"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
March 19, 2013
Gadianton and the Road to Jericho
by Imo Eshiet

Nigerian Kindergarten

As a Latter-day Saint, I try to be optimistic. At moments of dark, biting despair, I brighten up chanting uplifting hymns. Fortunately, I was raised by a cheerful father who thought of himself as a man traveling the road to Jericho.

Bandits, he often said, may ambush and priests pass him by, but he trusted providence may yet get him along. I cannot figure how he came by his exceptional hope, for the circumstances of his birth, as indeed much of life, were grimly discouraging.

The night he was born was dark and bleak literally and metaphorically. His mother and twin brother died at birth. Life in a polygamous family of thirty-six stepmothers and a colony of children was a chastening experience which branded the road to Jericho imagery on his mind. He had barely started off elementary school when his doting father passed, leaving him to weather the adversity orphans usually encounter amidst unrelieved poverty. Such was his privation he had to circumcise himself at age twelve.

Tired of the mockery of mates who had theirs done at birth, he circumcised himself while bathing one early morning in the village stream. The cold water stopped him from bleeding to dead. Ironically, hardship burned in him a sense of humor which he honed as a defense mechanism to hide his hurts.

This served him well. For example, when forced by difficulty to drop out of high school and enlist in the colonial army during World War II, his commanders were so infected by his charm and youthfulness they kept him from theatres of high casualties. They even taught him a trade so he could dig himself out of the hole after the war.

Returning from the war, he butted heads with poverty to save up for a bride price. The tradition is so unbending that even now many youth are frustrated and frightened from marriage by the high bride price. Again, his upbeat attitude, tenacity and resourcefulness helped him along. He befriended my mother’s only brother and was thus introduced to his parents-in-law.

Like others, they found his gutsy faith admirable. Even then, few in my society like poor sons-in-law. Father used to regale us with laughter by recalling an incident when he visited our grandmother. He had arrived without gifts and the old woman affected happiness seeing him.

She loudly asked house helps to kill one of her free ranging fowls so she could prepare lunch for her visitor. Out of earshot she instructed that the chickens be chased into the bush. Unfortunately, my father overheard her and made an audacious move.

Calmly grabbing a stone and being adept at target practice, he instantly hit one of grandmother’s fowls. He then told her he had spared the house helps the trouble. Outwitted, grandmother cooked for and served her guest!

Spiking political dysfunction in my country shakes my belief in Father’s faith that bandits will never carry the day on our road to Jericho! A conflict rages in my bosom each time I convince myself that Nigeria, with its strangling corruption, shall one day recover from self-destruction. This past Friday, March 15, 2013, a dismal headwind brought me face to face with reality I had papered over.

A local newspaper, The Punch, came out with an editorial flaming with choking despair: "The situation is becoming hopeless"! As if that wasn’t enough to jack-knife readers with numbing terror, it shockingly added: "Ours is a government being run by narrow minds and harder hearts."

To be sure, nothing exaggerated. The newspaper was aggravated at the way Nigerian authorities continually buck the people, in this instance, granting state pardon to serial criminals. Some of those pardoned had committed treasonable felony against the nation. Others were hard-nosed looters who as officials raped and laundered the public till and have shown no remorse.

As governor of a resources-rich but extremely impoverished state, one such politician, while on a visit to Britain, was caught by the police with over $1 million dollars in raw cash. On investigation, a British court found that rather than lead, the Nigerian politician like most of his colleagues back home, had rapaciously looted his people and owned property worth over $10 million dollars in Britain and Nigeria all acquired through laundered money.

Jumping bail and disguised as a woman, he escaped to Nigeria. To pacify an outraged Britain, Nigeria made a show of indicting and jailing the plunderer. He did some brief stint in prison and came out bidding his time. This weekend, to pave the way for the return of the prodigal to power, associates in power rewarded brigandage by granting the felon unconditional state pardon.

The action sparked robust local and international protest mirrored by the editorial. Folks in Nigeria reserve maximum contempt for their government and see their leaders as clueless. Speaking in metaphors to avoid harassment by state security operatives, one posted on social media that the visionless leadership has tied a corn cob to its waist and has become the scorn of the hen.

The U.S., Nigeria’s principal trading partner, used to slapping Nigeria on the wrist for atrocities against citizens, came up with criticism but no substance. Her Embassy in Nigeria twittered two messages claiming it was “deeply disappointed” that the disgraced politician got away with unqualified pardon. “We see this as a setback in the fight against corruption”, it whimpered.

Victoria Nuland, State Department spokeswoman in Washington, also slammed the “recent pardons of corrupt officials by the Nigerian government” because the action subverted the rule of law “which is very important for the future of the country”. She regretted that the pardon “puts a question mark on the kinds of work we have been trying to do with them”. Yet she was eerily mum on sanctions for the brazen abuse of power and absence of social and economic justice in Nigeria.

Emboldened by the tepid response, defiant Nigerian authorities faked umbrage at the U.S. for challenging quantum leaps in corruption in our neck of the bush and attacked her for "undue interference and meddlesomeness”. In a veiled threat, Nigeria hoped the U.S. “would henceforth desist from making unwarranted comments on Nigeria’s internal affairs, which are capable of undermining the friendly relations that exist between them”!

Nigeria can afford burly insolence because she is used to be treated mildly even when Muslim terrorists visit, with impunity, spates of violence on Christians in the country. After all, if America shuns its oil, Asiatic countries would quickly cram the vacuum with hefty bribes.

And so our sinkhole continues to gobble us. Between 1960 and 1999, Nigeria, as studies reveal, has lost over $380 billion to graft. While an overwhelmingly majority of her population live on a grinding slog of less than a dollar daily, a tiny cabal of political and business class leads a princely, dissolute lifestyle. Sometimes I wonder if we wouldn’t regain our ability to think creatively if we ran out of oil.

I wonder if my father were alive, if he would still think the traveler on the road to Jericho could make it to his destination with latter-day gadianton robbers ambushing every inch of the way.

A prison in Nigeria

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About Imo Eshiet

Imo Ben Eshiet was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Raised in his village, Uruk Enung, and at several cities in his country including Nsukka, Enugu, Umuahia, Eket and Calabar, Eshiet is a detribalized Nigerian. Although he was extensively exposed to Western education right from childhood in his country where he obtained a PhD in English and Literary Studies from the University of Calabar, he is well nurtured in African history, politics, culture and traditions.

Imo is currently a teacher in the high priests group in the Summit Ward of the Greensboro North Carolina Stake.

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