Nigeria: The Art of Fainting in Degrees

13 August 2020

On July 20, Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei, acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), demonstrated with marginal success the art of fainting in degrees during a legislative probe into the mismanagement of funds at the agency.

Pondei took in the scene, the heat, occasioned by a malfunctioning air conditioning, and the mind-boggling missing figures he is being asked to account for, rolled his eyes and proceeded to faint in instalments.

My thespian friends might have a thing or two to say about how well the medical doctor executed the act of fainting but there was no denying it served its purpose--to bring an immediate end to his grilling.

What followed was a dramatic rescue attempt, comprised of a crude shoulder massage by one volunteer, and an even more crude attempt to prise open Pondei's mouth by yet another, much as the biblical Samson had done to a lion. The fact that there were no first aid workers at such a hearing is, in itself, scandalous considering the propensity of Nigerian politicians and public officials to develop sudden maladies when asked to account for their stewardship.

There is nothing new in this. Public officials, who have wielded incredible power, pizazz and a heavy dose of conceit, suddenly morph into wilting stalks when faced with corruption charges. Over the years, we have seen this drama play out over and over again.

When former PDP chairman, Bello Halliru was accused of pocketing N2 billion from the Dasuki largesse, he turned up in court in a wheelchair, so did former spokesman of the party, the vivacious Olisa Metuh, when he was accused of cornering N400 million from the same largesse. He would later upgrade and turn up in court on a stretcher, as would Senator Dino Melaye during his own trial. Former presidential adviser Kingsley Kuku pulled a similar stunt as did former Adamawa State governor, Bala Ngilari, and former aviation minister, Femi Fani-Kayode.

None was more shocking than that of former petroleum minister Diezani Allison Madueke, who oozed power and elegance while in office. The moment she left power and it became clear she was top of Buhari's corruption 'hit list', shocking photos of her, bald, droopy-eyed and sickly, surfaced, along with stories of a long battle with cancer.

Perhaps if she had known that the anticipated anti-corruption blitz was going to be no more than a rattle in a can, she wouldn't have bothered and subjected herself to such humiliation. She would have just carried on preaching to youths who take yahoo-yahoo boys as role models, while she still has a pending $20 billion corruption allegation to her name, as she did this week in a viral video, in which she was looking like her old, dashing self, sans cancer.

A former Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT) Abdulrasheed Maina, too, would not have bothered turning up in court in a wheelchair to answer corruption allegations against him because later, somehow, through bureaucratic sorcery, he was sneaked back into public service. Only media pressure forced a premature termination of his appointment and a shame-faced attempt by the government to explain how that fiasco happened.

Of course, there are others, like former Ekiti Governor Ayo Fayose who turned up for his own trial in a wheelchair and neck brace. Or even disgraced General Hakeem Otiki, accused of diverting N400 million security funds, who turned up for his court-martial in full dress uniform but in a wheelchair.

The art of degrading at an exponential rate, as perfected by public officials in Nigeria is a necessary skill to survive the political terrain. It is even more essential than competence.

Considering that looted wealth is essential in remaining relevant, in procuring the loyalty of one's support base, and of course, living a high lifestyle, explains the desperate performances public figures put in defence of their loot.

The fact that these shenanigans have been going on for quite a while and have become a standard routine speaks volume of the disregards public officials have for Nigerians. The play on the collective intelligence of Nigerians is added insult to injury. Especially when one considers the speedy "recovery" of these persons as soon as the moment passes, or they leave court or get new appointments.

The persistent abuse of the system to escape justice is tiring and the judicial system needs to find ways to checkmate them. When Olisa Metuh (again) slumped in court during his trial, Justice Okon Abang, decided to proceed with the trial, while Metuh was still spread-eagled on the floor. Perhaps attitudes like this could ensure that those who abuse public trust and insult public intelligence have a rethink when next they consider wheelchairs and stretchers as essential to their court appearances.

The next time a public official is wheeled into a court where he is standing trial for corruption or abuse of public office or decides to slump, or faint in degrees in the middle of a public hearing, Nigerians should remember that they are witnessing the most expensive theatrical performance of their lives. Tickets for such drama have been paid for by the looted public funds that could have built that hospital and saved hundreds of lives in your village.

If, however, one is willing to accept that, then at least, one should demand a very credible performance. No one deserves to pay that much for such a mediocre show of shamelessness and desperation. And it really should be a crime to be such a lousy public official and an even more abysmal actor.

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