The Corruption Question in Africa

Every time we reel off numbers in their percentages while addressing the issue of corruption in Nigeria and many other African states, a certain cloud of annoyance sets upon the audience even though not many people are able to truly get a grasp of the physical consequences of the hydra-headed monster on the lives of individual Africans. From newspaper editorials to social media interactions, corruption is dressed as a scepter of government and a coterminous element of every elected office. It is gospel truth that many elected representatives of the people in many African states have gone beyond putting their hands in the resource-till to actually annexing the whole commonwealth for the profligate lifestyles of themselves and their generations unborn. This has caused a gradual movement from demoralizing the citizenry to emboldening their innate resolutions to grab as much as they also could, wherever they could even in once sacred sectors; even gospel charlatans have joined the rot. Making corruption unattractive in Africa would therefore require looking beyond addressing misappropriation in official quarters to orientation adjustments for the average African from the streets of Lagos to the posh corners of Durban.
The Encarta Dictionary defines ‘corruption’ as “dishonest exploitation for personal gain” and as “extreme immorality or depravity”. In similar fashion, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ‘corruption’ as “impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle: depravity” and also as “inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means (as bribery)”. A reflection on these definitions invokes the necessity to consider the scourge of corruption as a cancerous growth that has extended beyond the head at government levels to corporate setups, informal sectors and even family settings. The exploitation of positions for personal gain has become at once a cause and a manifestation of widespread corruption in Africa, from government administrations riddled with bullets of nepotism to sole proprietors stealing from their own ventures even as their sons are praised for ‘tapping’ pens from their colleagues at school. There has been an accelerated breakdown in the moral structure of the Nigerian society for instance, that it is so hard to imagine that an otherwise proper state of things once existed, that taps once flowed, systems worked and contracts did not have to be awarded without rubbing the palms of officials with a quarter of the contract worth itself. It has been an alarming impairment of individual values and societal ethics.
Bad leadership is at once a fundamental cause of corruption in Africa as well as the principal inhibition to its eradication. This is perhaps the sole reason majority of the campaigns have been to reduce the malaise to the barest minimum and as framed in the present discourse, make it unattractive. I however do not see this as a veiled way of admitting our fated inability to stamp out such gross levels of moral depravity amidst us in Africa, but a realistic approach at solving a behemoth problem. Afterall, it is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a step. The incompetence and dishonesty of leaders have ensured that despite the abundance of mineral resources in Africa, communities continue to wallow in squalor, with not much hope of an immediate or imminent sprint off the blocks. In Nigeria for instance, being Africa’s most populous nation, $600billion has been reportedly stolen from government coffers between independence in 1960 and 1999. It is such level of fiscal recklessness that has ensured that even though 15% of the world’s population live in Africa, only 1% of the world’s manufacturing takes place on the continent. In countries like Nigeria, only 16% of the people can access pipe-borne water in their homes while up to 70% of the people live on less than a dollar a day. The corruption of bad leaders has ensured that once fledgling institutions have been reduced to ghostly apparitions of the promising ventures they started out as, from power generation corporations to government’s aviation investments.
In Africa’s most populous country for instance, due to the diversion of public funds budgeted for an important sector as health into private pockets, basic drugs to combat malaria are often unavailable at government hospitals and patients are made to buy virtually everything from blood pints to surgical blades. I once had to buy a set of medical gloves for a nurse who was going to dress my wound at a government clinic because the clinic had no supplies. Due to corruption, truckloads of modern farming tools and fertilizers have been delivered on the pages of newspapers while jaded farmers are bent over hoes and cutlasses, tilling the ground under scorching sun for a measly harvest. The manufacturing sector has been run aground by the constant absence of power supply, stifling the growth of cottage industries and resulting in massive unemployment. Reforms in the power sector once gulped $16billion within eight years yet the darkness in the land is thick and perpetual. Children continue to sit on floors in primary schools surrounded by caving walls and broken windows while their university counterparts sit at home for months on end due to recurrent strike actions by staff unions. Contracts are repeatedly awarded for road construction, repairs and maintenance to the tune of millions of dollars yet they remain impassable and potent death traps. Militancy, sectarian insurgency and kidnapping continue to rise while profiteers from such societal dysfunctions arrange for spurious amnesty grants where billions of dutiful taxpayers’ money get appropriated and for a certainty misappropriated.
