Friday, October 15, 2010

In Conversation With Corruption

In Conversation with Corruption

By Elimma C Ezeani

Let me buy you a drink. No? Oh you’d rather buy me a drink? Well if you insist, I’ll start with the 15 year old whisky right in front there. Thank you. Let’s drink to many more years of friendship. Cheers!

Ah, you want to continue our conversation. Are you sure? I’m not very comfortable with your temper – I don’t like it when you get too sensitive about things. Try and be a bit more objective – that you find something unpleasant doesn’t mean it’s an insult.

Ok, promise? Well, what I was saying before was that I think you judge me unfairly. You blame me for everything wrong with you: your leaders, your children, your workers, your public servants, police, army, anything that has gone wrong is my fault. But why? Every time you open your mouth it’s corruption this corruption that…in fact I’m convinced you suffer from a limited vocabulary.

What? You think I’ve become endemic? Ha ha…what did I say - you like big grammar! But before you blow yourself up in anger, so you think the problem with that policeman using what he has to get what he wants is my fault eh? It is my fault nobody wants to work but everybody wants to be paid? Is it also my fault that everybody wants to be a leader just so they can cut a chunk of your never-ending national cake?

Oh, I see you keep quiet…look at this…are you sleeping? You mean you’ve been sleeping all the while I’ve been talking? Goodness me!

Yes, you should apologise…after all, you’re the one demanding answers but you aren’t even listening. You’re tired? Who isn’t? Me too. Anyway, I accept your apology. What are good friends for?

Yes, I am smiling. I’m just going back in time. We have come a long way haven’t we? Do you remember us in the good old days – ah, those days of long parties and long speeches, and waltzes with your masters? Oh yes, you are right – your mistresses…Why do you look so irritated? For me it doesn’t matter; I’m not sexist – I can work above or beneath a female; all I need is a willing body. You think me arrogant? I’m only being truthful. But we are losing focus. Let’s concentrate on what is important. Me.

Consider the facts. Where does your country have problems? Leadership. Social infrastructure. International relations. Private entrepreneurship. Industry. Social welfare. Public relations. Stable political system. Supremacy of the constitution. National pride. Public service. Security. Individual opportunities. Sports. Hm.. I’ve run out of subjects and you don’t seem to do well in most things.

And your excuse? Of course, me. I knew you would say that. Things are not working because of corruption! Corruption is the biggest problem we have! If we can fight corruption everything will be fine! You even take this infantile argument beyond your borders; you tell foreigners that you are a corruption-plagued country. In your speeches, in your lectures, in your stories, in your conversations especially when you try to impress your hosts by distancing yourself from those corrupt people ‘at home’ who unlike you have been sucked into the dark filthy subterranean gutters where I inhabit.

You think I haven’t noticed how you treat me? What did you talk about at the gathering last week – wasn’t it about how corruption has killed off everybody because the health sector is corrupt? And what about those new friends you made – you kept them entertained for hours giving them a crash course on the political corruption in your country.

Did you notice how those new friends looked at you? Do you understand their sympathetic smiles and their genuine smirks? I don’t even know why I bother with you – Don’t you ever wonder how I operate in other places or you really believe I exist only in your country? As if I would be that stupid to limit myself to a people who don’t give me credit when it is due to me.

Well don’t be so surprised. Unless it’s obvious, once a person can hide behind almsgiving, religion, sympathy, passion, boldness, big grammar, sobriety, intellect or stupidity, quietness, arrogance, anything that makes a person look good, harmless, or fearsome in your eyes, you disregard corruption immediately. Do you notice the irony? I do. It’s so bad now that all a person has to say is: ‘we will fight corruption”. They become national heroes and leaders. How do you say it – Cikena! End of story.

The truth? You don’t know what you’re talking about when you talk about me. I know you point to me because it allows you to overlook the rigorous search you need to undertake to identify the real problems and work for real solutions. Making me your problem allows you to condemn yourself without having to open a dictionary or thesaurus to find a fitting term to describe your frustrations.

Do I sound angry? Forgive me. I didn’t mean to embarrass you. I hope I wasn’t speaking too loud. It’s just that I’m frustrated as well. The other day, I heard you agree that you are the most corrupt place in the world. Trust me, that’s an honour you don’t hold and are in no position to claim. There are bigger fish than you in the murky waters of corruption. Why look surprised – I am allowed to be self-deprecatory. Aha! A big word I bet you didn’t know.

