One of my major points of discontent with the President Muhammadu Buhari administration is the shallowness of its anti-corruption campaign. Right from the day he commenced his campaign as candidate of the All Progressives Congress, I discerned that unless he eventually acquired some earthshaking insight in the course of administering Nigeria, Buhari was going to make no significant gain in his passion without vision on this front.
My argument then and even now is that fighting corruption in Nigeria without understanding its root cause and dealing with the same would be wasted effort. I reasoned that a country, which does not pay its workers, where pensioners die in queues in wait for their monthly stipends, where hundreds of thousands of elderly citizens who invested their youth in the service of the nation die in penury, cannot wish corruption away by sheer bravado.
Nigeria could recover looted funds, name and shame pillagers forever, but the chance of remotely reducing corruption would remain a pipe dream for as long as people cannot hope to reap the dividends of hard work, for as long as quality education is out of the reach of the common man, for as long as quality health care delivery remains a luxury and decent housing and transport continue to be unattainable for honest and conscientious people.
The assumption that the dramatics of the past 22 months discourage corruption in high places has proved to be mere wishful thinking from reports of activities within the government hierarchy.
But even if this position had succeeded, the fact is that the corruption that paralyses and gives Nigeria the preponderance of its image problems are those that make it difficult for people to transact everyday business without rubbing the palms of gatekeeping officials.
Ask what still happens in the civil service, with the police, immigration and customs. How did the pump action guns reportedly recovered in Lagos recently escape the scrutiny of customs officials? How do thousands of bags of allegedly contraband rice get into shops all over the country? How it is that Nigerians still have to pay between N30,000 and N40,000 to obtain passports from the immigration service even now that the official rate is just about half of that? Or, these do not constitute corrupt practices?
This is not to say that every Nigerian is corrupt, even though, truth be told, it is difficult for anyone, in the current circumstance to vouch for anybody’s ability to resist temptation, until one is confronted with opportunities. You never know the depth of any water until you test it with one leg and when opportunity gets in contact with needs, only time could reveal what would happen.
However, a lot of people who will not soil their hands with filthy lucre are now embracing every opportunity to leave the country. Mostly professionals, these people leave the country with their families, with children, who should ordinarily signpost the future of the country. They will most often cite the frustrating cost of quality education for their children and the uncertainty hanging around the country’s future as disincentive for continuous stay. So, more than the depressing economic capacities of this moment, the uninspiring outlook of the future stimulates this desire to emigrate. That is not to speak of thousands of our youths who, without much of any professional or educational qualifications, take desperate measures to relocate abroad.
But again, like those who have opportunities to cheat the country, people with the capacity to migrate are a minuscule of the huge number of Nigerians who are subjected to unceasing and depressing deprivation and despair. And since this majority, once estimated to be well over 70 per cent of the entire population, does not have access to the national treasury, nor possess the wherewithal to flee the country, they succumb to all sorts of emotional strains that are becoming more evident in Nigeria than ever.
Before the sad incident of Dr Allwell Orji who reportedly plunged to his death on the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos on Sunday, we had recently heard unimaginable submission to suicides and commission of crimes ranging from torture to doing bodily harm and outright homicides in alarming volumes.
In January, a student of Babcock University, Illisan Remo, was said to have committed suicide, while just a few days back, a final year student of the Ladoke Akintola University, Ogbomoso, was also said to have killed himself; even this last Monday, another woman reportedly attempted to take her own life in the Mile 2 area of Lagos.
Concerning homicide, a report in the last edition of Saturday PUNCH identified a medical doctor who stabbed his mother to death in Ota, Ogun State. That same week, a personnel of the Nigerian Air Force, murdered his lover, another military personnel, on allegations of alleged unfaithfulness in Makurdi, Benue State. A few weeks before that, a man was said not to have just killed his wife, he had the steel to cut her into pieces while deceptively joining her family’s members in a search for her. Even if this were for ritual purposes, I am convinced that there must be some dimension of mental irregularity to it. Some of the crimes and wickedness that we see these days must come from a deep place of lonely suffering.
Even on the streets, Nigerians now sprinkle anger like spring water. Cases of transferred aggression and violent outbursts are more frequent evidencing the inability of a lot of our people to meet up with their own expectations, even of themselves. Without our knowing it, depression, delusion and so many of those psycho-social or mental health problems have crept in on us and becoming rampant among us.
To avoid losing their minds, a lot of us, especially the youths, even children, now take solace in alcohol, drugs and hard substances. Marijuana is now so commonplace that it possibly sells for the same price as sachet water. Unfortunately, those who experiment with all sorts of chemical concoctions mostly end up in the same place they thought they were avoiding- losing their minds to the misuse and overdose of these drugs.
But is our government paying attention? I think not. For most of our leaders, winning the next election is what is paramount. For instance, I read the letter written by Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, to President Buhari late last year and saw nothing more than a desperate attempt to see that Buhari and himself retained power beyond 2019. Although this was buried in veiled passion for the emancipation of the people, the governor betrayed his motive with suggestions about the need for Buhari and his caucus to take control of national working committee of the APC by planting their loyalists therein.
Keen observers of politics in Nigeria will understand that hijacking the executive of parties is the height of all political corruption and the beginning of the end of political associations. Interrogate the loss of the 2015 presidential election by the Peoples Democratic Party and its current naked dance and you will find the desperation of ambitious political office holders to control the executive a causative factor. That is the same place that we are gradually returning to with people like such letters!
But Nigeria may one day slip off the hands of this crop of politicians unless concerted efforts are made to alleviate the suffering of the people and pay specific attention to mental health.
Being a largely superstitious people, we are largely sceptical about the need to pay attention to our mental health. And here, especially as our communal foundation is nearly totally eroded, is where government should be steps ahead of the citizenry. Not just by alleviating their situations, but also by sensitising as well as providing access to professional attention at all levels.
From what I know about Nigeria, people can only get attention for mental health issues in pockets of tertiary facilities dotting our cities. This goes a long way to show the nation’s disregard for the total well-being of its people. What should happen now that we have a government that hopes for change is a deliberate integration of mental health into every level of medical intervention. This way, it would be possible to save people silently before they snap and commit murder or suicide. These little gestures reveal more about the hearts of leaders than all the grandstanding that we now, daily endure.
He tweets @niranadedokun