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General News of Monday, 14 March 2022

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Nigerians ‘subsidising’ corruption, incompetence of our leaders – Osundare

Poet Laureate, Niyi Osundare Poet Laureate, Niyi Osundare

Poet Laureate, Niyi Osundare, has been on a visit to Nigeria in the past weeks during which, among other engagements, he gave a seminal talk to mark this year’s celebration of the Black History Month at the Ibadan Jazz Club and read from one of his two latest books – Green: Sighs of Our Ailing Planet at a book signing session held in Victoria Island, Lagos under the auspices of Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) and Roving Heights Bookstores.

But the scholar left for his U.S. base mid-month disenchanted and probably angrier than he has ever been at the sore condition in which he met the country. He lamented the worsening epileptic power supply and the lingering fuel scarcity which, he complained bitterly frustrated his movements and work.

Heaping the blame mostly on bad leadership, which, he says, Nigeria has been cursed with, Mr Osundare stressed the need for the largely docile and gullible populace to be reoriented and properly educated in order to break free of those who hold the country’s progress down and deny them the right to decent living.

Excerpts:

Fabowale: So, Prof, what brings you on this trip to Nigeria?

Osundare: Nigeria is my country. This is my point of departure and place of return. So coming to Nigeria is not the same as making a “trip” to Nigeria. Nigeria is not a Safari land. But I know what you mean because since August 1997 I’ve been dividing my time between Nigeria and the U.S., owing to family reasons. But I’ve tried as much as possible to make sure that each place has a reasonable proportion of my time and my attention. No matter what happens, this is home – troubled, flawed, but home all the same…

Fabowale: Well, I hope we’ve managed to give you some level of comfort you must take for granted in America. I suppose, for instance, you do not have difficulty fuelling your car with this lingering petrol scarcity and power supply to do some writings you probably must?

Osundare: Let’s begin with electricity. It is scandalous, really scandalous that in the year 2022, in the first quarter of the 21st century, Nigeria has not been able to master the science and art of power generation and distribution. Nigeria is a shame to the rest of the world. Like every other Nigerian, I have been incapacitated. I hate the generator like crazy because to me it’s an aberration. I don’t like noise because I cherish my creative moments. Nothing disturbs or disperses thoughts more exasperatingly than noise. When you set up your own generator and your neighbours do theirs too before you know what’s happening the whole place becomes a bedlam of noise, nuisance and nonsense.

Government after government, ruler after ruler…and that is what I’m going to call them throughout this exchange because I wonder whether we have any leaders at the national level in Nigeria. If we had leaders, Nigeria would not be like this. We have rulers, unfeeling and extremely selfish. Each of them promised us an uninterrupted power supply in this country. None gave it to us. People are still talking about the amount of money spent on the restoration of power during the Obasanjo regime, either affirming or denying it, that money went out, but nothing came in by way of electricity supply. But at no time has the power supply been so erratic. Now it is so impossible to create in this country the way it is. The Nigerian rulers, one after another, have made it impossible for us to live like human beings who think, feel and create. We are constantly struggling to survive. Creativity is not achieved by people who are struggling to survive. It is done by people who live and want to continue doing so. They call it PHCN (Power Holding Company of Nigeria). I still call it NEPA because it rhymes with “leper”. A NEPA man came here yesterday to look at the meter and I was complaining to him. I said tell your bosses that they are shortchanging this country. You are in the middle of a poem or an essay, and ‘gbaga! The moment power goes, something goes with it. For me, it’s psychological, depressing. Despondency just sets in. I reach for my flashlight, use that for about one hour and within a short time, the light begins to fade out and it is not yet time to fall asleep. There you are in the Nigerian darkness doing nothing except eating up your own liver simply because we have no governance.

