by Femi Akomolafe
(Swans - September 7, 2009)
Oga (Master in the Yoruba language), do you know that I don't understand you self? (A typical Nigerian grammatical construction, ignore the blotch.)
What do you mean, omo iya (my sibling)?
For whose benefit are you writing all those big, big grammar?
What do you mean?
Oga, don't be angry with me, but I always read you and your big grammar complaining about this and that about Nigeria. Don't take offense, but it looks like you've got nothing better to do with your time.
You mean that no one should write about the shortcomings one sees around him? I thought the writer's onerous job is to chronicle the ills he sees in his society.
Absolutely not! Those things you called shortcomings are the spices of life. What you called ills are the same things that make our sweet world goes on its merry rounds in a smooth trajectory. You always sound like a sour grape, and sometimes you really sound like a crybaby. See what happened to all the chroniclers of the Bible. Where did it get them? If you hate our world the way it is and the way we live it, you can easily get off it and go and enjoy your blissful heaven wherever it is. You might even get your seventy virgins to go with it, who knows?
I am not following your logic.
Oh! It's quite simple. If only you'll listen.
Yes. Think of it this way. I once read a piece where you wrote that Nigerians consider laws as mere suggestions.
Yeah, what is wrong with that?
Ah, Oga, can't you see that everything is wrong with that position! Let me, with all due respect, ask you a question.
Okay, go ahead
Laws are made by human beings, right?
Human-made laws are not some immutable laws of nature or of physics, right?
Quite correct, carry on.
So if now and then I break some laws or bend some rules just a little, who is injured?
Why don't you ask yourself what will happen if everyone decides to bend the rules and break the laws a little? The result will be totally anarchy. Would you like to live in an anarchical society?
You are generalizing there, but let's leave that be. But you're also always sermonizing about corruption, are you saying that you have never been in a situation you've tempted to offer a little "dash" (Nigerian slang for bribe) to someone?
Hell, no. Why should I?
Ah, Oga! I find that hard to belief. Do you have a passport or a driving license?
Of course, I do.
You are not telling me that you got them legitimately, are you?
Of course, I got them legitimately.
Hmm. I find that hard to belief in this country of ours. May I ask you another question?
Go right ahead.
It's a theoretical question, purely academic.
Stop beating around the bush. What's your question?
Oga, supposing, just supposing that you are to go and sign a ten million naira contract, you're in your car driving to meet the appointment. Your adrenaline is pumping and all that. Along the way you ran into one of those hopeless Lagos traffic logjams with your brain frying in the merciless African heat. The person with whom you are going to sign the contract is a renowned no-sense woman who doesn't believe in not keeping prompt appointment. You can kiss the contract goodbye if you are a minute late for the appointed time. Your only option is to take a one-way side road to beat the traffic. But it really was not your day for as soon as you branched a policeman stopped you. And you know our police, now. The officer demanded that you settle him before he'll allow you to continue your journey. He asked you for five thousand naira. The question now is: would you give the policeman five thousand naira he demanded and get on your way or will you tell him off and kiss the ten million naira contract goodbye?
Oga, sorry, but let me land before you bury me (another Nigerian expression). How about this, your beloved wife developed serious complication during childbirth. You know that the conditions in our hospitals are not great. The doctor hinted that both mother and child will die unless you can give him something to arrange some emergency surgery to save their lives. Would you stand on your principle on not giving bribery and allow them to die? Will your conscience be at peace?
That would not be necessary if things are well-ordered and...
Ah, there you are. Well-ordered! Are things well-ordered in this dear country of our death?
But the system will continue to rot if people give bribes. Moreover...
There is no moreover there. The saying is that when you're in Rome do as the Romans do. Take our education system for another example. I am using system here advisedly since there is absolutely no order to the parlous state of affairs at our places of learning in this country. You have this brilliant daughter whose chance of getting a place at the university depends on you giving something to someone who knows someone who might help. Would you let her education suffer because you want to stand on principle?
I will let her compete on her own merit.
Fine and dandy, but where in this land of our death did you see any meritocracy? And what about politics? What about it?
