These days, if my cell phone rings 10 times, you can be sure that seven times, the guy on the other side has a problem waiting for me to solve. I don’t get fooled anymore if he spends some time asking about the wife and the children and work, the weather and the economy.
Have a little patience… he will get to it. He will tell you that you are the only one who can save the situation. His landlord is on his case and he needs money urgently to settle the very troublesome landlord or to pack to a new place. The children are at home because of ‘ordinary’ N80, 000 to pay their school fees. The wife is in hospital and if you do not intervene, she might die there! There is not even one cup of garri at home and he does not know what to do. Suddenly, you are made to feel guilty for some crime you have not committed.
Believe me, the situation in the land is that serious. The guy on the on the other end does not have to be your brother, cousin, old friend or former classmate. You probably never heard of him but it does not matter. Somehow, he has your number. What do you do? Tell him to go to hell and switch off? Let him know that you are struggling too? He will not believe you. Of course, he will not give up and will ask you to “just do something”. After all, like a friend of mine would say, “half bread is better than groundnut” or better put in the famous words of my guy, Segun Arinze, ‘at all… at all, na him bad!” If after trying, his hook does not catch immediate fish, then he would ask you, ‘when do I call back?’ Guy, you have just acquired a new customer.
I do not want to make light of the difficult situation that people are going through in Nigeria. There are many with genuine problems that we should address if we have the means. There are also many who have graduated with honours from the Faculty of Begging in the School of Lie-lie. From Monday to Sunday, they are on the phone with a list of numbers telling their tales of woe. Even before the recession, begging was their full-time job.
If you are involved in activities, like I am, that once in a while put your face in a newspaper or on television, you are in trouble. The assumption is that you are an Andrew Yakubu with piles and piles of American dollars in raw cash at home. Those who call you cannot understand why you will not just give them one little pile and change the story of their lives. Each time you do not give, they wince. You are tight fisted or like some young ladies will say, ‘the man na Aradite, in fact, na Super Glue”.
You want to blame my people? When they see the billions and zillions that public officers in our land stash at home, in soak away pits or in foreign bank accounts and the many mansions that Nigerians own across the world, many a Nigerian verily believes that everyone in Nigeria that has been associated with some kind of leadership position in our country has money stacked somewhere.
I know some of my kinsmen who loath me because I am struggling to erect one house in my village. In their thinking, ‘he should long have built a mansion worthy of the positions he has held’. I understand them. In our world, the achievement of a man is measured by the size of his house and the money he donates in public and not by his intellect, character or his contribution to the development of his people.
Yes, I once served on a Federal Government Board. My allowance was a tidy sum of N15, 000. Please, how many times would you multiply N15, 000 and build a mansion with it? In my other situations, I have been an advocate, mostly unpaid. I once had to say that I spend 80 percent of my time working for free and 20 percent, working to earn a living. But in Nigeria, it does not matter. The stories of the Andrew Yakubus, Sambo Dasukis, Diezani Allison Maduekes, Obanikoros, Murtala Nyakos and their many colleagues are the prevailing stories in town. Everyone, therefore, believes that once you have held a position of leadership, you have a duty to conjure something under the table whenever asked.
Believe me, you are expected to distribute your loot to your kinsmen and friends. That is how they get their share of the national cake. In our land, the dominant position is that you are an imbecile if you hold public office and you do not loot.
You will indeed be surprised to find out that there are people you consider very close friends of yours who verily believe that you must be cooking something. To them, you are just being smart and selfish by keeping it away from them. Because of the prevailing culture, it has become very difficult for Nigerians to believe that there are citizens in our country who have a different set of values and do not go to bed dreaming of big estates and bank accounts filled with millions of dollars.
I have told this tale before of how I had been invited to the EFCC office in Lagos while Ribadu was chairman, to respond to some crazy allegations made about my tenure as President of PMAN. The EFCC had just been set up. I met some very bright officers at the EFCC. My impression before then of law enforcement in Nigeria was ‘garagara’, crudity and brute force. I was really impressed by the professionalism and thoroughness with which the gentlemen at the EFCC went about their work.
The people who reported me to the EFCC were people I had once considered to be my friends. Their problem was not that I stole. They thought I was ‘chopping alone’ and they decided to teach me a lesson. The officers at EFCC left no stone unturned in search of my ‘stupendous wealth’. They went back 10 years after I had left PMAN to examine PMAN cash books, records of PMAN accounts in different banks, information filed by PMAN with the Registrar of Trade Unions under my tenure, etc.
In the final days of their investigation, the EFCC officials brought me and my accusers into one room with accountants, auditors, bank officials and former PMAN executives and for an entire day went line by line through practically every financial transaction during my tenure. Nothing escaped their attention. At the end of the day, no one could show how I stole a penny from PMAN and the EFCC officers shook my hand and asked me to go. While my accusers drove away in a fleet of choice SUVs, I left the EFCC in my only car of the time, a Tokunbo Mercedes Benz 190 which had only three of the four cylinders working. I was, however, proud that not one word I spoke could be impeached.
This is why I feel sorry for President Muhammadu Buhari as he tries to make sense of the horror film called Nigeria. While Nigerians shout about corruption, they don’t mind corruption as long as they are the beneficiaries. They don’t care how much anyone steals as long as they can get part of the loot. It is crazy but James Ibori just had a Rockstar welcome in Oghara a few days ago – a man returning from jail for stealing from his people!
Unfortunately, not everyone understands that the true measure of a man is not in his bank account or his mansion but in his character.
Culled from Sundiata Post