The Danger of Honesty
In the traditional African society, children are regarded as the pride of their parents. A childless marriage is always associated with sorrow and bitterness. In the olden days, the Igbo tribe in south eastern Nigeria; a great empire of warriors believed to be descendants of Jewish ancestors were mainly farmers, hunters, fishermen and blacksmiths. In the Igbo culture, it is a necessity for a man to have a son. Women were not recognized as heirs in the ancient Igbo culture. In those days, the inheritance of a man who has no son was distributed randomly among his Kinsmen immediately after his demise no matter the number of daughters he has.
Mr. Agaba Jones was born into such a traditional setting. He was the first and only son of his parents. His mother was the fifth wife of his Late Father. Jones’ father was a rich famer and merchant. He never liked the idea of having a polygamous family. However since his first four wives were unable to bear him a son, he went to a great extent to marry the fifth. The birth of Jones was a dream come-true not just to his father but also the entire family. However a lot of greedy folks in his kindred who had hoped to share his father’s properties after his demise were never truly happy about the birth of Jones. No one knows the actual day or month of Jones’ birth. His parents were not educated just like a lot of parents in those days so his birth was not documented. However it was rumored that there was an eclipse of the sun few months after the birth of Jones which the villagers and even the Chief Priest and diviner of the great shrine and deity of his community mistook as the end of the world.
At the time of his birth, Christianity hadn’t yet permeated the society where he came from. Most people in his community were then traditional African worshippers. The chief priest or “dibia” of the great Oracle was regarded as the “eye of the gods”. He alone could see the past, the present and the future. No one dared to argue or doubt his words. History has it that at the wake of the eclipse the chief priest announced to the community that the gods they worshipped had ministered to him that the end of the world has come and every man should get prepared. Some men in that community who had slept with their brother’s wives or daughters, those who had bewitched their neighbours or “tied the neighbours’ progress” and even those who had killed before immediately confessed their evils to those they have wronged believing that the world was coming to an end. They all wanted to die with a clean conscience. However after some hours that the eclipse lasted, darkness gave way to light but men could not take back their confessions.
Obviously Jones was born after Nigeria got her independence, when honesty was still the best policy before the world evolved and crowned falsehood as its king. He was lucky to have been born when his country still had hope, when they still had a meaningful currency and economy, when educated people still got jobs and when people still cared about the teachings of the bible. His country, Nigeria got her independence in 1960. People who were born before this independence always tell stories of the jubilation that marked that period. Nigerians actually believed that independence will free them from corruption and oppression. They believed independence will create jobs for their teaming youths, improve their economy, security and put food on the table of the common man. It’s now over fifty years after independence and this group of citizens is still waiting for the messiah.
Jones lost his father after the Nigerian civil war. He was entirely brought up by his vibrant mother who managed to give him basic education. The Nigerian civil war is a period in the country’s history that most citizens especially those from the southeastern part of the country do not always wish to remember. Some are of the opinion that it wasn’t just a war. It was a genocide, a pogrom, or simply a widespread massacre. At the end of the civil war, a lot of able bodied men drifted to Lagos in order to make a living. Lagos was then not just the commercial hub of Nigeria but also the capital. Some individuals regard Lagos as a no man’s land. Lagos is known for the good, the bad and the ugly. In fact most young men that migrated to Lagos were all in pursuit of a greener pasture.
Jones had so much interest in education. In Lagos, while his kinsmen were busy hustling for money, working in factories and ports, he invested most of his time pursing advanced studies. He also worked part-time in different medium scale businesses as a
clerk while still pursuing his studies. He got his first job in a metallurgical factory. In his first day in the factory, he met a man called Joe who he was supposed to work with. However after seeing the scares on Joe’s body which he sustained doing his Job, Jones had a re-think about the job. Joe in recounting his ordeal at the factory to his young apprentice made it clear to him that the job he just got was toxic for a boy of his age. That afternoon Jones left for his lunch break but never returned to that factory premises again. He seriously wanted to earn some money for himself but at the same time he easy unwilling to die in Lagos. Japanese, Chinese and Lebanese were big investors in Nigeria after the civil war, obviously these capitalist were in the country to exploit the cheap labour provided by hungry and frustrated Nigerians who just recovered from a three years war. Recruitment into these foreign factories did not require any form of application or curriculum Vitae. These Chinese managers simply stood in front of their factory premises and pointed at whosoever they wished to recruit amongst the crowd of frustrated Nigerians seeking for jobs. Any one pointed at automatically gets the job and jubilates into the factory. Echoes of poverty! The same method is also applicable when these foreign masters believed the workforce has become more than the profits. They simply walk into the factory and randomly point at these poor fellows. The foreign managers simply points at these hungry Nigerians and shouts “you, you, you and you out, go out”. All the individuals pointed at will be marshaled out of the premises without a disengagement notice or a compensatory pay to their astonishment. However that will not stop another crowd of hungry Nigerians from gathering at the gate the next day seeking for the same job, begging to eat from the crumbs that fell from the “white man’s” table. Consequences of war!
