Nigeria: A Fake Nation or a Nation of Fakes?
by Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR
Nigeria is an intriguing nation. A 58-year adult nation that is still crawling like a toddler while most of its agemates are running on sure feet. Many people, including the political, traditional and religious leaders, have expressed their bewilderment with Nigeria’s chronic inability to truly rise. Never mind that a tiny minority, including some who earn 12 billion naira as an annual dividend will argue differently that Nigeria is rising. Many ordinary folks in Nigeria have raised their hands in desperation as they find themselves daily pushed into poverty despite their best efforts. This is evidenced by the fact that Nigeria, the seventh most populous nation with a ‘tiny’ population of about 198 million people, has become the global poverty headquarters – beating India (with a population of over 1.2 billion), according to the Brookings Institute.
Nigeria is said to have 87 million of its citizens in extreme poverty as of today and according to the Melinda Gates Foundation, this number may grow to 152 million in 2050. And we say Nigeria is rising? Yes, Africa may be rising but not Nigeria. If anything, Nigeria is dragging Africa down!
What is the trouble with Nigeria? Chinua Achebe tried to answer this question in his book. Many other authors have posed this same question, and some have proffered answers. Many have blamed the leadership; others, the followership; and some, both. The majority have rightly blamed corruption. But we have failed to reach a national agreement on what constitutes corruption and how to identify corruption as well as how to prevent or punish corrupt acts. Even the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) seem to have a limited view of what constitutes a corrupt practice. For example, appointing a serving minister who is maintained by taxpayers to serve as DG of a partisan campaign organization is a corrupt practice in my view.
Indeed, using official time or resources to serve private or partisan interests spells corrupt practice in my dictionary. But those who claim to be fighting corruption in Nigeria are actually only fighting the stealing of money. They seem to think that stealing or frank financial crimes constitute the total essence of corruption. I fully accept that stealing is a corrupt act. But it is not all that there is to corruption. In my opinion, it is not the most-weighty act of corruption. Indeed, for me, it is one aspect of corruption that is easiest to fight or even to prevent.
There are more insidious and damaging corrupt acts than straightforward thieving. This was the point, I believe, that President Goodluck Jonathan was trying to make, but his detractors refused and failed to understand his point preferring instead to confuse issues in order to mock him. One of such corrupt acts, which has become so pervasive in Nigeria, is faking. Fake educational certificates, fake NYSC certificates, fake drugs, fake doctors, fake motor parts, fake identity cards, fake Naira notes, fake letters of employment, fake policemen, fake soldiers, fake election results, fake politicians, fake news etc.
Something tells me that the problem of faking in Nigeria is, perhaps, at the root of our national malaise. Who knows how many of our political leaders in the executive and legislative arms of government are in office with fake or forged certificates? If people can forge a mere NYSC exemption certificate, which ordinarily is not difficult to get in the right way, imagine the number of our so-called leaders at local, state and federal governments parading fake secondary and university certificates, diplomas and degrees. We cannot easily forget the story of the Speaker Busari of the House of Representatives who came to power with a fake university degree. That incident quickly opened a can of worms which threatened to cause a lot of damage to the 1999 class of our political leaders at all tiers of government. That was when we became aware of the difference between Chicago University and the University of Chicago. Can we possibly estimate the damage such fake leaders have caused in our polity and economy?
In the private sector where we operate, the matter is worse. Everything is being faked. I once employed a staff who promised to be faithful, dutiful and honest. When I tried to check on his references, I found that the referees knew him by different first name from the one on his papers. Subsequently, I discovered that this “honest” employee was impersonating his deceased elder brother. At another occasion, I interviewed a candidate for a job. The guy showed a Masters’ degree certificate but could not string together one grammatically correct sentence. We all know that many Nigerians have been dispatched to their untimely deaths by fake drugs. Many have been involved in preventable auto accidents because of fake brake pads or brake fluid. And then, we say we are fighting corruption!
As I was completing this article, my friend, the one that was with me when we ran into the interminable traffic gridlock caused by the overloading of the Lagos ports to the utter neglect of the Eastern ports, asked me what I was writing about this week. Those who read this column regularly would remember that this my friend knows how to stoke trouble. I announced to him that I was writing on a “Nation of Fakes”. He quickly jumped in and asserted that the real reason that there is so much faking in Nigeria is that the country itself is a fake nation.
I remonstrated and asked why he would say such a thing? He looked at me and said, “Mazi, it is only logical that a nation of fakes cannot but be a fake nation”. I asked him for evidence. He referred me to the preamble of the 1999 Constitution. He said that General Abdulsalami Abubakar sat with a few of his friends and put up the 1999 Constitution but ended up saying that it was done by “We the people of Nigeria”.
He concluded that this is master faking and said that if we wanted to change his assertion that Nigeria is a fake nation, then we should abandon the fake constitution and get the constituent peoples of Nigeria to draw up a true constitution for the good and peaceful governance of the country. Truth is that I could not help but agree with my friend.
Ohuabunwa’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org