A timely, insightful and reflective piece by Okeke Job Izuchukwu about our apathy towards corruption, especially at Nigerian airports and what we, as citizens can do to change the status quo…
Feb 3rd, 2016.
Murtala Mohammed International Airport, International Wing. The Nigerian guy (I am sure he is Igbo) and his young Korean wife who visited for Yuletide were with the customs. Their luggage had been checked, and found okay. There was only one snag. They have two babies, one still a suckler, and they had baby food for the babies. All the while, the custom officers whose ‘shop’ they had arrived at had been using the ‘you know what to do body language’ for the guy ‘to do something’.
He pretends he does not understand their body language. He keeps quiet, carrying his first son. So, finally, one of the officers became bold. He tells the young Korean lady that her babies’ food will be confiscated except they pay some amount in dollar, cash. After all baby food is not allowed in the plane. But now it is a flame ignited unto a pressure din. She flares up, and releases the anger that has been bottled across the period of her stay in the country.
“Everything in Nigeria is bring money, bring money.”
“Everything with Nigeria police is bring money, bring money.”
She is shouting now.
Typical Nigerians like me are angry. We know the rules and the exceptions. But it is not just about that. The international airport is one of those places where Nigeria interacts directly with the world. But sadly, it has become a place where Nigeria’s corruption mess wears a shameless face. The customs officers are brazen. These days, they don’t care who you are; they are now professional in extortion. That departure lounge is now a big market for them, and they really make money….
Back to my story; as the young Korean wife is boiling over and declaiming her angst, the custom officers turn to her husband and begin to blame him, that his refusal ‘to do something’ has led to that. He still refuses to say a word, and they are more bold and brazen, while the other passengers; Nigerians and non-Nigerians watch on….
Then, there is the story at the back of our minds. And you recall the trending anger on the social media against President Buhari for acknowledging in Daily Telegraph UK that Nigeria has image problem, and also that some Nigerians are involved in crime abroad. #IAmNotaCriminal hashtag is hot on Twitter and Facebook. And somehow, your best friends and writers are some of the people bringing down the President for such a ‘blunder’.
As a journalist and public relation student it becomes a serious moral dilemma, especially if you don’t seem to swim along with the current or tend to agree with a notion against the theories you learn everyday. Yes, the theories say you have to present the image positively, irrespective! But I have a problem because it is not all the time academic theories are applied, they don’t work in all circumstances.
So, WHAT EXACTLY DO NIGERIANS THINK? The nation is prostrated. Think of infrastructure, education, health, aviation, and roads. If you are here and you move around, you know that things are not working well, but not because they cannot work, but because of ‘us’. Yes, the reason why things will not work are retained in the body language, attitudes and actions you see of bureaucrats, public servants and the general public everywhere you turn.
One of these attitudes is that we have come to a measure of acceptance of deviance and corruption where we are now holding a national perception that ‘you should not acknowledge it’. Driver should give police officers money at checkpoint so our bus is not delayed. We are not angry that the man who withholds our daughter’s admission told us point-blank, that money or sex solves it.
And it is important that as a Nigerian also you do not now acknowledge these things. Deny them; after all there are also problems elsewhere and no one washes his linen in the square. And so, the Hausa may have problem, but no Hausa man must acknowledge it. Same for Yoruba, Igbo etc. Nigeria may have problems, but never acknowledge it. Even a robber in Nigeria believes he is driven by the devil. No, never by his own greed. He never acknowledges it.
I do not speak for Buhari, and I think also I am not speaking from the point of view of a supporter of his government. Perhaps, our President was not trained in the fineries of beautiful use of language. Probably, he would have said what he said in better prose as our cyber legion expected.
But let’s go back to the story above. When that young Korean was falling in love, probably there were those people in her society who considered it an aberration. They must have told her things unpalatable about us. Perhaps she felt her emotions very strong and went ahead. This visit was an opportunity to experience first hand that country, and it offered her the privilege to disabuse her mind, and furnish her with information to correct in future, those who opposed her. But here she is. Her exclamation suggests that this was her experience over the period of the visit. BRING MONEY, BRING MONEY.
Now, to those who want us to stop giving Nigeria bad name by saying things they way they are, what have you to say? Because this will become part of her narrative when she returns to her country. If she is a blogger, she writes it. She tells her family and friends.
So, perhaps, what we need do is not to chide those who have the temerity to acknowledge the truth. In all honesty, what is needed is not a whitewash; it is a change of the damn Nigerian attitude. I don’t want to know how many Polish citizens in UK jails. I don’t want to know how many Indians and Jamaicans. I just don’t want Nigeria mentioned in that anymore. What is better than that for an image conscious nation. Which is good PR: ‘we’ stopping to disgrace ourselves, or the ‘whitewashing’ of our corruption-ridden image?
I don’t like to be burdened defending the banalities of Nigeria among my foreign friends everyday. This is the Internet age. Every connected nation is at the centre of information crossroads. So, you don’t really need to window dress for anyone. They already know. Rather, let us clean up. Yes, let us make it the priority to clean up.
In all, Nigerians are everywhere doing great things. They are not all criminals. All custom officers in Nigeria are not thieves. The PR challenge is, it does not take all to give you a bad name. One is just enough. Let us tell that one: ENOUGH!
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