A few days before the commencement of the 2014 FIFA World Cup tournament in Brazil two years ago, I received one of those unsolicited SMS on my Globacom line. It was from a number, 5836 and I was being asked to subscribe to it if I wanted to be receiving results of World Cup matches. I just deleted the message as I do several of those SMS that are being used to defraud people.
That notwithstanding, I kept receiving messages about results of matches I had already watched and a week into the competition, I got another SMS that my “subscription” had expired and had been renewed. They did that about three more times. Of course the amount we are talking about is N50 which was being taken without my asking – thus practically stealing my money!
I know many Nigerians in my position, who are victims to this sort of impunity. People hardly complain because the amount being taken, albeit without their authorization, is usually small. In my own case, perhaps I was defrauded of about N200 by those behind number 5836. Small potato, but when you multiply that sum by about a million subscribers for instance, then we are talking big money here.
I was so angry at the time that I actually wrote a small piece because I saw it as part of the general lack of discipline in the entire Nigerian private sector where consumers are treated almost as if they have no rights. But before I could publish, there were other pressing issues competing for attention that week so I dropped the material and dumped it in a file where I usually put my unpublished writings which I hardly ever go back to.
Three events which happened last weekend have compelled me to remember the issue. First, last Saturday, I got a call from former Kaduna State Governor, Colonel Abubakar Dangiwa Umar (rtd) who complained bitterly about MTN. He said he had tried and failed to reach the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) officials so he could lodge his complaints, and because of that, he had to rely on me to pass the message. He forwarded me the SMS that elicited his anger: “Y’ello your MTN Backup subscription has been renewed at N50. Your subscription will be renewed on 07/11/2016. Enjoy!”
Angry at such a practice, which we must all agree is very common, Umar added, in his SMS: “This is one of the many fraudulent ways MTN is debiting and stealing money from its millions of subscribers. We are being charged for services we have never subscribed to. You may wish to call attention to this form of extortion which is costing consumers billions daily.” We will come back to this issue later.
Second, on Monday, at the invitation of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), I attended the workshop on the “Review of the Strategic Anti-Corruption Manual”. Critical stakeholders at the event which hosted about 30 persons included representatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in Nigeria (SCIAN), National Orientation Agency (NOA), development partners like Ford Foundation, etc.
Also in attendance were Mr. Laolu Akande, SSA Media to the Vice President and Mr. Tolu Ogunlesi, Special Assistant to the President on digital/new Media. PACAC Chairman, Professor Itse Sagay, came with two other prominent members, Prof. Femi Odekunle and Prof. Etannibi Alemika. There were of course a few other people from academia and the civil society. Having sought the permission of the PACAC Executive Secretary, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, I dragged along Prof. Pius Adesanmi, who had been in the country for a few days and was around in Abuja on Monday.
Third, after the session, I escorted Pius to see the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan who incidentally was a teacher at St Kizito’s College, Isanlu in Kogi State, at a time Pius’s late father was the school principal. The cardinal of course introduced Pius to me as his former “Altar Boy”. But because the appointment was quickly scheduled, having been informed ahead that the Cardinal had another meeting at the National Mosque (so we would not arrive by ‘Nigerian time’), I was curious about what he was going to do at the mosque. “I am going for a meeting with the Chief Imam who will be representing the Sultan. We are trying to organize an inter-faith conference on the fight against corruption with the theme, ‘Imam and Pastors: The Role of Religious Preachers in the War Against Corruption.’ So, the meeting I am attending at the National Mosque is meant to tidy up the plan,” said His Eminence.
According to Cardinal Onaiyekan, corruption is basically in the heart which is supposed to be the focus of religion. “I am yet to see a Church or Mosque which preaches dishonesty or stealing to its adherents and when we talk about corruption, we are basically talking about dishonesty and stealing. So, I believe we, as religious preachers, have a critical role to play in this moral crusade. The idea is to bring together 100 clerics, 50 of them Muslims and 50 Christians so as to come up with a framework by which we can support the war against corruption”, said the Cardinal.
