The rent we seek and Gbajabiamila’s Accra junket

Two seemingly dissimilar issues which are however linked by their fundamentals engage me in this piece. They are both linked by the dislocations between what was and what is. A few weeks ago, popular and highly regarded Ibadan-based broadcaster, Rolake Bello, on her evening belt programme on equally respected radio station, Fresh FM, threw a hypothetical social issue for dissection at her listeners and demanded their views. I loaned you a certain amount of money, say N10,000, with an agreed repayment plan and you staked that same amount on a venture which fetched you a million naira, or so. Not only didn’t you default in repayment, you met the scheduled time. Should I expect more than I loaned out from you?

Responses from her listeners sickened me on end and reflected the rent-seeking mindset that has colonised this generation. Virtually all the respondents said it was selfish for the borrower to repay just the amount lent them. A great chunk of the amount had to be paid to the lender as appreciation, they chorused.

The above has become a social dilemma which reflects in financial transactions in Nigeria today. Someone procures an artisan on your behalf to help fix a broken pipe and while billing you, the artisan enfolds the rent he would pay the middleman into your bill. Contractor is linked to a project and the returns to the linkman are engrafted into the total cost. Why are our minds fixated on collecting rents, such that no help is ever rendered without demanding kickbacks?

As simplistic as this may look, it is a social cancer that is eating into our interpersonal relations. It has fractured the quality of mercy, empathy and values in our society, such that no one ever intervenes on any issue without waiting to be repaid. Agreed that it is one of the derivatives of a capitalist economy that we run, the truth is that its major casualty is our inherited values of being our brother’s keeper. In a commercialised mercy that we now run, the people become machines, stone-hearted people who do not offer assistance except for returns.

The second issue of bother is the recent tiff between Ghanaians, their governments on one side and Nigerians residing in Ghana and the Nigerian government on another. Bothered by the influx of Nigerians in Ghana and their proclivity for “bad businesses,” the Ghanaian government slammed the sum of $1million levy on Nigerian traders in Kwame Nkrumah’s homestead. The hoopla took Speaker of the Nigerian parliament, Femi Gbajabiamila, to Accra last week on fence-mending mission.

Good that the Nigerian government responded to this diplomatic threat almost immediately. However, what is at issue is beyond diplomacy. It is social, political, economic and even perception-related. The truth is, nobody respects Nigeria any longer and Nigerians cannot but be receptors of this low esteem. A country’s regard in international system is borne of its economic strength, military prowess, human capital and the quality of her leadership. Virtually all the indices above, except perhaps the human capital, are at their lowest ebb in Nigeria. Gone are the days when Nigeria was respected in all the areas above. We had the moral, economic and social perceptive muscles to tell any country in Africa to shut their traps. We could install governments and send troops to play Big Brother elsewhere. All those have sunken now.

Militarily, we are the butt of jokes everywhere; economically, we are in the doldrums and worst of all, our leadership is perceived as an army of locusts which criminally sucks our national nectar and pollinates other people’s flowers abroad. The world being a global village, all the dislocations in our polity land on the world’s laps by the hour. Our nationals abroad thus carry this emblem and cannot but be treated with disdain.

Rather than Gbajabiamila’s junket, Nigerian leaders should begin to reassemble theirs and Nigeria’s fallen regards, national social worth in international perception. Once we do this, Ghana, which used to see us as the New York of Africa, won’t treat us with such ignominy. When other nationals realise that Muhammadu Buhari is our President, that the clowns and effeminate lot who call themselves lawmakers, make laws for us and hear the news of the rapacious heists that daily take place in Nigeria happen under our government’s noses, they laugh and laugh at us. Or you think nations and their leaders too don’t gossip?

 

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