WHAT ARE FRIENDS FOR?
If the former First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan claims the billions of Naira found in her bank accounts were gifts from friends and former Group Managing Director (GMD) of Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr. Andrew Yakubu also says the $9.77 million found in his house were gifts from friends, it’s high time I changed my present circle of friends.
I need friends who can offer me cash gifts in Euro, Pounds and Dollars.
So, if you don’t hear from me anymore, it is because I have concluded you do not know how to give what true friends give to their friends!
When the late Dele Giwa wrote more than 30 years ago that Nigerians have been shocked to the state of “unshockability”, he was basing his thesis on the fact that there is hardly any public protest after revelations of scandal, no matter how huge.
But then, the Yoruba people have a saying that if you face calamity so big that even your tears would not help, you must use humour to deal with the situation.
That, I guess, is what many Nigerians have learnt to do over the years though there is another category of Nigerians who take delight in celebrating their oppressors which is a different matter altogether.
Meanwhile, the lesson from the joke with which I opened the page is that the surest way of “making” stupendous wealth in Nigeria today is to befriend the right kind of people in the right places but such “friends” must also be subversively generous enough to make you a billionaire.
The flip side, however, is that a society with a preponderance of such “beneficial owners” of wealth obtained not from work but rather as “gifts from friends” is doomed.
That unfortunately is the story of Nigeria today.
It is indeed very telling that at a time the federal government is making a song and dance over the oversubscription of its $1 billion Eurobond, one percent of that sum was retrieved from the residence of just one former career public officer who was not even elected.
With the whistle blower policy recently introduced, this may be the season for all ill-treated aides and aggrieved wives to come forward with details of movable and immovable assets got “from their friends” that some fat cats have been hiding from the public.
As I once wrote on this page several years ago, there are inherent lessons in Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” published in her 1974 collection, “The Wind’s Twelve Quarters” that will serve us as a nation, especially in such a time as this.
The major theme in the interesting story—which teaches profound lessons–is the place of morality and how different people within a given society accept certain norms while others would simply walk away. Using Omelas as a metaphor for Nigeria today, we can examine the different aspects of our society and the rot within but that is a task for another day.
On Tuesday, a Federal High Court sitting in Kano presided over by Justice Zainab Abubakar ordered the forfeiture to the federal government of the sum of $9,772,000 and £74,000 recovered from Mr. Andrew Yakubu, a former GMD of NNPC.
Since the case is already in court, we must wait for Yakubu’s side of the story in this incredible country where even “grass cutters” now attend government-sponsored anti-corruption rallies to talk down on the rest of us!
While I commend the Ibrahim Magu-led Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for its tenacity and the efforts that led to the discovery in Yakubu’s house, there is one quick issue here that we must not gloss over: our society is what it is today because we have imbibed the ethos that wealth is not related to work.
So, the corruption we are talking about is far deeper than mere stealing; it is about looking for “miracles” and all sorts of magic formula for illicit “gifts from friends”; after all, what are friends for?
In my presentation titled “Between Waste and Nigerian Work Ethics” at the maiden edition of Pastor Poju Oyemade’s “Platform Nigeria” in Abuja on 1st May 2015, I made allusion to this when I said:
“… many of us know the ‘Okada’ rider of yesterday who now owns a fleet of cars simply because he has worked his way to become a pimp for some politicians who conspired to foist him on the rest of the society either as council chairman or a lawmaker.
“We also know the struggling business man of yesterday who could not even pay his house rent but who is now a subsidy billionaire with Private Jet to boot, just because he is fronting for some unscrupulous powerful political office holders who abuse their public trust.
“Let us not even talk about the low cadre civil servant who has made it big, after being posted to the Pension office, where he feeds fat on the misery of pensioners…”
Considering the damage corruption has done both to our national psyche and socio-economic well-being, some of the questions I have posed in the past remain:
Will the sensational stories we read in the media every day lead to the successful prosecution and conviction of some big fish in the pool of corruption to serve as deterrence to others?
Are institutional mechanisms being put in place to make it difficult for people to fiddle with public funds and easily get away?
What legal/judicial reforms are ongoing to ensure that public officials who steal billions are not asked to pay peanuts in fines to walk free?