It is good that the religious institutions have finally realised the need to join the efforts to rid our society of this emblem of shame. But they, and indeed the government, would be missing the point if they concentrate their efforts only on the public service. That is what the examples with which I started this piece illustrate. I once wrote on this page that in our country, we have gone beyond mere corruption to what the Yoruba people call “tani o mu mi” which is impunity writ large–a strange place where both the codes of morality and the boundary between right and wrong just simply disappear. That is what we must collectively deal with.
How can mobile networks be stealing the money of their subscribers, which is what they do by deducting money for services not procured? How can they be putting ring tones, including of obscene music (I have experienced that a lot) without the authorisation of subscribers? And let us not even go to the issue of “dropped calls”! Yet, in the fight against corruption in the Nigerian public space, these are some of the issues that would also have to be addressed.
In my 3rd September 2015 piece, “The Atmosphere of Corruption” and the 8th October 2015 piece, “Corruption War and the Old Soldier”, both on this page, I made allusion to the ActionAid Nigeria research assignment where I joined four other persons, including PACAC’s Prof. Alemika, to interrogate how corruption impacts the different segments of our society and the implications for social development in our country. In our report, which is still available on http://www.actionaid.org/nigeria/publications/poverty-and-corruption-nigeria, we provided the nexus between the greed of a few people in both private and public sectors and the deprivations to which majority of Nigerians are today subjected. But what is the way out?
In one of my earlier interventions on this issue, I had raised certain pertinent questions some of which inclue: Are institutional mechanisms being put in place to make it difficult for people to fiddle with public funds and easily get away? What legal/judicial reforms are ongoing to ensure that public officials who steal billions are not asked to pay peanuts in fines to walk away free? How are we going to deal with the private sector that is not only the enabler for public sector corruption but also has its own monumental rot within? When are we going to get to a point in which being invited to serve in public office would not attract celebrations and all manner of expensive social and religious thanksgivings?
It is noteworthy that PACAC is actually working to address those issues. On Monday, the discussions were free and frank and one participant drew the attention of everyone to the fact that as things stand today with regards to corruption in Nigeria, only two things have changed: One, there is less money to steal because of the fall in oil price and two, we have a president that is generally accepted as beyond reproach. But those are not enough as we need institutional measures to deal with the problem and that is the gap being filled by PACAC.
According to Owasanoye, some key strategy documents and activities designed by PACAC include “Corruption Case Management Manual” which is targeted at improving corruption case preparation by law enforcement agencies especially EFCC and ICPC so that prosecution can eventually lead to conviction as well as a “Plea Bargain Manual”, designed to implement provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 and guide alternative disposition of criminal allegations by plea bargaining. Owasanoye, however, explained that contrary to the impression created, the manual does not recommend that there would be no prosecution even if apprehended corrupt officials surrender their loot.
The PACAC is also working on a federal Sentencing Guidelines for corruption and other related economic offences as well as “Matrix of the Sentencing Process” all of which are aggregated from relevant federal laws. The manual is a guide to assist the judiciary to sentence according to the gravity of crime. That way, corrupt officials would not be dipping their hands to pay some miserable fines after stealing billions of Naira. PACAC has also designed the Corruption Information and Intelligence Sharing Protocol to guide the sharing of intelligence on corruption amongst key agencies of government and the Office of National Security Adviser.
While PACAC is on the right track, the message must be clear that the fight against corruption cannot continue to focus on the symptoms nor be guided by a blanket notion that only deals with financial mismanagement. To the extent that corruption connotes a distortion of values or abuse of, or general disregard for, extant rules within an operating system, we cannot continue to encourage discretion in allocation of scarce resources or in critical appointments yet claim to be fighting corruption. The fact that we must not ignore is that once rules are circumvented, all templates for enthroning transparency, accountability, equity and fairness lose their validity. That much was made clear by some participants at the Monday session.
