Nigeria Needs A Confab of The Rich


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Nigeria Needs A Confab of The Rich




Fazil Ope-Agbe

culled from VANGUARD Sunday, December 12, 2004

SOME weeks ago, I watched Tony Blair address the British Labour Union Convention in Brighton. He used the occasion to outline policies he would pursue if elected into another term of office. His manifesto was not for British kith and kin alone. He had a plan, a promise for the whole world. He told us what he would do about Iraq, about Afghanistan, about the Middle-East, Chechnya, about Africa. Immediately after his speech to his country’s Labour Unions, he embarked on a four-nation tour of Africa. At the time I started writing this article, he was in the Sudan, reading the riot act to the government of Khartoum.

As you watch Tony Blair speak at the United Nations, in Europe, in America, in Africa, in Asia, you acknowledge that here indeed was a powerful person, representing a powerful nation. Then you look at the country from which he derives such power and importance that makes him so assertive on the world stage and what do you see; a moderate-size island with a land mass no bigger than Yoruba land and Igbo land. You look at his country’s natural resources and you find a few drops of oil in the North Sea and a few chunks of coal in Newcastle. So to what do Tony Blair and his country owe their world prominence and significance. We have to look back into history for the answer.

Sometime in the sixteenth century - I cannot give exact date - the reigning Pope divided the new world being discovered by European sea-farers into two. He allocated one half to Spain and the other half to Portugal. Never mind the language in which the Papal Bull was couched, the bottom line was that Spain was licenced to steal, plunder and loot from one half of the world while Portugal was licenced to do the same in the other half.

Britain had no licence to steal, plunder or loot, but steal it must if it was to keep pace with the developing countries of Europe. So while Spain and Portugal stole legally from territories assigned to them by the Pope, Britain took not only to stealing illegally from territories allocated to Spain, but also attacking the thieving Spaniards and relieving them of their stolen treasure. The way to become a hero in those days, was to sail away to foreign lands and steal for your country. Spain has its heroes in Harman Cortes, Pedro de Alvorada, Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro, all of them thieves who stole to make Spain the great power it then was.

Pomp and pageantry

Britain had its thieves in Sir Francis Drake, Sir John Hawkins, Sir Martin Frobisher, Sir Richard Grenville, etc.; virtually the whole country trooped to the ports to welcome them home when they returned with their loot. They were then led with great pomp and pageantry to the palace to be knighted by their Queen. In fact, Britain so valued its thieves that it went to war when one of them, Robert Jenkins, had his ear cut off by the Spaniards who caught him stealing. The looping off of a thief’s ear would have been no big deal, but for the fact that it was a British ear. Britain started the War of Jenkins’ ear in 1739 and that war led on into the War of Austrian Succession.

Britain graduated from a privateering nation into a colonial power and went into the slave trade to bring African men and women to the Carribean, exchange them for molasses which were made to rum in the American colonies and then traded back to Africa for more slaves. To quote the Encyclopedia Britannica, those early European adventurers were “notorious for their avarice and the destruction of native population and civilization”. At the expense of the new world and its teaming populace, Europe developed. When Chief M.K.O. Abiola was asking for reparation from the Western World, all he was seeking was for the developed nations to share with the developing nations wealth they had acquired by denuding our land of valuable natural and human resources.

When Tony Blair, Jack Chirac, Silvio Berlusconi and George Bush beat their chest as world leaders, they do so courtesy of the legacy of development bequeathed to them by their thieving and murderous forebears. Yes, the developed world are where they are today because they used our natural resources, the likes of which God did not bless their land with, to create paradise in their countries.

But before we sit down complacent with the excuse that the developed world is responsible for our woes, past and present, let me assert that Nigeria today sits on vast natural resources far greater than whatever the ancestors of today’s world powers stole from us in the course of two, three centuries of exploitation that was supposed to have ended on October 1, 1960.

The sum total of every loot, every plunder that made Britain what it is today, is a drop in the ocean, compared with the natural resources we have on the ground in Nigeria today. Our illiterate and uncivilized fore-bears were wrapped in chains and shipped off to provide slave labour in overseas colonial plantations. Today, our citizens are as educated, as enlightened, as civilized and as sophisticated as any people you would find anywhere in the world. Yet our sons, our daughters, our uncles, our aunts, our nephews, our nieces, all voluntarily flee from our God-given land flowing with milk and honey, a majority of them to do menial jobs in the inclement and hostile weathers of the Western world.

I have stated it and I will continue to work it into anything I write, that our woes began with the military coup of January 1966. George Bernard Shaw writes that “When the military man approaches, the world locks up its spoons and packs off its womankind”.Traditionally and by the very nature of their training, orientation and functions, military men are no more than organized and/ or glorified thugs; I am not being abusive; I am merely calling a spade a spade. A Yoruba adage states that it is necessary to have a mad man in the house to checkmate the mad man from outside. The military is every nation’s in-house mad man, a necessary evil to deter or repulse external aggressors. Just as the mad man of the house, a servant, an instrument, a tool fashioned and equipped for the protection of the household, is not supposed to seize power in any country that seeks to develop and advance.

