I have been ruminating about how we who ‘naively’ agonise about society can derive more value from our advocacy rather than being seen as fools, and are left holding the can. I was ruminating about how we would not end up as paupers or totally frustrated, as those who consider themselves smarter grab political space, keep the naïve ones out, and proceed to lord it over society. I felt we should develop a system whereby we keep our cash flows growing among ourselves by generating mutual support each time one of us has programmes – say book launchings, seminars, workshops, projects or something similar.
What we have seen is a situation where this shrinking circle of idealistic people, who are somehow trying to resist the norm in Nigeria, have need for little things and are unable to come up with support. Their book launchings are attended by a handful of people. Their lectures and symposia are sniffed at and ignored. They often suffer; and we often see many diminishing into penury, wearing worn out shoes and shirts ridden with holes. It is sad. That is the reason why after four books, I have never launched any. Because beyond social media, I cannot vouch that most ‘friends’ will show support or love for all the work that one has done trying really to make society better. But I stand by the ideas in my books and would rather they are discovered, not forced upon people. And I often say that no one can pay me enough for what I wrote in them. Really I mean it, because I put my soul in my writings.
Yet our work is important. In the PhD programme I am on, we recently treated the differences between Ethics and Professional Responsibility, especially why some members of a profession or organisation sometimes break ranks and become whistle-blowers. One thing I learnt was that in a few instances, the wiring of some people – genetically or otherwise – forces them to act in certain ways. There are people who cannot easily cheat other people. There are people who are mainly motivated by social service. There are people who are not overly motivated by self, greed, power and so on. The question is: should that be a death sentence? Should such people find themselves unable to pick small medical bills, while real smart criminals who – in a nation like Nigeria – have constituted themselves into the Lords and the Masters – simply steal the commonwealth and utilise it in prolonging their own lives, sending their children to the best schools in the world, laundering their images and consciences, buying national honours, and buying over the emotions of the vast majority of unsuspecting people? Well, should we?
It will be unfair. And even though we live in an unfair world, it is important to put these issues on the table and discuss them. In all the societies we look up to today, they had to discuss these issues. Without people like Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658), England will probably still be under a brutal monarchy. Perhaps the concept of democracy itself would never have seen the light of day, as the entire world was only used to some form of feudalism and oppressive monarchies then. Yet the beauty of democracy is in its ability to throw up new ideas, by admitting blue and red blood alike into governance. Cromwell was a key mover and a signatory to the death warrant of King Charles I, the birthing of England as a Republic, and its freedom, however partial, from the hands of the monarchs after the English Civil War. With people like Paul Revere (1734–1818), perhaps the entire USA will still be under British rule, and that irrepressible spirit that nation has released around the world would be stillborn.
But it is possible to be discouraged. When visionaries and philosophers, so the speak, are busy trying to force a new reality and redirect the trajectory of their society, but they realise the strong tide that pulls in a different direction is more powerful than them, and that the people for which their hearts bleed couldn’t care a hoot – even for their own salvation, that can be depressing. That is the case of Nigeria, where adults organise seminars to actively empower the youth, but the youth would rather attend lewd musical concerts, comedy shows, or even, religious houses. Not for them some ‘boring’ sense-talk which reminds them that there is some future upfront. They just cannot be bothered. What do we do, when a nation solidly believes in quick-fixes, fire-brigade approaches when things go awry, or more often than not, miracles, magic and juju? It is a tiring task telling our people that we are where we are today, specifically because of our beliefs. And that we need to change those beliefs because we have become the beliefs. Who cares? The politicians think the same way most often!
The world values modesty, honesty, even advocacy for the poor and doing what is right. The world loves the underdog, and anyone who fights for the underdog. Nigeria may be different today, but it wont be forever. It is true that Nigeria could be much much better than it is today, so those of us who struggle daily to let that be known, painting the pictures for people to see, are on the side of angels.
