(By Innocent Tochukwu Okoro)
“In mouth-gaping amazement, I stood starry-eyed, trying to figure out why an African woman, a supposed magnet of respect, would degenerate to the level of getting physical, then I finally got the gist – she was promised N500 to vote for some guy but when election was over, she was not paid. It was not until then that I wondered how much food items one can buy with N500 or how many minutes call one can make with N500 on an MTN SIM. Or the guys who voted multiple times in the last local government elections and were paid N2,000, that money got exhausted immediately at a nearby handicapped bar. And for what are we selling our destinies? A few bottles of cold beer?“
HE passes through the early stages of life carrying out all dubiousness, deceiving and double-crossing anybody at any instant in order to get anything. In his penchant for shortcuts, he does all sorts of things, destroying his conscience in the process, and like a cancer, inhumanity spreads to his whole soul and his heart grows stone-cold. Being unable to discern between good and bad, he grows in selfishness, always trying to save his skin, irrespective of the costs to people around him. Hungry for more, he ventures into politics. In a system where evil triumphs over good, where there is no regard for sheer talent or skills, superiority in the practice and implementation of subtle evil and craftiness is a prerequisite for rising through the ranks.
Understanding this, he puts in his best at the dispensation of evil but soon discovers that other things need to be added to his to-do-list; like the murder of innocent people in a bid to silence dissent, like the looting of an entire population, like the subversion of justice to favour the interests of a clique, like inciting people to kill one another, and like the continuous dissemination of lies. But he is equal to the task and with corruption as the theme of his vade mecum and impunity as his compass, he sets sail on bloody waters, en route his ‘share’ of the national cake. Eventually, in recognition of his ‘meritorious’ service to his godfathers, he becomes a ‘leader’ after a ceremonial charade called ‘elections.’
At this stage he is responsible for the lives of millions of people, but who cares? He is more interested in stealing as much as he can, while he can, he is also being careful so as not to hurt the people who brought him thus far – his clique of evil, yes, not the general public. The budgets and allocations are used up in beak wetting and back scratching adventures while the people whose lives are entrusted to him by the constitution continue to waste away in wanton abandon. Because of him and his comrades, virtually all sectors collapse, and because of the example set by his type, people see that there is glory in mediocrity and that there is integrity in impunity. (Why then should one waste one’s time trying to be very good? Instead, what we have is a large and complex network of corruption that seeps into everyday life; like in getting a driver’s licence, like in passing an examination, like in passing through a police checkpoint etc.) He discovers that no agency in Nigeria is performing optimally, realising this, his son studies in America, his daughter in the UK, he visits India each time he has a headache, banks at Switzerland, and holidays in Paris.
However, he buys loyalties and each time he shows up, there are guys around to hail him, being unable to differentiate between boos and cheers, he tries, with difficulty, to convince himself that he is loved by the people, people who are actually there to see if like Lazarus, some crumbs may fall to them from the ‘master’s table,’ as it were, his ‘avalanche of abundance’. Soon, all agencies start recognising him and giving him awards because they would receive something. The Honoris Causa from universities comes next, universities with antiquated or non-existing facilities, where intellectual malnourishment takes place, universities whose sole purpose of existence is the issuance of certificates to a mediocre and ill-equipped work force, and though he finds it difficult to read speeches prepared for him by some ‘intellectual’ who has no better use of his time, his name can now be prefixed with Dr. and suffixed with a national honour. During events where he is always a ‘Special Guest of Honour’, as his ‘achievements’ are called out by the master of ceremony who must have been warned not to miss out anything, he lets out a smile in self-deceptive relish and as he stands to take the stage, his massive amount of flesh, lazy pace and protruding stomach leaves people wondering whether it is a sign of good living or symptoms of sickness. By Nigerian standards, he is a great man.
My attention quickly turns to the society that propounds and institutionalises this version of greatness, the 99 per cent who have the key to their freedom but prefer the ‘soothing’ bondage of chains. Like the woman that fateful election day in 2011 at a polling centre in Ekulu Primary School, older than my mother, who rolled up her sleeves in preparation for an unscheduled amateur boxing tournament. In mouth-gaping amazement, I stood starry-eyed, trying to figure out why an African woman, a supposed magnet of respect, would degenerate to the level of getting physical, then I finally got the gist – she was promised N500 to vote for some guy but when election was over, she was not paid. It was not until then that I wondered how much food items one can buy with N500 or how many minutes call one can make with N500 on an MTN SIM. Or the guys who voted multiple times in the last local government elections and were paid N2,000, that money got exhausted immediately at a nearby handicapped bar. And for what are we selling our destinies? A few bottles of cold beer? Like the Biblical Esau, we have sold our birthright to our ‘great’ Jacobs for a plate of pottage – the crumbs from their table. Until we set ourselves free and change our view, including changing our definition of greatness, we shall remain crumb-seeking, worthless pawns in a country to which we are all shareholders. Don’t get it twisted, Nigeria is a great country, we just have not realised it yet. God Bless Nigeria!
Okoro is a student of University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
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