I live in a block of six flats. Water is supplied to all the apartments from two tanks. If there has not been light for over twenty four hours, we are unable to pump water and a crisis is imminent.
NEPA takes light and James rushes to begin filling the drum we have for water storage. I tell him to stop. I tell him it is unfair to want to fill the drum when there is no light, thereby emptying the tank and hoarding the water that is meant for everyone. He leaves off. Less than an hour later, water stops running. The tank is empty. Obviously my neighbours don’t have the same moral constraint. The next time NEPA strikes, I immediately check my drum to ensure that it is full and I even fill all the buckets and kegs. God forbid that I am left without water when the tank dries up. God forbid that I did not take my own share of the largesse and leave everyone else to fend for themselves as best they can. God forbid that I do not hoard as much of the water as I can because I don’t know when I will see light again. God forbid that I think of my neighbours and how by taking so much, I shorten their ration. It is dog eat dog, survival of the fittest—or the luckiest, or the craftiest, or the greediest but it’s a jungle out there.
I read in the papers that a politician has stolen more money than he can spend in two lifetimes and stashed in some foreign account. I rail and I curse. It does not of course occur to me that the same insecurity and unscrupulousness that drives the politician to steal and hoard is the same that drives me to do the same. Different degrees, same crime. Same difference. And I ask myself if I were in power, what would I do?
If I leave the tap running in my apartment and all the lights on, dawn till dusk, because NEPA does not read the meter and since the bill is estimated, however much I use does not change anything, why would I not want to spend one billion naira on food if I were president and could because, well, I can?
If I am an employer and I use my office staff to run personal errands—pick my kids from school, run my wife to the salon, help her in the kitchen—because everyone is desperate for work and not many people can say no, if I am in an elected office tomorrow and I can, why would I not use members of the Nigerian police force as my personal errand boys—drivers, bodyguards and pimps.
If as I walk or drive along the road, I throw pure water bags, biscuit wraps and banana peels on the sidewalk, what would make me, as a local government chairperson tomorrow care about hygiene in public spaces?
If my housekeeper is ill and I know that the salary I pay him/her cannot afford them proper health care and I say “okay, return when you are better,” why would I care if we have good health facilities when I am in charge?
If I bribe my way through school and jump queue, why would I refrain when it is time for elections?
If I see someone dying by the roadside and I shrug and go on my way, why would I care tomorrow if bombs are going off every day and my people were dying?
If I stole money from work, or prostituted or whatever and brought to church and believed my blessings lay therein, why would that change when I get in power and have even more money to throw at men of god?
If I boast of all the people I have slept with among my friends, I have no idea what would stop me from doing it as a top government official, past or present.
If I cannot reconcile the money I contribute to housekeeping and upkeep with expenses, then how can I tomorrow understand what it means for a youth Corper to try to survive on allowee?
If I say I will return a call in an hour and I have not after a week, why would I fulfil campaign promises? Why would I honour my mandate?
If I let my boys watch TV all day while my girls cook and clean, why would I believe in equality for my male and female staff as an employer?
If I take what is not mine, what will stop me from raiding the nation’s coffers if/when opportunity presents itself?
If I employ my staff based on tribal considerations, what would stop me developing my community and kinsmen/women if I am in elected position?
If if if
There are a lot more of these instances where we resemble the politicians/elected office holders we so criticize and despise. The final if. If we all didn’t do these things, who is the species that end up in power and do these things? Charity begins at home. I criticize the government. Then I remember what I was taught as a child. We are the government. When we see the things we do in our little lives, seemingly harmless. But multiply the power and the responsibility and effect of such benign actions on a grander scale and you will see how we are them and they are us. Nigeria will be better, one person at a time. It begins with ME.
Disclaimer; After all IFs and done, this is not an excuse for political office holders. When you have the vote and mandate of the people, it is a TRUST and you have taken on a responsibility. You must shed your innate personality, whatever that is and fulfil campaign promises. You are no longer US.