Category by category, By Wale Bakare

Right from when we were teenagers, my friend K.K. had a rather quaint way of looking at the imbalances in life. He always had a proverb or saying for any situation. It was from him I first learnt that “ko sin nkan ti o nbo lati oke ti ile o le gba” (Nothing can fall from the skies that the earth cannot receive). In other words, have no fear. This too shall pass. He it was who first said to me: “ki iyawo ri ejo, ki oko pa. Ki oko ri ejo, ki iyawo pa. Ki ejo sha ti ku” (whether it’s the husband that sees the snake and the wife kills it or the wife that sees the snake and the husband kills it, the important thing is that the snake dies). Meaning regardless of who carries out the heroics, the important thing is to achieve the objective for the greater good. He also believed nothing was unique or peculiar to any group of people, whether it be good or bad. Whether you be rich or poor, gentile or plebian, it is all a matter of degrees. “Rich man drink Hennessy, poor man drink ogogoro, all na shak, it is just category by category”!

The K.K. philosophy of ‘category by category’ in the affairs of men was reaffirmed for me this week by 2 videos I saw. One was almost comical while the other, which initiated a more serious conversation on the nature and character of Nigerians was more serious. In the first video, a wife, with a baby on her back, could be seen confronting her husband who had brought his girlfriend to a local hairdressing salon to get her hair made. He sat there, like the besotted loverboy while the girl’s hair was being done. He looked like he could hardly afford a decent meal yet he had a girlfriend. His wife was mad at him because he had made her cut her hair and wear a wig since they had no money and here he was, not only paying for a girl’s hair to be done but supervising the work as well. The wife removed her wig and went for the husband, the girlfriend, and even the hairdresser. Looking at the philandering husband, an observer could be forgiven for wondering how he was sustaining his shenanigans. But as my friend would say: life is category by category!

The second video was of a young poultry farm worker who had been caught stealing eggs from the farm where he worked. He was made to offload the eggs which he had hidden in several pouches on his body. He must have brought out about 30 eggs which was his loot for one day. The owner of the farm could be heard lamenting in the background that he had known eggs were being stolen but he didn’t know how. He was saddened that the thief was a trusted staff who had worked at the farm for 4 years. This is reflective of the lack of trustworthiness that sadly permeates our workforce. It goes beyond the workplace and extends to practically all areas of our national life: the places of worship, schools, places of entertainment, the roads, Social Clubs, Estate Residents Associations, Alumni Associations, Charities, Markets, and even within families. In fact, to borrow from the bible, “where two or more are gathered…”. Just think about it and you will agree that there is no part of our lives that is immune from the scourge of dishonesty. It is only a matter of degrees, or category by category! Look at any area of human endeavour and you will find how we are ‘gaming’ it. It might be an uncomfortable truth, but truth it is, nevertheless.

An interesting conversation developed around the egg thief on a Whatsapp Group where a friend suggested that an excuse could be made for him because he was probably poorly paid and that “in a battle between survival and integrity, survival would win 99.9% of the time”. He said the young thief should not be blamed but the ’10 percenters’ and those in authority that stole in billions. And I ask: where those in authority and their collaborators immigrants from Ghana or Bourkina Faso? The politicians and the public officers who steal these billions did not drop by from Mars while on their way to Jupiter. They are our flesh and blood, sharing the same DNA as the guy who stole 30 eggs. Would the man that stole eggs from his workplace not steal N30 million from another workplace if he had access? The mindset is the same. The amount to be stolen is only determined by access. It is category by category. What differentiates the market woman who sells you grain with a ‘remodeled’ measuring pan just to get a few extra cups out of the bag, from the mechanic who removes a crucial part from your car and sells it back to you, in collusion with your driver whom you pay his wages and treat almost like a member of your family? How do they differ from the Local Government Chairman who collects the monthly allocation and ‘swallows’ it? Is it the fellow that is sent money from abroad by his brother who is doing 2 or 3 jobs in freezing winter to help build a house and instead ‘eats’ the money that will not steal N10b of public funds given half a chance? Which of them would not steal on a bigger and larger scale if the opportunity presents itself? When we elect popular fraudsters and retired public servants with well-known histories of corrupt enrichment into leadership, what are we expecting? That they would suddenly become Saints because they have become our leaders? We play too much. One of our enduring icons in this country and a man revered for his unwavering commitment to truth and the defence of the common man, Gani Fawehinmi formed a political Party. His Party did not win a single Councillorship Seat anywhere it put forward Candidates as far as I can remember. Yet people we all knew as fraudsters, drug dealers, and escapees from justice in other lands were elected into Parliaments and State Houses. That we expected anything different is amazing. What message is being passed on to the next generation?

There has been a sustained cry for restructuring as if that is the magic wand that will wipe away our tears and create a new country that will be peopled and led by angels. Would a change in nationality automatically translate to a change in character? The truth is that there is nowhere in the world that is populated by angels. There are corrupt, greedy, evil people everywhere. The major difference is the tolerance threshold for bad behaviour. There is little or no consequence for wrongdoing and we make too many excuses for wrongdoers. Maybe because we see ourselves in them. That is however not the way of progress as a nation. Nobody is coming to fix our country. We have to decide for and by ourselves that we will stop worshipping Mormon. New values have to be inculcated in our young to replace the current one of ‘get rich or die trying’. We all have a role to play, both the leadership and the led. It is simply a matter of category by category!

-Bakare is public affairs commentator and Health and Safety Expert

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