       The university system is perhaps a very good model of the manifestation of corruption in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria. By virtue of a staggering number of over a million secondary school-leaving students jostling for the limited spaces in the equally limited number of universities, the authorities in majority of these schools have perfected exploitative admission processes while regulatory agencies look the other way. As soon as the students become enrolled, the lecturers take over, using their position to extract all manners of unlawful stipends from the students without paying which they could be made to fail the course. Yet another manifestation of this dishonest exploitation is the sale of recruitment application forms by paramilitary agencies at such exorbitant prices that they are able to amass enormous wealth from the process running into millions of dollars in excess funds.
         Corruption in Africa trickles down to even the common man, the messenger who will refuse to ensure the transfer of a needed file to the appropriate office until he is financially motivated by the potential beneficiary; the doctors who divert syringe and needle supplies in public hospitals to their private clinics; the trader who will rather spare a fraction of her tax debt as bribe than pay the government what he actually owes; the elementary school teacher who takes home school notebooks for her children’s use instead of distributing to her students as instructed; the petrol attendant who adjusts the pump to cut back on actual litres of fuel sold and also collects extra charges for selling into jerry cans: corruption is everywhere in Africa.
Making corruption unattractive in Africa will inevitably require an all-encompassing framework that washes the filth off both the high and low; the government and the governed; the exiting generation of leaders and the future ones. A framework that incorporates both formal and informal approaches to enlightening the African people to the deleterious effects of corruption among us while at the same time encouraging punitive measures for erring individuals and corporate bodies.
         Curbing corruption in government circles will undoubtedly save most of the waste that Africa experiences and reverse the stagnated nature of our development. It is humbly proposed that some consideration be given to the opinion of American Lawyer, Jack Blum who opined that the self-appropriation of public funds be treated as a crime against humanity. Blum stated at the Financial Transparency Coalition’s conference in Tanzania that “There are cases where corruption, rottenness and theft of public funds do become a crime against humanity”. He also added concerning huge sums stolen in Equatorial Guinea that “There are more children dying in infancy as a result of that lack of money than you can count. And to me, it’s on a par with a kind of genocide.” Truth be told, Africa has handled corrupt officials with kid gloves for far too long. More punitive measures must be put in place to combat corruption in public offices and while existing anti-corruption agencies must be strengthened to pursue their campaigns more vigorously.
         Ensuring the stiff punishment of corruption in official places is however one of the only means by which we may discourage corruption in Africa. In this work, I have endeavored to show the very presence of corruption in virtually every cadre of the society and class of people. This indicates that a far more effective approach would be to address the decay in our moral structures. It is time for all organisations working in Africa to join forces to conduct widespread and consistent orientation exercises for Africans right from the elementary school students to market women and to corporate executives. Obviously, teaching the future leaders the virtues of honesty and integrity will prove more effective in the long run but similarly, raising a large corps of Africans who will not compromise and will also not bare to stomach corruption being perpetrated before them will help put the current leaders on the edge of their seats and help to salvage the situation to a large extent. If we teach the people to cease to celebrate people of questionable means and character, then the desire to amass wealth at the expense of public convenience will become unattractive.
      Yet another solution that needs to be immediately pursued is the acceleration of processes from filing systems at courthouses to clearing schedules at our ports. If things can be done more quickly, the need to bribe officials to guarantee faster solutions will be taken out of the way.
         Africa will also benefit in no small measure from communal conversations organized through available media such as open house meetings and family discourses where people can check up on their kinsmen and publicly denounce those who are doing the wrong things. The knowledge of possible isolation for corruption will hasten the feet of many people away from the thought of perpetrating illicit acts, I believe.

