“If per chance you come across a human being who is unable to tell his particular bearing relatively to one or more of the innumerable points of life’s compass, you would not hesitate to write him off as a child, an idiot, or an aimless wanderer.
“In the same way, if you meet a politician who is unwilling or unable to declare and, as precisely as possible, describe his position in relation to the cardinal points of the political compass, you will feel strongly tempted to denounce him as a fraud, a total misfit, or a hopeless drifter.” – Obafemi Awolowo (1909-1987)
When it is said that Nigeria is a backward country, as measured by economic and development indices, most people tend to compare tall skyscrapers in Manhattan District of New York with those at the Central Business District in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, as indices of development. We think of spiraling inflation, heavy debt burden and increasing worthlessness of the Nigerian currency triggered by retired General Ibrahim Babangida’s Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) in 1986. We ruminate over huge deficit in core economic infrastructure such as electric power as well as social infrastructural deficit in education and health. All these result in shorter life span and overall low quality of life for Nigerians.
But there is a more telling dimension of backwardness which is much more invidious, yet less amenable to public perception or social measurement. I refer to the moral status of the Nigerian elite, lack of commitment to stated goals of the society by the elite, lackadaisical attitude to duty and generally, warped thinking about public affairs.
Fake Human Beings
Most people are aware of fake products – things that are not what they purports to be. For example, if one buys salt from the market and uses it for his food but the food tastes bland and unsalted, then it is obvious that the salt is fake even though it has the appearance of salt. Common examples of fake products in Nigeria are fake wine, fake fruit drinks, fake cream, imitation jewelries and fake electronic devices.
In August 2014, the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) revealed that 80 per cent of computer, accessories and allied technology products and ICT devices sold at the largest computer market in Nigeria, Computer Village Market, Ikeja, were counterfeit. According to the Managing Director of SON, Dr. Joseph Odumudu, “80% of their activities are illicit.” He said that the activities of counterfeiters in the industry led to the “closure of many legitimate companies with their work force thrown into the labour market”. (Prince Osuagwu, SON declares 80% of market fake, CAPDAN kicks, admit 30%, Vanguard, August 13, 2014). Nigeria is a place where fake products drive away genuine ones.
Nigeria is not only dominated by fake products, it is also peopled by fake human beings. By fake human beings, I do not mean dolls or robots because these are not human beings at all. Fake human beings as used here are people who pretend to be what they are not. Some persons assume positions but refuse to exhibit qualities and skills requisite for such positions.
For example, some married women are merely women married to their men but not wives. To be a wife, a woman must play the role of a wife as defined by society and culture. In such a case, a man has a woman who has children for him but not a wife. In the same way, some married men deny their wives of love and care; they neglect or refuse to play the role of husband and may therefore be seen as married men and legal father of children but not husbands to their wives.
A young person who registers to study in an institution of learning but does not attend classes or engage in any form of learning is most likely a loafer, certainly not a student.
To be brief, everything has a function and it is the fulfillment of such function that makes it what it claims to be. For considerations of space, let us take four examples in the public space, namely, fake religionists, fake Traditional Rulers, fake security operatives and the father of all fakes – fake politicians.
Of all categories of fake human beings in contemporary Nigeria, the most common category is fake religionists that dot every nook and cranny of our villages and cities. They operate under the camouflage of Godliness and since most Nigerians claim to be religious, fake religionists have free passage however dubious their activities may be.
Fake religionists are not restricted to Nigeria, neither is it a new phenomenon in the society. About 2,000 years ago, the Lord Jesus was constrained to drive away those who were buying and selling in the temple in Jerusalem and who made the temple of God “a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:12-13). In our day, every Tom, Dick and Harry claims to be a prophet, performing miracles at every corner and on television, bombarding homes with varied exhortations. They measure their success in terms of Naira, hard currency, expensive cars and jet planes.
Like their counterparts of 2000 years ago, most of these are thieves, albeit of the more subtle type that lawyers classify as confidence tricksters, “receiving under false pretence” which is a punishable act under Section 419 of the Criminal Code. Today, these impostors have evolved highly sophisticated techniques of plying their vicious trade through trendy dressing and fantastic claims on radio and television, coupled with a domineering attitude, all designed to cheat and exploit.
