Africa’s Third Liberation

It’s midnight Saturday 15th of March 2014, some families stayed awake with grief stricken faces. Close to twenty of their young graduates who left them that morning for the National Immigration Service recruitment examination had not returned home. They will never return home, they were gone; dead in the stampede, trampled to death by over six million  fellow Job seekers vying  for four thousand opening in Nigeria’s immigration service. There is no better indication to confirm that a third liberation is becoming long overdue for most African country.

IMG_4665Greg Mills and Jeffrey Herbst’s ‘Africa’s Third Liberation’ has been by my bed side in the past week. Coincidentally, I have read this book alongside ‘the Incorruptible Judge’ by D. Olu Olagoke which I reviewed here. Representing different genres of literature and published in different era, I had no challenge finding their linkages. This two books are my best bet at conceptualizing linkages between unemployment and corruption as projected in Africa and perhaps world over.

As children, we took pride in acting good plays. We were our own cast, our own stage and costume managers and producer. Our stage was the pure red earth beneath Africa’s moonlight. Yes, for us it was not just the sun that rises, the moon sets and rises too, giving light to our immature performances.  The Incorruptible Judge was a favorite play with its good story line. It taught us the the words ‘bribery’, ‘corruption’ and ‘unemployment’. Of the three, unemployment  was a word we didn’t clearly understand until we grew into graduates and job seekers. Perhaps the incidences mentioned above now gives more meaning to unemployment.

Written in 1962, almost three decades before we encountered it,  D. Olu Olagoke presents a story that different generation can relate to. As captured in the review, ‘ The Incorruptible Judge and the Incorrigible Liar’, it tells of a time when in the face of crime, whistle blowers like Ajala the job seeker were commended and given justice by the legal system. It was a time when the values of the society reflected in the education we received and the expectations we had, there was in practice, no conflict. Our understanding of good and bad was in no way blurred. Consequently we knew bribery was bad and that it only births corruption. Apart from warning on the evil of bribery and corruption, D. Olu Olagoke with his play might have tried to excite our imaginations and prepare us for a season of joblessness.

‘Africa’s Third Liberation’ reflects back on the journey of African countries from about seven decades ago, to 2011. Seven decades

African Independence Map by www.geocurrent.info

African Independence Map by http://www.geocurrent.info

ago to the present time creates a wide space for reflections and deductions. Though Olu Adegoke writes at almost  the same time, Greg and Jeffrey did a more extended and indepth work. They conceptualized the sub-Saharan African Journey of liberation in this era (1960’s and above) into three. Africa’s first liberation meant freedom from the colonist’s racial government. The second one was (or still is) freedom from Africa’s liberators. The long overdue third liberation addressed in this book focuses on Africa’s economic growth through reassessing their present political economy characterized by corruption, capitalism, elitism and social inequality.

If D.Olu Adegoke envisaged a failed state weakened by corruption then, he is prophetically correct. Greg Mills and Jeffrey Herbst’s reflection on sub-Saharan Africa’s development experiences and their reality today, projects a continent with rich resources littered within the boundaries of its fragile states. The widespread unemployment, a veneer of justice, pervasive impunity all climaxes in weak leadership which is a continental malady. Relatively, while the Incorruptible Judge espouses glimpse into the future where power is abused and public trust is betrayed by leaders using public power for private gain, ‘Africa’s Third Liberation’ gives a roadmap out of it.

A cross section of applicants at the NIS recruitment test in Abuja,Nigeria

A cross section of applicants at the NIS recruitment test in Abuja,Nigeria

Sharing a strong theme of pervasive unemployment as seen in the experiences of Ajala the young school leaver in ‘The Incorruptible Judge’, Greg Mills and Jeffrey Herbst likewise expressed that for all Africa’s progress, jobs for young people remains an extra-ordinary challenge especially for sub-Saharan Africa where formal sector employment is endemically low and falling. The demographic dividends of yesterday’s children being todays’ workers are being lost with all its exciting development opportunities. This lack of jobs for young people fosters slow growth of Africa’s middle class. This is imperative for any country’s development.

Corruption, which is the common thread that runs through the poor development of the continent, cannot be ignored as responsible for endemic unemployment. While Justice Faderin sought to deter this in the fictional society he represented, Greg Mills and Jeffrey Herbst projects it better in Malawi, an African country which remains one of the world’s poorest. It can’t be exclusively said that corruption is solely responsible for this level of poverty, but it also cannot be excused as reason why three-quarters of their population lives below US$1 a day. Greg and Jeffrey explored the trajectories of Malawi presidents from the time of late President Hastings Banda (who declared his self, president for life ruling from 1964 to 1994) to the time of President Bakili Muluzi, through to the time of President Bingu wa Mutharika.