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This Gay Thing: Engaging the Homophobia Label

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       Nigeria is reputed to have a population near 170 million and I strain to imagine that we will all ever think the same way on any issue. Even when we agree on basic principles, it is inevitable that some of us will question a few yarn of the thread that runs through those principles. We can’t all sleep in the same direction, is a common adage from South-Western Nigeria, and as an individual, I hardly take it to heart that people do not see things as I see them. Our perspectives on issues are often shaped by our exposure to facts, knowledge base, environment and even other factors that I may not immediately recall. Homosexuality is far from one of those simple issues I will ever expect any society to totally agree on in entirety, be it a monk enclave or a den of bohemians.

            Our rules of engagement come to play when we address thorny issues. In an effort to point out a malady, many fall into the pit of talking down on anyone and everyone who as much as disagrees with them and in the end, the battle for supremacy outshines the needed correction. Needless to say, the malady stays.

            In a country where 80% of the people live on less than a dollar every day and over 100million of the population are internationally regarded as being chronically disadvantaged in terms of financial endowment, it is expected that such matters like gay rights will sound strange and far disconnected from their basic needs.

A people who have always known the family structure or relationships that pave the path to it, to consist of a man and woman are bound to find a suggestion of the possibility of two individuals of the same gender in an amorous relationship, exotic and unsettling. The Holy Books that guide the most popular religions in Nigeria prescribe monogamy and even necessitous polygamy but still among opposing genders. Even non-adherents of scripted religion will hardly claim to be less familiar of traditional arrangements of marriage as being between man and woman, or otherwise man and women in polygamous arrangements. In essence, the people are more used to heterosexual relations and if there perhaps were to be a referendum, they will more likely vote against homosexual unions. That decision may be faulted on other grounds but per democracy where the will of the majority prevails, you can hardly question it further.

            The above notwithstanding, change is constant, particularly when we seek development which comes with imported technology, governance models and more. We have benefitted from foreign culture in many ways than we can count, often overcoming initial skepticism to enjoy the new introductions. In the same way, it is expected that people will scoff at the growing trend of homosexual preferences and those who talk down on citizens who express this natural human reaction are far from being honest. Such fundamental challenge to well-ingrained culture cannot but meet with resistance in varied forms, the latest legal prohibition being perhaps the most assertive.

            Many commentators have labeled fellow citizens who find homosexual relations unacceptable as being homophobic, and even threatened to block them from their social media pages. However, a man can disagree with such exotic sexual orientation and still act as a responsible citizen when he comes across a gay or lesbian. It is those who act violently against such people that we must condemn. Now, there lies our problem as a society. Alleged thieves, liars and fornicators are constantly being mobbed, stripped naked, sodomized and burnt in different communities not because of the presence or absence of laws prohibiting such acts but because too many people are un-enlightened amidst us. More definitely needs to be done to teach people to disagree without being disagreeable, and to stop taking laws into their own hands.

            The exponents of gay rights among us must first accept that this is not a lifestyle we are used to and/or must accept like smiling children at the sight of a returning generous father. We all must realize that just as America did not adjust to freedom of sexual orientations in one fell swoop, it may take some time for a people who are faced with more serious economic and political debacles to accept the reality of gay/living couples being their jolly-good neighbors. There is no need to fan the embers of hate on either side. We must respect contrary opinions even if we think them laden with idiocy.

            Now to the prohibition Act which I think is intended to preserve the traditional notion of sexual relations which the majority of the people still uphold. The sociological school may excuse this Act as laws are expected to reflect prevailing societal beliefs though other schools of thought may disagree. I however accept that the law, just like any other provision in our criminal law, can be susceptible to the extortion predilection of a corrupt Police force. It is also a grim possibility that sections loosely banning open display of affection may jeopardize the interest of every other citizen whose values the law purports to protect. Steps therefore need to be taken to engage the Laws through the Court and other appropriate quarters to review the whole enactment. On the other hand, the solution to homosexual relations, if it is perceived as a societal problem, cannot be through the laws alone, much more has to do with psychological and health factors that this prohibition Act cannot deal with.

I am @tobisammyjay on Twitter.

 

Shorts and Skirts

When we met

I wore shorts

And you pinafore

But did it matter?

 

We walked and talked

We prayed and played

Yet we were teens

And it did not matter.

 

We shared your cakes

And chewed my flakes

We shared all cheerfully

And it never did matter.

 

We cared less about wears

But when you switched to skirts

And I was still in shorts

I guess wears began to matter.

 

Into your new skirt

Went your feelings and shirt

Tucked in and asphyxiated

And yes it did matter!

 

Now no longer bound by rules

Your shirts are out

You are through, and back

But what does it matter?

 

FIRST PUBLISHED IN SARABA MAGAZINE 4TH ISSUE.

I am @tobisammyjay on Twitter.

Heart of Graffiti

These streets have been quite, sane; clear 
And wordless testaments of conformism 
But this week I choose to light the wick 
Peeping out of the cold wax of defiance 
Thoughts of you will kindle a little flame 
But this wick will burn even in the winds. 

“Post No Bills”; words emblazoned on emulsion 
Shepherding cautious pedestrians into compliance 
Faked smiles on fading posters have disappeared 
Even lengthy revival names on episcopal banners 
But me, I’m lured into defiance by my emotions 
Who can beat me out of priceless heartbeats, for you? 