I once asked one of my friends why he made himself a Bishop soon after opening his church in Benin City. He told me that as a Bishop, he would receive special recognition or mention and sit at the high table or front row at any public event organized by the government. He said that he would ask the Governor to “kneel down, let me pray for you.” He said that as a Bishop, he has the privilege to lay his hands on the head of any prominent personality in the society, thereby gaining authority over them. It is the fastest way to social recognition and wealth, he asserted with gusto. He invited me to take a high position in his church and I politely declined.
The prodigious and horrific spiritual harlotry by Nigerian potentates, spiritual and temporal, who remorselessly use the name of God for lucre, is one of the saddest chapters in the history of this beleaguered country. The Nigerian situation exemplifies what Professor Isaac Sagay once described as “religious schizophrenia – outwardly religious but inwardly diabolical.” (Nigeria: Serving God and Mammon, Sunday Vanguard, December 17, 2000, page 9). The Lord Jesus admonished us to “beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly, are ravening wolves.” (Matthew 7:15)
Fake Traditional Rulers
Another category of fakes that present in flowing robes and glamorous attires are called “Traditional Rulers” or “Monarchs”. Monarchy is one of the oldest forms of government in this part of the world. Most Nigerian communities revered their kings. When British colonialists came, they demoted indigenous kings to “chiefs” because they would not contemplate any other king than the British crown. Therefore, to be relevant, a king must pander to the government and the practice continued since then. Kings look to government for recognition and financial support rather than their communities.
The second factor that contributed to disconnect between some kings and their people is the religion introduced by the colonisers. Some kings think that to be modern, they must demonise indigenous culture as the colonialists did. They deviate from promoting, projecting and defending indigenous cultural values while some of them took on the business of active demolition of indigenous cultural heritage of their communities. The institution turned into a government appointment and kings glorify in government recognition and financial perquisites rather than sustenance of traditions of their communities. Consequently, the institution has been largely trivialized and commercialized if not bastardised, not belonging to tradition or government.
There is no doubt that some kings hold fast to the culture and traditions of their people and even improving on it. Notable examples are the Benin and Itsekiri kingdoms. However, the experience of many communities in Southern parts of Nigeria is that their kings have abandoned their traditions and embraced alien cultures in their bid to appear “modern”.
Like fake products, they adorn themselves with traditional attires but in their conduct and actions in their communities, they are anti-tradition. Tradition means that which is laid down from the past. It does not mean church. It existed before colonialism and churchianity. No traditional ruler is installed on the basis of foreign religion. But after coronation, some of them throw the tradition of their people to the dustbin and embark on anti-tradition. Such kings are fakes; they may be recognized as traditional rulers by the government but like unsalted salt, they are fake.
Fake Security Operatives
Security is an indispensable need in any society. That is probably why it is enshrined in Chapter ll, Section 14 (2) (b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended that “security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” The same Constitution also made provision for establishment of agencies to ensure security of life and property of citizens. These include the Nigeria Police Force, the Armed Forces and other security and para-military agencies.
However, some individuals in uniform such as Customs and Excise, Nigeria Police Force and Armed Forces use their positions contrary to that provided by the law that set them up. There is nowhere that the law says that Nigerians citizens should be held in detention without trial, held in underground cells or subjected to torture and other degrading and inhuman treatment but these are practices that come to light from time to time in the country.
The most rampant and open display of lawlessness by law enforcement officers in the public domain is extortion. Large numbers of policemen line up at roads, particularly in South-East of the country, extorting money from hapless motorists while fully armed, pretending to be performing police duties. If they are collecting money from motorists by force of arms, are they not better described as armed robbers than policemen? Is it part of police duties to line the roads and forcefully collect money from motorists?
In spite of several categories of fake human beings that undermine the moral vigour of the society, a few of which are enumerated above, the most socially dangerous fakes in Nigeria are fake politicians. This is because of the wide demonstration effect of the behavior of this class of fakes. They lay down examples, for good or for ill, for other sectors of the society
The stock in trade of this category of fakes is violence and deception. How could someone who feeds young people with drugs and gives them guns to dislodge his political opponents be described as a politician? Such a person is a brigand of the most horrible order. It would be a misnomer to address such a person as a politician of the democratic breed.
