When integrity is skin deep and kindled within, its brightness soon beams forth in the outward life. It is seen in the form of virtuous deeds, the pursuit of honour, material contentment, honesty, truthfulness, and patriotic citizenship. From my knowledge of man – Nigerian specie – his sin, foibles and weaknesses, this writer knows that money gives the strongest exertion on his morality and integrity. We adore money. We hunt for it everywhere. Money has become a product of our feral culture which is relentlessly extending its leprous hands into the educated and illiterate, good and bad, the young and the old and the saints and sinners.
Along with our search for money, we project our own sordid fantasies into what money could bring: big mansions, prestigious cars, fine clothes, first class air travel, houses abroad, gold, silver, carnal assignations with voluptuous figure 8 women, fine wines, snobbery and that instinct to insult and oppress the poor and helpless.
Our politicians have been parading and perfecting these bizarre delusions since 1999 when we started a project of monetised political arrangement that had remained a burden on our democracy. In Nigeria, we hold nothing sacred except the sweet-smelling power of crispy dollars. Now an unknown man is interrogating our immoral love affair with money – easy money, stolen money, unworked for money, looted money, and supernatural money!
That man is Ikenna Nweke. Cerebral, cool, gallant, honest, courageous, and selfless Ikenna had his finest hour on June 19, 2020. Trapped in the confining space of ethical conundrum, he stilled the voice of greed and answered to the voice of honour, integrity, social honesty, and upright living. To his Japanese host, his action was exemplary and a cut away from the ugly narrative of common criminal regularly ascribed to his race and his Nigerian nationality. That day, Ikenna proved his immunity to the neurotic crisis of integrity and trust that had infected his country like Covid-19 pandemic since its independence.
The tenor, stridency, urgency, exhortation and thrust of his self-oration charmingly exemplified the hopeful symmetry that may yet encourage those who are naturally and ardently cynical of our moral redemption as a nation and as people. Internationally, Nigerians are the most distrusted, hated, vilified, despised, opposed, and most watched.
In answer to that negative pathology, Nigeria (Dabiri-Erewa et al) is waging a tense moral battle with the world and asking the judges for leniency over the myth that all Nigerians are genetically programmed with Hushpuppi’s DNA. That some of us could be of noble upbringing is the faultless sentiments in the seminal oration of Ikenna Nweke.
Hear him: “On the 19th of June 2020, while I was going home from the university, I decided to get my wife her favourite kebab (a Japanese delicacy). As I was climbing the staircase around Tsukuba centre, I noticed something on the ground. As I drew closer, I saw that it was a wallet. When I opened it, I saw a huge sum of money, a credit card, and other valuables. I immediately reported to the police. One of the officers was surprised and asked me why I did not take the money. I told him that there was no need for that because I was raised by responsible parents, and that I am also a Christian.”
“He told me that according to Japanese law, that I was entitled to 10% of the money found inside the wallet and that if the owner of the money does not come to pick the money after three months, that the money will be mine. Both offers were rejected by me. I rejected those offers because I am a Christian and was raised by a very decent family. I rejected those offers because I am a Nigerian.”
“Here is a message for every Nigerian that we should maintain, protect the image of our nation wherever we are. Especially those in diaspora, we are the Nigerian people know. When we do something bad abroad it reflects on the image of the nation.
“This is a message for non-Nigerians who think that every Nigerian is a criminal. That is not true. Nigerians is a country of over 200 million people. Two hundred million wonderful people. There are some criminal elements in Nigeria. I must admit and these criminal elements are found in every part of the world. These criminal elements are just a tiny fraction, they do not represent who we are, they do not speak for us. They are not a true reflection of who Nigerians are.”
This fine sounding self-oration was timely, soothing and the very healing balm we direly needed over our moral ailments. President Muhammadu Buhari in his thumb up message to Ikenna said: “Nweke’s act would give Nigeria a positive spotlight and close up on its real values which clearly signposts what should hold the nation together, inspired by solid foundations laid by most families, religious bodies and communities for success in life.”
Today, this Imolite is our new totem of moral heroism and its valiant advocate. Perhaps, it is fitting in this hysterical time when Nigeria and Nigerians are going through moral pollution due to the criminal activities of international cyber hackers like Hushpuppi and Woodberry, to parade a new pathway of honour, self-restraint, patriotic deed, integrity and social responsibility both within and outside Nigeria. Public moral apostles, social responsibility pundits, integrity police and honourable citizens are our new ally in the fight for moral resurgence of a broken society like Nigeria. Ikenna may have accidentally thrown down a gauntlet of impossible proportion, but the new values of morality, honour, honesty, social responsibility and material contentment may have no resonance in a nation that is going through pandemic moral contamination from the leader to the led.