So, tonight, I dare the municipal council 
I will share with the world, on these city walls 
Treasured images, only my heart has nursed 
Let my sight into the possibility, even if only I try, 
That a soul with soaring beauty defying gravity 
Can weave through colours and brush into a graffiti. 

The city will wake up to ambivalence 
Of how the benevolence of your appearance 
Can at once gratify all aesthetic longings, and touch 
Their hearts, but also tear at their idealist core 
Pray, if they get down the wall graffiti, they can’t 
Cauterize the many hearts it already sits upon. 

(C) Tobi Adebowale,

@tobisammyjay on Twitter.

Gentlemen in Skirts

Today, I have a brilliant piece from my very humble and cerebral friend, Yakubu Damilola (@IdiAce), exploring our perception of things in relation to gender, and many things we walk by not seeing or perhaps seeing but not processing.

Enjoy!

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“What is art but a way of seeing?” – Thomas Berger

Tonight, I hear Sifa speak about the irregular flow of the human life, the up and down line of our heartbeats. Somehow I reflect on Tolu’s statement, a few days back, that as humans we love things the way they are, and change takes an effort. For the first few days, a lot of us sat around the same place in the bus, to and from class.

Other than the fact that I see some truth in their reasoning, I can’t help but notice that they are a bit contradictory.  

‘We call them gentlemen in skirts’ I interjected
‘And that has nothing to do with gender?’
‘No…’ I argued that the phrase ‘Gentleman in skirts’ has nothing to do with gender but code of conduct.

As we return to the bus, Chimamanda tells me to write a story on this.

As much as I want to have something to write, I feel a void unfilled. I see so much I want to fill with words and opinions, but for the life of me they never seem to come.

‘Why do you use the gavel?’
‘I don’t know really, for order I guess. A sign of authority…’ Abdul laughs, but I get a different perspective.

Do I perhaps, bring a sense of normalcy, a part of things being the way they are, into law? Or do I allow so many seemingly big things, I have argued against, affect me that undertones of abnormally seem to glide on the surface without notice.  

“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” – George Orwell

Perhaps, I so much respect the law and its tradition that that respect has made me blind. Not blind as to not seeing, but blind as to seeing and having no words to understand what you see.  

“Without the eye, the head is blind. Without the head, the eye is adrift.” – Darby Bannard

Perhaps I see more the literacy of the law, than the humanity of it. What astounds me is not that I think the Nigerian legal system is ingrained with gender bias but that I never even considered it, or so many other rules of conduct I never seemed to question. The wig? The robe?  

I feel an ache in my chest: I feel like a fool perhaps. That you see something so much, and not put so much thought to what it really means, or its necessity, until someone causes you to see secondly or thirdly, like a photograph, with new eyes. The photograph was my memory, and seeing it differently felt strange.  

“The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody has decided not to see.” – Ayn Rand  

‘Don’t be a lawyer, be a writer.’ Binyavanga said.

Sight is important to a writer. Perhaps, it is even more important to a lawyer.  Normalcy is an enemy of sight. It normalizes the old, reconstructs the new and uniqueness is lost.

One of the major reasons I write is to create better perspectives, sights of what world was, is and can be. I guess the joke is on me.

So as much as I want to write a story on this complexity, I do not know what I see. I have new eyes, but with familiar sights seen. This familiarity makes my memory vague, so I can’t see through memory. Like desperately wanting to see what’s behind a mist, you need to walk there to see. I need to walk there. I feel incomplete, thirsty to have this void filled. But my memory fails me. The memory someone said is a bad storyteller. It is coloured with selective subjectivity.  

“We never see anything completely. We never see a tree, we see the tree through the image that we have of it, the concept of that tree; but the concept, the knowledge, the experience, is entirely different from the actual tree.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti

Sifa, Tolu and Maryam talk about the hotel, about being by the sea, taking pictures and the unusual beauty it gives us. They say that probably those that live there see it as normal. I see how normalcy removes the beauty that differences give us. I see more why we need many eyes to see the world through. The world is beautiful, many eyes make it so.

Sifa calls it the parable of life.

And I think I just got played.  

“One who returns to a place sees it with new eyes. Although the place may not have changed, the viewer inevitably has. For the first time things invisible before become suddenly visible.” – Louis L’Amour

#ChatUp Series 1, Ep.1

      Image   The following conversation ensued between two dear friends, Tomiwa Ilori (@tomiwa_ilori) and Ademola Bashir (@bashirademola9). It touches lightly on recent political alignments in Nigeria and their possible implications for the Nigerian people. Please enjoy, contribute to the conversation and endeavour to share the page with your friends. Thanks!

