by Vincent Akanmode
Sitting on a couch in front of my house on Thursday night, I burst into unprovoked laughter as my mind wandered back to a scene that occurred in my neighbour’s church on the eve of New Year. His two-year-old baby moved to the front of the congregation during a session of praise worship and launched furiously into the dance steps of Shakiti Bobo, a song made popular by Nigerian hip-hop artiste, Olumide, which ironically had been banned by the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) for its vulgar contents.
The pristine innocence that guided the toddler’s action reminded me of some funny things my siblings and I did as kids to settle scores with our fastidious father. If there was ever a man too difficult to please, it would be my late father. Although he was a traditional ruler, he found fulfillment in farming and never joked with the vocation. In those days when it was fashionable for primary school leavers to go to secondary school outside the community, my father ensured that we attended secondary school within the community just so that we could spend our Saturdays on the farm. To worsen matters, he was not one that would praise you no matter how hard you worked. He was as quick to condemn you for failing to meet his expectations but very slow to commend you for surpassing them.
Till this day, we still wonder what could have happened the day he came late to the farm and found that we had done a lot of work. When he said e ku ise o (well done), none of us thought we heard him right, so we all stood in utter bewilderment as we looked into one another’s eyes. Apparently aware of the looks of surprise that hung on our faces, he repeated those words of commendation and we responded with excitement. That remains the only moment of commendation I can recall.
The long vacation was the period we hated most because it was certain that we would spend the entire period working on the farm while our peers travelled Lagos, Ibadan, Kano, Kaduna and other distant cities for holiday. Knowing that he would never miss any opportunity he had to make us work on the farm, we devised our own ways of avoiding farm work. One of the things we did was to decide to fall sick from time to time so that we would be asked to stay at home with mum while the feigned sickness lasted.
That, interestingly, seems the scenario that has been playing out among former public office holders accused of looting the treasury since the Buhari administration commenced its anti-corruption war. Accused persons who previously were bubbling with life have suddenly become victims of cancer, heart disease and other deadly illnesses. They post on the social media pathetic pictures in which they are sitting on wheelchair or walking with the aid of crutches. From former petroleum minister Diezani Allison-Madueke and former presidential adviser on Niger Delta Kingsley Kuku to former PDP chair Alhaji Haliru Bello and former Board of Trustees chairman of the PDP, Chief Tony Anenih, the fad has caught on so fast that smart Nigerian businessmen are already investing in wheelchair business.
It is either these accused persons are guilty of deceit, pretending to be sick while they are not, or we are collectively guilty of being so uncaring that we don’t even know that our compatriots are heading for the grave until they are dragged out by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). If the latter were the case, it would constitute a bad commentary on our attitude as a people, but I don’t believe it is. As one of the most religious countries in the world, the easiest biblical or koranic injunction observable is to be our brothers’ keepers. It seems most probable therefore that many of the accused persons are merely playing the game some of us played as children to draw public sympathy. Unfortunately, Nigerians are now so disappointed with the deeds of many of their past public office holders to regal them with such sympathy.
Our compatriots accused of embezzling, mismanaging or misappropriating public funds have no reason to panic. After all, as accused persons, they are assumed innocent until they are proved guilty in competent courts of law. And if they are found not to be innocent at the end of the day, the experiences of individuals like the late former Bayelsa State governor, Chief Diepriye Alamieyeseigha and chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George, are evidence that going to jail is not the end of the world. They could get presidential pardon and once more become statesmen after their prison experiences.
It may be true that we no longer have as President a man that would indulge them like former President Goodluck Jonathan, but it is still not the end of the world. The prison, we are told by those who should know, is not the Golgotha that many of us think it is, but an institution of learning which does not only teach but also reform. They are certain to come out as better men and women. All they need to do while their jail terms last is to avoid the clock, the wristwatch and the calendar so they would have no knowledge of date or time. That way, their jail terms will run out before they know it and they will reunite with their families, friends and the rest of us in the outside world.
In the mean time, I strongly recommend that the authorities start considering complementing our courts with well-equipped hospitals and competent medical personnel to attend to the medical needs of suspected treasury looters on trial. It would make it easier to move them to court on wheelchairs like Augusto Pinochet and Hosni Mubarak. They have learnt to shoot without missing; we also should learn to fly without perching.
- This Best Outside Opinion was written by Vincent Akanmode/The Nation