In the Midst of numerous challenges Jones was able to complete his studies and earn a professional degree in accounting after several years. In fact he became a chartered accountant. He got a job in a textile industry where he worked as a clerk in the administration department. As a result of his honesty and dedication to work he was promoted to the post of an accounting officer after many years. He worked under a supervisor by name Mr. Fred. Fred was one of those few Nigeria who were lucky to have won common wealth scholarships to study in the United kingdom. Fred had a degree in marketing from a University in the United Kingdom. On returning to his country he was employed by the same textile firm as a supervisor. He had a good working relationship with Jones as a result of his dedication to service. However both men were not satisfied with their remuneration in the firm. In fact no employee in that firm was satisfied with his/her pay or working condition. In the course of their work, Jones and Fred discovered that a certain cashier by name Tim has been defrauding the company. They discovered the presence of fake receipts and vouchers been used by Tim. Also they found out during their audit/inspection that certain vouchers issued by Tim never made it to the company’s ledger. Tim was a nephew to one of the big managers of the company. He was a sacred cow. Jones and Fred being determined to do what was right immediately issued a query to the erring cashier. However Fred seemed to be unaware that he was no longer in the United Kingdom. He was back to a country where every wise person must weigh the environment he finds himself first before saying the truth no matter how patriotic he/she wants to be. The truth can always put you in great trouble in Nigeria. Tim was not defrauding the company alone. He was doing it with the support of his uncle Mr. Baba who was a big manager in the company. Unfortunately for the two honest gentlemen who discovered the fraud, every query must pass through Mr. Baba’s table before being forwarded to the board of directors. Mr. Baba on receiving the report knew that he would also be implicated should the fraud be investigated, therefore he sat on the report. Two days later Mr. Fred received a letter from the manager ordering him to embark on a compulsory leave without reason. He immediately knew that his honesty has gotten him into trouble. “I have never seen a country like this” he shouted as he left his office fully knowing he had just lost his job. He thought of taking the matter to court but that would be a waste of his time as the legal system was also for sale. If you go to Rome, behave like Romans and when in Greece behave like Greeks. Fred had behaved like a Roman while staying in Nigeria and it cost him his job. Mr Baba immediately summoned Fred’s friend and junior colleague “Jones” and said to him “if you wish to keep your job in this firm then you have to mind your business. This is not boys scout”. Jones, the accountant read the hand writing on the wall and quietly left the office. He had two options. Either to continue to uncover the
fraud in the company and stand the risk of losing his job too or to keep quiet just like everyone in the firm. He seriously wanted to uncover the fraud but decided to do that at a time when he will have nothing to lose. He didn’t want to end up catching lizards for chefs working for Chinese industrialists in Lagos should he lose his present job.
Jones lived in a one-room apartment in the ghetto suburbs of Lagos. That was the best type of accommodation his salary could get him. In the street where he lived, most building lacked toilet facilities and residents used the surrounding bushes as toilets. Few had places for bathing. Whether they were bathrooms or bath fields is a question only the landlords could answer. Lagos in notorious for its flood and drainage issues, therefore it is common to find large drainage channels in most streets. These drainage systems serve dual functions: as water channels and as waste dumps. The presence of giant rats has become a common view that most residents do not mind having the four-legged citizens around anymore. In Nigeria, there is nothing like pest control department, pests simply enjoy the same fundamental rights as humans. In fact pests are even at an advantage: they are not harassed by the police, they are not gunned down by armed robbers or religious/ tribal fundamentalists, they do not have to buy the water they use or remain unemployed till old age. The specie and size of mosquitoes attracted by this filthy environment has largely kept the pharmaceutical firms producing anti-malaria drugs in business. The African man no doubt has a high resistance against malaria.
No wonder why a lot of the European missionaries that first came to evangelize Africa were first evangelized by malaria. However the type of mosquitoes present in the nighbourhood where Jones lived was unresponsive to natural immunity. Even the body knows that there is simply a limit to every challenge. Any efficient system recognizes that there is always a time to give up.
