by Femi Akomolafe
(Swans - April 20, 2009) The head of one of the anti-corruption agencies the Nigerian government set up to tackle the canker of pervasive corruption in the land, Madam Farida Waziri, was so astounded by the enormity of the problem confronting her that she advocated that those aspiring to public office should first take a mental sanity test to determine the state of their mental aptitude. The poor woman was just too flabbergasted by the insane propensity of Nigerian officials to loot the commonwealth.
Nigerian public officials (they are certainly not civil and definitely not servant) are unquestionably among the most pampered civil servants on earth. A World Bank report says that fully 80% of Nigeria's income is used to run the machinery of government (a clear case of a government expanding to meet the needs of an expanding government)! That, however, hasn't dampened the enthusiasm of these officials for looting the treasury at will. Nigerians are no longer inflamed by reports of corruption in high and low places; it has become a way of life. A culture of corruption has descended and it has deepened into levels that simply leave citizens reeling with incredulity.
According to the United Nations, Nigeria is the 13th poorest nation on earth. In terms of all the indices known to developmental statisticians, the nation performs abysmally low. The cost of living is, literally and figuratively, killing the people. Nigerians rely on generators to supply their electricity needs. Many of them go through life without knowing what pipe-borne water tastes like. The road networks are poor and rail lines are antediluvian. In the 1970s, the national airline, Nigeria Airways, had a fleet of thirty-plus aircrafts; today it's moribund. Nigeria's hospitals are more like slaughterhouses than modern health care centers. The country's educational infrastructure is in very dire condition -- rich Nigerians send their wards to schools in neighboring Ghana, while the seriously rich ones dispatch them to schools in the Western world.
What Nigerians know is that their country continues to pump two million or so barrels of oil every day. Even at the relatively low price of US$50 a barrel, the income from oil alone is no chicken change. What Nigerians also know is that their leaders annually perform the rituals of announcing budgets where truly fantastic figures are allocated to road building, schools, hospitals, etc, etc. What Nigerians also see are their leaders jetting off to Switzerland, the Bahamas, Britain, Lichtenstein, and others "safe havens" where treasury looters, especially from poor countries, are assured of, what else, safe havens for their stolen plunder.
So in Nigeria we have a country of some one hundred and forty million people ruled by unconscionable, otiose elites that cannot distinguish between their private accounts and the national treasury. What is worrisome is that the elites continue to live like there's not going to be a day of reckoning!
Amidst the general impoverishment in the land, the corrupt but well-connected elites continue to live lifestyles that would make Arabian monarchs die of envy. The latest craze is the acquisition by the super-rich of private jets. A little historical detour is necessary to put things in good perspective.
Nigeria was among the mishmash of nations fashioned out by drunken European cartographers at their infamous Berlin Conference in 1884. Nowhere else in the world save Africa do you have fine geometric patterns representing countries. European empire-builders threw together 250 or so African tribal and national groups and decided to call them Nigerians (Nigeria was derived from Niger Area -- Niger being the biggest of the two rivers that dissected the country).
Great (?) Britain got Nigeria and colonized it for close to a century. At independence in 1960, Nigeria, like most ex-colonies, inherited a largely agricultural-based economy. Cocoa, rubber, groundnut, and palm kernel were the major income earners. The early 1970s saw Nigeria transformed into a major crude oil exporting nation and things fell apart for the country. As the oil boomed, Nigeria neglected agriculture and started making EASY money from crude oil; so much so that today, the country relies on oil for over 90% of its income. As it happened in several other places, and oil economy saw Nigeria join the league of highly corrupt nations.
A Nigerian leader, General Yakubu Gowon, once famously said that Nigeria's problem was not money but how to spend it. He surely knew what he was talking about! Oil, as anyone with a small brain should know, being carbon-derived, is a finite product. What any thinking person should have done was to invest the proceeds from the product into more durable things to cushion against the day of reckoning when the oil runs out. Nigeria has been unlucky not to have had a leader with enough vision to plan for the rain and that has been her tragedy! General Gowon (mentioned above) got a brainwave and threw some good money into organizing a mammoth cultural event to celebrate black culture. It was dubbed the Black Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) and it happened in Anno 1977! Continental as well as Diasporan Africans came, wined, dined, danced, and speeched themselves silly. Nigeria today is far worse off than those heydays of easy money.
Some many years ago, 1975 to be precise, a Nigerian wrote a novel called My Mercedes Is Bigger Than Yours. It was a parody of the then-penchant of Nigerians to announce their wealth and status by buying the biggest Mercedes Benz cars money could buy (sic). For Nigerians in those days, Mercedes (simply called Benz in Nigeria) cars were the ultimate driving machine and they represented the best announcement for status symbol. The acquisition of a Mercedes Benz car loudly announces that the owner has "arrived." Whilst Nigerians with chicken change make do with Mercedes 200 and such, like in which, heaven forbid, a seriously rich Nigerian would not like to be found dead, the super rich Nigerians tool around town in sleek Mercedes 500SL, which was then the ultimate in very loud ostentatiousness.