It’s a shame. How many instances is one going to count? I have friends who love this country but just cannot come and I have colleagues who would have liked to visit Nigeria and for some reason, they can’t, because some of them have medical conditions which warrant the use of machines or equipment that require a 24/7 electricity supply. I can tell you that if power outages disappear from this country today, and we could switch on the power anytime and be sure that the thing won’t go out, the unemployment rate in this country will reduce by about 60 per cent, because most of the young men we see on the streets going into crimes, body parts selling and so on…it’s a kind of moonlighting business for them. You are a ‘vulcanizer’, an automobile mechanic, a welder and you cannot work because of lack of electricity. You cannot run your little computers, so you just sit there all day. What kind of country disables citizens like this? No country can be creative if that country does not have regular, dependable and sufficient infrastructure.

Fabowale: The Nigerian government is absent and that is why so many troubles are present in this country…

Osundare: Fuel! Another cause of shame. Nigeria was better until I think 1956 or 1957 when oil was discovered in Afam and Oloibiri. Oil money comes so easy. It is there and it is also so easy to steal. Nigeria can’t count how many barrels are leaving her shores because the thieves, smugglers and bunkerers are also part of the political power brokers. The money comes so easy and that is why it is wasted! It is not geared towards development. Saudi Arabia depends almost solely on wealth from oil but look at what Saudi Arabia has been able to make of its resources. Look at the UAE; look at Dubai where all our millionaires and millionairesses now flock to buy property and splurge on ill-procured pleasure.

Fabowale: It has been reported that none of the nation’s three refineries has worked in the past two years, but gulp N10 billion every month in maintenance.

Osundare: An intelligent six-year-old boy or girl would laugh at that. You create refineries that are not generating any revenue for you. They are there and instead of them giving you money, it is you that is wasting our scarce resources on maintaining them at a huge loss each time! Yes, once they are there, they have to be maintained whether they are functioning or not. But they’ve not been producing anything. In fact, I hear some people are saying instead of repairing them, maybe we could just scrap them and build another set of refineries. What is wrong with this country? Oil refinery building is not rocket science for goodness sake! If only our refineries would work, we would produce the crude, put some of the crude in the refineries and let them do their job and they will give us our refined products and satisfy our domestic need. The government could then export what is left and then bring in revenues. That way, the government will be making money in two ways; at the domestic and foreign levels. But what we have now is so absurd. You produce the crude here; you spend money in transporting it abroad for it to be refined. When it gets abroad they charge us landing costs at different locations. When the refined products are ready, we also pay landing costs. And then they are on their way to Nigeria, through the NNPC or its appointed agents, before it reaches the Nigerian consumer. It is so ‘roundabout’, so clumsy, so wasteful and unintelligent. Then you begin to wonder if the people who rule this country ever went to school.

Fabowale: Allied to that is the issue of petroleum subsidy which the government is trying to remove now to, as they say, free funds to prosecute developmental projects. But Nigerians oppose the move because of the certain increase in price and social and economic misery it would cause. What is your thought on this?

Osundare: I don’t know if you have read my recent poem on subsidy: ‘Nigerian subsidy and the Real Subsidizers’? We, the people of Nigeria, are the ones subsidising the corruption and the incompetence of our government, the incompetence of our rulers, for goodness’ sake. It took me quite some time to find the right adjective for incompetence but I found it eventually as I was finishing the poem. I call it ‘Fatal’ (F-A-T-A-L) because it kills! Many thousands of Nigerians are dying and perishing as a result of the incompetence of our rulers. Now, look at this logic, head you lose, tail you lose. If oil is not doing well on the global market our rulers will tell us: “Oh! Sorry, the budget will be smaller. Our social services to you will be reduced because we are suffering from a shortage of revenue from oil as a result of oil prices falling in the global market. So the people of Nigeria lose as a result of the slump. When oil is doing well, you know it goes from 40 to 70, 80 dollars and so on, the Nigerian government will now come to tell us: “Oh! You have to pay more for the gasoline you put in your car because it now costs more to bring this here”. What kind of rulers do we have? Do they think we’re all stupid? No intelligent person will not feel insulted being ruled the way we’re being ruled in this country. A country of an estimated 220 million human beings! This is the country of Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe for goodness sake. Of Mabel Segun and Pius Okigbo. This is a country of intelligent people. Why is this tragedy happening to us?