Jones had to embark on a two-hour trip everyday from the dungeon where he lived to where his office was located. Lagos is a city for wealthy people. A poor man living in Lagos is just few miles away from atheism. Individuals literally struggled for buses at every bus-stop while the impatient ones board the buses through the windows. At the same time people who specialize in picking pockets use this opportunity to ply their trade. Nothing is cheap in Lagos, not even spoilt goods. The rich and affluent have their own special estates and avenues where they lived. However those estates can not really be called “Lagos”. The temperature of Lagos is normally above the chart especially during the dry season. The water ways have its own unique color different from the water ways in other citizen. Whether the color is as a result of water pollution or is just a natural endowment is a question only an expert can answer. Jones could afford to live in a better place should he decide to steal from his company just like the others but he decided to be an honest accountant.
The social life of Lagosians is a multi-tailed dragon. Night club business is a big business. It is a pity how even those who earn so little in such a tough environment could afford to spend so much eating, drinking and partying. Criminal elements also cease this opportunity to transact businesses. Cases of individuals whose handbags and smart phones, were snatched through the windows of public buses stuck in traffic abound. Partying at night is simply at the individual’s risk. Jones had a crazy female friend by name Angela. To Jones she was just an ordinary friend but to Angela Jones was more than a friend. The relationship was cut short when Jones found out that his girl friend was an addict. On that fateful day Jones and his girlfriend visited an eatery for lunch. It was a bright Saturday afternoon. Angela excused herself and walked to the restroom. When she didn’t return after several minutes, Jones decided to check her in the rest room. On entering the rest room where she was, Angela quickly threw the weed she was smoking into her purse and they both walked out. As they sat down to look at the menu presented to them by the waitress, suddenly Angela’s purse went up in flames. The weed she hurriedly hid in her purse has ignited and burnt everything in the large pink purse. It took the intervention of the security guards at the eatery to stop the inferno. Prior to that Jones had faced a very embarrassing moment the day he went to visit Angela’s parents. Her family was informed that their daughter’s “fiancée” was visiting so they made preparations. Maybe they believed Jones was a millionaire.
Poverty is a disease. It does not only affect the pocket, it also affects the brain. Angela’s parents could not hide their disappointment when they found out that Jones was one of those few boys hustling in Lagos. Indeed he was an accountant: an accountant without a portfolio. The burning purse incident gave Jones a good reason to cut the relationship with his drug addict girl friend and her gold-digging family.
The textile company where Jones worked made plans to cut down on their workforce as a result of low productivity. Mr. Baba, the manger immediately took advantage of the situation to include Jones’ name in the list for retrenchment. Although he knew that Jones was a dedicated accountant but he had to let him go in orders to protect the fraud he was committing with his nephew. It was at that point that Jones decided to forward his report concerning the fraud to the board of directors. Jones was finally retrenched however the manager retained his jobs even after the board of directors received the reports of his alleged participation in fraud. Jones’ honesty has fetched him nothing but loss. He lived in a country where god nepotism and corruption reigns. There was simply no room for heroes.
Jones spent another six months searching for a job. The plight of a jobless man in Nigeria is nothing to be desired. Employed individuals are frustrated, how much more the unemployed?
It was at this period of trial that he decided to consult a prophet. Nigeria is a very religions country, a lot of individuals have lost their lives in religious clashes. In fact the easiest way to become rich in Nigeria is either to join politics or to open a church/religious centre. Politics gives individuals unhindered access to the national treasury. The type of Christianity practiced in Jones’ country is different from the type of Christianity practiced in most countries of the world. Here individual do not really see Christianity as a way of life neither do they really care about what the bible says. Christianity to them is just a means to an end. A path way to evade self- inflicted evil. Jones went to visit one of the numerous prophets in Lagos. Prophecy has become a reigning trend in Nigerian Christianity. As a result of poverty, insecurity, job losses and unemployment, many people are anxious to know what the future holds for them. Therefore a lot of prophets have opened centers. The prophet immediately told Jones after a series of prayers that his ill luck was caused by his father who the prophet accused of being a wizard. Unfortunately for the prophet he wasn’t aware that Jones’ father died when he was still an adolescent and therefore could not be bewitching him. Jones was not happy with this erroneous revelation but decided not to confront the prophet about the false accusation. The holy books said “touch not my anointed and do my prophet no harm” so Jones quietly dropped his cash offering and left the prophet in peace. No wonder why the fact that Nigeria has replaced science and technology with exportation of religion hasn’t yielded the country much benefit. God is not the problem, the attitude of the people is.
