This is our third attempt at understanding and accepting the ugly facts that our actions and reactions combine to produce the much maligned leadership that we have been saddled with over the years, and invariably underscore the conflicted and grossly underwhelming followership that we have allowed ourselves to fall into.
The signs are there in our business practices and commercial interactions. Of course, we shy away from headless generalisations, such that no human organisation or activity is absolutely admirable or deplorable.
There are always exceptions to the norm. There is a Professor Is-haq Olarewaju Oloyede in the fairly long history of JAMB superstructure; there was a Professor Dora Akunyili in the storied history of NAFDAC. And this is not to suggest that greatness is the cornerstone of only the Ivory Tower.
We will quickly remind you that a professor of soil science from the University of Calabar is currently in jail for electoral fraud…and many others under prosecution, or serving sentences, for embezzlement, misappropriation, sexual harassment, sex-for-grades malfeasance, etc.
Surely, no area of human life is safe from infamy, yet, we all know that most small to medium scale businesses have been destroyed, beyond resuscitation, by thieving and disgruntled workforce. The other day, we saw a video showing farm hands in a poultry business being searched after close of work.
Of course, the ordinary demeaning body search of workers after putting several hours of labour should be condemned, and be eradicated forthwith. But wait a minute: of the two women featured in the short video, one of them, as if seduced by Esu Elegbara, the ancient Yoruba god of willful misery, mischief and trickery, brought from different cavities under her voluminous garment more than twenty eggs! No, not kidding!
A casual calculation suggests that if she does that about three times every week, along with three quarters of her colleagues, there are no religious and prudential interventions that would save that company from going under. Then, the loudest growls of delayed salaries, non-availability of health and protective facilities, poor wages and such inadequacies would be championed by the leading pilferers – the most creative and undetected fraudsters.
When we are not working hard to kill some other person’s business, by stealing it dry, we are at the borders smuggling contrabands and such fancy consumables that many of us will virtually break our necks to purchase, and impress, or oppress, our neighbours. Without scruples that by such gluttonous acquisition, we join economic saboteurs in depleting and diminishing the opportunities of homegrown businesses to be in operation, to make profits, to pay salaries and other emoluments – and thus keep the industrial and commercial souls of the nation thriving and sustaining.
We have no qualms smuggling expired drugs into the country, so far we can make millions over the top; nor do we care when we set up shop in some dinghy area of our community; whip out some sort of “research and development” workshop or factory, merrily producing drugs, aphrodisiacs, condiments and solutions with stunning similarities, in packaging, to authentic alternatives. You may even see on our roads, during slow traffic, supernatural portions of biblical or oriental origins, with potency to cure all, make rich, or indestructible… peddled by people who look far from the consequences of the stuff they want others to benefit.
We do not seem to worry about the attendant deaths and devastation wrecking many homes across the nation as a result of selling adulterated, unhygienically produced fake products. We just want the money as the bottom line! Daily, we enact schemes and subterfuges to outwit regulatory bodies at every turn: we bribe our way, using cash, influence or mysticism to hoodwink NAFDAC, for example, so that our products can flood the streets without going through statutory rigour of regulatory procedures.
This kind of villainy is not restricted to the struggling cadres of Nigerians. Some big companies and large organisations also fleece their customers, deliberately or inadvertently, with little or no reprimand or sanction from governmental bodies, or consumer protection agencies.
Banks charge you for all sorts of services that elsewhere are taken for granted as an inclusive framework of banking. Here, you pay for transferring your own money electronically from one bank to another; the electronic service for which you have also been forced to pay a surcharge monthly. They assure you that only after three withdrawals from a sister bank would you be surcharged for using their ATMS, but even the first and only withdrawal will snatch at your balance.
Many Nigerians have scars, tender and tear-jerking, that were inflicted by con-artistes, sometimes in seeming collusion with bank workers. Nigerian scammers have now snowballed into a massive enterprise with fangs in different layers of financial services, always upfront and inventive with ingenious schemes and highly camouflaged charades to bamboozle and burglarize the hard-earned resources of unsuspecting Nigerians.
Yet, big-time business leaders have racked up debts so big that the government had to create an amorphous bank to buy up those system-wrecking loans and bad debts; perhaps to somehow redeem some of them down the line. These are loans and overdrafts that you hear about and blink several times, wondering what sort of collaterals were accepted to release such humongous amounts, and why such collaterals could not be amortised to defray substantial part of these so-called bad debts.
Many companies, and banks, have collapsed because of sharp practices and irresponsible underhanded deals which were subsequently squandered on unrelated and unprofitable ventures and acquisitions. Airlines, manufacturers, assemblies, exporters, etc, have shut down for sundry reasons, but we have hardly seen many prosecuted for squandering public funds entrusted to banks and hedge funds.
The telcos are a different beast entirely. Flushed with Nigerians’ penchant for talking and browsing the internet as a means of distractions and trips away from painful realities, the owners of airtime and data sponge us with friendly ferocity. They spend heavily on advertisement and entertainment to excite and animate us. And when we respond in kind, we get sucked in. Assured that bonus plan of certain amount would fetch one a huge gigabyte of data for a whole month – and you, caressed by the colourful flourish and limitless resources of the internet, plunge in, for hours… only to be jolted out of your reverie, few days after, by a terse notification warning you to reload so as to avoid being cut off their network, as you are about to exhaust your data. How? Where? When? Who do you ask these questions? Surely, not the telcos (who are busy designing other means to cream you up for another hit); not the NCC (whose high officials sometimes end up on the boards of telcos); or is it the government (whose officials behave as if your complaints are part of their political opponents’ propaganda machinery?
Taxation and evasion are issues woolly and worrisome in this clime. Many, corporately and individually, have developed plans and processes that challenge the efficacy and capacity of revenue collection agencies. We deign to pay taxes because we have hundreds of reasons why the government does not deserve a portion of our sweat. However, a system not fully accommodated in unreliable periods would not suddenly correct itself, and swiftly become sacrosanct when we achieve a modicum of a dependable society.
Truth be told: we all are part of our problems – the governed and the government, especially in areas of public and private accountability in the management and intercourse of economic interests. Worrisome.