and attending to it while taking it from the waiter spares me the chore of having to wear an appropriate facial expression of horror at the mention of such gargantuan, unheard-of corruption.
Finally, I manage to exclaim with a measure of believable bewilderment:
Ninety thousand dollars!
Can you believe it, Pius? My buddy continues. Can you believe what they are doing to this country? By the way, what do you make of the Margaret Atwood affair?
Margaret Atwood, Canada's foremost novelist, writes a satirical op-ed this week about the injection of "hair" issues into the political season. Mr. Harper and his fellow conservatives have been criticizing their opponent. Mr. Justin Trudeau, for having nice hair. Atwood reminds us, among so many other things, that Prime Minister Harper actually has a hair groomer at the tax payer's expense. The National Post publishes the article online, censors it, then republishes it after a national outrage.
Beyond the hypocrisy, what worries my buddy is the realization that he and other Canadian tax payers have been paying to groom the Prime Minister's hair.
By the time you add all the hair grooming to the untidy 90,000, he suspects that the corruption figures will be way over a hundred thousand dollars.
It's the end of the world, he assures me.
How did this country reach this dreadful level of corruption and mishandling of public funds, he asks me painfully.
I refill my glass and examine the second bottle of wine with satisfaction. It is at the halfway mark and I have done most of the drinking, my friend being too worried by the astronomical corruption ruining Canada to be able to drink efficiently like me.
I touch my face as if to make sure that I am still wearing my mask of horror.
For a second, I consider telling him that it was revealed today that the Nigerian Federal government paid seven hundred million US dollars as consultancy fees to foreign firms for the construction of a bridge.
Seven. Hundred. Million. Dollars.
Not the cost of the bridge. Just the consultancy fees - all now safely in the private bank accounts of Nigerian politicians.
And there is no bridge to show for it.
My turn now to be genuinely sorrowful.
My buddy thinks I am being sorrowful over the 90,000-dollar Canadian Federal corruption scandal that he is calling the end of the world.
He does not know that I am assessing his instinctive reaction to the 90,000 dollars and contrasting it with the Nigerian who hears the news today that seven hundred million of his tax money was stolen and the first thing his poverty-stricken black African ass wants to know is:
The ethnicity of the whistleblower
The religion of the whistleblower
The political party of the whistleblower
The ethnicity of the thief
The religion of the thief
The political party of the thief.
If the thief checks the right boxes and the whistleblower checks the wrong boxes, whether money was stolen or not becomes a secondary consideration or no consideration at all for the Nigerian. The Nigerian will excuse the theft of seven hundred million dollars if your ethnicity, religion, and political party are right. The Nigerian will condemn the whistleblower and drag him to the ICC in The Hague for harassing the thief.
I return from my reverie. My Canadian buddy is still complaining about the end of the world.
Do I tell him about the seven hundred million?
I decide to save his life.
If he already believes that 90 thousand Canadian dollars in illegal payments is the end of the world, hearing the corruption figures from Nigeria could literally signal the end of his life.
Someday, he will buy me a beer for not telling him what would surely have given him a heart attack...
And killed him.