The Akpabio Syndrome, By Akin Osuntokun
The former chairperson of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mrs. Farida Waziri, is not somebody I like to call upon as a witness of truth. The thought was not original to her but she made the correct sound bite when she recommended the incorporation of psychiatric evaluation into the criteria of employment to privileged and high sensitive offices in Nigeria. She was referring to the increasing tendency of some privileged Nigerians to be abnormally corrupt.
With regards to the conduct of Mrs Waziri herself as EFCC boss there may equally be the need to account for the schizophrenic disposition of Nigerian public officials that make them speak the right words and brazenly act the opposite. She spoke in reference to the regime of the mega rich bankers who criminally appropriated to themselves tens of billions of naira on the ruins of the castles of sand they had made of Nigerian banking establishments.
Before the bankers, there was the case of the director of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) whose death resulted in the revelation of a damnable life of serial infidelity and betrayal — to his spouse, Nigeria and God. The wrangling arising from his marital infidelity and double dealing blew open the lid on the stupendous wealth he had bled off Nigeria.
On the evidence of a single bank account alone the man was good to the tune of N5 billion and counting; and along with the earlier mentioned bracket of crooked bankers he was also a pastor. Of the numerous sordid and notorious cases of massive thefts of pension fund, the case of another director or is it deputy director who sleeps in the company of a water tank loaded with N2 billion cash stands out.
Beyond the inevitable public outrage that greeted the impunity of Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State, there is perhaps the need to acknowledge its typicality and situate it within a wider understanding of the dilemma. I have become increasingly convinced that high Nigerian public officials of the calibre of state governors are, in varying degree, victims of mental and psychological rundown. Their lifestyle (mostly imposed) is the stuff of which manuals for stress disorders are made. The power of patronage they wield over their state resources is limitless and can predispose the most sober of men to the deity complex intermingled with delusions of grandeur.
In a very significant sense they are imprisoned by the largely unaccountable power to dispense and bestow largesse whimsically and capriciously. If he so desires it is not beyond a Nigerian state governor to make you a billionaire before the day runs out. The downside to all this is that they attract the mental and psychological assault of favour seekers and hangers on in the same frequency as honey beckons the sugar ant. At all hours of the day and night their waiting rooms are brimming over with people prayerfully waiting to be called to deign before his majesty for possible gubernatorial munificence.
The late Professor Sam Aluko used to quip that the rich cannot sleep easy because the poor are hungry. Similarly, our governors cannot rest and sleep well because family, friends, associates, party men and sundry determined supplicants are under all manner of pressures. For some, it is the pressure to survive, for others it is the pressure to live big and flashy; and some others still the money to contest election.
Remember we have not even mentioned the primary purpose for which they were elected and believe me no matter how bad a governor is adjudged I don’t know of any who doesn’t aspire to the title of action governor. And like the medieval emperors whose power they approximate, they can get as paranoid as Caligula. They want to dominate and over determine their environment and circumstances. And they live in dread of the day of exit from untrammeled pomp and power.
Out of office and in futility, they aspire to shield themselves with the power of raw cash and aim to install their successors and other successive governors thereafter. They dwell in a golden cage and are prone to being moody and irritable. The exceptions to this character profile are, of course my governor friends!
It is within the pathology of this syndrome that we may begin to understand Governor Akpabio when he dismissed as laughable public outrage at the scandalous news of committing Akwa Ibom to the penance of expending over N100 million annual pension (and God knows what other creature opulence) on him till death does them apart. Pray what is laughable or inconsequential about paying any Nigerian public official over a N100 million emolument a year?
This degree of personal emolument can only be laughable to anybody whose unfathomable riches rival that of Croesus-on account of which he should be deemed completely needless of any extra financial cushion. The tragedy here is the opportunity cost of this hefty surcharge to the people of Akwa Ibom State which will be counted in the proportions of feeding 100 households of that state in a year.
