By Rev. Fr. Ojaje Emmanuel Idoko

The saying that ‘a hungry man is an angry man’ is common among Nigerians. At the moment Nigerians are hungry and when hunger is not properly understood it can generate anger. The righteous anger is always directed at the person who is the source of the hunger. Also a hungry man can easily get angry and anybody can be a victim of such transferred aggression. Nigerians are reaching that level now whereby everyone is angry at everything. I think that at a time such as this, we should ask of how we arrived at this level, not to necessarily find faults with any particular person but in order to avoid such fault in future. Let us know the truth.

Since dawn of democratic governance in 1999, the leadership of Nigeria had known that if we do not check our craze for imported items the economy would not be able to withstand the pressure. Around 2001, the then minister of information, Prof Jerry Gana announced that there were over 92 brands of imported toothpaste in the Nigerian market. Many Nigerians became ‘successful business’ men and women simply by bringing in imported items from all over the world. You go to China, there are hundreds of young Nigerians there transacting business of importation into Nigeria. They do not ever attempt to export anything to China or any other part of the world. So we have varieties of torch lights and rechargeable lamps with fanciful covers. We have all sorts of motor cycles imported from Korea. Some of the motor cycles a branded in the names of the Nigerian importers. All of a sudden, tri-cycle (Keke napep) imported from India flooded every Nigerian town and village. Indians make Billions of foreign currency from such importations. We have technology development agencies in Nigeria. We have schools of technology all over the country. We polytechnics own by federal and state governments, voluntary agencies and religious bodies and private individuals all over the country, yet we import folk and knife from China. Those who are involved in these importation rackets are called international business men. The truth of it is that Nigerians are never challenged to develop anything at the local level.

Another crop of Nigerians that destroyed the economy are those who became billionaires over night importing refined petroleum products. We hear about how they have built tank farms all over Apapa and other parts of Lagos, storing refined imported petroleum products. With such benefits to the few privileged importers, there is no way our refineries will work and new ones cannot be built. They were involved in oil subsidy scam that drained the Nigerian resources.

Did Nigerians just wake up one bad morning and found our treasury empty, our cooking pots without food and our electricity wires and bulbs without current? We did not just wake up to find our Naira notes becoming cheaper than toilet tissue. We all saw it coming right from the beginning because they all began as products of corruption. Corruption of ideas, corruption of relationship, corruption of opportunities and privileges, corruption of religious beliefs and teachings, corruption of governance and the corruption of power. It was these colleges of corruption that have been strangulating the life out of Nigerians. Financial corruption was identified by the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo at the start of his government in 1999. He set up, first the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission properly called “The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission”. ICPC was inaugurated on 29th September 2000, barely one year and four months in his first term in office.  The mandate of ICPC is to receive and investigate reports of corruption and in appropriate cases prosecute the offender, to examine, review and enforce the correction of corruption prone systems and procedures of public bodies, with a view to eliminating corruption in public life, and to educate and enlighten the public on and against corruption and related offences with a view to enlisting and fostering public support for the fight against corruption. Barely three years after its inauguration, we realized that ICPC was not enough to fight the hydra headed monster, corruption and its brothers, Advance fee fraud (419) and the misuse of public trust. So in 2003, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was established as a law enforcement agency to investigate financial crimes such as advance fee fraud (419 fraud) and money laundering. One would ask, what are they supposed to do? What does the government intend to achieve? Do not forget that many genuine business men and women were avoiding Nigeria because of the activities of fraudulent men and women. While the ICPC targets corruption in the public sector, especially bribery, gratification, graft and abuse or misuse of office, the EFCC investigates people in all sectors who appear to be living above their means, and is empowered to investigate and prosecute money laundering and other financial crimes. The EFCC tracks illicit wealth accruing from abuse of office, especially attempts to integrate such wealth into the financial system.