This country is not being ruled or run intelligently and that is why we are having all these freak accidents all over the place. Now some universities have been closed down because students cannot get to campus owing to the fuel crunch. In an oil-producing country! And who is in charge? What is being said about that person? This time last week we were fretting over polluted oil products and up till this moment, nobody has been pointed out as being responsible for the importation of polluted gasoline into this country. The country of the murderous “Unknown Soldier” is also the country of the “Unknown Petro Polluter”. The problem with this country is that offenders often go free. They are not even identified. When they are, they are told: “Go ye therefore and sin no more”. That is why corruption is still spreading. The person who was responsible for the importation of polluted gasoline has committed a criminal offence. He has offended the people of Nigeria. So many car engines have knocked. Why is Nigeria cursed with rulers that punish us this way? The role of the government is to make life easy for the people. That is why at times I laugh when my American friends complain: “O my, there is too much government in our lives”. I just laugh as a Nigerian. What do I say? There is no government in my life. Yes, there is a government in your life in the U.S. Government listens to you and make sure that your wish is done because they know that if it’s not, there will be repercussions. In Nigeria, we have overlords who over time have become criminally irresponsible! This is what is killing this country. Who is to protect us for goodness sake? You look at the sky, it’s about to rain and there is no umbrella. Nigerians are orphans. Government should act in what we refer to as ‘in loco parentis’ (in place of the parent). But the government is not there. That is why people are taking the law into their hands everywhere. It’s Nigerian rulers that drive Nigerian people into criminality.

Fabowale: You mentioned your colleagues in ASUU going on strike. As you may be aware, it is to protest the government’s alleged dilly-dallying over a pact on improved welfare and conditions of service in the ivory towers. You were part of the struggle before going abroad. With your experience teaching in America, how do you feel to see Nigeria appear still stuck in this conundrum?

I still consider myself an ASUU man, and all things being equal, that is the way I will always be. Why? Because I believe in ASUU. We had to be extremely careful. I think it was during the presidency of President Shehu Shagari that we did most of the negotiations of what later became the USS package, and that established a separate salary cadre for university teachers. We got quite a rough deal from civil servants who were jealous. But we kept on telling the government we were not pirates. We were not mercenaries. We were not just thinking about salaries for our pockets. We were deeply interested in university autonomy and the enhancement of the general university condition, with our priority on teaching, learning, and research. We insisted on the idea of the University as operated in the best universities in the world, Harvard, Yale in the United States, Oxford, Cambridge, University of London, the University of Leeds in England, University of Edinburgh, I mean top universities – University of Ibadan was at par with many of them at the beginning. In fact, quite a number of external examiners used to come from the best of British universities, while many of our lecturers too come from those universities. When in 1973, I got to the University of Leeds as a postgraduate student; I experienced no shock because that university’s high standard was not much different from what I encountered as an undergraduate at Ibadan. The confidence and self-assertiveness that the UI put in me are some of the strengths still sustaining me to the present time. When I became a teacher there in 1974, things were still good. Every year we got research grants and you had to account for the way you spent those grants at the end of the year. Then you couldn’t get promoted unless you did rigorous publishing. I don’t mean ‘jeun-jeun’ (greedy) publishing or what they now call ‘Agbowo’ or ‘Oluwole’ publishing that we have all over the place today. Genuine scholarship! Truly international standards. Great, honourable mentors. I became a university teacher because of the influence and example of Ayo Banjo’s, Ayo Bamgbose’s, Dan Izebaye’s, Oyin Ogunba’s, Dapo Adelugbas, Onigu Otites, Omafume Onoges, and many of the expatriate lecturers. These were some of the people who showed me “the universe in the university” It was a great period to be a “University Person”. This is what the university was supposed to be. Over the years, the university system in Nigeria has deteriorated so badly and right now, excellence is almost at the point of extinction! The concern over this situation remains the major plank in the ASUU struggle.

Fabowale: But do the people understand what’s involved? The impression is that ASUU is always warring with the government.