Nigeria is a country of paradox. I have not been to Akwa Ibom State before but there have been numerous testimonies bordering on consensus of opinion that in the infrastructural development of his state they hardly come any better than Akpabio. To the bargain no less a fastidious personality than Professor Wole Soyinka number among those who bear him out.
Amongst the tribe of the high and mighty, I do not have the privilege of counting Akpabio as an acquaintance. From afar, he strikes me as somewhat bereft of sober comportment and someone for whom the boundary between personal finances and public treasury is blurred. Despite his high ratings I have had no cause to review this impression. Rather, I was curious as to how a governor of this description could have fared so well in adding value to the governance of his state.
There could be partial explanation in the fact that Akwa Ibom is one of the richest states in Nigeria — awash as it is in petrol dollars. There is also the possibility that he has heavily mortgaged his state in the bond and capital market. Yet it still has to be admitted that tying all these factors together to produce the kind of deliverables with which he is attributed requires an undeniable capacity for effective husbandry of public resources.
For students of underdevelopment of Africa, there is a double jeopardy dimension to the bane of public corruption and allied vices in societies like ours. Scarce resources are not only expropriated by public officials, the expropriation equally represents total loss to those societies in the sense of being secreted away as idle money in foreign banks rather than it being ploughed back as indispensably needed capital for industrial development.
In coming to terms with the reality of contemporary Nigeria we recognise this kind of behaviour as typical of the primitive accumulation of capital stage in the history of the development of capitalist societies; the tendency of a class of individuals to acquire, through means fair and foul, enormous wealth. To advance society on the ladder of socio economic development requires that those who have so accumulated capital should invest it in their society and not stash it away in the greedy and corrupt vaults of Swiss banks. From a different theoretical standpoint, Max Weber attributed economic development to the protestant (work) ethic that influenced large numbers of people to engage in work, developing their own enterprises and engage in the accumulation of wealth for investment.
In a paper I presented at the Obafemi Awolowo University in 1991, I located the misconduct of the Nigerian elite, as it borders on corruption, in the discontinuity between state and society; in the fact that the state did not organically evolve from society; that the state lacks autochthony. I will explain. When we talk of lack of autochthony and lack of organic evolution, we are saying that there is no organic relationship (analogous to parent-child evolution) or linkage between a state and the society from which it is supposed to be derived.
There was no society of native Nigerians from which the Nigerian state emerged. The entities comprising Nigeria preexisted as an assortment of tribal empires, kingdoms and principalities like the Oyo Empire, Sokoto caliphate, Tiv, Berom, Ogoni, Ijaw kingdoms and the like. It was from these disparate entities that Nigeria was created by the British colonial masters.
To borrow the parlance of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, there are no Nigerians in the manner that there are Germans, English or Russians. If there are no preexisting Nigerians before Nigeria was created, it means that Nigeria does not represent a continuity of any nationality in the sense that Germany and France are a continuation from preexisting societies or nationalities of Germans and the French. It is in this respect that we speak of state-society discontinuity in Nigeria.
I theorised that there is a psycho-cultural disconnect between the governing mores of the indigenous societies comprising Nigeria and the British-begotten values of the colonial legacy baby- the Nigerian state. One of the negative manifestations of this disconnect is that swearing by the Bible as spiritual bond or covenant for ethical conduct in public office elicits little fear of retribution than would Sango or Ogun to a Nigerian of Yoruba origin. Sworn on these familiar awe-inspiring deities such public officials are likely to be more terrified of the consequences of breaching their oath of office.
I’m in the illustrious company of Professor Peter Ekeh who bestows a better illumination on the dilemma as follows: ‘Acts of corruption in public office carry little moral sanction and may well receive great moral approbation from members of one’s primordial public (read ethnic affiliation). But contrariwise, these forms of corruption are completely absent in the primordial public. Strange is the Nigerian who engages in embezzlement in the performance of his duties to his primordial public-town union. To put your fingers in the till of the government will not unduly burden your conscience and people may well think you are a smart fellow and envy you your opportunities. To steal the funds of the (ethnic) union would offend the public conscience and ostracise you from society.’
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