Let’s stay focused. Look, your policemen are first hungry before they are corrupt. Look at their uniforms. Look at their offices, their homes. Look at the everyday people. There is no dignity in work, no pride in decent labour; no fulfilment in service, no contentment with one’s deserved lot – everyone laments they are suffering; everyone is poor. Yet, work is despised. There is a culture of reward without working, of honour without any evidence of integrity, of profit without labouring. That’s what everyone including the young aspires to. To be hoisted on top without placing one foot on the ladder.

My friend, people are greedy; but then that’s the way it is all over the world.

Add to that, your employment policies and conditions of service are substandard. Even those who are not greedy are genuinely not satisfied. Pushed to their fragile limits, they will succumb. Why not? When they see your political class and the senior members of the armed forces the legitimate and illegitimate, over-paid and over-rewarded. And how do you educate people; how do you teach them to be better when you have more people who think they have no better alternative than you have those who wish to be teachers?

Everywhere your officials are slow and inefficient because you allow that culture and you don’t punish it. So how can it stop? Merit is always subjected to an ‘affirmation’ test – and someone always needs affirmation – the north, the south, the east, the west, the south-south, the north-north, mid-west, west-west, east-east…I’m exhausted just thinking over the inventive ways you widen the cracks.

You want to be liked. You give everyone a chance. Everyone. Including those who are so unsuitable for what they do that it is almost an abomination they are even allowed to do it. I knew that would be your excuse. Family expectations. Friends will be disappointed. Enemies will be made. In other words, you compromise on everything.

And where are the jobs for those who want to work? Yes, you think things will get better with private sector participation. You are truly fond of big words! Government first has to create jobs – if the railways, the airports, the public transport system, all social services are working you would need to staff them won’t you? But you can’t provide jobs because your government is not running the country; you just have a place where those who can, get in to take what they want from the commonwealth. You don’t understand? Under sit.

I can’t apologise for being sarcastic. What do you mean you don’t understand me? Your silly talk about fighting corruption has annoyed me so much I can’t talk anymore. My throat is dry. But a 20 year old whisky can help lubricate my gullet.

Thank you. You have your good bits y’know. How do you intend to pay for this by the way? Come on, tell me - Ah I see…your little arrangement in the office. Mm..This is good whisky. I guess I can’t refuse to keep talking – you’ve given me what I want, I’ll give you the advice you want. I am a fair person. It’s strictly a question of principle – my lack of morality notwithstanding.

In the first place, you cannot fight corruption. You cannot wage a war on me. Y’see, I am not a thing. I am not an idea. I am not a creation of the human intellect such that you can uncreate me or destroy me. Apologies, but I come along with a horde of others who roam around the world looking for somewhere to be left alone to mind our business.

I hear you. You want me to take my business elsewhere. Preferably back to the murky depths of the underworld? It’s not that easy my friend. Haven’t you heard that you can never truly go home? The best of the past survives only in the memory. Ah my throat has dried up again…

I knew you were an intuitive person. An understanding fellow. Yes, please I’ll have another scotch. That expensive contraband you keep at the back of the shelf for the wadded clientele. Yes, that’s the one. Thank you. No, no ice please. I like my whisky undiluted with frozen water. Thank you. Don’t forget, my friend is paying.

He keeps the expensive stuff away from sight. That way he can charge triple for it by saying it’s scarce. Don’t worry, he owes me; he won’t charge you triple; just double.

Aha, what was I saying? I’m not your problem. When people live above their means, and have expectations above their dues, that’s when you have a problem.

It’s even more annoying when the politicians promise to exterminate corruption as if I was a housefly. Now I find that truly annoying and demeaning. But why do I bother? All they have to do is promise you this and you start jumping about. Look, anybody who tells you they will fight corruption is talking nonsense. What you can do is make it difficult for me to thrive; for that you need to establish a reasonable standard of living across the country. Ignore thieves and their money. Stop whining and start working. Decentralise power to the grassroots, and stop throwing money at your problems – creating programmes and offices that only bring money and greed together. Wherever I find these two, I will make my bed there. Make it difficult for me to stay and I will leave. I’m being honest with you because truth is a good thing if told at the right time. And right now you are drunk.

Well, you certainly can’t go in to work now. C’mon, try and stand up. You still haven’t paid for the drinks. Your wallet is in your left pocket. Yes, that’s it. Thank you for spending so much time and money on me. I hope I haven’t cleaned out your savings. Oh you do have a lot still in there. You really must tell me more about this arrangement in your office…

Should we go back to your place tonight? Good good. I have enjoyed my time with you so far. You too? Fantastic! You don’t know how glad I am to hear that. We're practically family now. Let’s go home.


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