Osundare: ASUU is not fighting the government! No! ASUU is asking the Nigerian government to help itself by aiding the association’s effort to produce soundly educated citizens that will be easy to govern but difficult to enslave. There is enough money in this country to banish ignorance. If you want to take a measure of the progress of a country, go to the classrooms, go to the laboratories. In Japan, Germany, France, Sweden, the United States, the UK, Korea, the governments know that education is the foundation of their advancement. Come closer home. Compare the condition of the University of Ghana at Legon today with that of its age mate, the University of Ibadan, the difference will boggle your mind. I am not even talking about the superior condition of the top universities in South Africa. Why are Nigerian rulers so nonchalant about education; so afraid of the thinking, knowing mind? My advice: let the Nigerian government make education the priority that it is, and honour its agreement with ASUU. From top to bottom, ignorance is killing this country. Let us kill it before it kills our future.

Fabowale: Now that we are in the electioneering period, do you see the government having the time to give these issues the attention and fixing them?

Osundare: If Nigeria were a country, (right now we are an assortment of disparate entities and not yet a nation), that would have been one of the major planks of electioneering campaign – education! Education is a big issue. But our politicians are not talking about that because it’s not a priority for them. They are not talking about that because that’s not where they are going to get the money to loot. I often ask when it’s election time, as I was asking about my beloved Ekiti State recently, how come the market is flooded, overcrowded with gubernatorial aspirants? At times you have about 12 of them competing and as my friend, Femi Orebe, said in a recent article, we all know that there can be only one governor in a state. Why are so many people rushing (for the position)? It’s surely not because our politics is doing well. Many of the guba aspirants are there for what they can get. It’s as simple as that! Which election in Nigeria has ever been fought and won on principle? None! So we are not there yet as a country, because our politicians don’t take us as serious people and we, the people don’t hold our politicians to account.

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Fabowale: Won’t this problem of not prioritizing education spell Nigeria’s doom with the insecurity and social and economic crises plaguing the country now?

Osundare: Three issues you’ve raised there but I’ll tie everything around the Nigerian youth. The way we treat the Nigerian youth and how this impinges on our future. Education to begin with. Quite a number of boys and girls doing ‘yahoo-yahoo’ (Internet fraud) are university graduates. They have no jobs. In our days everybody struggled to have an education because you knew that when you left the university, there’d be jobs for you. When I graduated in 1972, I had four possible jobs. As I said earlier in this interview, it was because of my teachers in the English department and the university generally that I decided I was going to be a lecturer too because it was so honourable. Education has been grossly devalued in this country. That is affecting our youth. You are a university graduate still pounding the street pavements, jobless, three, four years after graduation. You live next door to a high school dropout who cruises around in flashy cars gotten from money made by foul means. People mock your rags while they bow before the other guy. He flaunts his wealth all over the place and becomes a senator or governor. And you hear townspeople exclaim “Na bukuru (book) I go chop”? The present situation in Nigeria has made education unattractive, even useless.

Secondly, the bad influence from our rulers. You become a senator and within six months you’re in millions. Where are your industries or factories? How did you make that money? Invisible industry! Most of the rich people in Nigeria have not worked for their money. This is the terrible logic driving our young people into crime. And it is not only that our rulers make their money that way by stealing from the commonwealth. They also ruin our morals and markets too. Once you have a society that has a few extremely rich people and so many extremely poor people, the market is in trouble. Yeah! Because what normally should go for two kobo will go attract ten when a rich person is there. I know many rich people who never take any change after their transactions. Inflation comes through them and the common people suffer as a result. The national credo is ‘little work, big money’. That the ruling policy in Nigeria. That is what is ruining this country.

