The personified theme of the lecture was witty. But it smacks of the blatant disregard for virtue and the impunity that walks tall in the Nigerian political space. By the time the guest lecturer began the talk titled: Why we No Longer Blush: Corruption as Grand Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, it was not difficult to understand the reasons for the calibre of people who turned up for the event. The roll call had already advertised the purpose and direction of proceedings. And by the time introductory formalities were concluded, it was rights activists and progressive-minded citizens who came to hear from one of them, a man who Pastor Tunde Bakare, convener of Save Nigeria Group, organizers of the function described as “the Jeremiah of our time”.

Once he mounted the platform to give his lecture, the learned professor of English, Professor Niyi Osundare, very much lived up to the billing of the comparison to the Biblical prophet. At intervals as he spoke, gasping sighs rent the air, as he delivered salvos, citing cases pinpointing how rotten the Nigerian system has become. He was not reading from one piece of his tons of writings which drew themes from the maladministration of the Nigerian federation, Africa and the world by a privileged few. Professor Niyi Osundare’s speech drew instances from very recent developments, illustrating how the governments and its collaborators have bled the country, leaving it a virtual ‘fiefdom’ where a minority elite squanders resources meant for public good.

Osundare was not alone. Itse Sagay, Professor of Law at the University of Lagos, Monday Ubani, Joe Okei-Odumakin, Yinka Odumakin, Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu, Tunji Alapini, Kunle Ajibade, Prof. Wale Adebanwo  were among a horde of concerned Nigerians who came from the academia, media,  Rights activist and other sectors to listen one of them .

The rising wave of corruption in Nigeria will lead to the collapse of the country Prof. Osundare began. The distinguished Professor of English at the University of New Orleans, United States of America outlined the harsh realities staring at the nation: ‘‘Nigeria is a kleptocracy, we no longer blush because we have lost our skin, corruption is Nigeria’s fastest growing industry, if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria. Our fate is in our hands.’’  Reeling corruption scandals that have rocked the country, Osundare wondered why public theft has grown in dimension and opposition to such acts is shrinking. “Catastrophes that would shake normal societies to their very foundations hit and leave us unfazed. Tyrants in military uniform whipped us with scorpions; only a few of us protested. Now their civilian inheritors are scourging us with serpents, and many of us respond with ranka dede!’ Politicians and other public functionaries empty public treasuries and squander our patrimony/commonwealth before our very eyes; we pray to God to aid their effort. Time there was when these public thieves stole our money in millions of naira; now they do so in billions and trillions; and many of us urge them on and envy their luck,” he said, blaming Nigerians for their docility while government officials selfishly poke fingers into the national till.

He implored Nigerians to take urgent steps to address the trend before the country is dragged from the current precipice into oblivion through the deeds of a few individuals. In this regard the bard praised the Save Nigeria Group for taking up the gauntlet at a critical time as a “conscientizer, public opinion mobilizer in Nigeria…ombudsman and tribunal, a kind of moral opposition in a country where the commonality of crime and mutuality of corruption has made a reasonable differentiation between/among the political parties a difficult if not futile exercise.”    He concluded his speech by stressing the need for urgent mass action and demand for good leadership to reclaim the country from the fangs of corrupt politicians and their allies.

In an address, Pastor Tunde Bakare did not spare the government of scorching tirades. He criticized the present administration for paying lip-service to developing the country. Likening Nigeria to the then Republic of Georgia a confederate of the defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR, he bemoaned the absence of a leader in the mould of  Mikhail Saakashvili who turned his country’s fortunes around once he got elected into office  by mass revolution. With such opportunities missed by the current regime in Nigeria , the revered cleric advised Nigerians to “embrace the spirit and letter of such radical reformation to avoid the needless, prevalent and sickening bloodshed that now characterizes our national life.”

Earlier in his remarks, Prof Sagay lamented that Nigeria has found itself in a position “where it is requiring a policeman to police police.” He lamented that committees set up to find solutions to problems in recent times, have become subjects of criminal prosecution. He cited the blunders compromised House of Representatives’ committees on Power, Capital Market and the Ad hoc Committee constituted to fish out oil marketers who took money but did not deliver the product as examples. In spite of these, he saw redemption on the horizon. “There is hope,” he said, “We have history to fall back to. In 1950-51, we were still tinkering with the regions. There were resources-cocoa, palm oil, kernel, groundnuts and they were developed, talk about the husbandry of resources and the harnessing abilities,” he noted.

Participants unanimously agreed that corruption is haemorrhaging the country. As they took turns to make comment or ask questions, it was clear that as Osundare had averred, the evil is the “live-blood of politics in the country.” Getting out of the quagmire it was agreed will take the forms of re-orientation and inculcation of the traditional values of honesty and accountability in service, rejection and denunciation of public officials putrefying with corruption and use of mass action as an ultimate alternative for the masses to assert their right to good governance.

—Nkrumah Bankong-Obi