Unfortunately, like fake products, fake politicians drive legitimate and honest ones out of circulation.
Worse still, the violent tactics of military-political elite permeated the entire social fabric and produced an increasingly violent generation and glorifies violence as a way of life.
A True Public Servant
It gladdens the heart to realize that Nigeria is not entirely dominated by fakes. There are some shining lights that demonstrate noble traits that are the best in humanity, even though they are few and far between.
Before Professor Dora Akunyili (1954-2014) mounted her vigorous campaign against fake and counterfeit drugs in Nigeria in her capacity as Director-General of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDC), fake and counterfeit drugs dominated the Nigerian market. She took the bull by the horn. According to Akunyili, “People there (NAFDAC) did not believe that I could confront the mafia who had been unchallenged for almost three decades. It was a rude shock to the counterfeiters that we refused any discussion or negotiation for business to continue as usual.”
She personally led raids to dislodge notorious drug counterfeiters in open drug markets in Onitsha, and other places and seized fake drugs worth billions of Naira.
Akunyili is from Anambra State and Onitsha in her home state is generally recognized as the headquarters of fake and counterfeit drugs in Nigeria. She did not say, “they are my people, let me be soft on them.”
When the approach which the counterfeiters made to her failed, they resorted to harassment and intimidation, thinking that as a woman, she would succumb to their antics. But she was unyielding in pursuit of her assignment. In December 2003, she narrowly escaped death when assassins attacked her car near Agulu in Anambra State. The bullets shattered the rear windscreen of her car, pierced her headscarf and burnt her scarf “like hot water” and went through the front screen. She was naturally shaken but would not bow to intimidation.
In March 2008, she sealed off the Onitsha Head Bridge drug market completely when the drug dealers were found to be intransigent and incorrigible. The market was only reopened when the former Governor of the State, Mr. Peter Obi, personally intervened and assured her that he would help police the market very closely and rid it of dangerous drug dealers.
When she was appointed Minister of Information in December 2008, the Drug Dealers at Onitsha Head Bridge Market openly celebrated her departure from NAFDAC. They abandoned their stalls and paraded nearby streets, popping champagne and dancing that the iron lady was off their neck.
Akunyili took her legendary distaste for underhand tactics to her new post. When highly placed officials at the Presidency were playing hide and seek over the health status of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Akunyili was the odd man out, making her famous statement, “I am fed up with lies about Yar’Adua.”
Writing in May 2006, Annes Harding, a world-acclaimed writer on health and scientific topics stated that “since she became Director-General in 2001, the proportion of drugs sold in Nigeria that are fake has dropped from 70% to 10%.” In its Bulletin Volume 84, No. 9, published in September 2006, titled Nigeria leads fight against “killer” counterfeit drugs, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that “Nigeria has been at the forefront of global efforts to fight counterfeit drugs since Dora Akunyili took over the NAFDAC in 2001.”
Akunyili is an outstanding example of a true Minister (servant) of the people of Nigeria.
Away with Fake Politicians
The Federal Government and National Assembly make a big issue about “fake news” and their desire to legislate on it. But informed opinion is that preoccupation with so called fake news is only an attempt to cover up the wide range of fakes in Nigerian public life, most of whom belong to the class of power elite.
Whatever the resources available in a state, if the human beings occupying that space are fake, unwilling to perform their duties creditably or or morally debased, the place is thereby debased. The effect is more crippling when the debased constitute the ruling class. A morally and spiritually debased or fake ruling class is the greatest curse any society may experience. Nigeria cannot achieve development with fake religionists, fake kings, fake security officers and fake politicians. Most people are afraid to speak out about fakes that predominate in the society because of their vindictiveness and the vicious manner in which they deploy their power against perceived threats. However, for the health, survival and development of the country, all hands must be on deck to expose and dislodge fakes that are acting as worms eating down this potentially great country. It is time to do away with fakes in our body politic.