 

BA: Would you love GEJ to return as president?
            T.I.: Determinism. I wouldn’t. But how do we know of a new angel’s disposition as to an already known devil’s?
BA: Have you read about Buhari’s regime? In the past? About his monetary policies and discipline?
            T.I.: I am very aware. I have a book on him.
BA: With the little facts I know about GEJ which a close person told me. Letting GEJ come in again is a wickedness to us all. He can’t lead us to Canaan.
            T.I.: And why are you even sure that Nigerians are ready to leave Egypt?
BA: Exactly bro, we are not ready at all. Tomiwa, we are not ready. Have you heard 200million mumu by Lagbaja?
            T.I.: Yes. The people deserve their rulers.
BA: See, our generation may just do worse. Ha, see Tomiwa I have given up on this country, the only thing I hold unto is, can God do it? Of course He can! But are we ready? No, God cannot move without man.
            T.I.: We will get what we deserve most times, not necessarily what we need let alone want.
BA: I wrote an article on Facebook about 2015, I tagged it “Deepless” and you need to see what a guy commented on it. He supported GEJ and I was in shock. A young man who is in this country yet no wisdom.
            T.I.: Why will you be shocked at someone else’s choice? How do we prune for finesse when we think the same?
BA: You have a point. But d facts are clear!
            T.I.: Facts are not necessarily agreed to when they aren’t in most people’s favor. We should stop expecting of people but on God only who grants grace to our abilities.
BA: See, I instantly lost respect for the guy, he is a great friend but with what you said, I will stop expecting. We can’t all fink d same
            T.I.: Well, I suppose what we should have and often exercise as who we are is tolerating people’s thoughts however riddled with idiocy.
BA: Tomiwa, I am tired of d shallowness
            T.I.: Its God’s way of showing us how to separate the wheat from the tares; and who and what not to take on our journeys. If people follow your line of thought because they want to appease you but hide a hard rock of rebelliousness inside, which would you prefer?
BA: Very true! Profound analysis. But can APC win?
            T.I.: Well, political and personal permutations, they can’t. Existence of a problem is often ignored when trying to fixing it.
BA: Tinubu has the West and Buhari has the north….the people in Niger Delta are not that much, if it’s free and fair, don’t you think that’s a huge number?
             T.I.: Those who wield power are never willing to let it go. If you think that way, why are you not considering the high strength of incumbency? Government and whoever controls it is short of God but higher than any man.

A Taste of Things To Come

When you use words, you’re able to keep your mind alive. Writing is my way of reaffirming my own existence. – Gao Xingjian (1940 – )

            I presume this blog has come to have an existence of its own, though with a life whose continual force is dependent on the diligence and convenience of another. It is however my responsibility, I presume, to breathe life into its pages every now and then not only for the assumed benefit of expected readers but much more for the certified relief of my burdened mind. I doubt many conscientious writers will disagree with me when I say writing is at once a therapy to self and to the society, with the latter supposedly consisting of intellectuals, literary enthusiasts, voyeurs and other classes of people our imaginations can create.

The above said, it is my desire to express myself for ease through this platform and in the coming months, I hope to do so in varied ways. I am afraid when it comes to my reading/writing taste, I am one you could described as “anywhere belle-face” just as my secondary school friends used to describe my shooting skills on our little football field. I am not much of a footballer, I admit. However, don’t be surprised if I write on football on any day the Super Eagles play or my favorite though now-floundering Manchester United decide to return to winning ways. I am also deeply passionate about Nigeria and as such, you are assured to be teased with samplings of my ideas on nation-building even as I hope we can have robust conversations in the same regard. Poetry is a continuing attraction for me and I humbly intend to share tottering compositions from time past as well as newer works, hoping I perhaps can get some conversations started that will help me do better.

I happen to have a good number of immensely talented writers as friends, and I will be doing the world a great disservice by not plastering the walls of my little corner with their works. It will be both an act of selfishness and nonchalance to the world’s learning needs. There will also be excerpts of our conversations online under a segment I’ve chosen to call “ChatUp”. I write fiction too and I hope to share when I can.

My immense appreciations in advance to you, for your continued belief and endless return. Have a great year.

Tobi Adebowale.

@tobisammyjay on Twitter.  Image