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President Buhari, Cameron and Corruption By Reuben Abati

“We have got the leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain… Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world”,UK Prime Minister David Cameron was caught on tape telling the Queen ahead of the anti-corruption summit organized by the UK Government, this week, which was attended by Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari. This diplomatic gaffe rubbed many Nigerians on the wrong side, but most of the responses, coloured by overtly emotional love of country and a certain defensiveness is downright hypocritical.

We all know that indeed Nigeria is “fantastically corrupt”, and that is why the most profound reaction, the most honest also, is the statement by President Muhammadu Buhari who admitted that indeed Nigerians are “fantastically corrupt” and that Cameron is right, but the clincher was the rider added by President Buhari, when he said he would not ask for an apology but he would be glad if Great Britain can release all the stolen loot in its custody. I know President Buhari is often criticized for condemning his own people offshore, but no one can fault his sharp honesty, certainly not in the present instance. His reply to the Cameron statement is absolutely brilliant, diplomatic and loaded with a meaningful sarcasm that is yet to be properly defined.

Nigeria is “fantastically corrupt.” Yes, our President says. The dictionary defines the word fantastic to mean something so extreme as to be unbelievable, strange, most unlikely, extra-ordinary. Can any Nigerian in good conscience really claim that this is not true?  We are probably one of the few countries in the world where corruption is the reality we grapple with, from cradle to grave. You go and try to have a baby delivered in a Nigerian hospital.  You can’t escape the nurses, matrons and the security men at the gate who upon hearing that your wife had been delivered of a baby would start greeting you: “Oga we go wash am oh.” The really smart ones among them will even poke your ego a little: “Oga, this one wey Madam deliver bom boy, na big celebration. Oga you sef na sharp shooter. You just do am, hit am, commot bom boy”. 

You’d be in serious trouble if your wife is fertile enough to give birth to twins. Meanwhile, this has nothing to do with your hospital bills, and the aggressive solicitation is beyond culture. Where else in the world do people have to pay bribe just because their wives have given birth? If giving birth invites corruption, dying has even become more expensive around here. If you have to bury anyone in Nigeria, there must be a special budget for officials and sympathizers whose palms have to be greased.

 I attended a funeral recently where a dignified beggar insisted that since the deceased was his benefactor, he would really love to die too, and jump into the grave, but everyone at the funeral would do well to keep him alive by putting something in his pocket. People laughed and obliged. Every funeral in Nigeria is a source of income for all kinds of scammers and no matter how sad you may be, you are not expected to complain. When you go for a funeral in Nigeria, you have to hold your pockets, monitor your phones, and even watch yourself, otherwise your personal items could be stolen and you may yourself be kidnapped. The children of the deceased are usually special targets. What kind of human beings would go to a birthplace or a funeral only to add to the burden of the people involved. Fantastic? Of course, Mr. Cameron is right.

Between birth and death is a significant polarity. When you live in Nigeria or you visit, or you have anything to do with Nigeria, including something as harmless as just passing through, you would feel the air of corruption. You will be touched by it. And if you stay long enough, you will imbibe it. There is corruption in other parts of the world, of course. Corruption is an English word, not so? And it defines all human beings, doesn’t it? But in Nigeria and some other countries, there have been very fantastic manifestations.

Every foreigner or traveller who has walked through any Nigerian port in the last, say 40 years, would most certainly have been asked for a bribe, not clandestinely, but openly and frontally: “Oga wey the dollar for the boys? Oyinbo, correct oyinbo, we dey here for you oh. Anything. Nigeria na your own. If you wan be Governor sef, just call us, or this my oga.” If the visitor is one of those difficult ones who do not know that a passport in Nigeria is supposed to be a sandwich at the point of entry and he is busy claiming that he has one funny visa, before he knows it, he will be detained.

Uniformed officials will ask him: who is this bomboclatwho is trying to teach us our job? Such officials don’t allow stingy bomboclats to cross the border, any border at all.   

Bomboclats can’t access government institutions either. You have to bribe every government official in sight: to move a file, to get anything done, to have your rights respected. And you can’t hold government positions. You are expected to steal government funds and make returns to the community otherwise you are considered a bad or stupid person, who can’t eat national cake.  Fantastic? Yes. America knows. David Cameron knows. Public and private Nigerian institutions are fully compromised. Petty.

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