Change In The Cauldron Of Corruption
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken.”--Carl Sagan “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark”
Carl Edward Sagan, the American scientist and author who lived between 1934 and 1996, may have left his mark in the fields of astronomy, cosmology, astrophysics and astrobiology, but the famous words attributed to him above, provide the most gripping and incisive metaphor to capture the essence of the current situation in the country.
We don’t require the diagnosis of seasoned economists to recognize that Nigeria is in the midst of a painful recession. About two weeks ago we sped past the statistical threshold to confirm the obvious. Our economy constricted and failed to grow for two consecutive quarters.
But stripped of all sophistry, recession to the ordinary Nigerian, is manifested in the small tangible details that sustains the social equilibrium in the household and the immediate community. If the status-quo was sustained on slave wages all along, the situation has gone worst no thanks to the higher cost of premium motor spirit and food items, added to the spiraling inflation.
We live in a nation that imports virtually everything from second-hand automobiles, spare-parts and used underwear. Suddenly, the hundreds of thousands of Nigerians engaged in the trade woke up to find themselves literally driven out of business. They don’t need anyone to tell them that the economy is in dire straits. They can feel the impact directly.
They can no longer procure the scarce foreign exchange required to sustain their businesses with ease; no thanks to the reduced forex earnings from the slump in the global oil prices and criminal militancy in the Niger Delta. The situation also gave parents with children studying abroad much to ponder on the sustenance of their wards.
To such categories of Nigerians, therefore, the current administration has its work cut-out each time it tries to explain our current economic situation. Nigeria is not like America where its college educated kids are expected to reason rationally. Whereas in America the trend suggests that college educated kids are inclined to reject Donald Trump’s bigoted views by rejecting the snubbing the fixated opinion of their parents, the reverse is the case in Nigeria.
An hour exploring the social media will reveal that some of the most dire-hard supporters of Nnamdi Kanu and his Indigenous Peoples Republic of Biafra, are not only college/university graduates, but Professors, academicians and professionals of the highest caliber in various fields of human endeavor. They reject any scientific interrogation of the issues be-deviling our economy. They frustrate any attempts to rationalize the various policies designed by the current administration by the recourse to insults and abuse.
But this is an administration that promised change. What it probably never reckoned with is that it struggle for the vital consensus it requires to bring about the change. Every change initiative requires a modicum of consensus in the milieu in which it is carried out.
The biggest problem confronting President Muhammadu Buhari presently is that he lacks the critical consensus and cohesion he requires to deliver on his campaign promises even in his own political party. The crisis in the National Assembly is a solid pointer in that direction. But that is not the only problem.
Any attempt to explain why corruption thrives and is easily sustained in Nigeria must take into account the critical issue of the ethno-religious constitution of the country and the pervasive rivalries it breeds. It is the crude manifestation of the same intense rivalries that militates against the adoption of common values and standards that are essential for our socio-economic development.
One of the most embarrassing manifestation of the trend in recent times was the manner the deceased Dipriye Alamiesiegha, the former governor of Bayelsa state was granted a state pardon by an administration headed by his fellow kinsman even after he was convicted for corruption and made to forfeit assets at home and abroad.
One of the most nauseating facts about the corruption we live with today is that because it was allowed to fester for too long among Nigerians, it has now acquired the semblance of the norm. It is the undeclared reality the Carl Sagan quotation I cited above addresses.
Today, any attempt to criticize the former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy Ngozi Okonjo Iweala will be met with scorn and derision in certain sections of the country because of our allergy to uncover the truth on why and how our economy arrived at this pass. And yet Okonjo Iweala was a super Minister under the Jonathan with the added direction of chatting a course for the nation’s economy.
She arrived the scene with a big reputation for her previous service at the World Bank. Yet, instead of ‘coordinating’ the economy we now know that her office served as a warehouse for some of the worst economic crimes against the nation.
The ministry she ran was complicit in the illicit funds released to the Office of the National Security Adviser. In an appearance to answer to the 50 questions posed by the NASS, Iweala shocked the nation by admitting that 797 billion Naira was lost to various import waivers and import tax deductions granted by the administration she served between 2011 and 2013. She also supervised the expenditures from the Excess Crude Account and the Sovereign Wealth Fund but of which were mismanaged under her watch.
That is not to exonerate the present administration entirely from blemish. There are certainly some things it could have done differently, for sure. It took far too long to appoint Ministers for instance. Even now, three months after the death of the Minister representing Kogi state in a tragic motor accident, he is yet to be replaced. Thousands of appointments are yet to be effected into Boards of Federal Government agencies, to cite just a few examples.
But the point I want to make is that there is nothing the current administration can do to turn around the fortunes of the economy without Nigerians reaching a collective consensus to internalize the change initiative across a broad spectrum. We must not begrudge Nigerians for complaining about the slow phase of the dividends of the change they were promised; what we cannot accept, and must reject completely, is any nostalgic reference to the wasteful past as the ideal utopia.
Nigerians must develop the courage to interrogate their past without bias or recourse to primordial sentiments. It has become necessary for us to learn the critical lessons necessary to chart a proper course for the future. We must never allow the pains we are currently experiencing to blur our vision distinguishing between truth and falsehood.
Nigeria’s development has been held back long enough by those who have turned corruption in the country into an industry that ran on its on steam until recently. It is evident from all the cases before the law enforcement agencies presently that Nigeria has been the cauldron of corruption for far too long. It is now time for Nigerians to take charge of their collective destiny for the sake of their future.
A line must be drawn between Nigerians with genuine anxieties caused by the painful remedial measures initiated by the current administration, and the corrupt elements who want to use the current despair and apprehension in the land to advance their narrow political goals. The stakes are just too high for complacency because corruption is fighting back with venom.
We must not allow the few that contrived to waste our past succeed in convincing the rest of Nigerians that the change initiative that seeks to banish corruption is an aberration. They must not bamboozle us into believing so!
I wish you all a happy Sallah celebrations.