These young people don’t care. They too want their own share of the pie as the case may be and that is why they go into ritual killings and selling of body parts and so on. Does that justify their crimes? No! I’m saying, as somebody who studied Sociology to some extent, don’t just look for the symptoms of social ills, look for the cause as well. In our days, there were things you wouldn’t do because you had alternatives. You had a good education and so on. The ones we have now don’t have any such advantages. It’s banditry which, at last, has been given its rightful name, “terrorism”, that rules. I’m imagining what is happening in Zamfara, to begin with, the North-east and then the North-west, the Middle Belt. Now it has come to the North-central and gradually infiltrating the so-called Southern parts. A group of bandits on a motorcycle ride, top speed, to a school and capture 100 students at a time and take them to the bush or forest and then begin to negotiate for ransom. When it began, we thought it would be a one-off thing. Now it has become a tradition. It has become an industry. The Nigerian government has not provided these young people with any means of livelihood, so they have created a means of livelihood for themselves. For how long can you work before you have two million naira in your account? But just one kidnap operation could make you an instant millionaire. Nigeria created this problem, our religious hypocrisy and the unjust socio-political system did. How can you keep on producing children all over the place? 20, 40, 50 of them, and you don’t send them to school? Which religion says you should not educate your children, that these children should live by begging? Let our politicians know this; it is good for a country to have a large population but the real issue is what you do with that population.

Austria has a population of 8 million people. Look at Sweden, Norway and so on with their small populations of well educated, well-nurtured human beings, useful to their countries and useful for the world. Over here in some parts of Nigeria, politicians whose policies (or lack of them) have ruined the country keep on boasting “We have the votes”, and truly, they troop out at election time; many of them as political thugs. And when the election is over, these “voters” are discarded like dirty rags. Nigerian rulers created the problem we are having in Nigeria today – the tsunami of beggar-children sweeping from one region to another, neglected, abandoned, dehumanized, and dangerously alienated. These children graduate from almajari to Boko Haram, and such like homeless parentless people that are now making our homes uninhabitable and our farmlands unsafe. I have never seen Nigeria so dangerous. You’re here and you can’t move around. When you walk around in the streets, you have to look above your shoulders. But my heart bleeds each time I see what is happening, particularly in those many places in the north where people are so afraid of sending their children to school And then you ask, does Nigeria really have a government? Does this country really have a government? What are the northern governors and elders saying; what are they doing? Thinking about the next election and the sweetness of power? What do we call power without the attendant responsibility? Our rulers have sold these young folks into banditry. How many of the children of the powerful people are bandits? The bandits are Nigerians too! The bandits are human beings. Nobody was born with the gun in his hand. This is a Nigerian problem and we have to really sit up.

Fabowale: How do you react to the government’s offer to divest and grant the campuses autonomy to run themselves as the Ivy League universities in America do? Isn’t it a contradiction that the lecturers should oppose this?

Osundare: Let the Nigerian rulers know that the money ASUU is asking them to spend on education does not belong to Nigerian rulers. It belongs to the Nigerian people. And the Nigerian people are the ones saying: “Yes! We want our children to be educated so that their future can be better. So that our country can be also better. So, the Nigerian government has no argument as far as that’s concerned.

Secondly, we jump into comparisons with developed countries when it suits us. How can you compare night and day? The economic base, economic stability and the kind of attitudinal predictability that you have over there in the developed countries don’t exist here. Many wealthy Americans think about themselves and their legacies. They invest in the future by setting up foundations and such like charity organizations. That is how the Rockefeller Foundation, McArthur, Ford, Bill and Melinda Gates foundations and so on came up. Those ones were not created by angels. No! These were Americans. Look at the money Bill Gates has been pumping into the fight against COVID and malaria. Where are the Nigerian billionaires? Where are African billionaires? The terrible thing is that the Nigerian billionaire becomes a billionaire as a result of getting hold of our resources and he or she doesn’t give anything back! It is as simple as that. One Nigerian millionaire that I know had this noble objective in mind, but who was of course wasted by Nigeria was MKO Abiola. I remember that before Abiola died, he had some kind of endowment for the postgraduate school at the University of Ibadan and he was very committed to it. Our people don’t see beyond their noses. They want to make themselves comfortable, eat and drink, buy cars and do all kinds of things. They don’t think about the future. It is people who think about the future that set up legacy projects. The annual budget of Harvard is about the annual budgets of many West African countries put together. Rich university! It doesn’t depend on any government subventions because it has endowments all over the place. Nigeria is one country in the world where the rich don’t pay tax! Yes! In the U.S., Uncle Sam will take his own chunk! That’s why people are always talking about doing the right thing with the taxpayer’s money. Who are the Nigerian taxpayers? Teachers, civil servants, and the little people from whose salaries’ deductions can be made at the source. Who knows the extent of the wealth of Nigerian billionaires? Nobody! How can you tax what you don’t know? Taxation also depends upon transparency and accountability – two rare virtues in this country. This is an unjust country in every material particular, as they say in legal parlance. A very unjust, very dark country.

