By Chinazo-Bertrand Okeomah
There is a Farouk Lawan in most Nigerians. I know many would blurt, “Tufiakwa! There is no Farouk Lawan in me!” Those who say such may be operating at the realm of conjecture. They may not really know the truth until, as it happened to Lawan, they come to the confluence of a handsome bundle of $500,000 and a secret escape route on which no one can sight them.
Indeed most Nigerians will take the money without giving a hoot about being caught or not. Such people would say, “When we get to that bridge, we will cross it.” Such are the people that would take money forgotten by others once it is big enough to meet their need, or draw money mistakenly posted to their account by an unwary bank staff. When such incidents occur, they would thank God for the “miracle” and may even testify in church. Of course, there are a few others who would not take it due to the shame that comes with being caught. But only a minute few would say no even when they are certain nobody will ever catch them. This last group are people of integrity, a value that makes men act in secret exactly the same way they would act in public. It is a value that is almost extinct in Nigeria today.
For some years now, I have cried myself hoarse, stressing that most Nigerians are corrupt. Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s finance minister, once stated that only about two per cent of Nigerians at the top are corrupt. I replied that over 98 per cent of Nigerians are either eating from the vile heap of corruption or they are eagerly waiting for their turn to do so. I have argued that those who experienced the corruption impact of IBB’s regime and those born by them tragically know various levels of corruption deformities.
So people born in Nigeria since the late 1980s all bear corruption-genes and are likely to become corrupt – even when there is no compelling need for it. It was during IBB’s reign that our ebbing values-genes underwent forced mutation to become evil-genes. It was during that time that “419ners” ruled the socio-economic space, so much so that young decent graduates were sucked into the fray.
So I laugh myself to scorn when people express surprise that a ranking member of the House of Reps like Lawan was caught in bribery scandal. Many people are sincerely aghast, saying it was a dreadful infra-dignitatem. They had held him as Mr. Integrity, which represents the façade he had succeeded in selling to Nigerians. Those who hold such views are not only gullible but also shallow students of our politicians and public servants, for our public service has so decayed that hardly any of them lives off his or her legitimate income. Hardly any of them renders the service for which he is paid without expecting bribe. This ranges from the tax officer who assesses you for tax, to the PHCN officer who allocates you a meter; it goes from the education inspectors who approve private schools, to the messengers who carry files from one office to the other. Our public service stinks. It stinks to high heavens. It is a cesspool of corruption. And our politicians typify this.
A typical Nigerian politician is a study in greed, deceit and hypocrisy. He sees us as pawns in his chessboard of power and wealth. He sees us as petty candies used as freebies in an over-stocked superstore. He sees us as little kids who lack capacity to reason well or as imbeciles who lack capacity for articulate speech. Thus he can string a long chain of lies and expect us to believe him, or he can live a life of pomp and impunity and expect us to applaud him. When he steals what belongs to all of us, he allows little crumbs to fall down, just to enable us retain life and serve as financial midgets against which he measures his giant wealth with all the vain pleasure such comparison gives. He sees us as political articles that can be traded to gain electoral victory. The typical Nigerian politician vaunts his purity as long as he is not caught, and even when caught, as in Lawan’s case, says his political enemies contrived it to make him fall. I will express surprise if few members of our Senate or House of Reps, or indeed few people in our public service, are proved non-corrupt.
Many have asked, between Otedola’s revelation and Lawan’s denial, what do we believe? I think the answer is simple. I believe Otedola’s theory of “sting operation.” His deft move of filming the sordid affair shows a well-scripted act. He was also the one that opened the can of worms. Lawan betrayed his naivety and culpability by denying and then accepting, besides his motion to delist Otedola’s firms from the list of rogue marketers. He surely took bribe to do this. Otedola’s aim might be to sully the probe report. And some forces in and out of power were surely behind him. The only thing I am not sure of is if President Jonathan would allow this to kill the report, which in any case has its merits.
Lawan is touted to have led the plot that ousted Patricia Etteh as Speaker just because she did not make him the chairman of the Finance and Appropriation Committee. This, I think, is the most lucrative of all the committees in the House. Its members, apart from threatening to cut down the budgets of MDAs to force them “play ball” (as was the case in the Prof. Fabian Osuji saga), can also increase such budgets and demand a huge cut for such acts. Besides, they also demand to be allowed to make their pick from the bouquet of contracts on offer by such bodies. Thus you see them or their proxies strutting from one organ of government to the other, sealing contract deals, or picking the cheques or cash for other deals. I know somebody who was in that committee for only four years and made billions of naira. Today he has assets in choice locations in the nation and probably overseas. What a nation!
As I grieve for my land, I am driven to ask: when shall we become a nation where our churches and mosques, our kith and kin, or even the government question the source of people’s wealth? When shall we become a nation where people’s legitimate income can match their lifestyle or investments? When shall we become a nation where the economy is driven more by the private sector than by federal allocation? When will political offices be made less attractive as to reduce the mad rush to cramp it? When shall our people be assessed by the quality of our content and not the quantity of our possessions? How do we halt the transfer of this pervasive virus of greed and avarice to our young ones? Our salvation lies in weaning the next generation from this virus through well-articulated projects of moral re-orientation and ethical revolution. President Jonathan owes us this as a debt!