How God, Foreigners Fight Nigeria’s War By Okey Ndibe

Okey Ndibe

Too many Nigerians are notorious for seeking to outsource their most important tasks to foreign entities, often divinities. We delight in shipping off our jobs to God. We abide rigged elections – on the woolly excuse that the polity should not be overheated, or the equally spurious contention that all power (including the fraudulently obtained) is assigned by God.

Many of our expectations, it seems, are counter-intuitive. Too many of us forget the costly struggle we waged to dislodge the military’s hold over our political lives. We ignore the fact that hundreds of fellow citizens perished, and many had their businesses bankrupted, in the fight. Why invest so much energy to enthrone a system that empowers us to vote if we’re to look the other way when our votes are routinely discarded or stolen? Why did our fellows sacrifice so much to realize the right to vote, if we’re content to let a few among us to operate as if we were serfs without a voice, as if we were the cowed subjects of an all-powerful potentate?

Let me illustrate with two examples. Many know that Iyiola Omisore’s name was mentioned as a suspect in the assassination of Bola Ige, Nigeria’s former Attorney General and Minister of Justice. Yet, whilst in detention, Mr. Omisore was somehow able to sign papers that enabled him to be a senatorial candidate in Osun State. And he not only took the seat in the election, he “performed” superlatively in Mr. Ige’s hometown. Many enlightened citizens were outraged, but many resigned to helplessness. It was said that former President Olusegun Obasanjo badly wanted the man in the Senate, and that was that.

The other example is, for me, closer to home. In the build-up to the 2007 general elections, it became clear to many in Anambra State that then presidential aide, Andy Uba, was roller-coasting to Government House, Awka. Many people in Anambra would say in private conversations that the man’s qualifications for the governorship were highly questionable, to put it mildly. Yet, the same people would say there was nothing they, or anybody else, could do. The conventional wisdom was that Mr. Obasanjo had decided to “reward” his trusted aide with the governorship of Anambra, and there was supposedly nothing the people of Anambra could do about it.

Such pliant, submissive attitude galled me. I wrote a series of articles pointing to pertinent questions about the candidate. My efforts earned a call from a longtime friend who, like me, is from Anambra.

“Ol’ boy,” he said, “why waste your time writing articles to oppose a man who can only be stopped by God? Do you have enough power to stop President Obasanjo?”

“I don’t, but the voters of Anambra can,” I said. Then I reminded him that Mr. Obasanjo could not vote in Anambra.

He guffawed in reaction, called me “politically naïve,” and then advised me to abandon a lost cause. “It’s only God that can stop Andy,” he concluded. I thanked him, made clear that I rejected his counsel, and affirmed that I would continue to speak, write and act like a proud, free citizen, not Mr. Obasanjo’s slave.  

Encounters like the foregoing point to two profound deformities. One is in the idea of Nigeria itself, a polity polluted by toxic values and run by or for contemptible interests. Nigeria’s problem does not lie merely in the fact that most elections are massively rigged even in the Attahiru Jega era. Nor is the crisis primarily about the pervasive culture of corruption. The space called Nigeria is not animated by any lofty values; it is not driven by any clearly defined, widely embraced set of noble aspirations. As a cultural phenomenon, Nigeria is very much a vacuous space – with the vacuum invaded by such virulent maladies as corruption, power abuse, electoral fraud, an undiscriminating worship of wealth, and a cult of banditry.

The second deformity is the absence of any articulate idea of what it means to be a citizen. The so-called Nigerian citizen is, in reality, a fiction. All the instruments of the state are arrayed against her/him. The police can arrest and detain any Nigerian at will, especially when the said citizen has committed no crime. The courts are, at best, indifferent to the plight of the savaged “citizen.” The Nigerian military would be willing to storm a community with tanks, gunboats and fighter jets and massacre innocents at the president’s say-so. Officials of the State Security Service (SSS) would not question the legality of a president’s order before executing it. A university lecturer might decide to fail a female student who refused him sexual favors, and the student would have no recourse – save God. When a state governor steals public funds, the residents and taxpayers of his state – in other words, his dispossessed victims – know that the Nigerian constitution protects the thief with an odious clause that offers “immunity from prosecution.” They know that the state commissioner of police, who dines with the governor and receives a healthy monthly handout, would never, ever entertain the “crazy” idea of questioning the thieving governor. They know that the justices who receive illicit gifts of cars and cash from the governor would not lift their gavel to order a refund of stolen funds.

Nigeria, then, is caught in a bind. An incongruous space has produced uncertain values and questionable citizens that reinforce and reproduce a diseased space. It all translates into a country that is messier and more beat than many of its citizens realize.

That explains why, after making the bizarre choice of accepting rigged elections, we begin to whine as soon as it becomes evident that the bandits we permitted – or even encouraged – to hijack electoral offices have settled down to the business of fattening themselves at the expense of the rest of us. We forget that our monsters grow from the soil we fertilize; that we conceive and nurture them; that they represent our deepest, most misshapen values.  

Unable or unwilling to take on these monsters we help create, we telegraph prayers to heaven to, a, change the hearts of these monsters that have hijacked power or, b, remove them for us. The collective wisdom of Nigerian anti-corruption agents, prosecutors and judges could not establish that former Governor James Ibori of Delta State pinched one naira from the public treasury. Yet, British law enforcement and prosecutors worked so assiduously and gathered such overwhelming evidence of Mr. Ibori’s money laundering that their quarry opted to plead guilty rather than risk being unmasked in court.

How did many Nigerians react? Instead of wondering why their system would let the likes of Mr. Ibori walk free, they began to entreat the UK to please, please arrest and prosecute other corrupt Nigerians. It’s again that syndrome of outsourcing work we should learn to do for ourselves – a job that is far from rocket science, but we fail at it because we have accepted a space animated by awful values.

Many Nigerians are excited about a recent announcement that the US government wants to hold American banks to a higher standard of scrupulousness in disclosing information about their foreign customers. The measure is meant to curtail the practice of shady characters, including Nigerian public figures, laundering looted funds through US banks. As the [Nigerian] Guardian reported on Sunday, the Asset Recovery Program of the US Justice Department recently “seized some of the stolen loot and assets of former governors D.S.P Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa State and James Ibori of Delta State, and is planning to go after more of their assets in the U.S.” The report added: “On the strength of its ability to seize some of the loot, the Justice and Commerce Departments are now trying to enforce stricter banking rules that will for instance make the use of shell companies less useful to looters of public funds in places like Nigeria.”

Anything that will make it harder for Nigerian officials to stow away their loot in foreign countries is welcome news. The best antidote to corruption and other crises bedeviling Nigeria is one that’s home-grown and home-nurtured. It’s ultimately counterproductive to farm out the fighting of our battles to the US, the UK, or God. If Nigeria is not to remain a hollow idea, then its enlightened people better commence the task of founding it, defining its values, and negotiating the terms of its existence.

Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe  

Publish Date: 

Thursday, 23 August 2012