Fabowale: What future do you envisage for Nigeria with the exodus of people, particularly brain drain in the professions, medical and intellectual fields abroad in recent times?

Osundare: This is why I said that we are ruled by people most of whom don’t really love this country. And that is a statement I’m making with every sense of responsibility. If you love Nigeria you wouldn’t rule her this way. You care for somebody you love. You wish that person well and you make sure that nothing, no harm will come to them. Secondly, you humble yourself in such a way that you become accountable to that person. Nigeria has rulers that rule the way they like. Leaders lead with a conscience. To many people in power in Nigeria brain rain is not that bad. After all, Nigerians in the diaspora send in copious remittances, thereby contributing to the country’s GDP! I receive frantic letters from many Nigerians seeking just any means of jumping from what to them is Nigeria’s sinking ship. Nigerian rulers are fond of quoting John Kennedy’s memorable lines: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country”, but before you can do something for your country, your country must have done something for you first. Your country must have made sure that you don’t die of preventable disease, that you have a roof over your head and that you have the right education that provides you with the capacity to serve her. Your country must have made sure that you don’t die at the hands of bandits and terrorists. Nigerian rulers don’t give anything, but they are demanding everything! We are ruled by a tissue of contradictions. Many people want to leave; and can you blame them? I’ve been to virtually all the continents in the world and everywhere I go, I meet Nigerians. It’s either they come to my readings or we meet one way or the other. Many, many of them are where they are with a lot of reluctance. Some of them are bitter about Nigerian rulers who have made Nigeria inhabitable, thereby forcing them into reluctant exile, away from the land of their birth, their family, their culture, their pride.

ALSO READ: Ibadan Jazz Forum and the riffs of remembrance, By Niyi OsundareThese compatriots remind me of lines from one of my father’s songs: Uya j’ajeji l’Egbe / Ule oni l’eso ye ni” (Suffering afflicts the stranger in a strange land. One is most treasured in one’s homeland). Two lines I appropriated in my epigrammatic intro to one of my earliest poems: “Upon Seeing a Benin Mask in a British Museum”.

Nigeria is not a home for many people. Nigeria drives away the best brains. There is a chapter on the diaspora issue in my forthcoming book of selected essays. Let nobody ever eulogise or overpraise the diaspora. One thing we should never do is blame those who have left. Patriotism is never a neutral phenomenon. Patriotism is never one-sided. Your country has to love you manifestly and purposively before you can love that country back. Nigeria is a difficult country to love the way it is at the moment. Our rulers have not done us well. They’ve abused this country in a terrible way because they’ve not shown enough love and care for this country.

Fabowale: With what we have seen of government’s apparent complacency to the indictment of highly placed public officers under the Buhari government for corruption or even attempt to shield them or sweep the cases under the carpet, the latest being Abba Kyari’s before the latest bubble burst, how do we get the system sanitised against apparent entrenched interests?

