Before you think or say "Oh my God, not another essay about Nigerian corruption from this guy", please bear with me. First, the issue of corruption in my country has been a passion with me since childhood. Secondly, this is not another article about the consequences of corruption in Nigeria, but to narrate some personal political experiences. So please forgive me.
When I consented to coordinate the plans for the presidential ambition of a particular Presidential hopeful between 2004 and 2006 in the United Kingdom, I went into this project with the utmost of clean minds; I supported our candidate because I sincerely believed (and still believes) that this man could move Nigeria forward. He worked really hard ÔÇô from 2004 to 2006, touring all over the country, conferring and consulting with traditional rulers, political heavyweights, religious and business leaders, the grassroots, etc. Our organisation in the UK and counterparts in the US consisted of professionals and academicians, who worked very hard for this man; I personally wrote not less than four policy papers on various departments and areas of governance and our organisation also wrote several papers, which he passed on to his "working groups" to incorporate into his manifesto. In fact, my original organisation's forte was our Policy and Strategic Directorate, headed by a Nigerian Professor of Economics teaching in one of the Universities in the UK. The candidate really appreciated that Directorate. Those were the days, I will say. I was proud of what we had achieved, and many thanks go to several sincere and positive people, whose names I will not mention now.
And to cap it all, our original group never asked for, nor received, a single penny or kobo from our candidate, (or any other candidate for that matter) contrary to what a detractor recently slanderously alleged. We spent our own money throughout the three years without asking for any compensation. Many other organisations abroad purportedly supporting and promoting other Presidential hopefuls were shamelessly collecting money from these politicians. Of course, some people called us fools; never did it occur to many Nigerians that some people could do this without getting paid for it. We did it for Nigeria and because we believed in the capabilities and abilities of the candidate. We are proud today, because we can still hold our collective heads high.
So why am I recounting this? During the course of our support, inevitably, a lot of political opportunists and very unsavoury characters started crawling out of the woodwork. This was exactly what happened. The moment some people realised that this man had a very good chance at becoming the next president of Nigeria, all kinds of organisations stated springing up, especially in the UK, purportedly supporting our candidate. They thought there was money in it. Some went all the way to Nigeria to see the candidate, and to the candidate's credit, he would tell them he already has an organisation in the UK, and they should contact that organisation and try to join us. Invariably, these political jobbers never did; instead, they formed their own organisations, and pretended to forge ahead on their own.
Things came to a head, when the candidate himself decided that all organisations supporting his presidential ambition should be merged under one umbrella, as he did not want splinter groups all doing different things for the same purpose. Inevitably, these people were not too pleased about this, because that means they have to merge with my group, being the first in the UK (and in fact, outside of Nigeria). However, what they decided to do was to combine forces, enter the original group and then try to hijack the organisation. For over one year, this was the battle we were fighting. They wanted the top positions, etc. They tried to force me to give up the chairmanship of the combined group, but they failed when the Candidate himself insisted that I should be the Coordinator, contrary again to what one TV journalist wrote recently, that I fought tooth and nail to be the Coordinator. Ironically, throughout all these three years, we never had any problems of political bitterness with our candidate's political opponents and their supporting groups either in the UK or elsewhere in the world. Some of them are even close friends and acquaintances who we meet regularly to drink together and joke with each other. The problems came from within, from mischievous opportunists bent on disrupting the organisational structure to achieve their own selfish aims and objectives.
The political party in the UK, to which the Candidate belonged, was even culpable in this farce. The UK branches of the party devised many devious ways to take control of the group, using these political jobbers. Incidentally, most of us in the original group did not even belong to this political party, or any other Nigerian political party, irrespective of the fact that the person we were supporting belonged to a particular party. What we believed in, was Nigeria. It does not matter to us what political party our man belonged to, as long as he delivers when he gets there. We were not looking to get positions or appointments, power, money or contracts. If these do come our way as a way of compensating us for our troubles and support, we may accept them in order to serve Nigeria and not to serve even the candidate himself or ourselves.
