Posted by News Express | 12 May 2016 | 3,586 times
“Dear Segun, I hope this email finds you well. I’m a reporter working for (name of the international broadcast organisation withheld) and shall be coming to Nigeria next week to do some stories relating to economic and business issues in the country. I have been speaking to (name withheld) who has recommended we connect with you to talk about the oil industry in Nigeria, and particularly corruption…I am wondering therefore if it would be possible to meet up with you to record an interview, in English, while we are in the country. Do let me know if you are interested, and then we can discuss logistical arrangements.”
I got the foregoing mail early last month and I immediately responded the way I usually do to such solicitations which I receive all the time from foreign journalists coming to Nigeria. “Dear (name withheld), many thanks for the mail but as much as I look forward to seeing you when in Nigeria, I am not going to grant any interview for a number of reasons. One, I know there is more to Nigeria than corruption so I don’t want to feed into that stereotype. Two, I am also sure you will get many of our people who would happily oblige you (many Nigerians like to talk about corruption, and that includes those who are neck deep in it!)…”
Because my number was in the mail, the reporter in question called me from her country first to apologise that she was not trying to criminalise Nigerians and then to explain that she was coming to do many stories and corruption was just one of them. We ended the conversation on a convivial note and we agreed we could meet whenever she was in the country. Of course, she didn’t bother to see me when she eventually came just as I am sure she found many willing Nigerians, including public officials, who would have happily regaled her with tales about corruption in Nigeria!
That we have the challenge of corruption is not in doubt but it is not peculiar to our country. The real problem is that we have not evolved institutional measures to deal with it. However, what I find very irritating is the way most of our public officials romanticize the problem, especially when they are with foreigners. At almost any and every forum, if you ask a Nigerian public official what the main problem in his/her country is, the instant response would almost be: corruption. And they always have stories to tell since their fingers are usually pointed at others.
So, it came as no surprise when on Monday, that British Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron was caught on camera describing Nigeria and Afghanistan as “fantastically corrupt countries”. In the footage showing him chatting in a group, Cameron told the British Queen, Elizabeth II: “We had a very successful cabinet meeting this morning to talk about our anti-corruption summit, we’ve got the Nigerians… actually we’ve got the leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain…Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world.”
Not even the interjection by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby—that “this particular president is not corrupt”, can limit the impact of the damage done to our country by that snide remark which only reinforces the existing stereotype. But we have brought it upon ourselves by glamourising, rather than dealing with, corruption in its various manifestations. I will come back to this issue someday.
However, apparently embarrassed, Number 10 had to issue a statement which in itself speaks volume: “Both President Buhari of Nigeria and President Ghani of Afghanistan have acknowledged the scale of the corruption challenge they face in their countries. In a collection of essays on the fight against corruption to be published on the day of the Summit, President Ghani writes that Afghanistan is ‘one of the most corrupt countries on earth’ while President Buhari writes that that corruption became a ‘way of life’ in his country under ‘supposedly accountable democratic governments’. Both leaders have been invited to the Summit because they are driving the fight against corruption in their countries. The UK stands shoulder to shoulder with them as they do so. We cannot comment on a conversation between the PM and the Queen.”
The import of that defence by Cameron is that he was only quoting what the leaders of these two countries have themselves said which then goes to the heart of my thesis that as Nigeria’s number one salesman, President Buhari cannot continue to speak only about the criminally-minded people in our country without as much as a word about the honest Nigerians. That perhaps explains why when, early in February this year, the London Telegraph published a story with the headline, “Nigerians’ reputation for crime has made them unwelcome in Britain, says country’s president”, it immediately provoked outrage among many Nigerians who created the hashtag, “#NigeriansAreNotCriminals”.
In a piece I did on the issue published on 11th February titled “The ‘Prophet Elijah Complex’”, I reminded readers of my earlier warning that President Buhari cannot continue to project himself as the only honest man in Nigeria in my column, “The Wives Are Going on Recess”. I took the idea from the Biblical story in First Kings, Chapter 19 when Prophet Elijah thought he was the only person living right until God revealed to him that there were 7,000 other righteous people who equally refused to bow before the idols of the time.
I wrote: “I am not trying to diminish the challenge before President Buhari or the mess he met on the ground. But it is neither helping us as a nation nor advancing his own cause to continue to harp on the negatives in Nigeria without also speaking on the goodness of the vast majority of our people. The president has to find a way of balancing his rhetoric by remembering and applauding—whenever he must speak—the the vast majority of honest Nigerians, both at home and in the Diaspora, and many who had served honourably in various governments, and are making positive contributions not only to our country but to our world.”
Fortunately, President Buhari has another platform in London today to speak about our country and I hope he will not approach the issue with the usual predilection for self-righteousness. He must remind his audience that while, as a nation, we grapple with many challenges, including that of corruption, most of our country men and women are honest people who are being shortchanged by a few but powerful individuals. The president should also not miss the opportunity to speak about the many hard working Nigerian professionals—doctors, nurses, teachers, bankers and civil servants making valuable and unimpeachable contribution to British society.
A few bad apples (whether at home or abroad) cannot represent, and must not be allowed to taint, 180 million Nigerians.
•This piece by Adeniyi (shown in photo) originally appeared in his column “The Verdict” in today’s edition of ThisDay. Adeniyi can be reached via email@example.com
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