Nigerians – People Of Willful Blindness And Whistle Blowers

(By Adejoh Idoko Momoh)

The Nigerian society does not encourage whistle blowers, if anything, it isolates them; refers to them as not loyal and bringing disrepute to their government or institutions. In truth, whistle blowers are passionate about organizational or national growth; they know that more accountable societies are the ones that function maximally.

I WOULD often hear my friends say that ignorance is the biggest problem with Nigeria and Nigerians. I would giggle and imagine they were the ignorant ones. For the avoidance of doubt, Nigeria’s principal dilemma is not ignorance, it is willful blindness.

  If there is information that you should know and you somehow manage not to know the law concludes that you have chosen not to know and therefore are willfully blind. Perhaps, no country or government takes advantage of this concept more than Nigeria’s current government or its social media handlers. When you accuse the government of corruption, they quickly point you to the Freedom of Information Act and Nigeria’s relative press freedom. They argue that all the information you need is at your disposal if only you would ask for it.

  Willful blindness is evident in Nigeria’s Finance Ministry where the Minister would boldly proclaim that $10.8 billion as opposed to $49.8 billion is unremitted to the Federation Account from Nigeria’s National Petroleum Corporation and feel like she owes no one an explanation. Willful blindness is evident in Nigeria’s Presidency where the President has ignored the National Assembly’s recommendation to sack a serving Minister who forged both her Master’s and Doctorate degree certificates just so she would be qualified for a Ministerial position. Or in Nigeria’s Independent Electoral Commission whose National Chairman would come on television, admit irregularities with the Anambra elections, yet refuse to cancel results from the same flawed elections and dare political parties to go to court. Willful blindness exists on large scales like these but it also exists on small scales.

An organization does not enroll its employees in its country’s Health Insurance Scheme the employees overlook this, being only too grateful that they have jobs in a country where more than half of its population is unemployed. A family that lives in Abuja’s metropolis does not have tap water, instead of complaining to the Water Board whose duty it is to provide water, they go buy an automatic water pumping machine only too grateful they can afford it. An employee gets paid half of his salary for a full month worked and instead of demanding an explanation from his employer, he is only too grateful he has some money to settle bills. All these are not examples of ignorance; they are examples of willful blindness.

  The sad thing is, everywhere you go, they refer to the problem as uniquely theirs; the civil servant would say it’s a Nigerian problem. The family would say water scarcity is an Abuja problem. The underpaid employee would say it is an ‘XYZ organization’ problem. But the truth is it is a human problem. We are all under certain circumstances willfully blind. Most out of fear, some say it is futile to speak out, some just conclude it is better not to see these things because sometimes considering everything that goes wrong would leave you truly horrified.

  Just look at recent Nigerian examples and you would see why most Nigerians think whistle blowing is futile. The ‘Occupy Nigeria’ protests started in the face of a New Year fuel price increase; Nigerians came in unison, raised demands of an outright reversal of the increase amongst others, fast forward several years and all Nigeria has seen is a slight reduction in the increased pump price, a reduced number of fuel subsidy firms that still receive humongous subsidy payments and the retention of a corrupt oil Minister whose resignation was demanded by almost every Nigerian.

See also the Oduah BMW scandal, as the story broke the Aviation Ministry released a statement saying it would launch an investigation aimed at finding the person who leaked official documents to the press, and then there is the wide media criticism that met Obasanjo’s open letter to Jonathan or the backlash that met Sanusi’s claim of the NNPC’s $49.8bn unremitted funds. When courageous whistle blowers speak out, it ceases to be about the message and all the questions it raises, it becomes about the messenger and his personal flaws.

  The Nigerian society does not encourage whistle blowers, if anything, it isolates them; refers to them as not loyal and bringing disrepute to their government or institutions. In truth, whistle blowers are passionate about organizational or national growth; they know that more accountable societies are the ones that function maximally.

  They also know that keeping official secrets or hiding acts of corruption only benefits a few individuals while exposing corruption works for the good of the whole of society. Take as example, as in the case of the NNPC and Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, if questions are raised as to the unremitted $49.8 or $10.8bn and the sum eventually is reclaimed from the few people who have pocketed it, wouldn’t that lead to funds for the development of National Infrastructure that would profit all Nigerians? Imagine if the family described above makes the decision to demand the provision of water from the Water Board as opposed to purchasing an automatic water pumping machine; it benefits larger society as opposed to providing for only one family.

  As things are, the Nigerian constitution guarantees basic freedom. The freedom of movement, even though venturing into a Boko Haram stronghold would be at your own risk: The freedom to speak or write without fear provided you do not accuse the government of corruption: the freedom of association provided the society approves of your association. What whistle blowers know is that true freedom does not exist if it is not used.  This is why they are courageous enough to use this freedom, expose corrupt practices and are determined not to be blind or silent. As citizens of this great nation, if we all would see this country firmly placed on the path of sustainable development, we must make the conscious decision to shun willful blindness and to a large extent, all become whistle blowers.

• Momoh, 0816 933 9550

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