After my initial fits and starts attempt at reading Michaela Wrong’s book, It’s Our Time to Eat, I have recently got into the groove of it. The book tells the story of John Kithongo, a principled activist who was hired by the Kenyan government to head its anti-corruption agency, the Kenyan Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC).
Kithongo’s story reflects much of what we see across Africa. It tells the story of the multi-facetted nature of corruption in seeping through the building blocks of society. There are several lessons to learn from the book. One is that the fight against corruption is herculean and the commitment of governments often suspect. Page after page, I keep seeing Nigeria’s local context in Wrong’s book. Just take a look at the following quote, for instance:
“Reporting Africa, I’ve always been puzzled by the readiness otherwise intelligent diplomats, businessmen and technocrats show in embracing the ‘Blame the Entourage’ line of argument. The Old Man himself is OK’ runs this refrain echoed at various times from Guinea to Cote d’Ivoire, Zaire to Gabon, Tanzania to Zambia.
“Deeply principled, a devout Muslim/Protestant/Catholic, he observes, in his own life, a strict moral code. It’s his aides/wife/sons who are the problem. They’re like leeches. If only he’d realise what they are doing in his name and put a stop to it. But of course he adores them. It’s his one weakness. Such a shame.”
The argument has always struck me as a form of naivety so extreme it verges on intellectual dishonesty. In countries where presidents have done their best to centralise power, altering constitutions, winning over the army and emasculating the judiciary, the notion that key decisions can be taken without their approval is laughable. If a leader is surrounded by shifty, money-grabbing aides and family members, it’s because he likes it that way. These are the people he feels at ease with, whose working methods he respects. Far from being an aberration, the entourage is a faithful expression of the autocrat’s own proclivities.”
How convenient it is for people to avoid talking truth to power but flip-flop to blame the excesses and, yes, corruption of such leaders on their entourage. We hear that a lot in Nigeria at different levels. The apologists of the incumbents ascribe every achievement recorded on such officials, yet for every failure, they find a way of blaming it on their aides. And truth is, our government officials are often very smart and smooth enough in their corruption as to claim ignorance of what is going on under them. That explains why every leader is often described as having ‘tried his/her best’.
That also explains why, whenever someone is ever jailed for corruption and abuse, it is never the top dog but at best, many of the numerous aides. The exception to this was the conviction of former Delta State governor, James Ibori. But then, such conviction was only achieved outside Nigeria after years of legal rigmarole at home.
For those who try to extricate the chief executives from the actions of their subordinates, they forget that the chief executive, in a winner-takes-all political system as ours, hires and fires his aides, not the other way. As such, the buck, as they say, stops at the big man’s table because he made the choices. They should take full responsibilities for the team’s excesses, just as they do with the successes.
So, where the police boss goofs, the president should take the can if he fails to call him to order. When a minister misappropriates funds, the president should not claim ignorance. And when a commissioner is found out to be living under the shadows of a forged certificate or fraudulent academic claims and still retains his exalted office two years after, it stops being just his problem, but a big question mark on the integrity of his boss, the governor.
Perhaps our problem flows from the workings of our traditional societies where the king can do no wrong or is at best excused of his excesses. But then, we operate a different political system in the name of presidential democracy where the standards are different. So, let our big men take responsibility for themselves and the actions of their entourage.
See more at: http://www.thenicheng.com/big-man-entourage/#sthash.lfXpMP9k.dpuf