Military governance in Nigeria ushered in an era of governmental non-accountability to the governed, especially in matters of finance. Conditions that were introduced into this country during General Yakubu Gowon’s regime, not by General Gowon, but by the military system foisted on us by a civil war situation. As commanding officer at this battle station makes a request, confident that nobody would come out to war front to check on his needs and requirements. The commanding officer gets what he wants for asking; no debates, no committee hearings or screening. At the end of the day, nobody goes up to the war front to verify what had been spent and on what. It does not require too much imagination to see how a culture of dipping hands into public coffers took hold after three years of civil war, followed by nine years of military rule when the military rulers could not be and were not questioned by anybody.

Most of the civilians, especially politicians and top  public servants, who had dealings with the military from General Gowon’s take-over in July 1066 to General Obasanjo's hand-over in  October 1979, had a grand stand view of governance without sensitivity and accountability. In consonance with the Yoruba proverb that “given a sufficient length of time, the leaves in which soap has  been wrapped also acquire the properties and characteristics of soap”, politicians of the Second Republic, headed by President Shehu Shagari, carried over the military orientation into civilian governance. During that Second Republic, a legislator’s first loyalty was to the House or Senate Committee to which he or she belonged; in second place was his loyalty to the whole parliament; in third place was the legislator’s self interest; a very distant and almost non-existent fourth place was reserved for his/her constituency and the nation  at large.

Political party lines were obliterated and opposition became an abstract rater than an existing or tangible body.
During the Second Republic, the people’s elected representatives looted by voting for themselves hefty salaries and allowances. Every committee found one excuse or another to junket around the world so members could earn estacode the bulk of which was used to acquire and maintain girl friends of assorted nationalities abroad. My point is that corruption, mainly by individual or collective looting became the order of the day as an aftermath of the 1966 coups, the resultant civil war and subsequent military rule which conditioned the populace not to question government actions.

Institutionalised corruption

The government of the Second Republic, rather than any military or civilian individual, institutionalized corruption in this country. While honourable members looted by legislation, influential and favoured citizens were appointed board chairmen and board members of government parastatals. It is an open secret that board membership was indeed ‘job for the boys’ and served principally to siphon public funds into private pockets. As looting became our national pastime, a culture that became ingrained in us body and soul, I started wondering what will become of this nation of looters and whether anything could be done to salvage the situation. That was when I looked back into history and discovered the silver lining in the dark cloud of looting. That was when it dawned on me that looting could have its redeeming aspect if the loot, like that of Sir Francis Drake or Herman Cortes, was put into good use for the benefit of the country.

Then it occurred to me to take a close look at Nigerians accused or suspected of looting. That was when I saw our country Nigeria as a fabulously rich father with dozens of children, the strongest and cleverest of whom developed thieving habits. I also saw some of the clever and strong children with hearts of gold, who out of consideration for the weaker ones, jumped into the fray to remove some of the wealth before everything was consumed by those motivated solely and purely by avarice.

Looking at things from that aspect, I disagree vehemently with those who rightly or wrongly accuse or suspect somebody of looting and them say to the suspect, “You have stolen our money, please go away and enjoy your loot in peace and quiet. We no longer want to see your face, we no longer want to hear your voice. We want you completely our of our lives”.

Our governments take great trouble and even spend money in, so far, fruitless efforts to attract foreign investors and investments into the country. Charity should begin at home, we should look at our rich men both at home and abroad, find out what incentives could induce them to commit their wealth to investment in their motherland. We must purge ourselves of the urge to allow Western powers to prevail on us to adopt moral standards which they did not observe when they were developing nations like us.

I recall with annoyance, the trouble and expenses we incurred to set up and operate our National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) to stop our citizens smuggling drugs to the developed countries. We did not have the courage to point out to the West, particularly the United States, that it is ‘demand’ and not ‘supply’ that creates a market.

Drug trafficking

I agree absolutely that drug trafficking is evil and should be eradicated, but it makes me mad to observe the way drug addicts of the developed countries, who make the demands that create the market, are pampered while the suppliers who are driven into the trade by poverty are harried, hounded and imprisoned. 

I think it is about time poor third world countries united on this matter and insist that the easiest and most effective way to eradicate drug trafficking is to round up and imprison the addicts, particularly the super stars, who patronize the dealers. I did not vote for President Obasanjo when he won his first term in office, but I voted for him for a second term because he bluntly told Western world convoys that when they complain about Nigerian 419ners, they were simply grumbling that Nigerian crooks were smarter than their own crooks.

It is time for us to recognize that the conference we need most
today is not a sovereign national conference, but a national conference of  our rich sons and daughters to tell us what we need to put in place to encourage them to invest their money, irrespective of how they made it, in the development and advancement of their motherland.