However, there must also be a way to deal with public expectations that most often convey the impression that in Nigeria, there is nothing wrong with stealing from the treasury so long as we share ethnic or religious affiliations with the culprits. That then explains why it is comforting that Christian and Islamic clerics now want to collaborate with critical institutions in the fight against corruption.
Incidentally, on Monday, Pius prefaced his intervention at the PACAC engagement with thanking the organizers for not subjecting us to a session of “meaningless prayers” before we started the programme. As it would turn out, he spoke too soon. A participant actually took strong exception to the fact that we did not pray before the commencement of such an important occasion. He added that it was not customary in Nigeria.
In responding, Prof Owasanoye, who affirmed being a practicing Christian, said he believed everybody prayed before leaving his/her house. He also added, rather cynically, that there is so much prayer in the Nigerian public space yet many still go on to steal money that belongs to the people while engaging themselves in all manner of malfeasance that cannot be reconciled with the faith they profess.
I don’t know what else to add.
Smiling to convey her message in a rather delicate situation that verges on betrayal or protection (depending on which side you look at it from) veteran actress, Bukky Ajayi delivered the line in such a manner that left no viewer in doubt that she was a master of the game: “O si lo e s’omo ale?” (…and you said you are not a bastard?). That was in Tunde Kelani’s movie, ‘Magun’ (Thunderbolt) in a scene in which Adetutu (role she played) was trying to protect her young relation from committing suicide by sleeping with the young woman that had been laced with ‘magun’.
No doubt, the actress, who died recently, left indelible marks and will be greatly missed. But so will Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi, former Director General of the Nigeria Security Organisation (NSO), the omnibus security institution in Nigeria before it was broken into several units. Although not close to him, I had years of interactions with Shinkafi, dating back to the aborted Third Republic when he was a presidential aspirant on the platform of the defunct Nigeria Republican Convention (Choice ’92) and I found him a very warm person. He was a good man.
While neither Ajayi (82) nor Shinkafi (79) could be said to have died young, as painful as their departure may be, it is also a fact that we live in a country where anybody can die anytime and from anything—in accidents or from the hands of armed robbers/kidnappers or perhaps from heart attack which is now also common. And one could also be killed for professing a faith like the late Deaconess of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) who was murdered while preaching last week Saturday morning in Kubwa town within the federal capital territory, Abuja.
Even if one were fortunate to outlive such gruesome fate and other numerous ways life could be abruptly terminated in Nigeria today, death is still sure. And when that happens, as it would one day, we can only, according to a songwriter, be “remembered by what we have done”.
Written by Dr. Horatius Bonar of Edinburg, the song whose lyrics I commend to my readers today, in memory of Pastor (Mrs) Eunice Elisha, was set to music in 1891 by Ira D. Sankley and he sang it as a solo at the funeral of his friend and fellow preacher of the Gospel, C.H. Spurgeon. It is a timeless Christian hymn that speaks to us all, especially now that we are still alive:
Fading away like the stars of the morning,
Losing their light in the glorious sun
Thus would we pass from the earth and its toiling,
Only remembered by what we have done.
Shall we be missed though by others succeeded,
Reaping the fields we in springtime have sown?
No, for the sowers may pass from their labors,
Only remembered by what they have done.
Only the truth that in life we have spoken,
Only the seed that on earth we have sown;
These shall pass onward when we are forgotten,
Fruits of the harvest and what we have done.
Only remembered, only remembered,
Only remembered by what we have done;
Thus would we pass from the earth and its toiling,
Only remembered by what we have done.
Power Changes Hands!
Less than a month ago, on 19th June to be specific, Ms. Virginia Raggi won her runoff by a wide margin, defeating a candidate backed by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to become the first female Mayor of Rome. Yesterday, Mrs Theresa May assumed office in Britain as the second female Prime Minister in the country’s history, following the resignation of Mr. David Cameron. Meanwhile, Mrs Angela Merkel is still sitting pretty as German Chancellor after several years in office. And if we believe bookmakers, Mrs Hillary Clinton will soon join this powerful group as the first female President of the United States of America. Power, definitely is changing hands!