Navy KabuKabu: The Three Other Fingers

I grew up in what possibly remains, the sanest, most morally upright university campus in Nigeria – the University of Ibadan. I graduated from UI 10 years ago and, especially at that time, the code of ethics enforced by the old guard, many of whom are sadly approaching their terminal 70th year now, was such that vices like handouts-for-profits, sex-for-grades and victimisation were fiercely resisted. This old guard comprised academics who themselves were undergraduates at UI in its glory days and, afterwards, all seemed to find funding for post-graduate studies at the very best universities in the US and Great Britain. Almost a Knights Templar sort of elite, if you like. If your hands were clean, as a student (or a junior member of staff), you could certainly approach equity and equity would rise up in the sturdiest defence of your rights possible.

However, even in the midst of this austere probity and uprightness, there was plenty of the sort of behaviour that many have condemned in the past few days as “abuse of office”. For instance, if someone needed to attend a wedding or funeral outside Ibadan and (as was frequently the case back in the day) they didn’t have a car capable of doing interstate journeys, it was not out of place for one to speak to a friend who was a dean or head of department to borrow an official car and a driver, provided one fuelled the car and ensured the driver received a gratuity for his ‘overtime’. It was not a big deal.

Outside academia, even till the present time, it is not uncommon to find buses with government plate numbers ferrying large numbers of people to and from social events; events that have nothing to do with the official business of the government ministry or department – usually birthdays, weddings and funerals. Many would not give it a second thought or consider it unlawful use of government property.

The same thing probably happens in private establishments. Without thinking about it, many convert business resources to personal use. We’re on social media (or searching for other jobs online) on company time, we download music using the company’s bandwidth, we use the printers and photocopiers to copiously print private material, we use the company phones to make non-business calls, we run our on-the-side business with company resources and so on. Not a big deal either, right?

The fatal helicopter crash of the past weekend has caused many people to question the propriety of using  a naval helicopter to ferry guests between Port Harcourt and Oronto Douglas’s village. The question has been asked with such tenacity that it seems many consider it the issue on which everything around the crash turns. I don’t think the commandeering of the naval helicopter by personnel from the Presidency is any different from our penchant as a people to take advantages of privileges that are available to us. I also don’t think it matters as much as whether or not the aircraft was airworthy or verifying claims that it exploded mid-air rather than crash-landed.

Government must be kept on its toes and remain accountable, yes, but surely this is one of those “living in glass houses” and stone moments. We’re incensed and pointing angrily at the Presidency but, on this occasion, I believe the proverbial three fingers are pointing back at us. As we seek to reform government, we must be mindful that perhaps the greater fight is reforming ourselves, the pool from which government is drawn.

*Braces self for invectives*.