There are so many things weighing down Nigeria that it is difficult to determine whether we are at war or at peace, whether we have political leaders with a clear or muddled sense of where the country is headed, whether we are led by political comedians or politicians with a deep sense of responsibility, whether our voting system is flawed or unblemished, whether we are a law-abiding or a crooked people, whether our judicial system is spotless, contaminated or downright untrustworthy, and whether we have an unambiguous or indefinable foreign policy objective.
Everywhere you look, there are reasons for citizens to feel miserable rather than cheery. Those who say that Nigeria is a difficult country to govern are absolutely correct. At no time is the country more difficult to govern than now. At no time has Nigeria been weighed down with many problems than now.
Almost since the election of President Muhammadu Buhari, the nation has been trapped in the national security scandal known as Dasuki-gate. It is a scandal that reeks of horrible smell. The extent to which the scam would dominate national discourse, how far it would go, and what the outcome would be remain in doubt. No one knows, not even the Buhari government that opened the can of worms that have now exposed the despicable activities of the good and the bad, the high and the low, the poor and the rich, religious men and women, impious men and women, political agitators, former ministers, former presidential special advisers, former security chiefs, and virtually anybody you can imagine. It is a roll-call of dishonourable and infamous men and women.
As the special investigation continues, the integrity of many men and women continues to fall. High profile officials, including those whom the public previously regarded as sacrosanct, untouchable, and as symbols of national morality and uprightness, have fallen. It would be interesting to see how many former senior officials of government would hold their heads high at the conclusion of the investigation. This is serious business. President Buhari must be smiling quietly even in his sleep.
We now know why the nation lost many good soldiers in the endless fight against the sectarian terrorist group known as Boko Haram. When government releases funds to be used to acquire weapons intended to strengthen the position of national troops in the war against the criminal group, and the money is dispensed and used illegally by a few officials who behave like the proverbial Father Christmas, we cannot expect our soldiers to overwhelm Boko Haram terrorists either in their forest hideouts or in the streets.
The true story of how a group of men embezzled and misused tax payers’ money for their personal ends will never be known until former President Goodluck Jonathan, the head of that government and the man who had the constitutional obligation to govern in the best interests of the nation, speaks willingly, openly, and dispassionately about what he knew and what he did not know, about whether senior officials of his government and other people remotely and closely connected with the misuse of the security funds, were given the nod to dispense the money anyhow they wished.
Dasuki-gate has gripped the attention of the nation. Civil society groups and anti-corruption watchdogs are ecstatically waiting for the outcomes of the investigation. Many officials have been caught and many are already singing and dancing to the tuneful delight of investigators.
I am personally interested in this consuming shady deal which the media has appropriately named Dasuki-gate because it shows the extent to which we live and die for money. With money, men and women show their capacity to do virtually anything. Many people in our society, whether they are of high or low socioeconomic status, have so far shown they are willing and ready to exchange their family name and status for a little pot of corrupt money. With money, you can buy fly-by-night officials who volunteer to render any service no matter how despicable. This is what the Dasuki-gate has opened up so far. With money, people’s ability to resist temptation of any kind is useless. Is there anything that we cannot do in the name of money? Money, as someone said, is the great magnet that pulls like-minded corrupt people together before it pulls them down.
I have always said that the principal reason why many Nigerians fight to death to serve in government or to be elected into office is because of the appeal of money. The fastest way to make money in Nigeria is through government service. This is why the nation will never win the fight against corruption. In a society in which the high and low do business through corrupt means, you cannot fight that system. Corruption has become our culturally, socially, and politically approved way of doing business in government and in the private sector. If you are not willing and ready to play by that murky rule, you will never get anything done. It is that simple.
Consider how many high profile politicians, businessmen and women, pastors, and civil society leaders who held court during the immediate past administration and beyond have been caught in the net because they stuck out their grubby hands and received money they were not entitled to receive. We must get rid of that entitlement culture that makes people justify receiving corrupt money. Even when people know they are receiving money stolen from government treasury, they willingly accept because they believe they are entitled to take government money. Government money, in their view, is nobody’s money, in the same way that government property is nobody’s property.
There is no doubt that the geographic entity known as Nigeria is on the edge of disintegration. All is not well with our country but politicians behave as if things are working satisfactorily well. We are told that we are a great country. Fair enough! Of course, every country would like to achieve greatness. But you don’t achieve that goal by mere wishes. You have to work hard in the day and at night. Our claims to greatness are flawed because all the institutions in our society simply don’t work. Great countries are not bestowed with inefficient leadership. We are not a great country because, in our system, corruption has become the standard way of doing of business. We are not a great country because nearly one year after gubernatorial elections, some states are still unsure of who is their governor because the position is still being contested at the tribunals, appeal courts, and the Supreme Court.
It is not a mark of greatness that Nigeria is still fighting to eliminate numerous ethno-religious organisations whose objectives are at odds with the higher objectives of the nation. We cannot yet claim the word “greatness” because our police cannot even spot fake officers from genuine members of the force. We are not great because we cannot provide basic amenities, including food, clothing, healthcare, security, and shelter to a majority of our citizens. We are not yet great because our political leaders, the rich and the powerful rush to overseas health institutions for routine medical check-up while local hospitals remain undeveloped, overlooked, and poorly funded.
We say we are a democracy but serious questions remain. Are we practising democracy when people who disagree with the governments at federal and state levels are perceived as enemies, accused of plotting against the governments, and persecuted? When we criticise the Federal Government, are we guilty of plotting to undermine that government? Presidential assistants and advisers tell us the government has achieved wonders but when you probe for evidence, you are rebuffed with the counter question: “If you cannot see the evidence, you must be blind”. When you ask what the government is doing to avert or overcome threats to our national security interests, you are told bluntly that there are no such threats.
Apart from dealing with poverty across the country, there are too many projects that are waiting to be executed by the government. There are too many communities that lack basic healthcare and other important infrastructure. There are too many people in too many communities that have no clean water to drink other than impure water drawn from boreholes. There are many communities that lack decent roads. There are many universities and polytechnics in which students sit on the floor to receive lectures. There are universities and polytechnics in which students are compelled to pay for poorly crafted handouts written and marketed by their lecturers. There are many universities and polytechnics that lack decent science and engineering laboratories, including essential science equipment and chemicals necessary for conducting the most basic of experiments. Every year, universities admit postgraduate research and coursework students but the environment for postgraduate research and coursework studies barely exists.
There are too many areas of academic and non-academic activities that require urgent government attention. However, government cannot focus properly on these areas that require priority attention because too many people are ripping off the system in which, ironically, they serve as public officials. There are too many enemies within. How do you deal with such a complicated country?