If you are one of those who have written Nigeria off as a lost case; if you belong to the group that thinks that nothing good can come out of Nigeria, that every Nigerian is a villainous fraudster waiting for the appropriate minute to pounce on an unsuspecting victim; if your pessimism is so deep that, like doubting Thomas, you will not believe unless you see (with your eyes!); Bashir Umar, is the consolation you need, to jerk you from your present cynicism.
But before we unveil Bashir Umar, it makes a lot of sense to acknowledge that the cherished value of honesty that was the hallmark of society, has since evaporated into thin air. Where, in the past, parents stoutly objected to associating with wealth which source was not clearly explained, today, anything goes. That was how the “yahoo yahoo” phenomenon became the order of the day. That was how, from what used to be described as “ten percent” in times past; today bribery has acquired the status of a religion. If it were not so, President Olusegun Obasanjo would not have established the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC and President Muhammadu Buhari would not have been pursuing white collar thieves with so much venom that the perpetrators cling to every subterfuge to derail his anti-corruption campaign.
Part of the problem of the anti-graft campaign is the fact that corruption has been institutionalized from the top. It goes without saying that once a fish starts to decay from the head, nothing will save it from complete decay. That is what happens in any organisation where discipline flies away through the leader’s window. And that is the Bashir Umar metaphor.
Who is Bashir Umar? Until 29 July 2019, he was just an “unknown” Aircraftman with the Nigerian Air Force, NAF; in Kano. But something happened last month, July 2019, he found the sum of 37, 000 Euros, about 15 million Naira, at the hajj Camp in Kano.
To better appreciate what happened; let us recall the story of a great Nigerian, the late Justice Ovie Whiskey. When he was being accused of receiving a bribe of one million naira, Whiskey, who was chairman of the then Federal Electoral Commission, FEDECO, threw the nation into a frenzy by saying that he would faint if he received a quarter of that amount; that is, 250, 000 Naira only. But those days are gone. Just imagine the humongous sums being recovered from both serving and former office holders; imagine the sprawling personal estates built by our office holders in the midst of vast acreages of urban slums; then you can imagine the concert of ideas that could have run riot in the head of this ordinary Nigerian. With 15 million Naira, his life would change instantly. So, one of the options could have been to quietly pocket the money. After all, in Yola, the capital of Adamawa State, a staff of another federal agency, went about sifting dollars from a Hajj pilgrim which she cleverly tucked away in her service cap.
But Umar chose the path of honour; he must have pondered the consequences: his background, his family name, his place with God, the image of the Nigerian Air Force and, perhaps, the fate of the owner. So, he returned the money to the owner. For a person on a basic salary of 48, 000 Naira a month, to pick up the princely sum of about 15 million and not to be tempted to part with some, if not all of the money deserves to be celebrated. The decision to accord him double promotion, to the rank of corporal, as the Nigerian Air Force did, was not only appropriate but instructive.
All through the length and breadth of our country, like Umar, many hard working Nigerians are daily doing remarkable things with such moral force and rectitude that if only their worthy examples can be celebrated, not only will their peers be compelled to follow their examples, the country’s image will receive a boost. Sadly, we scarcely get to know about such role models. Most times, the story is about the incorrigible few, the heartless big guns and the misled poor, whose bad examples give the impression that crime is profitable and who tarnish the image of our country.
It is in that context that the Nigerian Air Force should be commended for turning Umar into an instant celebrity, a role model and perhaps, a burgeoning national icon. The statement of Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, himself a role model of great distinction, to the effect that Umar’s promotion was meant as a reward but also to motivate other airmen and airwomen to emulate his worthy example, should be seen and understood within this context.
At any rate, Air marshal Abubakar’s statement does not come as a surprise to anyone who has been associated with the Nigerian Air Force in the past four years. Speaking at the occasion, Air Vice Marshal Kingsley Lar, Chief of Administration of the NAF put the issue in correct perspective. According to him, the event was in keeping with the NAF’s tradition of honouring personnel who perform exceptionally and display such commendable acts. He then went on to underscore the fact that the event was also as a result of the enabling environment and positive leadership provided by the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar.
Those who are familiar with the CAS will not be surprised that he attributed Umar’s exemplary conduct to the training he received from home; his family background. Highlighting the importance of the family to character formation, about a year ago, Abubakar had told this writer that, as strict disciplinarians committed to the highest moral standards, his parents inculcated in him and his siblings the virtue of honesty as the highest ethical standard. Has he lived up to that principle? The officers and men under him will agree. In fact, it is not by accident that each of his last two predecessors, in the office of the Chief of the Air Staff, awarded him the Service’s honour for prudence and integrity. If the saying that a dove cannot sire a toad is correct, it is therefore axiomatic that those under Sadique Abubakar cannot be expected to exhibit traits that are inconsistent with his own moral code.
Beyond that, it has long been established that one of the strongest motivations to fraud, among public servants, is the neglect to which they are subjected by uncaring leaders whose only interest is to feather their own nests. Under Abubakar, staff welfare has been placed above every other consideration. In addition to placing personal emoluments on first charge, staff residential quarters, medical facilities, recreational centres and educational facilities have all been upgraded to never before seen levels, in the Service or any barracks, for that matter. If stories of desertion are alien to the Nigerian Air Force, if threats of strikes or actual public display of anger is anathema to the rank and file of the Air Force, and if, service personnel like Aircraftman Bashir Umar proudly hold aloft the ensign of the Service as a moral organisation, it is largely attributable to the successful reorientation that has swept through the Service since the Buhari Administration, with Sadique Abubakar in place.
Bashir Umar is a shining example of dedicated Service personnel. He is a product of the distinguished institution that Buhari envisioned when he appointed Sadique Abubakar as Chief of the Air Staff and an embodiment of the Nigeria that Buhari vigorously espouses through his anti-corruption crusade. That not every institution or every Service personnel has lived up to this dream does not diminish the essence of the effort nor does it imply that ours is a lost society.
Let us identify the many patriots of the Bashir Umar ilk who, though not as noisy as the detestable band of shameless fraudsters, are emblematic of the pristine ethical architecture of hard work, integrity and patriotism that used to be the hallmark of the Nigerian military. Let us hold them up as national icons; let them be the first recipients of our national honours based on the strong assurance that they are unlikely to dip their hands into the public till. That way, the government and the country will be sending a strong signal that a new ethical re-orientation is firmly underway.
– Agu was Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of Champion Newspapers
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