I once talked about the “iniquity of greed” with a Nigerian I met in London sometime in the 1980s. The meeting place was at the then African Concord House, owned by the late Chief MKO Abiola, where I had more or less established a perennial presence not least to read Nigerian newspapers. Those of the internet age might wonder why one would have had to travel all the way from Oxford to London for the purpose of reading newspapers; the internet generation does not have to “travel” out of their bedrooms in order to read anything but this was not the case in the 1980s. Nigerian newspapers were flown to Britain and other parts of the world by various agents.
Be that as it may, I met this Nigerian in London and for some strange reason we did not introduce ourselves. Maybe the reason I did not introduce myself – even when not quite used to frivolous introductions – was because of what happened at African Concord House. As we scrambled for the newspapers, some as old as weeks, this fellow grabbed one which had published an article of mine. He seemed to be excited by it as he yelled, “yes, it is Anthony Akinola again. His articles stand out among those of other Nigerians. He is always writing about structures that can move Nigeria forward. I think he is looking for political appointment”.
Naturally I felt pleased by what he had to say about Anthony Akinola and I did not hesitate to say, “you can never tell with these writers”. A member of staff of the African Concord magazine glanced at me, marvelling at the fact that someone could be talking about the very person standing next to them without knowing it. The article which sparked his comments was one I had written, furthering my arguments about the desirability of a rotational presidency in Nigeria.
It is not always true that one would be writing solely for selfish reasons. Without the passion for writing, one can hardly achieve longevity as a writer. Of course, a writer may get noticed and invited to play a role where his or her expertise is relevant but this would not mean they deliberately courted it. Maybe we should not impute motives into what others do.
Now to this important matter of the iniquity of greed, the discussion was provoked by our reflection on the fall of the Second Republic (1979-1983). One epitaph of that era was provided by General Olusegun Obasanjo who castigated the government of the Second Republic for having spent over 50 billion naira – a colossal sum in those days – in less than four years, with nothing to show for it. The military regime led by General Obasanjo, had voluntarily handed over power to a civilian administration led by Alhaji Shehu Shagari in October 1979; that voluntary transfer of political power from one government to another, a hitherto unprecedented feat on the African continent, enhanced the dignity of General Obasanjo considerably in the eyes of the world and must have given him some kind of moral authority to indulge in lecturing others about how a government should be run. However, his critics might not concede he still has that moral authority today, having himself presided over a somewhat prodigal civilian administration between 1999 and 2007.
With the possible exception of a tiny minority of its members, the politicians of the Second Republic were a despicable horde. In spite of the poor state our universities were and still are in, there were quite a number of them donating monies to educational institutions of rich nations in return for lousy, honorary degrees. I wrote angrily about this when I was studying in the United States. Not just a few of the Second Republic politicians had private jets, while rabbits compete with dangerous vehicles for the right of way in our so-called public roads. Our hospitals, as rightly described by their equally incompetent military conquerors, were no better than “mere consulting clinics”. When the fall of the Second Republic came, it was an occasion of great joy to impoverished Nigerians.
The politicians of today are hardly any different from their disgraced predecessors. Many will say they are even worse! Their intention to defraud the public becomes evident in the dubious assets most of them declare. A hitherto unemployed university graduate would have no qualms about declaring an asset worth hundreds of millions of naira, all in anticipation of what could be stolen while in office. Assets declared by politicians are accepted in good faith, their authenticity never verified or established.
Many Nigerians would want to go into politics today, not because they want to serve their nation but because they want to be rich. The salaries and allowances our elected politicians corner to themselves would amaze their counterparts even in the truly rich nations of the world. A senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria earns more money than the President of the United States of America. The Nigerian politician wins regular lottery in corrupt practices or shady deals. The saving grace for democracy of today, if one must be honest, has been the distrust Nigerians have for the military. The experiences of governance between 1985 and 1998, as well as cases of corruption involving contemporary military chiefs, do not recommend further military involvement in politics.
Some Nigerians call for a revolution, which is to say that there can be no peace when the majority of our peoples live in abject poverty and a tiny minority lives in gluttonous greed. The majority of our peoples love democracy and are peace-loving, however, disruptive tendencies can find easy recruitment in the ranks of the uneducated and the impoverished. The Boko Haram ideology, detestable as it is, is one example of the danger poverty and lack of education pose to our collective existence. It is therefore both in the short-term and long-term interest of our nation that we enrich our peoples educationally and economically, and end the twin cultures of corruption and greed.
Akinola wrote this piece from Oxford, United Kingdom