by Damilare Ogunleye
Dear President Buhari,
Your Excellency, finally, you added the backbreaking straw with your comment about the notoriety of overseas crimes committed by Nigerians. Incidentally, I read the excerpt of the Telegraph UK interview wherein you made the statement while I watched a Netflix documentary titled “Virunga”.
Virunga is a 2014 British documentary film, which focuses on the conservation work of rangers within Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the activity of a British company, Soco International, which began exploring for oil within the UNESCO World Heritage Site in April 2014. In the past month, I have also seen quite a few other documentaries around a similar theme – “Stealing Africa”, “How to rob Africa”, “The Great African Scandal”. The consensus theme, albeit stereotype, is that “The West is largely as responsible as Africans for the woes of the African continent”. When it wasn’t giving out the entire democratic republic of Congo to King Leopold II as a private enterprise, it was granting presidential pardon to her citizen who set the pace for defrauding African governments, now commonly known as “Subsidy scam” in Nigerian circles. There are even alleged conspiracies about how this pardoned individual financed the military coup that brought you to power the first time. But that is an entirely different issue for discussion. Since you rode to political power on the wave of a change(d) democrat, we can at least let bygones be bygones.
However, beyond the all-too-common rhetoric of a plundering west, I also found a few lessons from the documentaries that have evidently become relevant in the face of your many recent overseas comments.
First, greed is human nature. A few Nigerians partaking in drug trafficking, sex racketeering, and basic as well as advanced fee fraud is not very different from a few westerners partaking in sponsored wars, unpaid royalties, and third party child labor. The key difference rests in the system of the crime and the strength of the law. While the foreign individuals stealing the continent have built corporations around their trade, Nigerian (African) criminals with a turf off the continent still run the show as crudely as many of their one-man businesses. Unfortunately, the strength of the law is a reverse in these scenarios. The corporations have to deal with ineffectual governments and weak institutions, while the silo-styled Nigerian kingpin takes his chances against decade-old intelligent law enforcement institutions. Little wonder who the odds are against.
Second, charity begins at home, and I guess this is an intended double-edged truth. Wishing away the reality that corruption is endemic in today’s Nigeria is akin to a fool’s pilgrimage. If this is a generally accepted paradigm, why do we expect that our beat-the-system nature wouldn’t land us in murky waters when we face stiffer systems abroad? Or do we currently have a system that ensures only the righteous ones make it abroad? Quite the contrary! Many of us who travel abroad have had to beat the system at least once, along the value chain from getting an international passport to bring airborne. Sir, if we really want to fix our image issue, then we must fold our sleeves back home and get to the trenches of strengthening institutions as against pelting us with the change rhetoric as if another election season is nigh.
Unfortunately, your disdain for the second edge of the home-taught charity pierces my heart more. A disturbing trend has emerged from many of your foreign trips, especially those in which you enjoy great spotlight from the foreign media. You often speak in the third person. Your stance on Nigerians at such times beggars belief. It’s almost as if you are the president of a people you do not want, or associate with, or don’t even know at all. If this were in the corporate world, it could easily be interpreted as if you are positioning yourself to be poached from the other guys. Or sir, are you positioning for the UK to poach you as her prime minister? That you choose to make controversial statements about your people through the foreign media while on foreign trips is a chain of bad decisions. Sadly, your handlers are doing a great job of managing the clap backs terribly.
On a final note sir, there are quite a lot of hardworking Nigerians seeking asylum abroad. That a lot of Nigerians can daily swallow the pills of a failing government, bad economic policies and a growing sense of insecurity doesn’t mean those who choose to opt out of that reality are fraudulent. When I feel a government cannot provide the basic conditions for my survival, am I not in danger? There is only so much a man can take and those who desire to pursue their own happiness should feel free to do so without their president equating such pursuit with crime.
Sir, you are the president of all Nigerians, home and abroad. What we expect from you is the CHANGE you and the All Progressives Congress (APC) promised, and not beating the drums of shame, hoping that the rhythm would nudge our hands to clap and our legs into dancing.
A social commentator writes via @ogunleyedami
Cc: Office of the Lying Liars (APC)
Office of the Wailing Wailers (PDP)
Office of the Citizen (Nigerian)