Corruption: Breaking the Code of Silence

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Largely due to the circumstances of its birth, the Buhari Government is facing grave challenges today. Its initial ideological cleavages were not mended. It also failed, over time, to build cohesion. Two years down the road, the agents and agencies of the government are working in silos. Some of the silo walls are even being cheerfully and vigorously reinforced. Loaded guns are trained on the government and the ruling party, the APC, from within. Group consciousness and the striving for group survival are not being nurtured, or well managed. Thus the hawk swoops and picks whomsoever it fancies, amidst a questionable anti-corruption war.

This government should have contextualized the appalling state of the Nigerian State it inherited. It did not. It also did not present and implement a credible leadership and governance template. It failed to secure public understanding of its challenges. The present reality of a regime of change standing on a precipice and struggling to navigate itself out of charges that should not have been levelled against it in the first place is traceable to its myopia, lethargy and disinclination to take advise.

Many are demanding for the truth: the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the extent of corruption in the land. But who is ready for a narrative truth that will mention some former heads of state and so-called elder statesmen and women? Our situation is like that of the mythical Alaoma Village, once mentioned in this column, where a reticent palm wine tapper, called Mazi Onyeajulam, was dragged to the palace to testify. He demurred, describing himself as a metaphor for the known but unspoken in the community. He accused the people of speaking of change during while undermining it by their intrigues at night.

When the King and the people insisted that he should speak he warned that there was much they would not like exposed. He was greeted with derisive laughter. When he further warned that a community with no knowledge of the meaning of proverbs was best advised to avoid serious conversations, he was howled at. Still reluctant, Mazi told the people not to forget the two most important rules of hunting: (1) To know when, where, what and how not to shoot and (2) To bring home game for the kitchen, or have a good explanation at least in one`s conscience. “Remember that my name means `Let no one ask me` and the fact that I am a professional palm wine tapper, obliges me not to speak here today”, Mazi said.

Then the village blacksmith reminded him that his behaviour was bad for social morality and the upbringing of their children. “You should ask yourself whether you represent progress or decay in this community. Silence is not noble when truth is needed,” the blacksmith said. Then Mazi Onyeajulam cleared his throat and addressed the King and the people.

“People of our land I have a few words for you…” he began. But the blacksmith interrupted him, shouting: “Speak clearly and raise your voice, my man. You have wasted enough of our time already!”

The tapper rose to his full height and, facing the blacksmith, asked: “Perhaps you would like me to speak of how I once saw a certain blacksmith mixing high quality metal with inferior materials, in order to deceive his customers and sell his inferior goods for more than what they were really worth? I may also then say that the craftsman in question rejected my advice and told me to go and moralize elsewhere, since he was not the only bad man in this community. Should I, my brother, name the craftsman in question, to fully break the code of silence imposed on me by my trade?.

The man shrank back, almost growing smaller with every word that came out of Mazi Onyeajulam`s mouth. There was momentary silence after Mazi`s address to the blacksmith. Then hell broke loose. Many people called the blacksmith names and threw things at him. The embattled fellow left in a hurry, shouting as he fled that the matter before the King had nothing to do with his skills as a blacksmith.

Then the head of one of the women groups accused Mazi of evading the question. She mentioned the virtue of uprightness, the danger of misleading the future generation, the innocence of the maidens, the role of mothers and the steadfast loyalty and faithfulness of the married women. She rounded it up by reminding Mazi of the need to maintain the noble values and high moral tone of the community. When the tapper said nothing the woman thundered: “Are you deaf, or have the spirits drumming for you and encouraging your stubbornness also taken an unusual liking to your drink and thus lost their sanity? Answer me, Mazi Onyeajulam, because your behaviour is like that of a possessed man who only obeys the silent voices of some invisible strange spirits whispering what only he can hear”.

Turning to her, Mazi Onyeajulam spoke thus: “What would you have me say, woman? Is it from my mouth you want to hear about the antics of women who sneak out at night to attend to certain controversial activities that are frowned at by our laws and traditions?” Facing the crowd, he asked: “Is it Mazi Onyeajulam who will say that at the time he leaves his house to go to the palm groves he sees those who leave their homes on some pretext to commit abomination? Oh, so it is the son of Mgborie you want to tell you that he has seen several of the women standing here today in circumstances that would embarrass the very devil himself? Mbanu!

Looking straight at the woman who upbraided him, the tapper continued: “Nne, go and tell those who sent you that you did not meet me at home. You want me to talk about your chaste maidens? Everyone here know sthat they are like dragons looking for who to demolish behind closed doors”

As Mazi stopped speaking, several people could be seen exchanging furtive glances. Many of the much older men were rubbing their chins and trying to look solemn. There was unusual silence among the women, many of whom fidgeted a little. Several of them became somewhat shifty, appearing eager to become less visible in the crowd. But, unfortunately for everyone, Mazi Onyeajulam was still yet done!

Standing with blazing eyes, he said: “Children pick most of their everyday moral values from their parents, especially their mothers. No man can take what does not belong to him home, or steal money and remain rich, if his wife always insisted on knowing where his possessions or wealth came from. Women, you want me to be the one to ask you when last you questioned your husbands about their income, or the source of their sudden wealth? Mbanu! No! The son of Mgborie will not be the one to tell you that hypocrisy is the cement holding this community together.” Then the tapper fell silent again and sat down.

This was righteous indignation at its best. Mazi was about to leave when a visibly angry titled man stood up to remind him that certain things are not said before titled men, and certainly not before the King. Mazi stared at him for a while and said, matter of factly, “The Nze title is given to men of integrity. It is more than a symbol of honour, because it is the upright character of a man that earns him such a title. Since even the titled men who should know better are now part of the problem, I do not know what else to say. Our people say that it is the Udara fruit that falls all the way to the middle of the road that asked to have its mouth split open by the foot of a wayfarer. It is also the rabbit that comes out for a stroll when the lion is having fresh air in the neibourhood that has asked to me made a snack.”

Mazi’s continued: “Our people say: “Afu Nze ebie okwu” (Once the Nze title holder intervenes in any matter, all disputations are at an end). That is because such a man does not, and cannot, tell a lie. I ask today, you my people, who will stand up and say that Nze titleholders still tell the truth in this community?”

Many in the crowd felt like shutting the palm wine tappers mouth, but Mazi Onyeajulam had risen to his feet again. He continued: “The word Nze has its root meaning in the infinitive form ‘Ize’ – ‘to avoid`, or `seeking not to be contaminated by.’ The holder of such a title is supposed to be an institution of integrity and an agent of the gods. Onye Nze is an apostle of truth. At least so it was in the past. Do you want me to ask why we have such apostles but no truth in the land? Oh, so you all want Mgborie`s son to say that Mazi Okeke that is inside the masquerade and not a spirit, as children are made to believe? Chaa! Oburo m ka unu ga alaputa.” (Not at all! It is not I that you people will get into trouble!)

All of a sudden there were more people who wanted the palm wine tapper released. In the midst of the demands and counter demands, Mazi Onyeajulam got up, left the palace and went to his house.

Sadly, the Buhari Government already has too many Onyeajulams in its custody. And they will speak!