POLITICSby ABUBAKAR ADAM IBRAHIM
THIS CREATURE CALLED NIGERIAN
It was disturbing reading the newspaper article of Victor Onwanrachi, a 29 year-old man who confessed to abducting and sexually assaulting his neighbour’s three year-old girl.
Shocking as this may seem, reports in a national daily of a septuagenarian who had carried on for months with his ten year-old granddaughter and had the audacity to claim the taboo was consensual may be even more scandalous.
Such stories are routine if one browses the pages of Nigerian newspapers. They are as common as stories of people being apprehended with human heads in nylon bags, of mutilated corpses turning up on municipal dumps, of weeklong and decade long communal crises over a well or a disputed patch of land in the middle of the bush somewhere.
It is habitual, isn’t it, to blame the woes of this country on the leadership, the politicians like Obasanjo whose book “The Animal Called Man,” inspired the title of this piece? There were even widespread protests as 2012 rolled in, where for the first time ever, Nigerians stopped being armchair critics and took to the streets to demonstrate how frustrated they have become with bad governance occasioned by unreasonable hikes in fuel prices.
There is no doubt that the country is being badly governed.
What with 109 senators each earning more than the American president; what with a N3 million daily budget for the presidential kitchen while the average Nigerian lives on less than a dollar daily. But the truth is that this creature called Nigeria, perhaps because of desperation, or probably a more innate animal instinct, is prone to social cannibalism. We are engaged daily in acts that are inimical to society.
That is why young men will decapitate communal taps and sell off the copper heads, or plunder power cables and sell them back to staffers of the power company, or a teacher will fail a student who will then bribe him to be passed. That is why a man will behead his neighbour’s child for a get-rich-quick ritual.
Nigerians protest against corruption and government profligacy and at the same time celebrate relatives and townsmen who become wealthy overnight simply by looting public funds. People troop to these relatives, or neighbours or townsman to beg for money when their wives put to bed, or when their children’s school fees are due, or when they need to fend off hunger prowling at the door like a pack of hyenas. And we all know the money is not coming from their salaries.
It is therefore not surprising that corrupt politicians and known felons are often celebrated. When Bode George was released from jail after serving time for corruption he was received by crowds wearing shirts with the ex-convict’s face branded on them. The number of highly placed people who attended his thanksgiving service was mind boggling.
Was it such a big shock that he chose a House of God to celebrate his freedom? It is already a cliché that Nigeria is one of the most religious countries in the world but the Nigerians are by and large a godless species.
Clerics are routinely caught in the webs of sex scandals. Some of them live like oil barons, gallivanting in private jets and gambolling with corrupt politician and men of dubious wealth. Clerics, too, are entitled to the good life after all but it raises questions when they are liberally dipping their hands in God’s piggy bank.
There is this anecdote that amply demonstrates the complicity of religious leaders in the unfortunate situation Nigeria has found herself. It is said that during the Abacha days, the strongman sponsored a busload of clerics to a retreat in order to pray for him. Along the way, someone in their midst rose and introduced himself as a security operative sent by the strongman to report on how fervently they prayed at this retreat. He told them pointedly that if they ‘sorted him out’, oga would receive a favourable report. The strongman, it was said, did receive a positive report eventually.
Whether this account is true or not remains to be seen. What cannot be questioned, however, is that corrupt public figures, criminals and even paedophiles often commission ‘men of God’ to pray for them, for God’s protection.
But perhaps things are changing. The recent protests for good governance in the country are possibly a pointer to the clamour for change at the top. But elsewhere there is no evidence of a change in perception. Interestingly, the policeman at the checkpoint is still extorting N20 from motorists (a policeman in Owerri this February shot dead a motorist for refusing to bribe him and almost sparked an ethnic crisis); messengers in government offices have not stopped hiding files and promotion letters until they are ‘settled’.
This is not to mention what happens in our schools, where students prefer to register at exam centres that would coordinate malpractice on their behalf, or where university dons grade students by the colour of their panties or their banknotes, churning out graduates who do not understand the first thing about what they should have studied.
Regardless of this primal self-destructive instinct, the bravado of police sergeant Sunday Badang who was blown to bits trying to make the streets of Kaduna a little safer show that this incomprehensible creature called Nigerian may have begun to evolve, that there might just be hope.
Abubakar Adam Ibrahim is the author of The Whispering Trees (Parresia Publishers). He has won the BBC African Performance Playwriting Competition and the Amatu Braide Prize for Prose.THIS CREATURE CALLED NIGERIAN,