Thus began an internecine war of attrition. I was maligned. I was even nearly assaulted one evening at one of our meetings. Several unprintable things were said about me. They mounted a campaign of calumny and false information about me, saying I had taken money from the Candidate and I did not want to share it with the group. In fact, in their little minds, they actually thought I had been given millions of Naira to run the campaign, and I was holding tight to the money. This was what was spread around. Of course, members of our original group, who knew better and who were men of sincerity of purpose knew where these political jobbers were coming from. On the long run, we prevailed, but after a lot of damage had been done. The organisation's main purpose of finding constructive ways of working to ensure that the Candidate himself is well prepared for office, should he get there, was derailed by these internal conflicts which arose out of personal greed and ambition. Up till now, some of these people never forgave me for seemingly thwarting their efforts to be leaders of the combined group. But there we have it; we can't win them all, can we?
Some of them boasted of being seasoned politicians who previously worked hard to get this governor or the other in office, having raised thousands of pounds for them, and later got compensated by their principal. Some of them wanted all members to pay huge sums of money to support the candidate, promising them contracts or positions. Whoever gave them this authority or assurance that this will be so still remains a mystery to me today, because I know the candidate never did promise anything of the like. When you ask for up to ┬ú2000 from a member, you must promise him or her something in return. How do you guarantee these returns? If the candidate loses, what happens to the ┬ú2000 you have collected? If the candidate wins, how can you guarantee that the person from whom you have collected money will be compensated adequately or at all?
Maybe I am simpleminded, but I was aghast at these political chicaneries and devious scheming. These were Nigerians who have been living abroad for very long periods, in developed countries with highly honed political machineries where everything works; one should have at least expected that having lived abroad so long, our political orientation will change for the better; one will expect some modicum of finesse in the way we play politics and governance so that we can transfer what we have learnt here to Nigeria to make it a better place to live.
No! My erstwhile political colleagues were playing politics the way Nigerians have been playing it for decades. Western politics, development and thinking have not rubbed off on them at all. All they wanted was money, position, power and fat, juicy contracts. All they wanted was a slice of the national cake. No intention to change Nigeria for the better; nothing about contributing to ways to eradicate poverty and corruption; nothing about trying to change the political orientation and culture of our people. They were going to contribute more to the problems of Nigeria instead of finding the solutions.
Some of them had been following failed governors and other politicians of disrepute, getting what little they can get from them. They thought they will get the same from this candidate.
It was later that I learnt that the various UK branches of the political party had actually formed within itself, several groups, each focused on and supporting all the presidential hopefuls belonging to that same party, waiting for the time ÔÇô the Primaries ÔÇô when only one will be selected by the party to run for the Presidency, then they will dissolve the losing groups and transfer all their support to the winner. Very nice little game, supporting all of them and making money from all of them. But the party caught all of them napping, bringing in a previously unknown person at the last minute, and throwing everybody into confusion.
And guess what? The moment this happened, new organisations immediately sprung up in the UK, and their machineries went into overdrive for the selected candidate, almost overnight. Phew! Unbelievable, but true. Man must chop, and why not?
So, why am I bringing this about? The reason is to demystify that myth that all Nigerians in Diaspora, or at least, let us put it this way, all Nigerians who have travelled and lived abroad for a considerable period of time, are capable of bringing positive change in the political orientation and governance of our country. This is far from being the truth, a fallacy. The facts remains that you can take a man out of the bush, but not necessarily take the bush out of him. Some people pass through universities but do not allow the university to pass through them. The same analogy goes for many of our people who have supposedly lived, worked and learned abroad in developed countries. We know how they do things in the US, the UK, Europe etc. We know how these countries work and make things work for themselves. We see them on a daily basis, and in fact, most Nigerians living abroad contribute immensely to these other countries' development and progress. But let us return home to Nigeria to change things, or try to influence getting the right things done in our country from abroad, and we resort back to what we have always been. We quickly jettison what we have learnt from these countries without a second thought. We revert back to indiscipline; moral corruption, tribalism, religious fanaticism and raw and murderous politics. Why, some of my erstwhile colleagues were even ardent supporters of notorious political godfathers and corrupt governors in Nigeria. Need we say more?
I might even write a book on this personal experience one day, God sparing our lives.
And you think we ÔÇô both living in and living outside - are all intent on seeing change in Nigeria? Not on your life.
Akintokunbo Adejumo, a social and political commentator on Nigerian issues, lives and works in London,