Picture on Farm Input Subsidy Program (FISP) by malawidemocrat.com

Picture on Farm Input Subsidy Program (FISP) by malawidemocrat.com

The clear difference in their tenure was notably the nature of venality, escalating corruption from being very centralised, to being widespread, open and consequently, more sophisticated with a carefully developed chain. Everything trickles down, whether good or bad. This is the case with the Malawi government’s Farm Input Subsidy Program (FISP). This reform helped build food sufficiency and improve lives for a while in an internationally acknowledged way; but it also gave scope and further created a ring for massive corruption among bottom ladder farmers on-selling the fertilizers and the elites managing the corrupt processes. Hence Malawi lost more years of growth to venality.

Despite the author’s comparison of sub-Saharan Africa to Central America’s country like Guatamela (the murder city of the world) where corruption is the way of life, African countries have in different ways proven they can grow. Holding 60% of the world’s most arable land and other resources, yes Africa can upswing their destiny away from poverty and endemic unemployment.

As the authors project, venal Malawi, poster boy Nigeria, war-land Congo among other countries alike, need to exercise the will to challenge vested interested which is the root of corruption. Otherwise the states will remain weak, festered with social inequality and infested with joblessness which may trigger radicalization of politics and criminality. We are reminded that citizens empowered by technology and power are no longer tolerant like before as can be seen in the Arab spring.

The authors of Africa’s Third Liberation recommends a clear departure from the trend of leadership conflicting with interest and encourages African leaders to take full responsibility for their country’s economic destiny, as steps for upswing economic growth. However my addition will be an essential factor which they and most of us seem to ignore.

Lexis Nexis Project Rule of Law Banner.

Lexis Nexis Project Rule of Law Banner.

In my understanding, fragile states have undermined laws, indeed the quickest way to weaken a state is to weaken the legal system and make its constitutions a paper tiger. Hence, strengthening the legal system remains a strong indicator for progressive growth in this region. Legal systems are important for institutionalizing and securing reforms that can create jobs and promote any proposed development models. A strong legal system encourages rule of law, providing mechanisms for accountability, transparency and political stability. This creates space for implementing forward-leaning policies and most of all good leadership. As Justice Faderinthe incorruptible judge puts it, ‘if the citadel of justice is corrupt, what will happen to the body politics? It will be completely rotten and collapse’.

There is a linkage between graft and unemployment as they are interconnected. Reducing unemployment or corruption is FFT159_1simpossible without a refashioned process of law that enables a fair and functional state. Imposition of the rule of law will be the bedrock of development in African states; it will ensure supremacy of the law over all citizens, no matter how powerful they are. Africa needs the return of the incorruptible judges to strengthen the law and create a corruption free state, perhaps this will clearly differentiate Africa’s second liberation from the proposed third liberation.

– Written by Adaobi Nkeokelonye.

 

The Incorruptible Judge and the Incorrigible Liar

Back in the days; three decades ago and beyond, ‘the Incorruptible Judge’ by D. Olu Olagoke was a must-read for most NigerianIMG_4657 in-school children at primary or junior secondary level. Finding it in the bookshop almost three decades after gave me a nostalgic feeling. I knew I had to read it again wearing the lens of an older person. The world around me has changed greatly in the past 30 years, but expectedly this book didn’t change. My understanding of it, its relevance and the interpretations I could give to it has surely changed.

In the play ‘The Incorruptible Judge’, we meet Ajala, the graduate with a completely worn out shoe telling tales of unlucky miles he has walked trying to get a job. He is the son of a carpenter father and a petty trader mother with six more siblings to cater for. His education remains indebted and his first salaries if employed will make up for that. Despite his excellent track records, unlucky Ajala has been unable to reap the a 6unemployment (1)dividends of his investment in education. Ajala reminds us of the sea of graduates mostly in African countries who spend years before they may finally be employed as a result of Job scarcity. Yet they are saddled with responsibilities they cannot wish away.

His application to the Government Development Department as a Third Class Clerk in their office ushers a chance meeting with his contemporary Femi. Unlike Ajala, Femi represents the privileged children of the rich who have no experience of lack. He is employed through his father’s network. Femi vets Ajala’s application pack just before he meets with the grey haired, heavily spectacled Establishment Officer Mr. James Ade Agbalowomeri whose personality cows the young school leaver.

