Barr. Francis Moneke in front presenting a human rights lecture at Shell facility in Warri..
It is no longer news that Nigerian economy is in a dire state of recession. The consequential human suffering, hardship and pervasive poverty among the Nigerian populace is also a given. Corruption has been generally acknowledged as the root cause of the economic woes of the country, but what has not been similarly identified and agreed upon is the reason why we, as a people became so grossly corrupt to have, jointly and severally, wantonly plundered our nation to the point of comatose.
It is however not farfetched to realize that the discovery of oil and the years of oil boom turned Nigeria into a rentier State, that totally lost any appetite for creativity, hardwork or production. There was a windfall of oil revenue, which in its utter abundance robbed our leaders of the motivation for leadership ingenuity and turned them into indolent rent seekers with zero imaginativeness and zeal for good governance. The backdrop of military autocracy and absolutism, finagled our leadership psyche with a culture of impunity that dealt a fatal blow to the principles of accountability and the rule of law. So much money in the hands of irresponsible and unaccountable leaders engendered the penchant for avarice; thus governance positions became synonymous with exponential and dizzying ostentation and profligacy.
It was at this unfortunate juncture in our historical narrative that we lost direction, and derailed from the vision of our 'heroes past' – the champions of our independence. We lost the passion for patriotism and the actuation for the paramount good of the nation, when our leaders became egocentric and diverted the commonwealth of the nation into their personal pockets with no apprehension of any repercussions or consequences. The more they stole from the national treasury, the more they impoverished and subjugated the people, and thus invented a regime of neo-colonialism against their own people. Thus, a new orientation, absolutely and completely averse to the concept of leadership as service to the people, was enthroned and institutionalized. The values of altruism, patriotism, service, accountability, resourcefulness, prudence and modesty, consequently became eroded in the idea of leadership and public service. Therefore political and public service positions became extremely attractive because they lost the responsibilities and cumbersomeness of real service and became the fastest track to easy and extraordinary affluence and wealth. It was then that every dick and harry became a prospective candidate for important political or public service positions, and indeed began seriously to jostle for same.
This is why partisan politics in Nigeria is devoid of any ideology, and people identify with political parties just as platforms to scale through elections and clinch power. Winning elections is hence a do or die affair – monumental state and personal resources are channeled towards the quest to win or rig elections at all cost. Youths are armed to assassinate political opponents or commandeer ballot boxes; and sometimes diabolical rituals and covenants are performed or entered into all in the bid to acquire political power. All these absurd extremities are considered fair game by the desperate candidates because of the high stake involved – the stake of taking over the purse strings of government either at the federal, state or local government level with all the paraphernalia, flamboyance and razzmatazz of office attending thereto.
Some of the values worshipped in Nigeria include – to possess a fleet of latest automobiles, acquire or build property in the choicest locations in the country or overseas, send children to the most expensive private international or foreign schools, shop for very expensive and trendy clothes in expensive boutiques in Nigeria or overseas, take family to vacation to one of the mega cities in the world each year, purchase only expensive foreign products or edibles, go for medical treatments abroad frequently, have a coterie of impoverished neighbours who would come to serve one and beg for assistance, have a retinue of police officers or bodyguards always to form a shield of protection around one, etc.
The Nigerian civil service is similarly afflicted by the same virus of perverted value system. There is very little discipline and effectiveness in the civil service. Monumental resources are injected into the service, with very little outputs relative to the resources. Civil servants often expect so much for doing so little. Lateness, absenteeism and early closure from work are the order of the day. Ghost workers in some MDAs are often more populous than the real workers. The public they are meant to serve are often treated with ignominy, or compulsorily required to pay tangible tips before a civil servant would render the same service he or she is being paid for. This attitude is rife in public service because staffers, regardless of their level of education or grade in the service, wish to meet up with the pervasive Nigerian values for materialism, consumerism, class and showoffism.
Those in business are not left behind, hence the proliferation of fake, and expired products in the Nigerian markets because the business moguls are desperate to make astronomical profits and therefore able to partake of the ostentatious lifestyle institutionalized by our leaders. In the education sector, the language of teachers reward being in heaven is now a taboo, and rightly so. But then in a bid to secure their rewards here on earth, the teachers delve into sordid and outrageous practices. In the Universities especially, the open secret is that you purchase whatever grade you want in cash or in kind – i.e. money or sex for mark. The students, most of whom are no longer ready to study but still wish to graduate with first class or second class honours, happily avail the supply side to their lecturers. The corporate world in Nigeria on its part, is fraught with fraud, malpractices and unbridled competition. Consumers of products and services are arrantly swindled because the corporate bodies want to maximize profit at all cost and yield massive returns to their executives. Expensive advertisements on CNN have now become the exclusive preserve of Nigerian corporate entities even whilst their corporate social responsibilities are virtually left unattended.
The religious institutions are not exempt from this value negation. Leaders of faith in Nigeria preach prosperity and often come too close to placing curses on those who refuse to pay tithes or donate generously to 'God'. In the Christendom, the church in Nigeria has virtually departed from its mandate to identify with and show charity to the poor. The church is awash with greedy and materialistic 'men and women of God' who understand only the language of money. Far be it from them to question the source of any money - the refrain always is 'God loves a cheerful giver'. The pastor, priest or bishop only maintains close alliance and friendship with the rich members of his congregation. If the rich man is celebrating or dies, the Bishop will surely be in attendance, but if the poor man in celebrating or dies, regardless of his commitment in the church, the Bishop will be too busy to attend. In my dear Catholic church for instance, no matter how poor a dead person was, his or her debts in the church must be cleared before the church can accord him or her a Christian burial.
The crime industry in Nigeria is peopled to some degree by unemployed graduates and youths who feel aggrieved by the wanton social injustice in the country. In a bid to extricate themselves from the shackles of poverty and also partake of the traditional frenzy of ostentatious lifestyle and the national worship for extravagant acquisition of lucre, these youths go into armed robbery, kidnapping, militancy, drug peddling and all manner of terrible crimes. Some relocate overseas to engage in unspeakable crimes only to run back to Nigeria with tones of money, to the warm embrace of their people as success stories.
The change must begin with our leaders! We must make political offices in Nigeria less pecuniary attractive, and put in place more robust constitutional checks and balances to make for greater accountability of public office holders. Those who speak the language of change must be prepared and willing to walk the talk. To begin with, the federal government should sell off the fleet of presidential aircrafts and excess automobiles, not the national assets. The absurd remuneration and allowances of public office holders prescribed during the days of oil boom must forthwith be drastically curtailed.
Government through the National Orientation Agency must engage Nigerians to eschew the culture of according undue dignity to material acquisition, but instead to place more value and accord greater respect for honest achievements in noble edeavours such as education, sports, scientific or technological inventions, service to humanity, agriculture, business, etc. We must learn to question the source and trajectory of wealth – to renounce and investigate inexplicable fasttrack accumulation of wealth, and where they are found to have been corruptly or criminally amassed, bring the full wrath of the law to bear on the culprits. Those who commit crimes overseas and run back to Nigeria to spend such money should be tracked down by the law enforcement agencies, prosecuted here or repatriated to the locus of their crimes to face trial and punishment. In so doing, we will not only begin to positively transform our national value system and orientation, but will also gradually begin to salvage the battered image of Nigeria in the international community.
By: Barr. Francis Chigozie Moneke, LLM (London)
Executive Director: Human Rights & Empowerment Project Ltd/Gte (HREP).
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