When next you want to get yourself some kilograms of meat, consider the open market –not Shoprite or any of the corporate shopping centres. Also, just for the purpose of confirming the accuracy or otherwise of the assertions I will be making in this essay, I’d suggest that you try boarding …a public bus when next you want to go anywhere within Nigeria. Or better still; visit a motor park or a beer parlour. The cozy enclave of your Jeep or your home will deny you of the opportunity to get this knowledge. And when you get into the market or the public bus or the beer joint, don’t just keep to yourself. Interact with the people you see there.
If you pick ten different people at random – from the market, beer parlour or inside a commercial bus – , engage them in a friendly conversation about the Nigerian malaise and later ask them if they’ll steal money if voted or appointed into a political office, you’ll be shocked at the responses you’ll get. At least 70% of the people will tell you exactly this or something that implies it; “Nobody go enter there make e no chop money. I go chop, but I go do something”
Chop, but do something. This is the first theory with which Nigeria was – and is still being – destroyed. Created by a wicked and mischievous tribe of rulers, exported to the streets for a wholesale purchase by the masses and sustained in circulation by both the rulers and the ruled, this theory gives legitimacy to the world-acknowledged signature of leadership in Nigeria: monumental treasury-looting. I have always cringed at the unconscious acceptance of the crime of corruption as normal, by the Nigerian people; from those they call leaders, each time they quote this rule.
In its most basic explanation, chop, but do something, confers on a political officeholder a legitimate right to help himself to the public treasury (“chop”), so long as he does “something”. The “chop” here doesn’t refer to the legally approved remuneration and perquisites for the Nigerian government official which, – in any case –are far above what any other public official in similar or related position elsewhere in the world earns. When they say “chop “, they actually imply, “steal, embezzle, loot”. I have often asked my close friends if they know the definition of the “something” that should be done. Does anybody know what should pass for a satisfactory “something”? The vagueness of this weak demand – which appears to be an afterthought -from the governed is the reason we have been getting anything – just anything – as products of governance from those who we hired to provide us with some level of comfort. And because there’s no clear line, as well as known proportion for demarcation, between “chopping” and doing “something”, we have often had a 95:5 ratio. To further appreciate this, you may want to realize that, according to this law, the “chopping” comes first before the doing “something”. The beneficiary of this benevolence of ours can comfortably run a “chop-do something” ratio of 99:1. We’ve seen it reflect in the award of contracts by governments. A contract is awarded at an ungodly cost – far above what it will cost to do the same job in a saner clime, money is paid in full for the job, yet it won’t be executed. The contractor shares the money with the government officials who awarded the contract. And that ends the story.
In their various uninspiring offices, I can safely conclude that the aides to these rulers recite this law to their bosses more than they do the Nigerian pledge. The result is what you see littered in our political landscape. A legislator who carts home about $2million per annum goes to his constituency and sinks one or two boreholes and invites ready members of the mainstream mass media to broadcast it. A week later, the borehole parks up and his constituents resort back to the streams and rivers or Malams – the only sources of water supply they know. He has done “something”. At least he has satisfied the two sides of the street law.
A governor pockets millions of tax payers’ money, then remembers the existing street law, and quickly sends an aide or a family member to get 5,000 okadas and 5,000 sewing machines for the states “teeming youths”. He fixes some few kilometers of roads and they all get bad again, right under his watch, even before his first term in office elapses. Mr governor has “done something”.
Historians, I am certain, will find the Nigerian masses guilty of complicity – by both witting and unwitting acceptance – in the organized destruction of their country. The penchant for accepting mediocrity and promoting the culture of sleaze in government, by those who should demand qualitative leadership, is against the known laws of building a great nation. The acceptance by an average Nigerian that the right thing in government is to “chop money, but do something” is the latent force that propels the corrupt public officeholder to the comfort realm – that zone where the everybody-is-a-thief mindset doesn’t give him any discomfort. By declaring that law, the Nigerian on the street is simply saying, “if I get there, I’ll also steal from the treasury”. And the thieving ruler knows this, and likes it.
The next theory of national destruction is the theory of “chop I chop”. Credited to the ingenuity of Nigeria’s father of modern day corruption – Ibrahim Babangida – by his admirers, this theory is a summary of the benefits of forming a workable collusion before, during and after the act of stealing public funds. You hear this more often when, once in a rare while, a high profile corruption case becomes the scene of EFCC’s usual media melodrama. Those who see – and probably rightly so – Babangida as the master of the art of settlement would tell you the reason such people like Dimeji Bankole, Danjuma Goje or Chimaroke Nnamani, were being singled out for prosecution in a sea of heads of fellow sinners. For a country recognized world over for its unenviable position in state-sponsored corruption, it has to be the breaking of the “chop I chop” law that inform such persecutions. In simple terms, whoever that is caught by EFCC “chopped alone”. He refused to share the loot with those who he knew would come after him. Didn’t he see IBB? Doesn’t he know that is the secret of the retired general?
And many students of the IBB school of thought are high fliers in the field. They can hardly be put to jail. They know those to settle with raw cash and those to settle with campaign donations. They know those to settle in form of church tithes, seeds or offerings as well as those to settle in their palaces with big cars and costly accessories. And the masses? They are in wait for their turn or when any of their relatives gets the chance to access the treasury of the public.
Do something for ya people is the third of the street laws that have destroyed Nigeria. This, in particular, was propounded to tend to the ethnically biased Nigerian ruler. And unfortunately, many of them are. Here, the bigotry of a president, governor or Local Council chairman is brought to the fore by his advisers. Devoid of the sublime thinking that his primary catchment area is the physical boundaries of the country or state he rules, and having no plan to develop any part of the geographic region, a president or governor is always reminded by his family and village members, “no matter what, do something for ya people ”. The idea is for him to corner the few developmental programmes of his regime to his village so that later in the future, when his kindred members throw up to him the challenge of his wasteful years in office, he’ll simply say, “I sank that borehole and built that road for you people”.
We saw a manifestation of the observance of these theories in the decision of President Goodluck Jonathan to site one of his nine politically motivated Federal Universities in his village. In that singular act alone, he achieved both the “do something” and “do something for ya people” expectations. He just wanted to do something, anything – irrespective of the desirability or otherwise of it, and hurriedly setting up Universities, even against the opinions of front line academics, was to serve that purpose. And in doing something, he thought of doing one for “his people”.
The maze I find difficult to suss out is the reason behind a political class which should think like their contemporaries in the developed world taking a thinking seat with the commoners on the streets. Sorry, I take it back. There’s no wisdom in my amazement. That street thought actually originated from the members of the ruling class themselves. They rule with the minds of commoners. They are clothed in the apparels of nobles, yet the apparels cover the flesh that conceal minds saturated with petty thoughts and admiration for vanity. From the seats of power to the queues of misery in the Nigerian streets, the air is condensed with thoughts of national destruction; the type that promotes laziness and criminality in political offices and then awards a non-performing political office holder the commendation, “the man dey try”.
And by the way, that is the fourth of the street laws that destroyed Nigeria.