The Wages Of Corruption! - THE DAILY CRUCIBLE



Saturday, November 6, 2021

The Wages Of Corruption!

The Daily Crucible | Published Sunday,  November 7, 2021

 By Wale Bakare

I remember when I first came upon the quote: ‘The wages of sin is death’! I was probably about 10 years old. It was back in the days when Jehovah Witnesses came around knocking on your door and left you with a bunch of literature. There was Awake and Watchtower. I loved to read and I really enjoyed the stories. They also had cards that depicted biblical stories as cartoons and I loved comics. So, despite the fact that we were Muslims, I looked forward to the smartly dressed and extra-polite people coming around every weekend. Everyone else ignored them but they always had a willing listener in me. At least that was until the day I got the card with the stated quote boldly splashed across the front. Even as young as I was, it scared me. There was the devil standing by the edge of the valley with fire and smoke billowing upwards. He held a trident with which he was pushing a long line of miserable, wailing humans over the edge and into the fire. You could see some in mid-flight, mouths open in perennial anguish. I was traumatised. I couldn’t dare close my eyes to sleep that night. I have never looked at Jehovah Witnesses the same way ever since.

When President Buhari came into office in 2015, he dished out several made-for-TV quotations. My favourite was “I am for nobody and I am for everybody”! I thought to myself: “Yeah! There’s a new Sherrif in town. Bad boys watch out”. For me, the jury is still out on that even though quite a large proportion of Nigerians appear to have made up their minds about the truthfulness of that quote. Another profound quote which is quite relevant to this piece is “If we do not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria”! Corruption has been killing Nigeria slowly for several decades now. It however took a big step in its mission on Monday 1st November 2021 when it brought down a 21 storey building under construction in the high-brow Ikoyi area of Lagos. As I write this evening of Friday 5th November, the number of dead and wounded is still being counted. An unspecified number of mostly innocents are still unaccounted for under the rubble. It was a familiar story, even though it was an unfamiliar structure and happening in a location where you would least expect it. But that just highlights the pervasiveness and relentless nature of corruption. It is an equal-opportunity killer. Sooner or later, the chicken comes home to roost. It just might tarry awhile. The elite in Nigeria assume they are immune from the consequences of their sleaze. All that is needed are CCTV-controlled fences, bullet-proof SUVs, and procurement of a couple of Policemen funded from the public purse to serve as their personal instruments of oppression. Well, the events of Monday have shown that karma could sometimes just get mad!

While the exact cause of the collapse is yet to be determined, there is enough information already out in the public domain from which one can draw inferences even if we don’t make conclusive assertions. Corruption played a big role in the collapse of that building. The now suspended General Manager of the Lagos State Building Control Agency, LASBCA, Mr. Gbolahan Oki asserted that “He got an approval for a 15-storey building and he exceeded his limit. I am on ground here and the materials he used are so inferior and terrible……The materials he used, the reinforcement, are so terrible. He got approval for 15 floors but built 21.” This statement by the man who should know puts any doubt about the role corruption played in the murder of at least 38 Nigerians (confirmed dead as at the time of writing) to bed. The Developer is reputed to have undertaken similar large-scale developments in the United Kingdom, the United States, and even South Africa. It is impossible for him to have received approval for a 15 storey building in the United Kingdom and added just one window to what was approved, never mind 6 additional floors. Would he have dared to use materials that “are so inferior and terrible” to build a public property in the United States of America? Why was he never arrested and his development sealed off in South Africa which even comes close to Nigeria in the hierarchy of corruption? The answer is simple: consequences. There would be hell to pay if he is caught, as he most surely would be. This however is Nigeria where anybody can get away with anything if he has the right connections or enough cash to splash. This building was sealed off in 2020 due to Housing Planning infractions. It was then at the 8th floor. The owner was arrested after his personal Policemen and his thugs manhandled those that went to seal up the place. He was released the same day, allegedly “on orders from above”. The property was unsealed shortly after with a new approval to take the building up to 15 floors! Yet the original Engineering Company working on it had withdrawn their services months earlier, citing issues bordering on misconduct and lack of adherence to professional integrity on the project. Now scores of Nigerians are dead.

And it will happen again. No matter the platitudes that have rent the air since Monday. Prayers are good for the souls of the dearly departed but prayers are worthless in stopping a possibly bigger tragedy from happening as long as we do not do what we ought to. While the developer of the project has culpability for his actions (and should be facing serious charges that would keep him behind bars for the rest of his life in a different country), the greater blame for this tragedy falls squarely on the shoulders of Government. I am not talking about the failure to properly oversee this particular development but of allowing a culture of permissiveness of wrong-doing that enabled Osibona to believe it was alright to operate in the way he did. What has happened to those who have been found wanting in the past? The Governor, to his credit, has quickly set up what is hopefully an Independent Panel to look into this but the truth is that I don’t see anybody cheering. We have been down this road before. Several times in fact, and it always leads to the same dead end. Why should we think this would lead anywhere else? Back in 2016, a 6 storey building being put up by Lekki Gardens, a firm of Estate Developers, came crashing down, snuffing life out of 34 people that had committed no crime beyond seeking a living. Just like Sanwo-olu has done, there was lot of huffing and puffing by the then Governor, Ambode. The Developer and 7 accomplices were even arrested and charged for manslaughter. He was later released on bail and subsequently went into a deal with the Lagos State Government that saw criminal charges dropped. He was discharged to go and sin no more (until the next time), despite the best efforts of the presiding Judge, Justice Sybil Nwaka to ensure some level of justice was done. The government officials who failed in their oversight roles and looked the other way while this travesty took place? Nothing.

It’s a litany of woes. In July 2006, 3 buildings collapsed in Surulere, Lagos leaving no fewer than 28 dead and over 50 others with severe injuries. Again in the same year, a four storey building collapsed in Ebute Meta, Lagos, resulting in 37 people losing their lives. Nobody went to jail. In September 2014, over 100 worshippers were killed in when a six-storey building under the construction collapsed in the premises of the synagogue church of all
Nations in Lagos State. Of course, it was “touch not the anointed”! One of the most traumatic was the collapse in 2019 of the 3 storey building in Ita Faji, Lagos which though approved as a residential building, had a school on the 3rd floor. When it crashed, over 20 lives were lost with many of the children unaccounted for. We should however not be lulled into thinking the menace of collapsing structures is a preserve of Lagos. It is a nationwide phenomenon and Lagos, by virtue of its pre-eminent position as the nation’s commercial capital accounts for almost 40% of cases.

Until we begin to understand the consequential cost of corruption in our society, we can not appreciate the long-term damage it has on our lives and our nation. We have become too comfortable with impunity and do not see that the future of our children is being destroyed. Every single facet of life here is blighted by corruption. I derive no joy in saying this but I challenge anyone to look at any part of our life as a nation and tell me where it has not been negatively affected by corruption. And it is not only in public service or government institutions. From the pepper seller in the market to Aso Rock, we are all culpable. It is only when we have tragic events of this nature that we sometimes pause and think about how it could have been avoided. We however only make some appropriate noises to douse tension and as soon as the infamous short attention span of the Nigerian kicks in, things return to the status quo. It is amazing that despite the numerous Tanker disasters we have had in Nigeria, not a single owner of these trucks has been charged to court. It is always the same drama: a lot of noise; Governor visits the site of the incident and condoles with the families of the deceased; a ‘high-powered panel of enquiry’ is set up and given 28 days to submit a report; end of matter! Until the next one!

The wages of corruption is indeed death and Buhari got that spot on: Corruption is killing Nigeria!

– Bakare is a public commentator and analyst

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