Niyi Osundare, professor and retired University don, at a lecture organised by the Save Nigeria Group, raises issues about the alarming level of corruption in Nigeria and suggests how the cankerworm can be tackled.
The tone of the lecture was set by Tunde Bakare, pastor and convener of Save Nigeria Group, SNG, and Itse Sagay, professor of International Law and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, before the guest lecturer mounted the podium. In his welcome address, Bakare identified corruption as “perhaps the most cancerous of our country’s myriad afflictions,” while Sagay expected the lecturer to “express our collective despair and probably point the way out for our nation.”
When he took charge of the microphone for nearly two hours, Niyi Osundare, a poet and professor of English, did not disappoint his audience who turned out in their hundreds to hear him speak on “Why We No Longer Blush: Corruption as the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria” at Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Ikeja, on Monday, July 9. The lecture was organised by the SNG.
Osundare went into the business of the day by depicting corruption as the source of the country’s woes and the bane of its people’s welfare. “Nigeria is a kleptocracy: a state ruled by thieves,” he asserted, and one whose citizens no longer blush because they have lost their skins and every sense of sensitivity. The outcome, he said, is that today “corruption is Nigeria’s fastest-growing industry.” The erudite guest lecturer was also quick to warn his audience and the entire country of the ominous consequence of this sad development: “If Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria,” he said, insisting that “our fate is in our hands.”
In the course of the lecture, Osundare posed series of rhetorical questions: Why is it that Nigerians no longer blush? How did we come to lose our sense of shame after losing our sense of propriety and proportion? How did we come to develop a skin that is so thick that no arrows of degradation, no needles of dehumanisation are ever sharp and violent enough to penetrate our body and rouse our senses! How did our nerves slide into their present state of stupor? How did we plunge into this state of dysconsciousness? His answer to these questions was that the country is in this saddening situation because its people have lost the will and the courage to ask basic moral questions about how billionaires came about their sudden wealth.
According to him, “where did he get his money from?” was the question people used to ask in those good old days when the Nigerian society’s head stood confidently on its neck, and all manner of thieves and criminals never found their way to power from where they could choke the country in their moral effluvia. Those were also the days when Nigeria still had conscience and people could distinguish between rights and wrongs and recognise abomination for what it is and kept it at bay.
He noted that although those good old days might not have created a perfect society, it was at least one in which people still had conscience “and where moral dissent was still the norm. It was also a society where the law still had its way and the restoration of order and good governance was still possible. It was a society which still operated by a hallowed observance of the rubric Aa kii (We do not do…i.e. it is not done; it is forbidden). It was a society of law and order; crime and punishment; good behaviour and adequate reward. It was a society which recognised abomination (eewo) and kept it at bay; a society which put a healthy distance between oode (inner room) and aatan (the dunghill) in their literal and figurative senses. It was a society where people still blushed.”
But today, impunity is the order of the day. Osundare pointed out that the inertia in both the judicial and executive arm of government has nursed and nurtured corruption in Nigeria. This accounted for the inability of the Nigeria’s judicial system to convict James Ibori, former governor of Delta State, of corrupt enrichment. Ibori later pleaded guilty and was convicted in the United Kingdom for stealing N10 billion from the state treasury.
However, his conviction would not have been possible if the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was still alive. “Were Yar’Adua still alive today, Ibori would still be gallivanting up and down the terrain of this unfortunate country in his capacity as one of the principal financiers of the Yar’Adua’s presidential campaign, who has, therefore, earned his enviable status as a formidable power broker and the de facto second most powerful man in Nigeria,” he said.
According to him, the interest of the executive arm in perpetuating corruption has ensured that every effort to unmask the monster was frustrated because Nigerian public functionaries steal so greedily while in office so as to stow fortunes away for the continuation of their extravagant lifestyle when their term is over. And the philosophy is “steal all you can in preparation for the rainy day!”
He suggested how best to contain the spread of corruption and one of such ways is to rethink Nigeria’s super-structure. This, according to him, may sound rather far-fetched to some people, “but one of the ways of tackling graft in this country is to address the structural corruption in the very composition of Nigeria itself. The present rickety, loosely assembled contraption with all its Lugardian paralysis is riddled with dissonance and disconnect. In a nutshell, to solve the problem of corruption in Nigeria, we must first face head-on the issue of the national question.”
Furthermore, he suggested that Nigerians must begin to ask seriously “why are a few Nigerians so rich and the rest of us so poor?” and be prepared to go beyond this and engage in a massive civil action for change, knowing full well that our fate is in our own hands. “It is organised massive action from the Nigerian people that can eliminate the canker worm of corruption that is sucking the lifeblood of this bountifully endowed but criminally misgoverned country. We must make sure that we kill corruption before it has the chance of killing Nigeria.”