Mixed metaphors: A lovable, workable Nigeria

A traumatic CNN report now confirms that Africans are being sold into slavery in Libya.  

“Eight hundred,” says the auctioneer, according to the report, “…Sold. For 1,200 Libyan dinars — the equivalent of $800…”

It quotes the auctioneer further: “Does anybody need a digger? This is a digger, a big strong man, he’ll dig,” the salesman, dressed in camouflage gear, says. “What am I bid, what am I bid?”

Comments the report: “Within minutes it is all over and the men, utterly resigned to their fate, are being handed over to their new “masters.”

“…Like goats for few dollars,” is how Nigerian leader Muhammadu Buhari described the bizarre report last week.  

He had avoided the subject for weeks, but on the verge of confirming he will see re-election in 2019, he spoke to some Nigerians in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, pledging to ensure Nigerians stranded in Libya are brought home.

“For people to cross the Sahara Desert and Mediterranean through shanty boats… we will try and keep them at home,” he said, reflecting a poor brief which he articulated no better.

“After 43 years of Gadhafi, why are they recruiting so many people from the Sahel including Nigerians?” he wondered.  “All they learned was how to shoot and kill. They didn’t learn to be electricians, plumbers or any other trade.” 

Caught between reassuring the Nigerians in Cote d’Ivoire and responding to the scandal in Libya, the president affirmed his government was “not doing too badly.”  

“We are doing our best at all levels including security…No religion advocates violence. Justice is the basic thing all religions demand and you can’t go wrong if you do it,” he said.

It sounded as if someone recently spoke to President Buhari about the matter of social justice.   

The sad truth is that in various ways, Nigerians, beginning from the top, would rather die in Europe.  Look around: Presidents, Vice-Presidents, Ministers, First Ladies and all self-respecting (former) Excellencies, royalty and frontline citizens and their families go to Europe to die…unless it can save them.  

This is why we probably should not blame ordinary citizens who risk it all in the hope of reaching any land out there for an opportunity their own country would not give them.

We are full of false outrage when our people die out there in shameful numbers.  But we are dying at home daily from poverty, the greed of politicians, hunger, disease, unemployment, killer roads, armed robbery, kidnapping and political violence.

Sometimes, Nigerians trying to make it to Europe succeed.  President Buhari says they don’t learn any trade.  That may be true, but many of them become pimps and prostitutes, helping other desperate families and friends betrayed by Nigeria.

And we must remember that our unemployment and criminal markets are loaded with trained people who have for years been unable to find jobs. In addition, many countries have a sizeable population of such Nigerians as well, driven from home by the hopelessness instituted by two-faced kleptocrats and their friends.

In other words, slavery has many forms, reflecting generations and gradations of failure and duplicity by the political elite.

Which brings me to the point made during the week by ‘Madam Due Process,’ Oby Ezekwesili, who advocated that to minimize corruption in Nigeria, more women should occupy government positions where decisions on the collective good of the society are taken.

I celebrate Ms. Ezekwesili’s big heart, with which she has combated a number of governments, although she never refers to the nasty trendsetter in which she served.  Citing a certain research of Africa, she said the numbers demonstrate that when women are represented in leadership, there is better performance.  She therefore blamed the male gender for the chaos that is Nigeria, and Africa.  

In principle, I agree with her prescription.  It is the right thing to do, but not for the reason she tendered.  Her statistics may justify her conclusion in some African countries, but not in Nigeria, where the woman is at least as guilty of the hypocrisy and savagery of public office as the man.  

For 60 years, Nigeria’s corruption has flowered on the consistent cooperation and complicity of mothers, wives and mistresses who know neither ‘No’ nor ‘Enough.’  There are examples of former governors and Ministers scandalized along with the women in their lives.

We can look at it differently: how many First Ladies (including in the regions and states), have left office without a reputation for excess and arrogance?  How many women in key positions since 1999 have passed the test?  Here is a quick sample:

• Patricia Etteh, who became Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2007, fell to corruption allegations;

• Mobolaji Ojomo fell to corruption allegations as Minister of Housing;

• Health Minister Adenike Grange lost her job to corruption allegations; 

• Nenadi Esther Usman, who as Minister of Finance famously said the Obasanjo government disbursed $500m Abacha funds on 50 phantom projects before becoming a Senator, is currently on trial, for corruption;

• Ndidi Okereke-Onyuike, who parlayed layers of lies and certificate-forgery into chairmanship of the Nigerian Stock Exchange and of Transcorp, and who used those positions to ingratiate herself with political power domestically, and then tried to do the same internationally by illegally raising funds for Barack Obama’s election, fell to corruption charges;

• Stella Oduah, another pretender and manipulator who, towards becoming Minister claimed at least one American degree she never earned, fell to corruption charges;

• Farida Waziri, who became chairman of the EFCC, fell to corruption allegations;

• Diezani Alison-Madueke became Minister of Petroleum on her way to becoming an intercontinental byword for greed and corruption;

• Patience Jonathan, who opened accounts everywhere she saw a bank sign and now claims the vast sums in them were “gifts,” is in court after court shouting “the money is mine!”

No, it is not a gender issue.  Nigerians are being lined up for sale in Libya because the average Nigerian is being squeezed out of ownership of the country.  One of the worst experiences it is possible to have abroad as a Nigerian, for instance, is to approach a Nigerian mission for assistance when in trouble.  But the only thing closer to death than that is to be so desperate as to think of a Nigerian official as genuine just because he or she so proclaims in front of a microphone or camera. 

No thanks to a succession of porous and pathetic leaderships, we as a people have failed to rise as one, or advance as a force.  We lack the mentality of commitment, consistency and productivity upon which great causes and societies thrive.  Great leaderships build public success; Nigerian leaderships build shrines unto themselves.

In other words, of what profit is it to a man if, rescued from slavery in Libya, he is returned to the pit of misery from which he left?  

Who is committed enough to ensuring that these Nigerian returnees, and people like them on the ground, will within the next one year find opportunities to learn new skills or find jobs, without relatives of the rich and powerful being put ahead of them?

Are we capable of making Nigeria attractive to those who are outside the centres of power and privilege?  If so, how and by whom?

sonala.olumhense@gmail.com

Twitter: @SonalaOlumhense

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