Public servants are often at the mercy of those they serve
I get inspiration for my weekly piece from everywhere and everything. Perhaps, that's why I have managed to churn out something every week for you, my esteemed reader. Last Sunday, I was watching one of my favourite TV shows on DSTV, ''The Johnsons'' and lo and behold, I cottoned on something to write this week.
The entire episode in the show centred on Nigerians' perception of public office and public officers, the consequence of which is what we are going through today as a nation. Mr Johnson was appointed as an adviser to the Governor of Lagos State based on his exploits as a scientist. It was no doubt, a happy development. But soon things turned sour when everybody started scheming on how to maximize Johnson's new situation to achieve their selfish end.
Somebody even printed a business card and appointed himself Mr Johnson's personal assistant. He advised Mr Johnson to allow him to manage his affairs, assuring him that in two months, he would be made a billionaire.
His wife started addressing him as ''His Excellency''; his married daughter ignored her husband and submitted a shopping list that ran into hundreds of thousands. All this and more was simply because Mr Johnson was given an appointment he had not even accepted.
It captured very succinctly how Nigerians perceive public office. To them, it is an opportunity for one to change one's life for good and live happily ever after. To them, it is not about service, but about feathering one's nest to the detriment of the state or country.
At that point, I had seen enough from the TV show to get ideas on my next topic on this page. Yes, how many times have we unwittingly done what Mr Johnson's crowd did? How many times have we pushed public officers to the limit to the extent of doing things they wouldn't normally have done, all in a bid to please us and live up to our expectations? Yet, when such people are pushed into trouble with the authorities, we will be the first to abandon them to their fate.
Yes, today we all vilify public officers for amassing wealth for themselves only, but we easily and conveniently forget how it was us that pushed them into doing that.
When during electioneering we shun good but supposedly poor candidates and go after those with big money to throw about, comparing ourselves to goats which follow whoever has their food, we are contributing in wrecking our future.
When we see aspirants already answering ''Your Excellency'' or ''Honourable'', even before going for election, we are part of the rot our society has become because it is us who address them that way. Indeed, I have always found it funny seeing people answer ''Senator'', ''Honourable'' and ''Your excellency'' long after they had contested and failed. Just aspiring for any office is enough for one to take or be given such titles. Oh, how our people love titles!
But it doesn't end there. Once one assumes public office, expectations from those around him rise to the roof top. The person is expected to change both their personal and others' fortunes. There is also the pressure. Overnight, people bring invitation cards from left, right and centre, either asking the recipient to chair the events or attend in a big way. They don't care if the person's salary is not enough to carry the weight of such invitations.
The person's church, both local and urban, is not left out. He is asked to chair bazaars and lead in donations to projects. He is visited in the early mornings or late evenings by those seeking one kind of help or the other.
The area boys line up and hail him once he drives past. He is supposed to ''drop'' or else he becomes a miser. If he attends a funeral or traditional marriage, cries of ''Honourable'', ''Senator'', or whatever, would rend the air. He is also expected to ''drop'' something for the ''otimkpus''. In short, there is no hiding place for the person. He has become a gold fish.
To live up to expectations, the person begins to look for ways of cutting corners. He simply cannot afford to fail. To fail is to be a fool who couldn't do what their mates are doing or did. This way, a culture of corrupt practices is introduced and sustained.
The public servant who refuses to do the wrong thing, such as wasting government's resources, is regarded as 'aka gum', a euphemism for being miserly. We had a governor here who despite doing well by all standards, was still hated in some quarters because he wasn't ''dropping''. Strangely, a certain governor before him who ''dropped'' but failed to deliver, is preferred by that group.
But interestingly, when those people run into trouble, we are the first to condemn them and call them thieves. Ain't that funny?
Those who point accusing fingers at the politicians and public officers unfortunate enough to have been caught in the net for fraudulent practices, include the civil servants, lecturers, the traders, you and me, as well as members of the clergy.
Let's take the civil servants for example. They are, if you don't know, among the most corrupt people in office. They, especially the big ogas, cut corners, demand gratification from job seekers to help with their employment, demand gratification from pensioners and contractors to ''push'' their files, and generally make life difficult for those who do not oil their palms, as they say.
Some of them thus own luxury apartments and expensive cars which they try very much to hide so as not to be suspected. It is thus not surprising to see such a civil servant driving to work in a rickety looking vehicle, just to keep up appearances of poverty. They build house in the village, while living as tenants in the cities.
When political appointees come, they teach them the way and generally look for their friendship to either cover up their fraud or to ''chop'' with them. Yet, when the political appointees are caught, they bear their cross alone, while the very corrupt civil servants remain saints.
The lecturers who demand gratification from students before attending to them, or who sleep with female students to pass them are as corrupt as the politicians.
The traders who sell fake products to people, or who inflate prices are as corrupt as the indicted public officers. So also are members of the clergy who eulogize the politicians and public officers because of the money they expect from them, not minding either the source of that money or the implication of their eulogy.
So, this issue of corruption isn't just limited to a few people. We all bear the blame one way or the other by our actions. When you pursue a child and it gets knocked down by a vehicle while running across the road, you are responsible for its death or injury, not minding that you are not the driver of the vehicle that knocked it down.
So the sooner we begin to let the so-called public servants or politicians be, the better for us and society. The sooner we stopped taking money from money-bag politicians before agreeing to vote for them, the better for us and the electoral process.
Those in a position to help stop this negative phenomenon should not hesitate to do so. There is no standing on the fence.
But it behoves those who find themselves in positions of authority to remain focused and avoid being distracted by praises and pressures from those they supposedly serve.
They should weather the storm and persist in doing the right thing until such a time when the citizenry will begin to appreciate what they are doing. Posterity, indeed, will not be kind to those who join the crowd in order to be accepted, despite knowing that it won't be good for the system.
It is easier to bear when a culprit knows they were the architect of their downfall than when they know they were goaded into it by those around them. It takes focus, determination and resilience to survive societal demands and pressures; but then, uneasy lies the head that bears the crown.
As Anambra State zeroes into the governorship election in November this year, I expect the electorate to learn from past mistakes and choose wisely, knowing that any mistake made now will likely be borne for at least the next four years.