My friend graduated from one of those elite schools in America and went on to work for the greatest corporations of the world. In a way that I could never fathom, he understood the world properly – its politics and economy. He was also a master of human behavior. When the likes of Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala and Sanusi Lamido make their fancy statements about macroeconomic indicators, default swabs, and adding value and capacity building to things that have no way of retaining either, he was the one who translated such jargons for me.
On a tangible level, when Nigeria’s foreign reserve went down, he would tell me even before the newspapers filed their reports. He even knew what the money was used for. When it went up, he also knew why. When my postulations were off mark, he would educate me. When my conclusions were an overreach, he would pull me back. He was well plugged in politically and otherwise. Invariably, he was doing something very important for me – crosschecking my reality.
So he disappeared. I tried to contact him by all the means I knew but he would not respond. In over ten years that I had known him no month had ever passed that we were not in touch. Even when he was traveling all over the world, as he often did, he found a way to keep in touch – even if it was just as simple as sending a note about something I wrote.
One day, I heard through a source that he had joined the government in some capacity. Though surprised, I wasn’t alarmed. I had always felt that he knew more than those running the country so it would not be a bad thing for him to go inside and make the changes he had proposed in several of our conversations. I made further efforts to reach him but no luck. He would have been able to explain in a layman’s language why we are borrowing money from China, day in day out, when we have $46 billion in foreign reserve. Also, he would have been able to map out for me the political intrigues playing out within the PDP.
Nine months after I first heard that he had joined the government, he contacted me. He confirmed that he was working for the government but said he was not at liberty to keep the communication line open. Then, in a parting shot, he noted, “my friend, government is worse than you ever imagined.”
Coming from him, that statement meant a lot to me. Though I may sound confident most times, in my quiet moments, I often question if I was not being dribbled by events. At night I’d wonder if I was not being beaten aerially. Every now and then, I needed to hear the state of things from trusted people who are in the know -people who have in their palms the stories behind the stories.
Many months ago, I sincerely concluded that President Jonathan’s presidency, when it is all said and done, will be a wash. But I did not know that he is worse than I can ever imagine.
President Jonathan made a surprise visit to the Lagos Police College to see for himself the despicable images of the institution that Channels TV had broadcast. He came. He saw. And he shot himself in the foot.
Instead of picking a fight with the people in authority who allowed such an institution to degenerate to that level, he picked a fight with the TV station that brought those images to the world. He questioned how the TV station was able to get inside the institution and record such shameful living conditions. Like a sinking man who feels perpetually under attack, he conjured up the emotion that the goal of that exposé was to embarrass him and his government. Why would anybody bother to embarrass a man who does a good job embarrassing himself each time he opens his mouth?
Like I said, at best, President Jonathan is a wash. The real surprise for me in the whole drama was the reaction of the Nigerian people. I have always known that the Nigerian people are smarter than their president. Now I fear that the dumb down is beginning to affect we, the people.
I was surprised that Nigerians seemed outraged by the state of the Police College. It made me question, for the very first time, where in the world my people have been. When you read that this Inspector General of police stole billions and another one stole a fraction of a trillion, what did you think the billions were meant for? These things are all connected. That we are not conscious of these connections really troubled me.
When a pension fund is embezzled, it simply meant that hundreds of thousands of retirees are going to go without their pension at the most vulnerable period of their lives. You don’t have to know a retiree to feel their pain. You don’t have to visit their homes to understand their sufferings. You don’t have to watch them drop dead on a line waiting for their pension to get outraged. But it appears that our people, in our undying quest to get our own share, have lost the capacity to value others by putting ourselves in their shoes.
When Nigerian government officials or their associates are flown abroad for treatment, the fund is coming from our limited commonwealth. That is from the same pot that was initially designated for something that would have served the greater good. There is no way of eating your akara and having it. The billions in foreign exchange that we spend sending the kids of beneficiaries of government largesse abroad to study; wives of government officials on medical excursions; attending unnecessary jamborees abroad, are the same funds we should have used to provide services to our people. This gross mismanagement is what makes all the difference between one oil producing country and another. The earlier we understand these connections, the better for us.
I was also shocked that Nigerians were disgusted by the poor state of the Police College dormitories. Maintenance of infrastructures is not the forte of Nigerians. Wasn’t our billion naira National Stadium abandoned right in the neighborhood of the president? Even on individual level, haven’t you noticed that many homes in Nigeria don’t get maintained ever? Some buildings in FESTAC have never been repainted since 1977. And it wasn’t that the owners could not afford to do so. Ever noticed how fast the once magnificent 1004 Flats in Lagos turned into a dump?
When you visit the homes of Nigerians abroad, most times, they are in disrepair. I often joke that you only need to know the street where a Nigerian lives and not the house number. Once on the street you can identify the house of a Nigerian by the state of the lawns. Once you see over grown lawns or a lawn with patches of dead grasses, you may be looking at the home of a Nigerian. In the winter, un-shoveled walk ways will give the Nigerian home away.
I regularly ask Nigerians abroad to pay a visit to their secondary school or even university whenever they travel home. A visit to your secondary school dormitory, where you once lived, will put the Nigerian situation in the right perspective for you. That is, if there is still a dormitory. And if it is better than the picture from the Police College, then, you are one of the exceptions.
The Nigerian decay is vast and deep. To begin to extricate ourselves from the abyss we have fallen into, we have to first of all enforce a paradigm shift. We have to stop deceiving ourselves that it was God who put these wasteful spenders in power. God had nothing to do with it. And once we accept that, then we will regain the strength to question them. Except we belong to those whose philosophy is that we should not disturb the comfortable – in fact, that we should worship them so that our turn will come.
Those who treat police recruits as “poultry chickens” should not be stunned that as full fledge cops, they treat citizens as compost. If a police college is in that horrible shape, imagine the shape our prisons are. Do you also need a camera to go into the Nigerian prison before you figure it out?
The moment I see a police officer on a road checkpoint wearing a pair of bathroom slippers and holding together parts of his gun with ropes, I knew what to expect in their living quarters. If there is a Nigerian English dictionary, the best image to illustrate filth is the picture of a police barrack.
Over the years, Nigerians have been reduced to a mere greedy bunch. For us, the only games in town are; whose property is bigger; whose vanity is superior, whose grandeur is larger. The measure of success has been reduced to some silly mantras: My bank accounts are larger than yours; my hummer is bigger than yours; my kids are in more elite universities abroad than yours; my pastor’s temple is larger than yours; my convoy is longer than yours. This greed breeds corruption and the corruption in turn feeds the greed. And the vicious cycle continues. Self-aggrandizement has become a substitute for self-actualization.
The commandant of the Lagos Police College said something apt when faced with what should have been an embarrassing situation. His answer was basically simple: my police college may be bad but it is better than yours. The president seems to understand. And Nigerians seem to understand, too.
In Nigeria, things are really worse than you ever imagined. If you haven’t realized it, it is only because you have not seen the video clip yet.