I must borrow from Remi Raji the poet today because I'm short of words. Actually I'm lost for words. Speechless. How can I be speechless, you ask, when words are cheap in this society? For over a week I've been troubled by Sonala Olumhense's "countdown calendar" of Obasanjo's days, partly published by the Guardian Newspaper online. I'm shaking in my boots and britches.
Not that I'm lamenting that the man is going or must go, or that there are unreasoned noises to make him stay for a third term. But I'm wailing for the depth of corruption the man has to deal with, as a promise and an oath. How will the esteemed "Olowu of Aso Rock" judge the success of his own government in this matter?

"I wince in sleep at the pogrom of dreams," Remi Raji writes, "And the smell of bandits threaten the air/ The smell of bandits rule the land…/ Bandits become the smell above the law/ And bandits become the land." That's in his 2005 book "Lovesong for my wasteland," published by Bookcraft. I picked it up during my homecoming in June, read it in July, and cried over it in August. That's progressive lamentation. "We who own the land steeped in fat/ Still beg the world to feed our greed." How did we become this way? Why are we like that as a people?

Many questions are worth re-asking. I craved the indulgence of the inestimable Olumhense to ask again. And if you join me in asking from those who should know, maybe we'll start getting some answers and some action. Some answers and solutions because we deserve no less. The voices can never be too many, so let's ask until they answer.

Is it true that the representatives of Mwagharul community in Mangu Local Government area of Plateau State petitioned the President last year concerning the inflation of a particular project in their state? Is it true that a big senate wig took part in inflating that project from one to three billion naira and moved it from Dan Hausa to Langai, as alleged? Could that ever be true?

Is it true that some top officials of the Directorate of Military Pensions were arrested last year for allegedly stealing N20 billion out of N22 billion the federal government budgeted for the payment of salary arrears, pension and gratuity of military retirees in 2001? How did they get their hands on such a huge sum of money? How could they?

Is it true that the presidency is still investigating the 3.6 billion naira allegedly disbursed by the head of Federal Mortgage Bank, of which N3 billion was reportedly transferred to an undisclosed account with a bank on April 29, 2003? How long shall this investigation take before this matter is concluded? These numbers are really numbing my brain and I seem to be seeing stars as one recently slapped. Thieves are not restricted to millions anymore, but billions of naira. Are they basing their exploits on international exchange rates?

Is it true that N164.47 billion worth of assets, including seven aircraft and equipment belonging to Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL) are rotting away in Lagos, as reported, NAL having been liquidated by the government of OBJ in May 2003? And is it true that this liquidation has left the Federal Government with a liability of over N96 billion including the payment of severance benefits of the oil workers and settlement of local and external debts? Why is it that the workers are always the ones to suffer?

Is it true that there's a report by the Mustafa Bukar-led committee which investigated N96 billion contracts awarded by the Nigerian Port Authority between 2001 and 2003? Were top officials actually indicted for contract-splitting and over-invoicing of over 3000 contracts? How far has the transport minister gone to ensure that no sacred cow is spared in the enforcement and implementation of that report? Should I actually indict the transport minister while excusing the president who has more facts about corruption in his crusading government? What happened to the N5.8 billion the Federal Government said it gave to the Ministry of Works to repair about 32,000 kilometres of roads nationwide until October of last year? Where are those roads?

Who said you can't have corruption sleeping together in the same bed with development? To whom was it said? How true is it?

Corruption seems to have a huge bed in Nigeria and it's definitely not sleeping alone but also being serenaded by armed guards. And everyone must note that the foregoing examples are not the corruption of the past but of the present i.e. since the life of this administration that vowed to get rid of it. That leads me to think that it's either because the corrupt fears no one, or that corruption is so endemic in its tentacles than otherwise imagined. Should we praise the sacred cows and the cattle-rearers?

We are not talking about IBB's reported "military sardines" yet. Or the cost of ECOMOG transactions and administration. Or the billions that went towards socio-political mis-education (MAMSER and all) and the annulled election. Or yet the billions of naira supposedly recovered from Abacha's loot. Or even the profligacy of the Shagari administration. Or the rumours of oil lifting or bunkering by the friends of whoever is in power in the last two decades or so. As Remi Raji writes, "the clouds of yesterday's flood still hang like the scrotal burden of convicted rapists, and the smell in the air is the semen of thieves." How shall we get rid of these bandits and dislodge their friends from high places? We have to demand answers, and we must demand answers to concrete questions instead of entertaining silly ideas of hungry people exploring space or electronic voting in a country where there is no light or water in constant supply.

In Canada this week, the designated Governor-General is under fire for the views of her filmmaker-husband on the issue of sovereignty for Quebec. Is he (or is he not) a separatist? Should (or could) a separatist represent the country even as the spouse of a ceremonial head of state? The furor is yet to settle. But the comical news, for me, came from the Anglican Church of England. The "house of bishops," it is reported, has issued a pastoral letter affirming support for same-sex union, but with an undertaking from those going into the union not to engage in any form of sexual dealing. Can someone explain to me the meaning of same-sex union that doesn't include having any form of "sexual dealing"? What is the mother church up to these days? Looks to me like a form of moral banditry; and I am an Anglican!

This article was originally published by New Age newspaper under the title: "Bandits Become the Land."

Also by Akin Taiwo

Song for Alex

My Trip to Nigeria

Barber's Chair

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