You know that every single one of our office holders is sponsored by a "Godfather." What if tomorrow one godfather comes to you and offers you the governorship of a state. He splashes money to our envelope-chasing journalists and they BIG YOU UP big time. They trumpet you like no man's business. The folks from your village on hearing about your good prospect start trooping to pay their homage and their respects. The only catch is that the godfather is demanding that you appoint some of his men as commissioners. Are you going to turn him down?
I surely will turn him down. The trouble with corruption is that everyone believes that he has to play ball...
And you don't think that your folks will put a fatwa on you?
What if everyone refuses to pay bribe...
That's misconceived idealism. We shall never get to the state whereby human beings will stop taking advantage of one another. Did you forget your biology or didn't they configure the evolutionary theory into your school syllabus? It is survival of the fittest. Everyone for himself and Nkosi (South African word for God) for all of us?
You painted a very gloomy canvas...
I am sorry that you felt that way. I am a realist and I find your celluloid and extra-terrestrial idealism as unrealistic as they are unreasonable; no one has demonstrated that corruption retards any progress.
You can't be serious. Everyone knows that corruption is detrimental to any country's economic progress.
Is that all you can say?
Those are the whinings of arm-chair busy-bodies like you and those useless NGOs who are busy parroting the same rotten lies the Western leaders have been telling us since the dawn of time. The truth of the matter is that many factors are conspiring to keep Africa as the playground of the rich white folks and Africans as their hewer of woods, but certainly corruption is not high among those factors.
You really cannot be serious. Did you not see the UN figure on how much corruption has cost Africa over the years? Nigeria alone was said to have lost about four hundred and fifty billion in the last forty years.
Fanciful figures, did you ask how they came about them? If they knew how much was lost, they certainly must know where it went. Or are they telling us that the staggering 450 billion you mentioned just vamoosed into "money paradise," if I may employ Mr. Madoff's fanciful phrase. Did you ask your UN statisticians why is it that it's only in Africa that corruption is retarding growth and keeping people in primitive poverty? The truth of the matter is that African looters are just hopeless cretins who are too enamored by Western materialism. They love the avariciousness of the West but they lack the proclivity to innovate and be productive. If an American swindles his government, he'll use the money to build a factory or something in America. The stolen money is recycled in America. Ditto the Japanese, the Belgians and the Koreans. It's only in Africa where we have sets of unpatriotic, brainless thieves who steal money and go to lodge them in foreign lands. If Nigerians stole 450 billion dollars of Nigerian money and used it to establish farms, industrial estates and such like, the country loses nothing. But the sad reprobates we have in Africa will loot their treasury only to go and lodge it in Swiss accounts or use it to buy European football clubs. We will never know how much of Africa's wealth has been lost to the West. Mobutu stole billions of dollars with no one clued in as to how to get them back. Nigeria today is still battling to get Abacha's billions from Britain and Switzerland.
I can't follow your line of logic.
It means that you are not listening too well. Ask yourself who is doing the corrupting in Africa if not Western companies like Shell, Siemens, and the rest of them. Or did they tell you that the word corruption is a Yoruba word? No, if you don't know, it is English. Look, ask yourself if African politicians are more corrupt than their Belgian, Italian, American, British, Chinese, or Japanese counterparts. There have always being serious cases of massive corruption in the Japanese body polity, yet the country remains the world's second largest economy. Chinese regularly dispatch corrupt officials by firing squad, yet the country is racing ahead with its economic development. An ex-Korean leader recently committed hara-kiri, yet the pervasive corruption in Korea hasn't stopped its economy from booming like there's no tomorrow. American wealth was built by robber barons and other scalawags who will make Nigerian politicians look angelic. So massive is corruption in the American defense establishment that a former US president coined the term: Military-Industrial Complex. Even the Brits with all their "holier than thou" poise have been revealed as a bunch of sanctimonious hypocrites. So, you see, you are not just wasting your time writing about corruption and such silly things. I don't know if your time is precious to you or not, that's not my concern. My concern is that you're just wasting everyone else's time. Find something better to write about or as they say in the U.S.: "Get a life!"
A voice from Africa worth hearing... Femi Akomolafe asks you to make ato keep Swans going. Money is spent to pay for Internet costs, maintenance and upgrade of our computer network, and development of the site.