By SEGUN ORUAME
It is three years ago since I first reflected on this subject matter in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Today October, 2010, I am inside the largest ICT event in all of the Middle East; in Dubai, I am forced to return to the same matter of how corruption has undermined the development of ICT capacity empowerment and turned a generation of Nigerian youths to commercial bike operators. This generation could have been software armies as you have in India or China or even Malaysia.
In Dubai, I tried to figure out the worth of properties that Cecelia Ibru, erstwhile CEO of Oceanic Bank bought illegally with stolen money of Oceanic Bank creditors. Did Ibru’s stolen N190 billion contributed to the emergence of the Internet City in Dubai and the waste of Niger Delta? I am finding a frightening link between the growth of Dubai and the shrinking of Nigeria considering the fact that Ibru and Ibori represent a generation of private and public sectors licentious leaders.
I am reflecting on the presence of the past governor of Delta State, James Onanefe Ibori in a Dubai jail fighting against his extradition to the United Kingdom to have his day at the court over accusation of official larceny. It was only three years ago that I passed this road to Kuala Lumpur for the Global Knowledge Conference thinking of the evils of corruption and its negative effect on ICT capacity building. In 2007, here is how the story went in this column.
I am in Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia in the south east and some 16 hours of flight or so from Lagos. I click online for some home news. The news about Nigeria is on the arrest of the immediate past governor of Delta State, James Onanefe Ibori. The same story leads the home page of all other national dailies. Ibori is facing a 103 count charge of corruption.
I look pensively at the stories. I am thinking not of Ibori but of the wasted opportunities that eight years of Ibori has meant. I am thinking of how beautiful Kuala Lumpur is. I am only a few metres away from the Petronas Twin Towers, once acclaimed as the tallest buildings on earth. I marvel at what Malaysia has done to itself in 50 years and what we have done to ourselves in 47 years. We would be 50 years in less than three years away. And I am sickened by the reality that the major stories that would mark our 50 years as an independent nation is on how corruption has rendered us a wasteland.
I am using broadband internet to work. The download is about the fastest I have experienced in recent time – much like the experience I had in Germany once upon a time. I know this kind of speed practically do not exist in my country.
We have been talking of broadband internet in the last few years that you would think broadband is the name of some divinity. Indeed, broadband has become the mantra in the long speeches of policy makers and heads of government institutions in the last four years.
But we have remained a country of narrowband providers and even those are few. The infrastructures to push services are not there. The internet service providers (ISPs) are considered no better than bandwidth thieves. Often, they (ISPs) are as much victims of bandwidth marauders from Europe and the rest of the world as are the end-users who are victims of their (ISPs) greed and inefficiency.
It would have required vision and money to build the super-infrastructures upon which broadband and other services would ride. Alas, the greed, lack of vision and the selfishness of the country’s so-called leaders have not allowed growth to take place. Rather than invest in the common interest, those in government have found it more convenient to seek for their own self-preservation by looting the state treasury. Ibori is where he is today because he stole, or so the EFCC is alleging until the law court proves otherwise.
The pain is the tragic sense of loss we suffer not just as a nation but as a race. By the time this piece is published this Monday morning December 17, 2007, it would be exactly six days ago that the Malaysian deputy Minister would tell the participants that gathered at the Third Global Knowledge Conference in Kuala Lumpur that they (Malaysia and its people) have created the environment for Europe and Europeans to come seek their destiny afresh south of the globe.
Europeans are coming in droves for the sunshine, enticed by the sanity of leadership, an economy that is upwardly looking, a people committed to making something out of their common fate and most importantly a more conducive environment for business ventures and a place for holiday where the taxman would not eat up your life savings. “Why would they prefer the cold of Europe to the sunshine of Malaysia? We are giving them a home from home and much more.” The Malaysia minister remarked.
Millions of euros and pounds are entering Malaysia from Europe. The reverse is the case in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa. Those in power are tearing the vaults apart. They are stealing with impunity and taking the billions to Europe. They are rendering their countries and continent helpless and making fireworks of whatever future is left of the continent after the Europeans left in the 60s.
The price for corruption is huge and painful. It is the reason why Nigeria would never be like Malaysia in the next 25 years, maybe 50 years. It is the reason why malaria still kill millions of people; why our roads are horrible; why millions of young people are jobless and hungry; why illiteracy is still high; why industrialization failed to take place in the last 50 years; why thousands of our young men and women are ending up yearly in Europe and the America as prostitutes and pimps; and for the sake of this article, why the internet is still ‘dream’ pipe and why phone call is expensive though we like to deceive ourselves that it is not so. It is the only reason why we would never be part of the knowledge economy.
The Siemens probe is on. The outcome is already predictable in that clear case of money for contract. What is instructive here is the routine nature of such actions and its wide applications in every sphere of our national life. ICT contracts are daily inflated. Virtually all state governors, serving and gone, embarked on one ICT projects or another. I doubt if any wasn’t a conduit to siphon money into private accounts abroad. Many so called IT Parks or Technology universities have remained no better than glorified cybercafé or technology centres for kindergarten in spite of billions put into them. It didn’t take Malaysia so much to get things happening here because money was spent and still being spent with a vision.
Ibori, no matter how the case goes, represents the underlying critical factors for our failings as a nation-state. Like others charged before him and those that would still be charged, Ibori embodies the greatest affirmation of our tragedy as a race. If the assassinated political writer Walter Rodney were to be alive to day, he probably would have reworked his masterpiece ‘How Europe underdeveloped Africa’ into ‘How Africa underdeveloped Africa.’
As I write this piece, I am looking through my window at the mono train. Yesterday, I took the much cozy electric train and I am feeling the pains of 47 years of waste for Africa’s most populous country. Malaysia has its own problems. Freedom is not readily available here particularly for the media who may want to say or write anything. But what is freedom if it would encourage larceny and abuse of commonwealth. Nearby is China. It is an established powerhouse for ICT. Like India, it has successfully created its own niche area in software development and outsourcing. China is part of Internet 2, the next level in the internet race. Would China be what it is today if the Chinese have had the misfortune of having the likes of Ibori in power?
I do not know what would come out of this case. I do not care. What I care about is the reduced potentials for growth that has happened. I am saddened by the reasons for why the internet culture may not be part of us in another 50 years, why the landlines would never grow again, why my children would have to leave this land if they must have a future and why millions would remain impoverished finding no meaning in acquiring the computer or nursing passion to be part of the information age. And why this piece sent via broadband access in my hotel room would be received at the other end in Nigeria via narrow band. Shame on us!
By the way, the new destination for Africa’s stolen wealth is Asia. It is no longer the west with the increasing heat on the financial institutions in Europe and America. Now, it is the open banking system of Asia that is becoming home to our stolen commonwealth. Is the African a born thief? I ask.
Today, October 2010 in Dubai, I am thinking of all the mis-opportunities that came with the Babaginda years, the years after and the billions of United States dollars stolen and why Dubai, China, India, Malaysia have become hub of progressive growth while Nigeria has become no more than a wasteland.