Story Six: Chideraa and Corruption

“All indiscipline, corruption, squandermania, misuse and abuse of public office for self or group aggrandisement which had assumed debilitating proportions in the last few years would be dealt with ruthlessly no matter whoever may be involved…” The new Military Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari hadn’t even finished his address yet, but Chideraa already loved him completely. He didn’t understand all the big vocabulary like ‘squandermania’, ‘aggrandisement ‘ and ‘debilitating’, but he had understood ‘indiscipline’, ‘corruption’ and ‘deal with’. Anyone who went to his school would understand the word ‘ruthlessly’ because their Mathematics teacher used it almost every day and his actions spoke louder than words.

“Daddy, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari is a good man.” He spoke with excitement, “He will deal with all those corrupt people in this country ruthlessly.” Chideraa was a young and intelligent boy of eleven years. He was in Primary Six and he loved to talk about the country with his father. His father had told him so much about the country, from the time of slave trade to the Independence; to the Biafran war stories and a lot of stories that concerned Nigeria’s history. He usually retold these stories to his friends at school and it made him exemplary. His friends wondered how he knew so much about Nigeria and even his teachers wondered at such a young boy’s knowledge of his country’s history and usually commended him. Mrs Aina his Social Studies teacher made him her Class Captain and sometimes she would call him to her table to hear him talk about the Biafran war, because she didn’t know much about the suffering the Igbos passed through since she was a Yoruba and her parents had not known the extent to which the Igbos had suffered. The journalists couldn’t have gone to every single community to bring stories of the war, and every single community had their own story. Chideraa knew the Umuagwo’s version of the Biafran war tales. Those who experienced the war would never want any of such to happen again. Chideraa’s father usually told him that. He lived in Surulere with his parents and loved to listen to news broadcasts over their big Sony radio. It was odd for a child his age, but he was the first son and his father had always made him sit beside him while he listened to the news and soon Chideraa loved it too.

Obierika, Chideraa’s father, didn’t quite agree with his son. He had seen a lot of military leaders promise to fight corruption and they simply did the same evil. But he would soon discover that Buhari was different.

One day, Obierika came back from work with a torn shirt and a swollen face. Urenma, his wife rushed to meet him. “My husband what happened to you?”

He replied “Is it not those wicked soldiers. Simply because I drove on one way, they beat me up mercilessly and even tore my shirt. What kind of War Against Indiscipline is this o?” Chideraa came out and saw his father’s condition. He had been hearing of cases like these before and was very happy that the Head of State was really dealing with all manner of corruption and indiscipline. But when he saw what the soldiers had done to his father, he was deeply pained. Just yesterday, he had listened on radio to the news of a journalist being jailed for publishing a story about the government and he became afraid of Gen. Buhari’s government. He wasn’t the only one, almost everybody was too. In 1985 when Gen. Ibrahim Babangida overthrew him in another bloodless coup, even Chideraa rejoiced. But his rejoicing didn’t last for too long.

His father came back from work looking very sad. No soldier had beaten him this time, but he was not paid his salary for the month and it continued for several months. Though Chideraa’s family experienced severe hardship, they were better than so many others. His friend in school stopped schooling and was now hawking akara, baked beans, while their neighbour was laid off from his place of work because his employer could no longer pay him. The news broadcast only talked about the increasing foreign debts of the country and the increasing rate of corruption and unemployment.

Chideraa only knew corruption as something that the big politicians or military government officials did, but he now saw corruption even in his own house. Armed robbers broke into their house one night and took away most of their properties, their Sony radio was part of the stolen properties, which meant that Chideraa and his father had to make do with newspapers. But that was not the only corruption they now saw. Obierika’s cousin, Kingsley that had gone to United States of America to study on a Federal government Scholarship was deported back to the country after having served four years jail term for fraudulent activities. Kingsley now lived with Obierika in Lagos and was like a very big brother to Chideraa and Chideraa liked him because he was jovial and spoke so fluently. Chideraa did not know why he came back, but all he knew was that his big brother had been to the United States of America and he was therefore a ‘big boy.’ Kingsley on his return explained to his uncle that he went into those fraudulent activities just to survive because the Federal government’s funding stopped coming. Obierika understood what it was like to be without a source of income and welcomed him. His salary seldom came and even when it did, inflation had caused prices of commodities to rise so high that he could barely make ends meet. Obierika’s friends had lured him severally into fraudulent ways of making money, the trending ‘419’ business, but he consistently refused. Kingsley saw the same opportunity and as the old saying goes, “once a thief, always a thief,” he joined quickly.

Kingsley soon started making some money from duping richer citizens and he was satisfied with it. After all, he said, those rich men also stole Nigeria’s money and he was simply collecting his share of the ‘national cake’. He quickly began to lead a flamboyant lifestyle and keep girlfriends. He came back late at night from clubs and parties and sometimes came back drunk. Chideraa didn’t like him anymore, although he enjoyed whenever he came back with ice cream or a new shirt for him.

“Daddy, is it right to keep girlfriends?” Chideraa one day asked his father.

“No my son. The bible condemns it completely. You should not have any special relationship with any girl until you’re ready to get married and that is a very long long time from now.” His father replied. But his father said nothing concerning Kingsley, not that he didn’t want to, but Kingsley supported the family from his dubious income, so Obierika did not want to offend him. Kingsley had been the one that paid Chideraa’s school fees that term. Obierika didn’t want to collect such dubious money from his cousin, but he felt he had no choice. Chideraa would be sent home from school if he didn’t.

It was clear that the whole country was in disarray and that the military has once again failed to stabilize the country. Corruption was now a daily activity, accepted and was normal. Only few citizens like Chideraa and his father who knew the history of the country and how corruption and thirst for power have so damaged the country still refused it. But they were the obvious minority.

“Yes! Yes!” Obierika exclaimed. The newspaper read that Gen. Babangida was going to hand over power to the civilians. In 1993, Elections were conducted and Moshood Abiola, popularly called, MKO, clearly won the elections, but the military government cancelled the results, and people went on the streets to protest that Abiola be installed as President. He wasn’t installed.

Gen. Babangida, however handed power over to a civilian Ernest Shonekan as the Interim leader of the nation which displeased the people and again another bloodless military coup occurred and was led by Gen. Sani Abacha. Ernest Shonekan was overthrown in less than three months in office and Gen. Sani Abacha became the new Head of State. When Chideraa read the news he wept bitterly “Will Nigerians ever learn from history?” He asked himself.

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