When will we do the right thing in Nigeria?

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By Tabia Princewill

EVERY time I watch international news channels, I can’t help but relate global events to the Nigerian situation. Almost instinctively, I wonder, “what would happen if this particular situation were to be set in Nigeria”.

I’m left with more than a little sadness when I find that our country continuously falls short of global standards in regards to publicly acceptable norms and behaviour. Last week, I wrote an article about shame: no one is embarrassed in Nigeria to be accused of corruption, stealing or committing any crime.

Quite the opposite, one is hailed like a hero when one is able to derail justice. In other climes, not only does reputation matter, dishonourable conduct, even as a mere allegation, is enough to trigger a vigorous investigation and if necessary to make powerful figures step down to allow the process continue unhindered.

The Western world is experiencing a very interesting moment in its history: the voices of women, of the downtrodden, of the disenfranchised and abused, are being taken into account in ways never been seen before.

The latest organisation to face a sex scandal is Oxfam, a famous British charity funded by taxpayers. Its leadership has been accused of covering up not just the scandal but the results of the investigation. Now, cast your mind back: are you able to count or remember how many corruption scandals in the past ten years in Nigeria have erupted only to slowly be forgotten?

Corruption scandals

“What is so disturbing about Oxfam is that when this was reported to them, they completely failed to do the right thing,” the UK Development secretary, Penny Mordaunt said to the BBC recently. “That’s what we need to focus on, and that’s what ultimately will stop predatory individuals from being able to take advantage of vulnerable people.”

I was struck by those words: the idea of it being wrong for predatory individuals to take advantage of vulnerable people is alien to our society in its current configuration. So is the idea of “doing the right thing”. In fact, a show of power in Nigeria relies primarily on being able to oppress others by using fraudulently acquired or undeserved funds or status.

Not a week goes by in Nigeria without allegations and counter allegations of fraud and duplicity. Our politics, to foreign observers, is nothing short of a farce: issue based conversations are few and far between. One only gains importance or notoriety through access to government (and government coffers) and allegations of financial impropriety are rarely met with universal condemnation.

One would rather ask if Innosson is being “harassed” because he is Igbo than try to find out, based on facts and the documents made public, what the case is about. The idea that investigations are “harassment” as opposed to the public’s right to find out the truth or, moreover, for justice to be served, are again linked to “bigmanism” which maintains that if a man or woman is “big enough”, why should anyone dare question them.

In response to the scandal (and to the public backlash), Oxfam has detailed plans to better vet its employees and to create an internal whistleblowing mechanism as well as better coordination with other charities so that information about cases of misconduct can be shared and adequately dealt with. Let us again relate these measures to what obtains in Nigeria. How well do businesses and government agencies know their employees? Are they thoroughly vetted or do most people simply get jobs based on their connections? A few of the Presidential appointees recently forwarded to the National Assembly for confirmation passed away and no one seemed to have noticed this had happened before the list was made public.

Or perhaps those who did were ignored, it’s difficult to say. What is clear is that attention to detail has hardly been our strong point in Nigeria. In regards to corruption cases, if appointees were properly vetted, perhaps leaders would have a better idea of their antecedents. Or perhaps one must accept that many leaders do know of these antecedents but prefer to ignore them for their own immediate benefit. In Nigeria, one is forced into the realm of moral relativism, meaning that so as not to lose one’s mind, one must accept certain truths and find a way to live with them, therefore destroying the possibility of change or challenge to the system.

“We will continue to address the underlying cultural issues that allowed this behaviour to happen,” Caroline Thompson, the chair of Oxfam’s board of trustees, said. “We also want to satisfy ourselves that we do now have a culture of openness and transparency and that we fully learn the lessons of events.” In Nigeria, we are yet to deal with the cultural issues that consistently allow, excuse or encourage not only corruption, but all forms of injustice and oppression more widely. We do not have a culture of openness and transparency nor do we learn lessons from past events. At some point we will have to choose between survival at all costs and doing the right thing because one day it won’t be possible to merely limp along by pretending everything  is well. The truth is, we can blame Buhari all we want, most of us are not ready for change.

 

Brexit

THE chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, Lord Marland has urged the UK government to make Nigeria a major trade ally as part of its post-Brexit strategy. We will have to examine whatever is on offer very carefully.

“If the UK wants to initiate something, there are one or two really encouraging, optimistic places on the horizon to start a block for a commonwealth trade zone. You’ve got the big populations such as Nigeria, which is going to be 320 million people – bigger than the United States – in under 10 years.

They love British products…It’s a huge consumer market”, he said. When asked what products Nigerians are particularly interested in, he answered: “Everything.” This should send shivers down your spine or at least provoke some concern.

Lord Marland is indirectly saying that because Nigeria produces next to no consumer goods, it is the perfect place to sell British products. Indeed, no matter how expensive, Nigerians will borrow if they have to in order to purchase foreign goods. These are the sorts of questions and events one would expect the National Assembly to discuss. Will we forever be a dumping ground for the productivity of others with little benefits to our own population?

 

Pay your taxes

NIGERIAN property owners in the UK apparently  approached the Federal Ministry of Finance’s Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS) in droves, the Ministry of Finance reports, following the UK’s new regulations on ‘Unexplained Wealth’.

Both the banking and property sectors in the UK have allegedly greatly profited from the influx of illicit funds originating from China, Russia, Nigeria and other such countries were corruption and transparency in regards to public funds are found wanting.

Public opinion in the UK is of the opinion it seems that the system should be less opaque therefore making it more difficult for “corrupt elements” to buy property or open accounts etc. When will the court of public opinion in Nigeria possess the maturity to make such demands of our own system?

 

JAMB

THE Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board said it suspended a worker who claimed N36 million was swallowed by a snake after a team of auditors discovered the money was missing from the JAMB’s office in Makurdi, Benue state.

The worker reportedly later changed her story, claiming a house help “spiritually stole the money”. The EFCC should do more than just “spiritually” prosecute whoever is responsible. Kemi Adeosun revealed last year that JAMB was able to remit N5 billion to government compared to the paltry N3million remitted yearly for the past 40years. It’s a wonder Nigeria is still standing given the sums that have been “spiritually stolen”.

 

Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.





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