A tale of two countries

August 12, 2011


by Tola Adenle


Why would one try to re-invent the wheel?  Why would I try to rack my brain for another title when one that is most apt not just because of the similarities between two seemingly very different countries but also because events in at least one country are Dickens’Tale of Two Cities come to life?

Two places cannot be more dissimilar than Russia and Nigeria.  Lying in the cold, cold northern hemisphere, it is a manufacturing and industrial giant.  Her cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg are as rich in history as her Literature which gave the world a window into the turmoil and repression of the country’s experimentation with the failed communism.  The world of music would be poorer without Russia’s illustrious Tchaikovsky.  Russia, the largest, most prosperous and most powerful of the units of the countries of the former Soviet Union is Caucasoid, homogeneous, a former superpower on the ascendancy again, rich in institutions (not only educational) and is a serious player on the world stage.  Russia is definitely TAKEN seriously by the rest of the world.  Russia produces the black gold – billions of dollars worth annually. While age-old tribal rivalries finally led to dismemberment for the old Soviet Union from whose ashes have risen a dozen or so modern countries, it is apparent that Russia’s loss was mostly of empire.  I have to move on for this is no political essay and I hold no deep knowledge in that area.

Nigeria is not much less endowed though appearances may deceive.  A toddler, even in adulthood, – ‘Arrested Development’, the name of one of those hip hop groups of the Nineties would fit her – she is a child of circumstances.  She is the adopted child of British itinerant father but has no mother; sort of like an adopted baby whose records of birth were hidden by the adoptive parents so that she would not know her origin.  She found those documents and is, therefore, aware of her origins but her main problem has been moving on from that knowledge of that past.  Nigeria was placed in the rich lands of the Tropics with a long stretch of the Atlantic sweeping her southernmost coast and the Sahel forming a northern frontier.  Her people are basically industrious and hardworking but her leaders – of course they are from among the people – are like anchors that weigh down her progress.  She is one of the world’s largest producers of the black gold.  Recently, she won the gold medal in the race for the world’s happiest people and just before that, another accolade was announced by Transparency International (TI) that this largest of all black nations won silver in corruption.

As I’m writing this early November, I read that Nigeria’s president, Chief Obasanjo is away to America and Germany.  I understand that the German stop will include an address to TI by the president.  It did cross my mind that our Egba chief may be forcibly decorated with the garland for her country’s silver medal.  Yeah, it would have to be an embarrassing job but as the saying goes, somebody’s gotta do it! Hopefully, Wole Soyinka will not be at the award ceremony to read the citation: “… Retired general, Nigerian chief, receive this [dis]honor on behalf of – not your long-suffering citizens many of who eat from dustbins – your “elected” and civil service officials who, we are sure, should be able to garner the gold next time. …”

Now, apart from crude oil, there has been nothing shown here that is common to both countries.  We have to go back a little to see the ties that bind these two countries to Dickens-ian England and France.  Actually, to pre-Dickens era as the English writer wrote about events that pre-dated his birth. Writing about situations in England of that era, CD writes: “Daring burglaries by armed men, highway robberies, took place in the capital itself every night; families were publicly cautioned not to go out of town without removing their furniture to upholsterers’ warehouses for security …” and in France:  “Under the guidance of her Christian pastors, she entertained herself … with such humane achievements as sentencing a youth to have his hands cut off, his tongue torn out with pincers … because he had not kneeled down in the rain to do honor to a  dirty procession of monks …”  In Nigeria, thank God, the ruled can only get killed if they fail to get out of the way quickly.

I watched a cable program a couple of months ago in which the reporter described the abuse of “the blue light” in Russia.  “Anybody with money” the CNN reporter told viewers “can get the blue light and off the vehicle carrying him or her goes without any regard for traffic rules.”  One of the pedestrians interviewed told the reporter: “oh, those blue light?  I hate them and the people in the cars … they are rich and can do anything.”

I think the colors in Nigeria are both red and blue but outriders spell the same menace and even doom for not only pedestrians but other vehicle operators.  Many have lost their lives or, if they are lucky, merely limbs or their vehicles in Nigeria. Rulers like governors acquiesce to citizens being harassed by taking over BOTH SIDES of the road these days while outriders harass vehicle drivers into the sides and pedestrians scurry to wherever to clear off for the Lords of the Roads. The feelings at Ibadan are exactly the same as in Moscow.

Nigeria is held in awe the world over these days.  No, not at our positive achievements – forget that satellite in space – but because of our propensity for fraudulent practices.  So are our Russian brethren.

There was a long write-up in the Washington Post several months ago about some young Russians who had gained access into the computer systems of certain financial institutions in the States.  Once these companies discovered the horror, the magnitude of what the kids could do scared them so much that some had to deal.  Eventually as such things go, the FBI got in on the act and one of the young men got tricked into traveling to the States with his wife where he spilled the beans once he saw a long prison term staring him in the face. Many people in Russia are living off such scams just as there are Russian auto theft rings in the States that organize for vehicles to be stolen and before you could say “Red Square”, the cars are on board ships to Russia.

Sounds familiar?  Many Nigerian cities are crawling with all sorts of U.S. law enforcement agencies:  FBI, DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) etcetera.  I’ve relayed in this column the cases of the internet scam artists but those are not all.  Not for nought are U.S. authorities mad at the Nigerian government for not caring about arresting the spiraling advance fee fraud for which the country has become infamous.  A newsweekly recently did a magnificent write up on the Nigerians – including a re-elected PDP member of the House of Representatives – who stole a Brazilian bank dry, aided by an insider.  There are Nigerians who do not make fifty thousand dollars a year in the States who, through stolen identities, own properties worth more than one hundred years’ incomes!  Savings?  Loans?  Go figure that out.

Anything else in common between these two seemingly disparate countries?  I have space for a major one  before I run out of space for a conclusion.  In the 90’s as Russia tried to shake off the last vestiges of a socialist state, Boris Yeltsin was seemingly parceling the country’s wealth off to a favored few, a.k.a. “looting”, as one British commentator aptly described it.  A few men became stupendously wealthy, owning vast empires for which pittances were paid to the State.  It was Yeltsin’s idea of capitalism.  Did I hear “fronts”?  The sudden wealth for a very few made from what belonged to all lies at the root of the societal ills in Russia today.

Nigeria’s wealth started being parceled to a chosen few from Babangida’s era when a Nigerian could have millions of dollars from state funds given/lent (?) just like that.  Crude oil is also given/sold (?) to a favored few in acts that are similar to Yeltsin’s Russia of the 90’s.

Putin is cracking down and the world (i.e. capitalist world) is crying ‘nationalization’! Yukos, the oil giant, was recently seized from its head in an “undemocratic” move, but Putin is old KGB, I keep telling myself.  While it’s definitely goodbye to Lenin, Stalin, the Collectives, Siberian detention, etcetera, I am sure this guy sees Russia’s economic future in a different light from Yeltsin and he wants the glory days to return.  He probably wants to exercise the caution that Gorbachev was denied, thanks to the West.

People are hungrier in Russia than before ‘free market’ got there and so are people in Nigeria before ‘democracy’ in 1999. May be the disappearance of Russia from the Devil’s Olympic of TI where it had featured prominently as gold winner more than once (Nigeria was her runner up once or more) is due in great measure to Putin.  I have no idea if Russia’s messiah has come but I do know that Nigeria’s is still to come.

THE COMET ON SUNDAY, November 2003



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