The astonishing stories of corruption and the mind-boggling sums involved in Nigeria demand that one questions the mental health status of Nigerian officials and politicians. We, their victims also need our heads examined. These daily stories of men in suits and flowing agbadas and babanrigas caught with their hands deep in the till of our Commonwealth have become a regular menu in our print and online media. Our newspapers and online media outlets now look like crime reports. These pen thieves come in all shades and colors and from all aspects of our national life– National Assembly, MDA, political parties, law-enforcement, military, judiciary, the private sector, individual businesses and other sectors that we only hear of their existence when their own thieves are caught. These stories make Nigeria look like a huge den of thieves. And the foreign media are having a field day reporting daily that the most populous black nation on earth is a dysfunctional territory of rogues.
These VIP thieves share some common traits – they all have a fixation on stealing that overrides any sense of shame; their greed cannot be satiated and they are not capable of self-criticism. They seek to buy self-worth by throwing miserable crumbs around to the ecstasy of their gullible and demented circles. Fixation and inability to self-criticize are symptoms of a mental illness. Were these VIP thieves born with mental issues or they somehow acquire it in the course of their official duties? Is it the system that breeds and encourages this aberration or can the fault be traced to the individual?
Heaping the blame on the system is easy. It is anonymous. It belongs to everybody but to nobody, to borrow the words of the President. Its workings are beyond the understanding of the common man, but the crooks understand it. The common man believes in it, but our VIP thieves disregard it or exploit it. It is this anonymity that makes it vulnerable to manipulation and pathological pilferage by those in positions of minutest authority. But, thankfully, it is the same cannibalized system that unmasks these Judases when it acquires shape and form either as nemesis or karma.
There is no parent whose child will be caught stealing in a nursery or secondary school that will not punish that child. The parents will be ashamed, they will ask their child to apologize, and in many cases, they will even encourage the school authorities to further punish the child. They will do everything in their power to let the child know that stealing is an unacceptable social behavior. Nobody wants their child to be called a thief. Every Nigerian child grows up with this rule in his mind. Stealing is an anathema to a Nigerian child and youth.
But somehow, as an adult, a Nigerian with opportunities within the anonymous system discards the value principles which he grew up with as a child as soon as he reaches a position of authority. His brain and all the functions of the brain take leave of him. He begins to function on the primitive reflex of wealth accumulation and aggressive authoritarian disposition. His empty head, now filled with the fluff of praises and hero-worship chants of sycophants that surround him transform him from a mere mortal to a god with the power of life and death over the system that put him in the position in the first place. As the alpha and the omega of his official jurisdiction, all allocations and generated revenues are seen as rightly his to disburse as he wishes. He steals and steals without giving any thoughts to millions of lives wasted by his greed. He donates public money to non-public events in his own name and expects loud appreciation and ovations. He travels abroad for the smallest of ailments. He loots and hides our commonwealth in the most ridiculous places. He is the embodiment of a curse on a nation, a foul-smelling stain on the flag of sovereignty and an antithesis of human decency.
But this brainless thief did not drop from space. He and his ilk are here everywhere among us. They are in politics, religious places, banks, aviation, military, civil service etc. They are everywhere. They are your schoolmates, classmates, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, cousins, pastors and friends. They are you. You are the victims as well as the perpetrators.
When the system that the brainless thief has betrayed fights him and exposes him, he mobilizes his victims to denounce the system. The victims invent all possible biases to force the exoneration of these thieves. Ethnic and religious biases as well political witch-hunting are the tools of trade engaged by the demented defenders of these thieves. To these victims, the fact that their principal stole is unimportant; the fact that the amount involved could have improved the quality of their lives is immaterial. What matters most to them is blind defense of their kin, clansman, friend or associate. They condone stealing by their adult son; something they taught him against in his childhood or youth. Just like their son, something also happens to their brains as soon as they reach adulthood.
In September 2011, the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology published the results of a Europe-wide study that said “38 percent of the European population suffers each year from a brain disorder……..Mental disorders have become Europe's largest health challenge of the 21st century." Here in Nigeria, we have the flagrant evidence of serious mental disorders, but not yet the study. The result of such a study is anybody’s guess, but it will be frightening. Apart from massive medication, a good outcome of such a study will be the publication of a book of “National Values for Nigerian Adults” or a simple book of “Don’ts for Nigerian Adults”.
We all need our heads examined for Nigeria to ever make any headway.
Abimbola Lagunju is a writer and author of several books.