Then I read yesterday, a short essay by a friend, the Eruobodo, Lanre Oyenuga. Then it clicked. Lanre wrote about how his son – perhaps in his early 20s – googled his name after being prodded by his fellow university classmates all the way in the UAE. The google search revealed that Lanre was something of a social activist. The son came back to him, warning him to be careful, but obviously beaming with pride that his Dad was not another Nigerian thief. Imagine for a moment if Lanre’s son, with his curious, sharp-witted friends breathing down his neck as they stared into their computers or phones waiting for the google search to come up, and had come up with a search that revealed his Dad being investigated for stealing some money or the other? Imagine also, if there was nothing of significance, that is if Lanre was another over-smart Nigerian thief who probably knew how to keep everything coded? Imagine if Lanre is like the thousands of Nigerian money-men who are not ‘google-able’, maybe because they don’t use their real names for their transactions – because they cannot stand behind what they have – or because they prefer not to exist; like some of Adolf Hitler’s associates who changed their faces after the second World War?
Imagine if Lanre had done a fraud in the bank where he worked or had faked drugs meant for children in his factory? Imagine if he was a drug-dealer? Lanre’s son reminded us that the thinking of the real world has since changed; forget what you see on those tramp channels about celebrities. The world values modesty, honesty, even advocacy for the poor and doing what is right. The world loves the underdog, and anyone who fights for the underdog. Nigeria may be different today, but it wont be forever. It is true that Nigeria could be much much better than it is today, so those of us who struggle daily to let that be known, painting the pictures for people to see, are on the side of angels.
A radio host recently told me about visiting a bank to do his BVN, only to meet some high ranking military man there who told the bank official to do ‘another’ BVN in a different name for him, for obvious reasons. The man had done a BVN in another bank before coming there. The radio host says that banks are helping their customers device ways around that these days. Trust some Nigerians to try and screw up the best of systems. The same crooked bankers we hear are selling batches of a thousand BVNs and customer names to crooked Bureaux de Change; names with which those ones bid weekly for forex from CBN.
But I digress. Lanre’s story brought home to me the fact that we already have something worth more than all the dirty Naira in the world. We have our names. We use our real names. We may be poor – or not so rich – but some of us are able to eat whatever little food we can afford (subject to Doctor’s prescriptions). We open our accounts in our names. We don’t bear ten different names in ten different places. When we have money, we build our houses in our names. We don’t have money pouring into our accounts that we are not sure what to do with. We are not close to those who share the booty they steal from poor Nigerians just to launder through our accounts and take on the other side. Those of us who have businesses just manage to eke a living, making enough to keep head above water. We may not have enough to withstand the worst of crisis, so we pray to God to deliver us from temptation, because we are unlike those who have squeezed themselves permanently into government service and politics just to ensure all their health bills are picked by government till they die. We even now see that it is better to have our freedom than to mortgage it for the prison that is a government appointment; something that puts one under immediate immense scrutiny. This freedom should not be exchanged for any golden handcuffs.
It is only spineless men – or women – who will spend several tens of millions of the commonwealth (monies wrung from the hands of market women, street traders, as well as struggling SMEs) and head off to Miami on some flight of fancy.
For with every stiff at the morgue, we have seen the vanity of life. And the utter stupidity, the despicable asininity, of the kind of wanton looting that passes, or if we are lucky, passed, for governance in Nigeria.
Yes, we have what is more than gold.
See what is on the other side. We have people whom we should never, ever respect. Not for the money they flaunt, or the properties, cars or women. These are vacuous people – most of them trying to fill a void inside them that can never be filled. Most of them are trying to make a point even though nobody of substance is taking notice. That gets them angrier and then they go and steal some more. These are the people driving Nigeria to the edge of sporadic violence with all these revelations about stealing which puts Abacha and Mobutu to shame.
It is only a totally demented mind that will steal money meant for prosecuting a war while fellow men and women die on the field. It is only an irrationally wicked being, that will steal from the dead and dying, usurp pensions meant for people who have worked for 35 years, steal monies meant for children’s hospitals, for the care of people living with HIV-AIDS, Tuberculosis, or for environmental sanitation. Only a self-hating person will do to Nigeria what we have been hearing these past few days. Yes, they own everything around us. But by Jove they will own it no more. When we see them on the streets we should spit on them; they and their children. It is only callous people who will continue to budget for their own comfort, for luxury cars, when most of the country is being owed salaries. It is only spineless men – or women – who will spend several tens of millions of the commonwealth (monies wrung from the hands of market women, street traders, as well as struggling SMEs) and head off to Miami on some flight of fancy.
We have what they don’t have. They may have had it but they lost it. Let us raise our head up high. They actually envy us. We have what is worth more than gold. It’s from here on to glory.
May our children be proud of us and our work.