Unlike in the West, where crafty bankers and financial wizards brandishing all and every form of degrees from "reputable" Ivy League universities have created things like "financing," "deferred payment," "collateralized loan," and such to enable paupers to live like Saudi royals and postpone the day of financial reckoning, Nigeria still largely operates a cash-and-carry economy. In layman's terms, it means that you exchange your raw cash for the goods you purchase. So, to have enough physical CASH to pay for a Mercedes 500SL is "no joking matter," as they say in Nigeria. That was thirty-something years ago and, like in most things in life, Nigerians have made gigantic leaps forward. Fast forward to 2009 and welcome to the era of private jets.
Never mind that the global economy is in serious meltdown -- the likes of which no one alive can remember. Never mind that the electricity company in Nigeria cannot supply more than three to four hours of electricity daily. Never mind that Nigerian currency, the Naira (N), is in a serious free fall. Never mind that the Nigerian stock exchange has crashed (wiping over N9 trillion: 1US$ = N200; it was 1:115 five months ago). Never mind that Nigeria's industries are operating at between 30-40% of installed capacities. Never mind that millions of Nigerians are unemployed (80% of Nigerian university graduates are, according to the Nigerian Minister of Education, unemployable). Never mind that thousands of Nigerians are queuing up at Western embassies to go and gamble for non-existing jobs in the West. Never mind...
"MONEY talks. In Nigeria, it actually shouts. Especially in the lives and lifestyles of those who have it in abundance. While the economic crisis takes its toll on the people, the taste of Nigerian rich men for luxury is anything but waning. While the stock market is down and people's savings have been wiped out, a few Nigerians are still living life to the fullest, flying around in private jets. Money, indeed talks. While it has said goodbye to mostly poor Nigerians, it is screaming 'watch me do wonders' in the pockets of a few." (The Guardian, Monday, 16 March 2009.)
The United States Congress recently spent inordinate hours berating top honchos of corporate America for flying around in private jets whilst beseeching the government for bailouts. The corporate Boss of Bosses were sufficiently humbled enough to park their jets and started car-pooling (albeit in stretch limousines) -- what a tribulation!
Thank goodness seriously-rich Nigerians do not have to worry about those types of nonsense. As usual, Nigerians' penchant for overdoing things has spread into the realm of the private jets. While the conscience of the super-rich in the West is pricked sufficiently for them to abandon their private jets and other appurtenances of their kind, Nigerian money-bags (Nigerian parlance for the super-rich) are snapping up private and corporate jets in huge numbers never seen in a long, long time. A Nigerian aviation expert was quoted in the Nigerian press recently as saying that: "In the last one year, the number of private jets bought by Nigerians has more than doubled. Nowhere in Africa, not even in South Africa, is there the number of private jets as we have now available. Overflying the Nigerian airspace today are some of the best and, of course, most expensive private jets these companies have on offer."
In the last year alone, rich Nigerians have snapped up five Hawker 900 XPs (from the Hawker Beechcraft Corporation), described as a luxurious wonder in the air. Each plane reportedly cost $14.9 million. Five Hawker 800 XPs each of which goes for $13 million, have also been bought by Nigerians. Nigerians also reportedly own two Hawker 4000s with the princely price tag of $21 million each. One of the two Nigerians on the Forbes list of richest people, Aliko Dangote, is reported to own a Challenger Global Express with the list price of $58 million. The second Nigerian on the Forbes list, Femi Otedola, was said to have purchased a Challenger Global 5000. One Nigerian, Dr. Kashim, is said to own two aircraft, including a Hawker 600 and a Learjet. Another one, young Mike Adenuga of the telecommunications giant Globalcom, has placed an order for a Falcon 7X, which goes for $49.5 million. Adenuga already owns a Challenger 604.
Before you start getting the wrong idea that it is only Captains of Industry that are buying jets in Nigeria, religious leaders have also joined the rat race in procuring the most lavish jets money can buy. Jesus was, apparently, not addressing Nigeria's so-called "men of God" when he admonished that: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Mark 10:25) In Nigeria, church leaders like David Oyedepo of Living Faith Church and Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God have also joined the jet age.
According to the Nigerian daily, ThisDay, Tuesday, March 10, "the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) has acquired a new aircraft at a staggering cost of N4 billion (about $28 million) for their revered Pastor." The aircraft, ThisDay says, "is a Gulfstream AXP, with number 707EA. The aircraft is said to have arrived in Lagos nine days ago, from the Bahamas. Gulfstream, aviation experts say, is a transatlantic aircraft that has the capacity of about 15 passengers only. It is for the topmost class in society. The report remarked that the RCCG acquired the aircraft years after Bishop Oyedepo of Living Faith Church acquired his own, a Challenger aircraft, with number D6640, which was parked a few metres away from Adeboye's Gulfstream at the General Aviation Terminal (GAT), Lagos."
Nigerian religious leaders apparently failed to read Jesus' injunction: "No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." (Luke 16:12-14)
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