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Joshua J. Omojuwa writes the country needs innovators that can help in nation-building

A popular Yoruba proverb came to mind as I put pen to paper. Kokoro ti n je efo, idi efo lo wa, which translates to, the insect eating the vegetable is right under the vegetable. You’d understand why this proverb matters as you read on. In 2014, Nigeria’s Ministry of Interior organised a recruitment exercise for the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), resulting in the tragic death of at least 15 Nigerians. Whatever happened on the day of the exam, their deaths were almost inevitable when a group of private business men disguised greed as a business opportunity and then worked with government officials to legitimize their avarice.  

The desperation of these opportunists was starkly evident as the NIS had an opening for 4,000 people, but working with its partners, went ahead to secure N1000 each from almost 700,000 job applicants. Such actions can only be seen as a manifestation of bad faith at its worst.

According to an eye-opening report led by Theophilus Abbah of ZAM and largely amplified by the courageous Nigerian journalist, Ruona J. Meyer, these ‘innovators’ cashed $1.75m on the back of these jobless and helpless Nigerians. Some of the individuals involved in this tragedy also earned as much as N2,000/passport produced by the NIS, despite providing zilch value under sham contracts.

It was the dark ages, when Nigerians who wanted to obtain a Nigerian passport from the United States for instance had their payment routed through a private individual’s Paypal account. You can read the ZAM report by searching, ‘Nigeria, the border control syndicate – how plunder continues….” You can click on any of the many links that appear. One or more of the companies involved in these unwholesome incidents have since changed their names and there is at least one businessman still on the run. 

Ruona was threatened with a lawsuit by a Twitter user who claimed to be American if she did not delete said report. You’d think being American came with a padded immunity from investigative reports. Ruona did not delete and said report remains available for those looking to learn more and those looking to address these injustices.

If you have experienced hardships while attempting to obtain a Nigerian passport abroad, chances are the very individuals who caused your suffering are also online with you screaming against what is not working in Nigeria. It seems that being a private citizen grants them a cloak of righteousness while they vilify those in government. However, if everyone is calling out politicians, some individuals should be the last to join the queue or, better yet, not join at all, given their lack of moral standing.

Nigeria continues to hemorrhage hundreds of millions of dollars to similar arrangements. According to former Comptroller General of the NIS, Muhammed Babandede, ‘the payment to foreign and local technical partners amounted to US$ 92m, representing over 80% of the revenue the NIS generated from 2018 to 2020’. These exploitative practices extend beyond the NIS.

Ironically, some of the individuals involved in this syndicate have transformed into self-proclaimed patriots, relentlessly criticizing the Nigerian state and hurling insults at those who do not endorse their preferred politicians. To bolster their deceptive intentions, they wield expensive vocabulary and regurgitate lines from literary texts, using sophistry as cover for their ulterior motives. If grandiloquence could grant sainthood, many of them would have the honorific ‘St.’ preceding their names, unalloyed. 

As a nod to their days of innovation, they spew ‘tech nuggets’ every now and then, as one of those Nigerians who experienced the private Paypal payment for the national passport once shared. These very individuals drown out the voices of those Nigerians who genuinely seek meaningful change.

When striving for a better country, not everyone who accompanies you on that journey desires the same outcome. Some seek to revive or perpetuate syndicates like the ones mentioned above. This is why they initially align themselves with the politicians they later vilify, even seeking audience outside official channels. Ironically, at those times, they conveniently forget their expertise in activism. When they realise that easy access to the spoils they crave is unattainable, they readily embrace activism as an alternative. However, their true intentions and sincerity, or lack thereof, remain subjective.

Every Nigerian, irrespective of their past, retain the right to ask better of their government. Even convicted criminals aren’t without such rights. However, if we want better of government, our causes are better led by those who genuinely mean well. As long as those who lost out in power struggles lead the charge, their intentions will always betray the collective quest for a better country. How can people whose greed killed fellow citizens lead the charge for a better country? Where will they find the range? It is like trying to build a skyscraper on a pack of cards. It is never getting started.

Every major act of corruption carried out in this country is led and perpetuated by people who have no government offices or portfolio. And that a process is legal does not mean it is not corrupt, Africans were once legally enslaved.  Beyond a certain point, you actually need more than individuals, you’d need institutions to facilitate transfers and movements that at times end up safe and tucked in tax havens.

The American war against terrorism had such unintended outcomes like helping to curb corruption in poor countries like Nigeria. However, to actually help build a country where the people prosper instead of a few privileged ones feeding fat on everyone and even having some killed, governments like Nigeria’s must go beyond unintended consequences to actually removing designs that help to keep the government’s purse lean while private companies, including their foreign allies, feed fat on what was never even enough for the people to feed on. We need innovators that can help Nigeria build prosperity, not quacks who are just looking to feed fat on their privilege before settling into a life of faux-activism and comfort abroad. Or at home. The vegetable’s insect is never far away from the vegetable.

 Omojuwa is chief strategist, Alpha Reach and author, Digital Wealth Book

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