If my cell phone rings ten times, you can be sure that seven times, the guy on the other end has a problem waiting for me to solve. I don’t get fooled anymore if he spends quite some time asking about my wife and the children and work and the weather and the economy.
Patience… he will get to it. Eventually, he tells you that you are the only one who can save the situation. His landlord is on his case and he needs money urgently to settle the very troublesome landlord or to pack to a new place. The children are at home because of ‘ordinary’ eighty thousand naira to pay their school fees. His wife is in hospital and if you do not intervene, she might die there! There is not even ‘one cup of garri’ at home and he does not know what to do.
Believe me, the situation in the land is that serious. The guy on the other end does not have to be your brother, cousin, old friend or former classmate. You probably never heard of him but it does not matter. Somehow, he has got your number. What do you do? Tell him to go to hell and switch off? Let him know that you are struggling too? Of course, he will not believe you and will not give up. He will tell you “I am sending you my account number. Just do something”. After all, like a friend of mine would say, “half bread is better than groundnut” or better put in the famous words of my guy, Segun Arinze, “at all… at all, na him bad!” If after trying, his hook does not catch immediate fish, he would ask you, ‘when do I hear from you?’. Guy, you have just acquired a new customer.
I do not want to make light of the difficult situation people in the land are facing. Times are tough and there are many with genuine problems that we should address if we have the means. There are also many who have graduated with honours from the University of Begging. From Monday to Sunday, they are on the phone with a list of numbers telling their tales of woe.
If you have a job that once in a while puts your face in a newspaper or on television, you are in trouble. The assumption is that you have a big carton of money around you to dispense and each time you do not give, you are being tight fisted or like some young ladies will say, ‘the man na Aradite, in fact, na Super Glue!”. You want to blame my people? When they see the billions and zillions that public officers in our land steal and get away with, there is this huge assumption that everyone in Nigeria that has been associated with some kind of leadership has stolen some money and buried some in a soak-away pit.
I know some of my kinsmen who loath me because I have not erected a glittering mansion in Banana Island or Maitama. In their thinking, ‘he should have a house worthy of the positions he has held’. I understand them. In our world, the achievement of a man is measured by the size of his house and the money he donates in public and not by his intellect, character or his contribution to the development of mankind.
Yes, I once served on a Federal Government Board. My allowance was the tidy sum of fifteen thousand naira. Please, how many times would I multiply fifteen thousand naira to build a mansion? In my other situations, I have been an advocate, mostly unpaid. I have led many risky demonstrations and carried different placards unpaid.
I once had to say that I spend eighty percent of my time working for free and twenty percent, working to earn a living. But in Nigeria, it does not matter. Everyone believes that once you hold a position of leadership, you have a duty to conjure something under the table and you are expected to distribute the loot to your friends and kinsmen. That is how they get their share of the national cake. In our land, the dominant position is that you are an imbecile if you hold public office and you do not steal.
My biggest problem over the years has repeatedly been with close ‘friends’ who verily believe that I must steal ‘something’ and distribute it to them. When their expectations are not met, they become frustrated, troublesome and complain loudly to everyone that you are not being a good friend. The truth you realize is that they were never really your friends. Their fake love was because of what they thought they would grab from you. Some believe that because they are your ‘friends’ you should leave the organization you lead open for them to freely rape. Because of the prevailing culture, it is difficult for many to believe that there are citizens of Nigeria who do not steal and would not allow you to steal.
I have told this tale before of how I was invited to the EFCC office in Lagos while Ribadu was Chairman, to respond to some crazy allegations made about my tenure as President of PMAN. The EFCC had just been set up. I met some very bright officers at the EFCC. My impression before then of law enforcement in Nigeria was ‘garagara’, crudity and brute force. I was really impressed by the professionalism and thoroughness with which the gentlemen at the EFCC went about their work.
The people who reported me to the EFCC were people I had once considered to be my friends. They thought I was ‘chopping’ alone and swore to deal with me. The officers at EFCC left no stone unturned in search of the truth. They went back ten years to obtain PMAN cash books, records of PMAN accounts in different banks, information filed by PMAN with the Registrar of Trade Unions under my tenure, etc.
In the final days of their investigation, the EFCC officials brought me and my accusers into one room with accountants, auditors, bank officials and former PMAN executives and for an entire day went line by line through practically every financial transaction during my tenure. Nothing escaped their attention. At the end of the day, no one could show how I stole one Naira from PMAN and the EFCC officers shook my hand and asked me to go. While my accusers and the reporters they brought with them, drove away in a fleet of choice SUVs, I left the EFCC with my son in my only car of the time, a Tokunbo Mercedes Benz 190 which had only three of the four cylinders working. I was tired but proud that not one word I spoke could be impeached. Many times, I have gone through such an experience.
I feel sorry for our countrymen who try to make sense of the horror film called Nigeria. While Nigerians shout about corruption, they don’t mind corruption as long as they are the beneficiaries. They don’t care how much anyone steals as long as they can get part of the loot. Believe me, there are people working right now to show the incoming government officials how to steal money from government, so that they can benefit.
Please, let me ask again: must every Nigerian be a thief?