Of Nigeria’s ‘most pernicious vermin’

The part of this headline in inverted commas is not original. I borrowed it from one of the most memorable lines in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, a satirical exploration of the virtues and vices that dot the lives of mortals in Western Europe of the 18th Century.

But more than one recent events in our national life have reminded me of the conversation between the characters, Lemuel Gulliver and the King of Brobdingnag in this classic literary piece, the ultimate implication it has on the motives of the power elite and the effects these motives have on the generality of humanity.

One example of such situations is the statement issued last weekend by irrepressible former Military Governor of Kaduna State Col. Umar Abubakar Dangiwa Umar (rtd) on the need for Nigerians to stand up to the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariffs’ tendency to “crash the Federal Government’s war against corruption using the power of ‘oversight’ as cover.”

In a statement issued in Kaduna, Umar cited two instances in which the business interests of the leader of the committee had allegedly beclouded his judgment on the duties of the Nigerian Customs Service and Nigerian Ports Authority.

Without dwelling too much on the content of Umar’s release since chairman of the committee, Senator Hope Uzodinma’s contradicted Umar’s position in a statement, the retired colonel’s intervention reminded me of the 2014 lecture delivered by Emir of Kano, Emir Muhammadu Sansui II at the TEDxYouth platform in Abuja.

Then Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi spoke on “overcoming the fear of vested interests,” suggesting taking his counsel may unlock the door of development which has been perpetually locked against Nigeria.

Sanusi talked about the assorted compromises that went on in the banking sector. He told about how a particular Managing Director fleeced the bank of depositors’ money to the tune of N200b, how 200 pieces of real estate were recovered from another Chief Executive Officer in Dubai and the scam perpetrated in the name of subsidy on fuel importation.

Although a lot of us including yours truly scoffed at Sansui’s postulation wondering if he was not part of the rot that the country had become, it was good and refreshing to hear a member of Nigeria’s oppressive elite gang speak the truth about the evil of their ravenous instincts.

One of the many takeaways from Sansui’s unforgettable lecture is when he said: “The fundamental character of the Nigerian state is that for decades since we found oil, it has existed, not to serve the people but as a site for rent extraction by a very small minority that controls political power. It doesn’t matter where this group comes from. Whether it’s North or South or Muslim or Christian or military or civilian, the state has always been the site for the extraction of rent … This is at the heart of the problems of this country.”

Put in other words, Sanusi implied that the vested interests of our leaders are at the roots of the religious and ethnic crises, unemployment, lack of education and lack of health care that plague us. They profit from the poverty and underdevelopment of this country and will go any length to continue to pave ways to sustain their sacrilegious plundering of the nation’s resources.

Umar’s weekend release brought back countless memories of allegations of self-serving gestures put up by our leaders under the pretence of looking out for the people.

A couple of years back, a senior friend of mine, who was in a position to know, confirmed my suspicions that the loud public hearing set up by the House of Representatives into the $16 billion power expenditure alleged to have been incurred by then President Olusegun Obasanjo was nothing but a massive scheme to enrich members of the committee in charge.

He told of the day the committee visited the company he then worked for and how they refused to even take seats to see the PowerPoint presentations prepared for them. Instead, they allegedly sniffed around for monetary inducement like dogs seeking new territory.

I am sure readers know that this is not far fetched at all. We cannot have so easily forgotten the FarukLawal/ Femi Otedolaepisode in which the former House of Representative member was accused of having demanded a certain amount of money in exchange for clearing Oteloda’s company from complicity in the subsidy scam saga.

We have heard stories of government agencies buying travel tickets and giving allowances to legislators who have oversight responsibilities over them.

Now, do these not explain the lax oversight from legislators and why Nigerians cannot go to bed with their eyes closed on many areas of our national lives? Is this not why a nation so endowed in resources, human and natural, cannot boast of a competitive aviation sector, why education, banking, health and even our economy have all gone south on us?

Although Umar’s intervention was focused on the legislature, none of these would happen without the collaboration of members of the executive arm of government. So in Nigeria, Presidents, Governors, Local government chairmen, leaders of parties and business executives play with the rules and circumvent regulations that should govern and give us a decent society.

Year in year out, they appropriate resources that belong to all of us and would even play on the intelligence of the unsuspecting public and drag us into their proxies wars, which unknown to us, almost always have nothing to do with our well-being.

Governors would manipulate legislators into enacting laws that satisfy their avaricious appetites eternally. Legislators do not also do that for free; they arm twist the executive into compromises that jeopardise the interest of the people. Nigeria’s leaders mostly simply live to exploit the people.

As a result, the country has continued to breed a hungry, angry and increasingly violent citizenry, which, reduced to living in abject poverty in the midst of evident plenty, take vengeance on society by becoming deviant and devious.

At a point in this country, we swore that none of our people could contemplate suicide bombing but the last one decade has burst our bubble. Suddenly in Nigeria, it has become dangerous to leave your home.

This last Sunday, gunmen stormed a church in an otherwise quiet village in Anambra State and took the lives of 12 innocent people. Now, going into a worship place to kill is one thing, making such a devilish venture a mission at dawn is another issue entirely. But we already had ample warnings from the near one-decade old terrorism of Boko Haram insurgents and the growing brutality of Fulani herdsmen. It was only a matter of time for these mindless killings to assume that deceptive principle of our lives known as federal character.

That same Sunday, 16commuters were said to have been kidnapped on the East West Road while traveling from Port Harcourt. So life has become short, brutish and unpredictable in Nigeria. Those who are not kidnapped, fall to the guns of armed robbers, the brutality of Fulani herdsmen, the terrorism of Boko Haram insurgents, or the pangs of hunger and disease. The leaders are determined to steal and exploit us dry, while the led is determined to take it out on anyone and everyone that comes their way.We have become a society, totally lost on its human essence.

Thinking about all of this, I could not find anything that explains our current national situation than King of Brobdingnag response to Gulliver’s exposition of how his home country, England was at the time this novel was written.

In what Gulliver thought was the advancement of his homeland, the king found incredible pettiness, selfishness and occasional brutality. In ventilating on this, he said to Gulliver: “…I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.” I do not find anything that describes Nigeria better, except that those who torture Nigeria, whether they leaders or led, are in the minority- but then, they wield all the power and have rendered Nigerians helpless. Most unfortunately, the majority do not know the power they wield, they watch the country go to rot.

– Twitter @niranadedokun

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