By Kunle Somorin
"A million compliments will never fill a hole dug by low self-esteem. You are the best. Think it. Act it." — Jerry Eze
My big brother, Lere Baale posted the above quote on the Facebook on Tuesday. Many would have thought him queer. But the nation was under the deluge of two watershed jokes that define the character and nature of governance in the country in the early days of this week. One came from the executive on Sunday. The judiciary, often bandied as the hope of the people, made a bigger and more ribald one on Monday.
So why would sane people not jeer at the shenanigans of insane fellows in the market place? After all, my people say that the antics of a mad man is a good sight in the market, but no one wants to sire same.
The Minister of Information, ex-deputy editor and former deputy governor, Mr. Labaran Maku was the one to stir the hornets' nest when rather than a polite response to a former Vice President of the World Bank, Africa Region, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, who incidentally was a one-time Minister of Education that the nation’s media loved to call 'Madam Due Process' over how the Federal Government utilised or frittered away the $67 billion reserves inherited from the former administration of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, under whom Ezekwesili served he magnified the short-sightedness of the administration he serves.
Maku again blew the opportunity to bring back public accountability by fighting dirty. When did Maku and this government suddenly woke up to the realisation that Ezekwesili "collected" N458 billion as minister of education? Was he suggesting that ministerial budgets are normally "collected" by ministers for personal spree or he is indirectly telling us that’s what goes on under Jonathan’s watch?
But the woman whose global rating and acceptability dwarfs that of this government is uncowed. She challenged the federal government to a debate on all the issues she raised at the 42nd University of Nigeria Nsukka's convocation on January 24. It shows how limited, pedestrian and to quote Maku himself 'hypocritical and disingenuous' those who govern us are.
This tactic is reminiscent of the 'If you Tarka me, I Daboh you' of 1974 — a phrase which now means: everyone is up to their neck in it, if you try and dunk me, I'll pull you under. But the world is wiser. This is the same woman they had gone to in 2010 to be made minister and got a rebuff.
24 hours later, a Federal High Court in an Abuja court fined an ex-Police Pension Board director $4,747 (N750,000) for misappropriating $145.6million (N27bn!) It was a crazier joke. John Yusuf, alongside six others, converted public fund to their personal use, an offence punishable under Section 309 of the Penal Code Act, Cap 532, Laws of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Nigeria, 2007. Yusuf had used the purloined fund to amass 13 houses in the FCT and Gombe State, while he also had N325 million stashed in his bank account.
The verdict sounded as a tale from another land. It is as if Mustapha Adeshina, 49, who was sentenced to two-year imprisonment for stealing vegetables worth N5,000 in Abeokuta last Wednesday – a mere 5 days before lived in Planet Pluto or that Mallam Buba Bello Kure Jangedi whose right arm was amputated for stealing a cow in Zamfara under the former governor (now senator) Ahmed Sani, who himself had been accused of fund misappropriation but who currently enjoys immunity as a public office holder came from Mars?
But this is the reality under President Goodluck Jonathan who claims to have done more than any of his predecessors in fighting corruption.
Justice Abubakar Talba may have handed down the sentence under the extant. But Yusuf really rode roughshod on the ass called law, especially the Nigerian version that had been successfully utilised by influential but corrupt public office holders in Nigeria.
He first denied stealing and later, after some underhand arrangement had been brokered by his foot-soldiers admitted and went away with a slap on the wrist. He cut the cheque immediately.
It didn't happen only on Monday. Previously, Lucky Igbinedion used the same tool and today gallivants about when his friend and fellow felon-ex-governor James Onanefe Ibori is in a British jail. It is the same device that made Cecelia Ibru spent her ‘jail’ sentence in a ritzy hospital bed on Victoria Island. But Henry Okah didn’t have that instrument and he’s in a South African jail, while his fellow travellers are yet to be diligently prosecuted in Nigeria. It is the same ‘rule’ that has made the Ibori option unattractive to our public officers.
These jokes are simply being carried too far and someone should rescue us before all Nigerians lose value for propriety in public service.