Osundare: I think it’s a phenomenon that happens in many places in the world. But in Nigeria, it is much more pronounced. But President Buhari is a disappointment to many people. Many of us knew him from 1984 to August 1985 when the dissembler who called himself the people’s “president” seized power from him. His two years were marked by a certain Spartan lifestyle and honesty of purpose. I didn’t like his draconian measures, especially the way he clamped down on the press; Decree 2, Decree 4 and so on, but on balance, we also have to look at what he said – discipline and so on and then corruption? He did not have the time to fight that war before his government was toppled, but it worked for him a couple of years ago when he was running for power. This was where many people staked their hope. We had a corruption – fighter asking for our votes. The most disappointing has been the case of Magu. How could you have appointed as your anti-corruption Czar a person who was himself indictable? How much research did you do before picking him? How much intelligence did you put into the whole process? I think this second term President Buhari has, in fact, let go. In the first three years, both the EEFC and ICPC did some noticeable job. Things have changed since then. Too many corruption cases have been left “pending”, and indictments and convictions have been few and far between. Now, that wedding bash of his son was a scandal. Same with the Senate President, Lawan’s Dubai’s birthday celebration. That was an insult to the people of Nigeria, an insult to decency in a country where so many people are perishing from penury; where sundry deprivations are driving our young folks into banditry. Both cases remind me of that episode in ‘The Man Died’ about General (Yakubu) Gowon getting married to the love of his life in the middle of the Nigerian Civil War when a Biafran town fell to federal forces and Gowon’s nuptial extravaganza was called a “wedding present” to General Gowon, who was then Head of a bleeding State…

Things are not normal on the anti-corruption front. Just as they are not on many other fronts. When people say corruption fights back. Yeah, that’s true, and that is why our own strategy in the fight against it has to be credible and consistent. The fight against corruption in Nigeria has been compromised by many factors, including the typical toleration of corruption, ethnic bias, mutual collaboration among the power elite, incompetent investigative methods and processes, and the crushing poverty among the majority of Nigerians.

Fabowale: What does Abba Kyari’s erstwhile sacred cow cum celebrity status say about the state of our values as a people and our media?

Osundare: The two are actually interlocked. You know the media is just a reflection of Nigerians’ thinking generally. It’s a sign of desperation and a manifestation of the fact that we expect too little from our rulers. Too little! That’s why a governor or senator will dig a borehole in their constituency and call a press conference to cover the “dedication” of the great project, with all the traditional rulers in full regalia and traditional dancers in the extravagant swing. We are pleased with so little because we have never been used to expecting any adequate achievement from our rulers. The people are so used to suffering bad leadership that they are gratefully surprised by little gestures.

So how does the Nigerian populace see the Nigerian police? Extremely low, non-performing, nonchalant and incompetent. And so, Abba Kyari appeared on the horizon, a young press-savvy police officer, and the Nigeria people exhaled “Here comes the crime-buster at last!” Now, we know we have been sold a dummy. There are many Abba Kyaris in many other areas of the Nigerian public sector. The young man took advantage of the incompetence and shoddiness that characterised the selection of Nigeria’s public officials and the shocking impunity that is so indigenous to Nigeria’s public/political system. In the last analysis, there is little difference between the Magu case and the Kyari surprise.

Fabowale: What options do the masses have to effect true social change now with coup d’états and the idea of revolution becoming anachronistic and unpopular now?

Osundare: What can masses that lack real education do? By education, I don’t mean your ability to read and write and add two plus two to get four. If you don’t give the people the right kind of political education and you say you want to lead them in a revolution., they will be used to destroy you. It is important for people to really know their rights, to know why they are hungry without any hope of eating, to know the real enemy of our country are the self-centred and corrupt politicians and their business cohorts who steal our money, that they are not the kind of people you prostrate before because you want N10 or N1,000 and from them; not the criminals who pray the loudest in the mosque or the church. It is important for the masses to know that miracles will never solve our problems. Religion is one of the major problems of this country because it climbs on the back of mass poverty.

In the 1970s and 80s, we didn’t have as many churches as now and the economy was better. When factories fail, the temples and churches are full. Because people are seeking succour, safety and salvation from God. And Nigerian charlatans have a way of playing on this. “You just come and I’ll give you your miracle. Tomorrow you’ll just hear the bank alert. Check it and then you’ll have ten thousand Naira”. Arrant religiosity is killing Nigeria, the type that is at perpetual war with rational, creative reasoning.

For any meaningful change to occur in Nigeria, we need to win the battle against ignorance in all its ramifications. Again, I say, this can only happen through a total overhaul of our education and the system in which it operates, not through the proliferation of second-rate universities and overpriced private high schools and their mindless imitation of foreign models.

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