Sept 26, 2013 – Prof Pat Utomi Challenged Nigerians To Stand Up Against Injustice & Abuse Of Power
Original article titled ‘A Familiar Road” by Professor Patrick Utomi
My friend of blessed memory, Pini Jason chose for title of a book of collections of his columns over a quarter century: A familiar Road. Part of the reason was you could read something written two decades back and it would read like fresh material on a matter from that day.
The evidence suggests the reason Nigeria continues to lie prostrate and everything seems so recursive comes down to checks on power and the tendency towards impunity because people are afraid to stand in the way of abuse of power.
If truth be told, the most familiar thing about this familiar road is the reign of impunity. The culture of impunity with its willful crushing of citizens, the weak, and those who seek truth, bears down so heavily on all in a way that those who deploy it are often unable to be fully sensitive to. More importantly, those so afraid to stand up to it eventually become victims.
It does not matter how often you remind them of Revd. Martin Niemoller’s profound words about keeping quiet when they came for the Jews, then the communists and then the Catholics and when they finally came for him there was no one left to speak up. Not even Dante’s Inferno where it is suggested that the hottest part of hell is reserved for those who in the face of a moral crises take refuge in neutrality, causes many to act against impunity.
If you have power, albeit temporary power, the temptation to violate other people’s property rights, crush their dignity with no apologies, or just bully them, is not only there it seems to have become the source of a ‘high’. Ask uniformed people in Nigeria. Before you ask what they are smoking, look at the yesterday of Nigerian banking. The alumni association is a graveyard of the living dead; men and women reduced to a moral mental vegetative state at a time in their life cycle when they should only be getting experienced enough to make the industry a strong global player.
Ask where these men are; The Macaulay Iyayi, Jude Ememes, Chijioke Mbagwus, Disun Odebedes, Nnacheta, Mohammed Hayatudeens, Ibrahim Usmans. I can name more than two hundred professionals whose careers were cut short early. The lucky ones began to struggle to build a new live after years in prison detention. Some managed to escape that trauma. Every few years’ new power, new impunity and shattered lives. What is sadder is that many years after most of these people were vindicated and those who persecuted them were guilty of greater transgressions than the now damaged human goods were accused of. So why does it persist. Why does this come around every few years? I said some time ago that bankers were their own worst enemies. Too many too willingly to take the place of today’s victim; too many too scared to leave their comfort zone to say this is the truth or that what is going on is unjust even when they know the real truth. In the end the Martin Niemaller syndrome holds true. Alpha Merchant Bank was found to have money to pay off depositors and even shareholders etc. But the men died.
In being so focused on self and so unwillingly to speak truth to power bankers ensure that a state so willfully abusive of citizens’rights and so inclined towards the impunity of its agents and the powerful to crush the property rights of others for their pecuniary gain will continue to make the banking alumni association the graveyard of the living dead, of men who were shining stars one day and tomorrow non-persons that sleep walk through the rest of their lives with pain deep in their gut as familiar glances are cast at them as they make belief being.
The lucky few find some success in other profession but must live out their days in bitterness against society, so if I dare to be provocative and ask where are Macaulay Iyayis, Jude Emenes, Kingsley Ikpes, Emeka Anadus, Ibrahim Usmans, Tony Nnachetas, Mbagwus, Fatades. It is because bankers need to look truth in the face and not hope they will be in tomorrow’s caretaker executive committes Net, net, Nigeria continues to destroy its limited pool of talent in a sector so critical for economic growth because bankers themselves are unwilling or unable to stand up for something besides having a little fun on the grave of their heroes of the day before as they exhale for the moment and enjoy the spoils for that moment, as those who use impunity of the moments power to abuse others, including people not guilty of what they the accusers did yesterday, are doing today and are hoping to do tomorrow.
For the sake of the peace of our comfort zones we look away. So why do I risk the vengeful wrath of the men of impunity in seeking truth? Not because I am better than those who seek shelter of those comfort zones and see no evil nor hear same. A long time ago I saw injustice and said to myself, that I would never allow myself, if I could, to reach the hottest part of Dante’s hell. I recall reflection from my last visit with then ailing Chief Gani Fawehinmi.
I had taken my son who was on summer vacation to Gani’s Ikeja home so he could meet the legend. After asking my son if he had the spirit and courage to step into his father’s shoes, and wrote same in autographing his book to the younger man, we chatted about injustice in Nigeria.
I told Chief Fawehinmi injustice troubled me because it can leave wounds that hunt the future. This is why interested parties engage and seek to establish rules that keep the playing field level and set boundaries so conduct can be predicted. This summary of Douglas North’s long treatise on the evolution of institutions in the book: Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance, is what the summary of my academic career and my citizenship or social enterprise quest comes down to, so that I would rather death or time in prison, to not speaking truth to power and against impunity. I reminded Chief Fawehinmi of how he had inspired me in that regard and why I have been so proud of my association with him going back to the mid-1970s from my student and Youth Corpers days.
When, as Segun Adeniyi’s book shows, clearly, power chose to go after Bank PHB with no care for people who invested their lives, their savings and their sweat. I was of no doubt that they would rake up mud by innuendo and outright lies if I chose to leave my comfort zone to point to truth. But I have consistently chosen to so do so certain that what matters is the judgment of history and that of God. The big problem I have is how bankers continue to rationalize not speaking truth to power given the collateral damage that power, which pays lawyers a fortune to lie, bribes journalists to malign the innocent, and sends messages to people like me that this is Nigeria where anybody can be framed so I better keep away, and give my compliance to impunity.
If it is a crime to come to a witness box with a simple mission of identifying a document as true minutes of a board meeting I participated in and it can rile them so much, imagine the suffocation of the typical ordinary citizen crushed everybody by acts of impunity.
Times like this remind me of why Americans should be thankful to their founding fathers about the doctrine of separation of powers and how it allows for the rule of law and checks impunity.