Patriotic criticisms, EFCC and concerns of Nigerians abroad

 Published in THE PUNCH on 25 February 2007

Casmir Igbokwe

Obijifor Aginam is angry with the boss of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control. His anger stems from Prof. Dora Akunyili’s reported participation in the ruling party’s recent presidential campaign visit to Anambra State. In a recent e-mail to me, Aginam, an associate professor of law at Carleton University in Canada, questioned the propriety of this action.  Advanced democracies, he said, would never tolerate a public servant of that calibre flirting with politicians in their campaign tours. It pained him that there is no institution to punish what he described as arrant rascality and abuse of the public sector.This type of criticism defines the concerns of most Nigerians living abroad. Nauseated by the sorry state of events at home and ennobled by the efficient way things are run abroad, they cannot but feel angry at their fatherland. Those who have the time and the skills to write, vent their anger through the mass media. Those who do not, grumble in their bedrooms and some other lesser-known public spaces.

In their analysis of the events at home, these Nigerians adopt divergent positions. Some feel the only way forward is to expose our past and present mistakes. Others feel we should be patriotic enough to stop presenting our poor image to the world. Some readers of this page, for instance, have wondered where to locate patriotism in some of my comments. Some other writers have faced the same criticism.

In the United Kingdom, this has turned into a debate among some Nigerians. Leading this debate are some Chevening scholars doing various postgraduate studies in the UK. They have a Yahoo site where they exchange ideas on how to give antenatal care to Nigeria’s burdensome pregnancy.

A few samples of their arguments here will suffice. Dr Aminu Garba, for instance, feels we should all support the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in its quest to rid the nation of bad eggs. According to him, being a scientist makes him approach the issue of the EFCC with an analytical mind. He says he is privy to a lot of commendations Nigeria gets from international development agencies and Western governments courtesy of the activities of the EFCC. Total condemnation, he adds, will never correct the ills of Nigeria and will not make our leaders change.

A contributor I will not want to mention here amplifies this view. He notes, “Over the last one month since the EFCC released its advisory list to political parties, our media is awash with all manners of attacks against the EFCC. While some are sincere in what they are saying, the majority is sponsored by the very people that stole and looted the treasury.” The writer, who is not a professional journalist, hinges his evidence on the fact that he maintains a weekly column in a regional newspaper. As such, he says, he knows the inner workings of the media.

On the other side of the divide are people like Kelechi Akwiwu and Napoleon Esemudje. Akwiwu regrets that poor governance has killed the dreams of many young people in Nigeria. Of particular concern to him is the state of our universities. All the UK universities, he stresses, would have closed down if not for the patronage of international students. “There was a time when Cameroonians would pride themselves in coming to Nigerian universities. All that is past glory,” he adds.

On his part, Esemudje emphasises the need to criticise the EFCC. He says in the first few weeks of his arrival in the UK, he found it difficult to reconcile the pervasive cynicism of Tony Blair’s government by his British classmates. Now, according to him, he has come to understand that for a government to be continually effective, efficient and accountable, it needs help; not the type that eulogises it but that which quickly finds errors and points them out.

He affirms, “We must loudly criticise the EFCC not because it hasn’t recorded any shining success (indeed it has), but because its obvious failures darken its token achievements and undermine its potential future success. We must criticise the EFCC not because it met only a few of our expectations, but because it is obliged by its social contract with the despairing peoples of Nigeria to achieve without missteps, the callings of its creation. And we must criticise the EFCC not because (Nuhu) Ribadu is evil (which evidently, he is not), but because the agency is a critical part of the failing Nigerian state. We are not condemning the EFCC to fail; we are challenging it to do more to correct the observable blunders it has made.”

To me, this argument does not only have logical strength, it is sound. It summarises the stand of some of us on this issue of patriotism and the criticism of Nigerian leaders. It is sheer hypocrisy to close our eyes to the misadministration going on in Nigeria. Almost on a daily basis, friends and colleagues from other countries confront us with questions on why people are kidnapping foreigners in Nigeria; why our president is fighting with his vice; and why we are still poor in spite of our oil resources. In this circumstance, we are torn between being “patriotic” and telling the truth to shame the devil.

It is only a fool who will not feel concerned over the shameful portrayal of blacks as incapable of leading themselves. A few days ago, some friends forwarded some e-mail messages detailing how some felons allegedly passed some ridiculous and disparaging remarks about black people. The worst of them was said to have been a speech by Pieta Botha, in his heyday as the leader of apartheid South Africa.

Criticism is part of the ingredients of democracy. Since we cannot go to the streets to protest the failings of our rulers as has happened in some other countries, we should, at least, ventilate our views. After all, Article 19 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises freedom of expression as a fundamental right of everyone.

The hopes of Africans in Diaspora now lie in Ghana, not Nigeria. A few years ago, we derided that country. We designed a bag and called it Ghana-Must-Go. Now, it is the turn of Ghanaians to design their own Nigeria-Must-Go bags.

In different parts of the world, including Africa, Nigeria’s image gives cause for concern. The other day, Fr Hassan Kukah narrated his sordid experience in the hands of Tanzanian immigration officials. His crime was that he is a Nigerian. When I confronted my Tanzanian classmate, Lydia, about the incident, her response was, “it’s a stereotype.”

The worrisome thing is that we don’t seem to learn any lesson from our mistakes. I understand the best friends to have in Nigeria toady are fuel attendants. People sleep in petrol stations just to buy fuel. As Idris Bawa, a lawyer and student in the UK, puts it, we export what we don’t have (electricity) and import what we have (fuel). The rulers continue to create more confusion in the polity. More years of darkness looms. So sad!              

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