Fred’s compulsory leave gradually turned into an outright sack. Since he earned his degree from a foreign University, he made up his mind to leave the country instead of remaining unemployed. He planned to pursue his Masters degree abroad. Unfortunately for him, a lot of embassies in Nigeria are notorious for defrauding potential travelers. In a lot of these foreign embassies and consulates, visas are denied at random without tangible reason even after the applicant has provided all necessary documents. In fact a particular embassy in Nigeria belonging to a certain country in central Europe which share common borders with Ukraine and Germany shocked Mr. Fred when they denied him visa to study for his Masters degree. In this particular embassy, visa interviews are conducted behind tinted glasses using microphones mounted on concrete walls like a secret agency’s interrogation room. The application can never see the person interviewing him while the person conducting the interview can vividly watch the visa applicant like a laboratory rat from the other side of the tinted glass. Mr. Fred was made to pay fully for the visa application by this notorious embassy even after paying a fortune for the degree he applied for. At the end of the “visa interrogation”, the invisible interviewer brought out the edge of a white sheet of paper from the under the tinted glass. Mr. Fred was commanded to sign the little edge of paper protruding from under the glass. No applicant is allowed to see the full paper that he or she is signing The applicant is asked to sign at the edge without knowing what he/she is signing for: whether it is a death sentence or an abduction contract. Mr. Fred signed at the edge of the document and it was taken by the interviewer and stamped. Then the full document was then shown to him and a copy of what he had unknowingly signed was given to him; a visa denial paper! An April-fool strategy for every applicant that visits this embassy. The embassy will inform you that you may wish to re-apply after paying to the embassy another round of application fees. However if you are stupid enough to do that, the same thing that happened to other applicants will befall you. Also the school that Fred applied to in their country had it as a matter of protocol to deduct forty percent of the huge tuition that every applicant pays to them should the applicant apply for refund. Most of the schools in that European country are already aware of the position of their embassy in Nigeria so they will gladly collect the individual’s tuition knowing that the embassy will cancel their visas whether they have the requirements or not. Mr. Fred was unfortunate to be a victim of this scheme, so were all the other ignorant applicants. Many Nigerians believe what happens in this particular embassy is pure racism, to others it’s just a fraudulent game. The Nigerian ministry of foreign affairs as usual does not care. It’s always business as usual; the wellbeing or death of an average Nigerian is his own god-damn business.
After several months of joblessness Mr. Jones got another job with a financial corporation. He was happy about this development. He was determined to be a dedicated and honest accountant that he has always been. Unfortunately the cycle of corruption and clannishness had eaten deep into this corporation. The office had a lot of directors. Few were refined and reasonable, others were completely insane. The manager was a complete psycho. A lot of individual believed he occupied that position as a result of his faith- affiliation despite his shortsightedness and incompetence in discharging his duties. Several employees in that establishment had different plans of defrauding the office. All their plans were ready awaiting execution. The employment of Mr. Jones ridiculed these fraudulent plans. He was always unwilling to give or receive bribe. His principles were strictly based on honesty and hard work. These virtues earned him the enmity of several “thieves” who worked with him. Some fraudulent directors within the organization had moles within the office whom they used to reap off the outfit. Mr. Jones was a thorn in the flesh of their numerous fraudulent schemes.
Some of these fraudulent directors devised different strategies to get him sacked from the establishment in order that they might have their way. However his uprightness and dedication to service always prevailed. Within a few years, he rose in rank and became a conduit between the corporation he worked for and other firms. He became an epitome of excellence. The use of black magic, witchcraft and divination still has a strong grip on Africa. Most individuals are unwilling or afraid of comforting evil as a result of fear of being victims of these evil powers. However Mr. Jones never believed in these. It was either honesty or nothing else.
Jones during a general audit inspection discovered some inconsistencies in the financial records of his office. He made a lot of research and attempted digging into the matter despite losing his former job as a result of a similar case. However before he could finish his investigation, he died of unexplainable cases. Some said it was a heart attack, others labeled it an accident, some others believed he was a victim of “black magic”. He lost his life dong the right thing in a world where honesty seems to be a waste of time with no benefit.
Honesty is the best policy yet the honest ones are losing and the fraudulent ones gaining. The world doesn’t value the truth anymore and evil is exalted over good.
The old holy book says ‘that the truth shall set us free”. Does this postulation of the holy book really apply to our present world? Has the holy book become obsolete or has the world simply evolved and moved on?
By Anene Obinna chinemelum from Nigeria