Just look around you and ask: where are the moral gatekeepers who want to control who goes to heaven and hell in our society? If all the animal energy with which the politicians deployed to stealing money is equally used to building a nation of Ikennas, Nigeria today would have been rubbing shoulders with nations like UAE, Singapore, Indonesia, India, and Brazil. President Muhammadu Buhari may want to urge us to “keep celebrating the age-old, irreplaceable attributes of honesty and decorum” but there is no way we could rush into a shallow moral rearmament without leadership by example, individual self-creation, self-discovery, and self-regeneration.
Ironically, President Muhammadu Buhari is the clearest example of integrity somersault. Millions of Nigerians have now come to see hypocrisy in his idea of integrity. Where is integrity and honour in a shameless and tribal-driven leader who is now furiously diverting Nigeria’s resources to developing Katsina state? Where is integrity in all his appointments? Where is integrity in the ongoing corruption of his party, All Progressive Congress? Where is integrity in the colossal stealing that bedevilled the distribution of palliatives to the weak, the tired, the battered and the forgotten Nigerians during Covid-19 lockdown?
Where is the change he promised, as we daily watched our worsening condition? Where is the morality in APC-led government that still celebrates politicians’ excesses and vulgarities? What of the tragi-comedic luxurious lifestyle of Niger Delta Development Commission directors who cornered N1.5 billion to take care of themselves under lock down? Worse, NDDC has wasted N472 billion between 2017 and 2019. Pray, who was in power under that period? It is a shame to see NDDC go to the wolves and hyenas under the watch of Mr. Integrity, aka, President Muhammadu Buhari. With Ibrahim Magu, the chicken has finally come home to roost. Magu, the Chief Priest, must eat from the altar….so said the Bible!
Where is Ikenna’s brand of honour among our wolves and hyenas we called politicians who have made idol of authority, power, and self-exhortation far above service to the people who elected them? What this nation faces daily is greedy hyenas and wolves who are seeking positions for self-gain. These wolves and hyenas are never willing to pay the price and sacrifice for honour, honesty, and integrity. In the UK where I live, elected politicians serve us. They do not lord, threaten, share money, live above the law, go about in wasteful convoys, and dominate us. This is leadership by example at its glorious best!!!
Rather, Nigerians live in a nation that punishes honesty, discourages integrity, stifles morality but affirms impunity, bribery and corruption and political stealing on an industrial scale. The most potent enemies of the Nigeria people are the politicians. They are wolves and hyenas. They are eccentric idiots and moral monstrosities. Take for example the dirty morality of Pa Adams Oshiomhole. Some years ago, he painted a darkening collage of Osagie Ize-Iyamu as an unrepentant thief who should be in jail. In 2020, the same Oshiomhole glossily presented the same Ize-Iyamu as an innocent, sun clean man of integrity who should be voted for in the upcoming gubernatorial election in Edo State.
Again, nothing is so starkly symbolic of our diseased morality than the common denominators that seem to hold both APC and Peoples Democratic Party together: hypocrisy, lies, deceit, stealing and corruption. Godwin Obaseki moved from APC to PDP. Ize-Iyamu moved from PDP to APC. Here, there are conflations of ethos, ethics, and political ideology. We can all celebrate Ikenna’s heroic feat in faraway Japan, but the mindsets of generation of Nigerians brought up on the stealing of public money, political corruption, hypocrisy, unquestioned material accumulation, impunity, bad governance, incompetent leadership, tribal superiority and other socio-economic tensions would not allow for the kind of idealistic optimism we now found in the heart of Mr Ikenna Nweke.
Last week in his “Inside Stuff” column, Martin Oloja, the Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian, in his piece, titled: “Why Nigeria Needs Moral Re-armament,” picked morality and the “crisis of character” among the barrage of calamities betraying this nation. Oloja was able to strip off our hypocritical veneer and struck at our leadership fault lines: “We need a movement for national reorientation now! I mean we need ‘Moral Re-Armament’ now! Why do I say now, of all our needs? The level of indiscipline, lawlessness, collapse of values, morality, etc has been too high. The depth of impunity and abuse of immunity by the ‘execu-thieves’ has been intolerable. The way we celebrate wealth without work has been insufferable. Despite all the noise in Abuja about war on corruption, the growth rate of ‘state thieves’ has been unbearable.”
With the force of personal conviction, I dare say that the moral structure in Nigeria is not built to accommodate and nurture the Ikenna Nwekes of this world. And until we repair that broken moral structure between leaders and the led, the Ikenna’s soulful integrity in faraway Japan that recently made us all proud Nigerians will soon fade away as we roll back into our toxic habit of stealing, lies, hypocrisy, criminality, immorality, impunity, political prostitution, looting, thuggery, and injustice – all tragic emblems that had been with us since our independence.