Nigeria has struggled against these enemies of our people for a very long time without success. We did not just wake up to find ourselves without money. We saw how the money was stolen and these agencies set up to fight them stood helpless. Anytime the agencies stand up to do some work, they get boggled by sentiments of politics, religion, ethnicity and party affiliation. President Obasanjo was accused of using them to persecute his political enemies. Yar’Adua, Jonathan, and now Buhari are being accused of using them for various reasons and not to recover our stolen common wealth. The war against the various shades of stealing in Nigeria is very difficult. If a public office holder who continues to steal public funds is also generous to the people with his stolen wealth, woe betides any government that tries to probe and prosecute him. The government will be tagged wicked and bad and unnecessarily witch-hunting a nice, generous man of the people, the man who helps the poor and widows. We saw it at the time James Ibori was to be arrested in his home town in Delta State. When salaries are not paid, electricity is epileptic, no drinking water, school fees are increased and roads and infrastructure become dilapidated, they will not attribute it to the activities of the corrupt but generous public servant. Such has been the life Nigerians have been subjected to for a long time. We have become willing beggars in our own country. That is what we find at festival times, and there are many of such festivals in Nigeria. The politicians who cannot pay salaries, repair school roofs, repair roads, quickly begin to practice generosity. Trailers and trucks of animals, rice, cooking oil and condiments are distributed to the ‘poor people’ all over the country. Wives of such officers buy cheap clothing materials and distribute to the widows and orphans in the society. The widows and orphans are grateful to these politicians for being generous to them at such a hard time. Meanwhile, it was the same public officers who stole the money that should have been paid to the widows and orphans as entitlement at the death of the breadwinner.

Our ‘heroes’ are our problem. I told you that we saw it coming. When Obasanjo set up the anti-corruption agencies it was supposed to excite Nigerians because the agencies were supposed to recover our stolen wealth. Let me ask. What happened to the 16Billion Dollar probe of the Obasanjo government’s National Integrated Power Project? Was the money ever recovered? Hon Ndudi Elumelu, chairman House of Representative Committee on Power was a member of the committee that investigated that allegation. He was later on accused along with nine others, including Senator Nicholas Ugbane for tampering with about 6 Billion Naira fund of the Independent Power Project. This was to be an activity of the Rural Electrification Agency. Some of the staff of the agency were also charged along with the Honourable members and the distinguished senator. Were these monies for electricity ever recovered? Can’t we attribute the epileptic power supply in the country to activities such people as the above? Did we see darkness coming? Was EFCC and ICPC able to recover the money? What of the Police Pension fund with Maina? What of the case of a former Speaker of the House of Representative Dimeji Bankole whose arrest was so dramatized? How many former governors are not being probed for corruption and graft committed while in office? What we hear people is that, they are not the only corrupt people. It is true, they are not the only corrupt people because we are all involved.

Recently we heard of the arrest of a 40 feet truck containing 49 cases of 661 Pump Action Ak47 riffles by the Nigerian Customs Service at Mile 2 Apapa Road in Lagos. This truck went through all clearance checks at the Nigerian sea port and was released to the agent. It was corruption that aided it. Some custom officers have been declared wanted in connection with the clearance at the sea port. All those who were involved in the oil subsidy scam did not do it all by themselves. They had active conspirators along the long chain of command. So it is true that they are not the only corrupt people. Many of us should have been in jail now if we lived in a different country. No nation survives the kind of economic rape that Nigeria has gone through. We saw it coming when the former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria Sanusi Lamido Sanusi raised alarm that Nigeria was not saving money but was squandering the money in the excess crude account. That was when a barrel of crude oil was selling above One Hundred Dollars. The more money we got, the more they stole. So many persons, including state governors, senators, House Members, party friends, elders and embarrassingly, religious leaders all went shopping for private jets. How was the nation’s resource to sustain such greed? What were we producing, manufacturing and exporting that our greed went beyond control?

We saw it coming when our educational institutions were starved of funds while children of those who had responsibility to sustain our educational institutions went to the best of schools in Europe and America. Those in the middle class who had no access to large chunk of the cash sent their own children to schools in African countries like Ghana, Benin Republic, Togo, and embarrassingly even Sierra Leone that Nigeria is helping to sustain. Those left in the non functional institutions have become our problem as they have turned out as kidnappers and militants. We saw it coming and we knew that this is not the country we wanted for ourselves.

So that we are hungry today did not start today. We all saw it coming but stood helpless because we found it more comfortable being fed at the generosity of a leader with magnetic fingers. The solution to our problem is within each one of us. Corruption and stealing thrives because we value money more than good name. We idolize the person with money and spurn the man with idea. At the moment it is very difficult to convince our children that education is the key to success since those whom they see to be successful barely have good education. They see cash as success and education in Nigeria does not guarantee the kind of cash that will qualify you to be termed successful. Value re-orientation is very important. Our hunger started a long time ago and with this mentality we display, this hunger will take a long time to go away.    

Rev. Fr. Ojaje Idoko
Director of Pastoral Affairs, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria


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