KolanutCapturing a competitive space with many qualified personnel and few jobs to get around, Mr. Agbalowomeri sets getting “Kola” and not just qualification as the condition for employing Ajala whom he claims to fancy. “Kola” in Africa is a nut fruit from the kola tree, a symbol of appeasement used in social and private settings, it is also known as the food of the ancestors. Kola nuts are an important part of the traditional spiritual practice of culture and religion in West Africa, particularly Nigeria, but it symbolizes other things too. It is the pseudonym for bribery. In this case, the Establishment Officer’s “Kola” is £5 (five pounds) bribery. He insists Ajala must bring this and is able to bring it considering his credit worthiness for a study loan still hanging over Picture-3139his life. Despite his plea, a completely dejected Ajala is further harassed by the words of the officer who boasts of threatening non-compliant employees with dismissal or issuance of bad discharge certificate. This scene is not unpopular to many Job seekers today. It projects directly the imbalanced power relation between the employee and the employer in many societies which creates vulnerability.

Seeking solution out of this, Femi his friend acts as the voice of reason, reminding him of the value their principal instilled in them as students. “Remember what the principal says about taking or giving bribes? It is the canker eating into the very fabric of our nation. We as the future hopes of this country must steer clear of bribery…whether he calls it Kola or money, I am sure it is still bribe”. Ajala is encouraged to approach the Police, demanding justice as he learns the act of bribery is criminal.

Mr. Agbalowomeri got his token bribery of £5, and true to his word, he gives Ajala a confirmation letter of employment with a commencing salary of £172.10 per annum. Detective- Sergeant Okoro arrived to the office of the Establishment Officer the moment Ajala coughed to signal him the bribe has been received. The search for the marked £5 notes (with recorded numbers) was instructed on the officer who was in denial.

Indeed the real ‘kola’ is edible, but the £5 currency note as a ‘kola’ is no bread and butter. Crestfallen Mr. Agbalowomeri had a grip on his throat as Seargent Okoro forced him to spit out the currency notes which he was trying to swallow in an attempt to destroy evidence. He was indeed the very picture of despondency.

Narrating his story, he swears on God as witness to his friend Mr. Duroayo whose Son in-law Justice Faderin has been assigned to try his case. Bribery is in Mr. Agbalowomeri’s vein, giving ten pounds and a bottle of whisky, Mr. Durodayo was commissioned to win his son inlaw over with a gift of twenty five (25) guineas, and later fifty (50) guineas.

The moral climax of the play is the judgement given by Justice Faderin who does not take bribe. With every form of emotional IMG_4673blackmail strategically instituted through familial and tribal relationship, Justice Faderin who was inclined about the case, took no lenient view. In emphasizing the law as no respecter of person, he said ‘if the citadel of justice is corrupt, what will happen to the body politics? It will be completely rotten and collapse.’

The grey haired, heavily spectacled Mr. James Ade Agbalowomeri, with 20years experience as Establishment officer of the Government Development Department, with many family responsibilities is in the dock. Mr. Agbalowomeri, the son of the Ogbuluefon of the famous Kiriji War has been charged in a sensational court case. He with his illustrious pedigree swore with the bible in the witness box and severally called God as his witness but God was asleep.

Where bribery fails, mercy plea may help. The guilty man pled for mercy quoting hackneyed Shakespeare “the quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth…” He is finally refused his option of a fine and sent to 3years imprisonment with hard labour by a Judge who understands the necessity of deterring others from following a bad example.

gavel+court+judge+xgold+2012Published in 1962 and republished in 2011, this play, written in very simple language has remained a classic. It has become even more alive in our society of today perverse with cases of bribery and incessant corrupt practices than it could have been in the years the author wrote it. While the author in his preface states that the Incorruptible Judge is not primarily meant to teach morals, my experience of engaging it as a child taught me otherwise. It was my first encounter with the word ‘bribery’ and its true meaning. It triggered my imagination of the power of the law; my first engagement with a book bringing alive a fictionalized courtroom performance. But I ask, how well did the values this book sought to imbibe withstand time?

More than anything else, this book raises more questions for me now, especially on the experiences of job seekers world over. I am reflecting deeper on the situations of employment and rule of law, and their linkages to development in today’s world. To better conceptualize this, I will be comparing the Incorruptible Judge with Greg Mills and Jeffrey Herbst’s ‘Africa’s Third Liberation’ in the very next post.

– Written by Adaobi Nkeokelonye