The game of football as metaphor for corrupt public office conduct in Nigeria
| One gloomy evening, during our primary school days, I lied to Mama we were going to attend evening classes. In actual fact, we were going to play “work-and-eat” football. A neighbour saw me and reported to Mama back home. Another neighbour rushed to the play ground to inform me Mama had threatened to send me to and back from hell whenever I eventually returned home. That surely was going to be serious trouble. For one thing, Mama was a no-nonsense disciplinarian. For another, I was a bad customer to the rod of chastisement. If I had my way that evening, I would rather work and be eaten (swallowed in the earth) than work and eat.
By the way, “work-and-eat” football, a fun game among children and youngsters, exemplified life’s ideal of working for what you earn or eat in an open and competitive environment. The game involved an open field, with no restriction regarding age, size, or number of players, but only one goal post. Every player worked for himself alone, although, as in life, there could be some open or masked conspiracy among two or three “gangsters” to smoothen the pathway to goal for one another or make it difficult for their “enemies.” Every player was, by the unwritten rule, permitted to play hard and dribble every other player on his path to score a goal (working) which immediately qualified him to displace the beaten goal keeper and become the new one (eating).
In playing the game, I, along with a good number of others, valued and enjoyed working as much as we did eating. But some emotional fury worked (and perhaps ate) in my heart that fateful evening when I eventually found out that it was one most familiar and ever-present face at the play ground, Francis, that had reported me to Mama. Francis of all people! Here was one lazy, sluggish dullard who was gravely notorious for his delight in and unrepentant penchant for eating without working. His modus operandi was simple: Francis would, at all times, simply position himself strategically next to the goal keeper waiting for a slip by those working or any straying loose ball which he would quickly pounce on to hit, at close range, with his awkward-looking left foot beyond the reach of the confused, helpless poor guy in goal who had worked hard to earn his position as goal keeper. My Goodness! Francis was a master craftsman in the notorious, conscienceless and demonic art and science of eating without working.
For years now, I have kept vigil to watch on Nigerian television stations or hear on the radio about Francis as a leading figure among our public officials. I have found it difficult to come to terms with the fact that Francis’ face is, up to now, still missing. If such a bundle of natural talent in the act of eating without working of his standing could not make it into the over-bloated list of our federal and state ministers of, ministers for, ministers at, ministers in, commissioners, special advisers, special assistants and acting deputy vice assistants, then those smart enough to make it must be super craftsmen. But are they not only men and women who, even when they hardly merit such positions outside of political considerations, parade the corridors of power doing praise-singing and boot-licking in anticipation of political appointments just as Francis would, in those days, dubiously position himself next to the goal keeper? No wonder the country is perpetually in a state of coma in all facets of nationhood.
Imaging what magic N16 billion would have been able to accomplish in a genuine and patriotic quest for efficient power supply in the country, if the staggering amount had not been “eaten” without commensurate work done. Think about what level of miraculous intervention N19.5 billion would have been able to effect in the nation’s ultra-dangerous airspace and disaster-prone aviation industry if the money had not been diverted into the “eating” accounts of certain individuals. Ponder what transformation N300 billion would have worked on Nigeria’s road network and thus how many perished innocent souls would have been saved if the massive amount had been appropriately employed for “working.” Think of the massive impact over one trillion Naira non-performing bank loans would have had on the nation's leperous(!) educational system if the frightening amount had not been 'captured' by our 'national cake; vendors to whet the “eating” appetite of a privileged few.
Unfortunately for us, according to the Mama at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), we need a Francis to report culprits, especially the high-profile ones, to her with concrete evidence (which the absence of freedom of information had cruelly denied us) before investigation and prosecution could even be contemplated. At least she runs no manufacturing company to manufacture evidence against any one. Yet Mama told us, not long ago, the Commission would soon begin to deal with people living above their means. (I suspect that gateman on a monthly salary of N7,500 in that office close to the EFCC, who spent a whole N250 on a single meal of “amala and orishirishi” at MamaPut’s canteen two days after collecting his pay must definitely be living above his means.) She also made those of us who were supposed to come up with the evidence to realize that an alarming number of public officials were acquiring choice properties in Dubai. One wonders how Mama got the information without Francis’ report and evidence.
So, my dear friend, Francis, please come out of wherever you are hiding. The country needs your patriotic services now to perform what you know how to do best. If you lost out in the power game for the “eating without working” positions, here is the golden opportunity to demonstrate your clinical dexterity in the other art: reporting to Mama with evidence. You, sure, could see the level of disservice which your comrades in the Eating Without Working Club of Nigeria had done to the nation. They are your comrades and you know them. Please help us and report them, with concrete evidence, to Mama Farida, especially as set out at her latest arduos task of compelling our celebrated non-performers to perform. That could, as well, be the pathway to your own national merit award, say, Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR).