Nigeria must not go

Casmir Igbokwe

Obodoekwe is a Nigerian businessman in Kumasi, Ghana. Recently, he sent me a text message part of which reads, “Ghana government through their agency (GIPC) closed all Nigerian shops in all the 10 regions in Ghana. They are demanding about #800, 000 before you can open a shop even if it is a barbing salon or kpof, kpof shop…Now it is Niger must go…”

Recall that in the oil boom era, Ghanaians flooded into Nigeria in search of greener pastures. Nigerians derided them and asked them to go back to their country. Ghana must go! We shouted.

Today, the reverse seems to be the case. It is not only Ghanaians who are asking Nigerians to go. In Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, Libya and even Sudan, there is one form of animosity or the other against Nigerians.

Last week, a United Kingdom based Nigerian immigration lawyer reportedly noted that over 20, 000 Nigerians were in prisons in that country. Fola Rahman was quoted to have said that he had been to some homes where you see 26 Nigerians living in a room. Some of these people are stranded because it is either that they don’t have enough money to come back or they don’t have the relevant papers.

In Indonesia, no fewer than 18 Nigerians are awaiting execution. The authorities in that country found them guilty of drug peddling. They had earlier executed two of them, Samuel Okoye and Anthony Nwaolisa, in June 2008. And unless the Nigerian government intervenes, the 18 condemned compatriots may start their journey to the great beyond from June this year. There are many others serving life sentences in places like Egypt.

However, some of our people are making waves in different parts of the world. Last week, there were reports that a United States-based Nigerian, Jelani Aliyu, was among the most outstanding exterior car designers in the world. He was said to have been a lead exterior designer on the GM’s Chevy Volt electric car. He had worked on such GM vehicles as Oldsmobile, Bravada and Opel Astra.

Whether for positive or negative reasons, the fact is that many Nigerians prefer to live abroad to living in their country. Condemned to a life of penury at home, they feel that more opportunities abound in other countries. That is why a Nigerian will not mind languishing in the UK prison or dying as a stowaway in the nose-wheel of a US-bound aircraft.

This happens because he sees little or no equal opportunities for himself in his country. It starts from school. A student from Imo State, for instance, who scores 270 in JAMB exams, may likely be denied admission in a federal university whereas a candidate from Sokoto who scores 150 will gain admission simply because he comes from a state presumed to be educationally disadvantaged.

 Even after graduation, there is no prospect of getting a job anywhere. Banks and oil companies that used to be the dream of many graduates are no more what they used to be. Many bankers I know lost their jobs in the wake of the banking reforms initiated by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Lamido Sanusi. Out of frustration, some decided to open shops to engage in buying and selling. But sundry government revenue collectors are making life unbearable for them.

The country can tackle the myriads of problems besetting it if only the leaders have the will. For decades, we have been unfortunate to be ruled by those who are controlled by selfish considerations. They struggle to be in power so that they can stockpile enough stolen funds in banks in London, Switzerland and elsewhere for generations yet unborn.

That is why we must commend some positive signals coming from Switzerland. In November last year, a Swiss court convicted one of the sons of former Head of State, Sani Abacha, for plundering state resources. Abba Abacha was asked to repay $350m. Penultimate week, the young man appeared in court to defend his earlier appeal against his conviction. Sani Abacha was believed to have siphoned over $2bn from the national treasury before his death in 1998.   

Last week, the Deputy State Secretary of the Swiss Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Pierre Helg, said in Abuja that his country was taking measures to ensure that its financial institutions stopped banking stolen public funds from Nigeria.

What are we doing to support this effort of the Swiss? Very little. The Halliburton bribe scandal is going back and forth. Nobody has taken any concrete action against the culprits. Since he came out of office over three years ago, the former governor of Delta State and Ogidigborigbo of Africa, James Ibori, has engaged the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in hide-and-seek. Recently, he escaped from security agencies in Nigeria only to be arrested in Dubai a few days ago.

The Siemens €17.5m bribery scam is still an issue in Nigeria many months after a German court convicted some culprits in Munich. In the House of Representatives, an alleged N2.3bn car contract scam against some key members of the House is still a pending issue. All we keep hearing is “we will investigate, we will prosecute, and we will get to the root of the matter.”

We may never get to the root of anything until we reform every sector of our national life. One major step is to have a credible electoral system that will throw up honest people into leadership positions. There is no society that is totally devoid of corruption. The difference between advanced countries and us is that they have a system that rewards honesty and good governance and punishes dishonest and incompetent leadership.

The recent election in the UK is a typical example. Voters who were not happy with the state of the nation voted out the Labour Party in a general election on May 6. The defeat forced former Prime Minister Gordon Brown to resign, paving way for David Cameron of the Conservative Party to take over as the new Prime Minister.

Even while we are fighting over zoning or no zoning here, three Nigerians – Helen Grant, Chuka Umunna and Chinyelu Onwurah – won seats in the British Parliament. I remember that as a postgraduate student in that country, I voted in a council election in 2007.

President Goodluck Jonathan should take the lead by giving us a credible election in 2011. Who knows, if we get it right in 2011, every other thing may fall into place and our brethren in the Diaspora may have cause to sing, “There is no place like home.”

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