So that people will understand my line of reasoning, I here offer them a quote from the erudite Samuel Johnson (1709-1794). Dr. Samuel Johnson said: “Resolve not to be poor; poverty is a great enemy to human happiness; it certainly destroys liberty, and it makes some virtues impracticable and others extremely difficult”.  Presently, a greater percentage of our populace wallows in abject poverty, so rather than denigrate our rich citizens whom we refer to as ‘money bags’, let us congratulate them; let us pray to God to bless them by showing them that the best way to spend their money, is to help eradicate poverty from their motherland.

The white man, who today tries to box us into moral codes that work in his own favour, also laid down the rule that “all’s fair in war and in love’. Samuel Johnson’s admonition about poverty applies to nations as much as to individuals and the sooner we realize that we are at war, the better it is for us; most importantly, we must recognize that the enemy ranged against us is poverty, poverty in the midst of plenty. I condemn stealing, I abhor looting, but I insist that only our law courts and other legally constituted bodies established for that those who slip through the netof earthly justice will eventually face God Almighty who commanded, “Thou shalt not steal”. Let us listen to the Lord Jesus Christ who admonished, “Judge not that thou be not judged”.God is working His purpose out. We must be prepared for the possibility that somebody maliciously described by jealous rivals as a looter could be the very one chosen by God to save this country. God did it with Saul of Tarsus whom He transformed into Paul the Apostle, to propagate Christianity and become a leading light among the Christians whom he once persecuted.
Nobody should be ruled unfit to become our Moses. The world today is not a holiday camp, it never was. Our salvation does not lie with an idealistic and romantic boy scout type of leader in this emerging global village. We need somebody who had led and has acquired leadership experience: somebody who had made things happen, (our “freest and fairest” elections for instance). That somebody who, in making things happen, may have made one or two mistakes; mistakes that are inevitable because as Edward John Phelps (1822-1900) told us, “The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything”. Nigeria needs somebody who, by all accounts, has made a success of his own life.

Somebody who is rich beyond the dreams of avarice and, therefore, does not want or need more than he already has. We must stop listening to what the white man says and start watching what he does. A few years ago, a West Indian was convicted of some offence in Britain. A number of penalties were imposed on him with an order that he be deported from Britain after paying the penalties. Every other thing had been done in accordance with the court order; arrangements had been completed for bundling him out of the country.

A couple of days before he was to be put on the plane and sent out of the country, his ticket came up tops in the national lottery winning the top prize of £24 million (Twenty four million Pounds Sterling). Within hours of the announcement of his win, the British Government rushed out an announcement that the man’s sin had been erased and the deportation order cancelled; he was offered the golden key that conferred on him the freedom of the country; in plain language, the British Government begged him to stay, not to go away with all that money. That clear triumph of good practical common sense over sentimental or emotional morality is the type of example we should emulate from the white man. Those who say a former head of state has been there, let us give somebody else a chance, are simply saying “this man is rich, he should not be allowed to block the way for those of us who believe it is out turn to go up there and enrich ourselves”.

 After forty-four years of experimentation, we should be done with speculation; we must determine to examine known and familiar figures and agree on who is best rather than looking for some obscure person who we only hope will be good. Some years ago, a friend asked me to accompany him on a visit to a lady who has been courted by another friend. He wanted me to add my voice in pressing the suit of our love-besotted friend. The lady listened patiently to our eulogy on the suitor; we spoke of his wealth, his stature in society, his respectability et cetera.

Making progress

At the end of our paean, the lady explained to us that she had sent her husband packing some ten years earlier because of some of his shortcomings which she could not stomach. A beautiful lady, by all considerations, she had no problems picking and choosing men friends and lovers. Then she decided she wanted at least one brother or sister for her only child who she had with her husband and who was six years old. In her quest for another child, she had brazenly and unabashedly jumped from one man’s bed to another, but for five whole years the baby she sought never came; all she acquired was notoriety. At the time of our conversation, her only child had clocked eleven years and she has decided she was done with experimentation; she was going in search of her husband, she was going to do everything possible to get him to come and repeat what only he had been able to accomplish so far - give her a baby.

Nigeria must progress, Nigeria must succeed and to make that possible, every hand must be on deck. The rich, the poor, the middle class, the high and mighty, the low and humble, every single Nigerian should believe he or she has a stake in the fortune of this country. The way to get every Nigerian committed to the service of his country is to give him a voice through his freely and fairly chosen representative in free and fairly conducted elections.

 Britain started with the Magna Cartar, the United States followed with a Bill of Rights clearly spelt out in its declaration of Independence. At the age of forty-four, Nigeria must embark on the ten thousand kilometre journey ahead of it and the only step in the right direction is free and fair elections. Babangida did it once, he must come back to do it again, even if he does nothing else.


Fazil is a retired journalist from the Federal Ministry of Information. He lives in Lagos



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