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Nigeria's Endangered Species: the Case of Salami Ibraheem



Ayodele Aderinwale  
Ayodele Aderinwale, MFR Executive Director,
Africa Leadership Forum

Many years ago, I had a rather interesting conversation with a slightly younger colleague. We were generally talking about the Nigerian society but more specifically about leadership values and ethics in the country. One thing that struck me during that conversation was the confidence with which the colleague argued that when a person tries to do the right and proper thing in Nigeria, the system consumes him or her. In very clear terms, he said, “Oga, no matter how hard you try, Nigeria will defeat you”.

The refrain rings in my head every time I see the system approximate, if not annihilate, a few promising stars as they emerge from the abyss of misconduct. I have watched, in amazement, the senseless looting and corruption that characterize our system. Like many people, I am angry and worried that such a potentially great country like Nigeria could be crippled by its very own leaders.

As if things couldn’t get any worse, a trend has emerged in which the individuals who so brazenly loot our common wealth become deified, adulated and celebrated as demi-gods. Thieving in the name of man and in the name of God is almost attaining status of a shared national value. Maybe D. O. Fagunwa saw into the future and was referring to Nigeria of today in one of his expeditions.

In recent times, there is hardly a day that passes without news headlines bearing stories of corruption, theft or misappropriation of public funds in one institution and sector or the other. If it’s not oil merchants and their government cronies sucking our nation dry in the fuel subsidy scandal, it is vultures feeding off the entitlements of pensioners or stock exchange executives living large off investors’ funds in the capital market scam. It seems the new refrain is my vulture, like appetite, is bigger than yours!

To the rest of the world, Nigeria is one huge scam. Our image as a country seems to be far from redemption despite the hundreds of millions we invest in projects like Rebrand Nigeria.  Regardless, I still see hope in the emergence of a greater Nigeria tomorrow.

A couple of weeks ago, the action of a rather strange fellow buoyed my waning hope, re-invigorated my beliefs and re-affirmed my suspicion that the problems we see today are actually problems on the retreat and not on the advance (apologies to Museveni).  

As Americans would say, Salami Lateef Ibrahim was an Average Joe, working his hours at Nigeria’s busiest airport, Murtala Mohammed International Airport, as a cabin cleaner for the Nigeria Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO). He probably didn’t earn much in salary and allowances. Perhaps his needs and responsibilities required a lot more than his earnings could meet. He certainly could use an extra buck or two.

Ibrahim was at work cleaning the cabin of a KLM aircraft when he found a bag containing 25, 000 British Pounds and 5, 000 Euros, an equivalent of N7.35 million. The story goes that instead of helping himself to the money, Ibrahim handed it over to security operatives to locate the owner. Media reports indicate that, for his act of honesty, Ibrahim got a handshake from KLM executives and the sum of N3, 000 from the owner of the found money. Ironically, it is another airline, Turkish Airline, which rewarded Ibrahim the most; with a return ticket to Turkey!

Some commentators have argued that Ibrahim was duty-bound to return the money once he found it so his action was no big deal. I too agree it was dutiful to return the money. But I do not agree his action was no big deal. It has to be a big deal if not a bigger deal.

We live in a Nigeria where mediocre performance is celebrated as stellar performance; a country where slightly above average performance is hailed as unprecedented and described in suffocating superlatives and deafening adjectives. We live in a Nigeria where public morality and ethical standards have become so low that at times it is easy to conclude that they do not exist. It just has to be a big deal in a Nigeria where the Dana plane crash is attributed by all commentators to unethical conduct and some form of conspiracy between owners of Dana airlines and Aviation officials. No one is willing to admit for one second that it might not be due to some form of real or imagined misconduct. We are in a Nigeria where today the values have completely atrophied that sinners have become saints and saints suffer perdition. 

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