By Hamilton Odunze
A few weeks ago, Professor Yemi Osibanjo, Nigeria’s acting president, said that greed is the root cause of the problems in Nigeria.
He said this at the Democracy Day Church service in Abuja and used bible verses to support his statements. Maybe Professor Osibanjo believes that his statement is plain and simple, but when analyzed critically, his statements are full of dangerous innuendos and value judgments.
But let’s start with the innuendos. Nigerians have been conditioned to accept the absurd misappropriation and embezzlement of public funds. At first glance, the Acting President’s statements seem to support this acceptance. In fact, a cynical mind could accept this interpretation, which is a very dangerous innuendo.
An even more dangerous situation in Nigeria is associated with more than the wrong terminology. In civilized societies such as the United States and Europe, the term that comes to mind when public funds are misappropriated and embezzled is crime not greed. What we are witnessing in Nigeria is a crime wave. While crime and greed are two separate concepts, the former is universally wrong and the latter is not necessarily bad.
In fact, many scholars have argued that greed is a genetic trait of human beings. Some even argued that greed is good because it creates a vibrant nation by spurring innovation and creativity.
So making the claim that greed is good or bad depends on each individual’s value system. If greed is a natural trait of human beings, then the Acting President’s assertion is almost an excuse for the atrocious crimes committed against Nigerians by public officials.
I am not trying to put words into the mouth of the Acting President, but the severity of the situation we face in Nigeria could have been better understood if he had said that the root causes of problems in Nigeria are criminally minded and corrupt public officials.
Former British Prime Minister Cameron said, “Nigeria is indeed a fantastically corrupt country.” As for me, I agree with him. But the reason why Nigeria is fantastically corrupt goes deeper than greed as, in fact, Nigerians are not the greediest people in the world.
The situation in Nigeria is a classic example of a country struggling to survive amid the symptoms of a shaky foundation that has predisposed everyone to fear ethnic domination. This fear prevents Nigerians from sourcing and voting for the right people in elections. Unfortunately, fear has also become a barrier to progressive democratic dialogue.
The root cause of the problem is that criminals gain power by preying on the tribal nature of Nigerians as irredentists. Unfortunately, they also cling on to power by continuing to sow fear throughout Nigeria.
These criminals have morphed into politicians who are couched in irredentist rhetoric and they use it to their advantage.
The root causes of problems in Nigeria are that real democratic values are mired in rhetoric. Only when Nigeria’s political discourse begins to revolve around democratic values and only when Nigerians begin to make political decisions based on who is suitable to tackle the problems that face them, regardless of tribal affiliations, then and only then will the chance into a progressive country be realistic.
To promote real democratic values, the system must allow honest, open and unbiased dialogues about the future of Nigerian society.
That is why Jonathan Casper wrote, “Free expression, openness and honest dialogues are crucial to the process of democracy.” This is how great nations have survived the implementation of democracy. When the values that promote true democracy, as Casper outlined, are absent, then the result is the current situation in Nigeria. In this situation, the ultimate and obvious losers are the Nigerians.
By honest dialogue, I do not mean the current clamor for Nigeria’s disintegration. Rather, I mean having a discussion about how to harness the beautiful diversity we have in Nigeria to achieve the common good. It is depressing that the diversity that makes other nations great has been turned into a disadvantage for us. This is the handiwork of leaders who have discerned that when the real values of democracy are plugged into the Nigerian equation, the result is that they have no business leading, stealing or perpetrating crimes against Nigerians.
As I have always done in my columns, I do not close without giving potential solutions.
In this instance, I suggest that the current administration should find ways to promote, or even in some cases, enact laws that will force Nigerians to recognize diversity. That was what the U.S. Senate did by passing Affirmative Action legislation on 6 March 1961 under the administration of President John F. Kennedy.
But beyond rules and laws, any government that is serious about tackling the root causes of the problems in Nigeria should also be ready to promote the reengineering of the current social structure. For example, the state of origin of any Nigerian citizen should be the state where he or she was born. In fact, this should have been the focus of the government immediately after the civil war. This is how most advanced countries in the world are curbing racial and ethnic tensions.
Until a conscientious effort is made for unity so that Nigerians can vote for the right person, regardless of ethnic inclination, we will continue to have criminals in public service. This is the root cause of the problems in Nigeria.