So British Prime Minister David Cameron recently described Nigeria as “fantastically corrupt.” Funny! What does that even mean anyway? Fantastically and corrupt — I doubt I have ever before heard both English words used together to describe anything at all. Nevertheless, my immediate reaction was to admire Mr Cameron’s creative use of the language in a way I suspect that no one but an authentic Englishman would have done.
Honest to God, I initially had little or no idea of what it meant to be fantastically corrupt, but I thought the British PM’s use of words was a beautiful expression of choice. It was almost poetic, and like all poetry, it was open to diverse interpretation by everyone and anyone. From that, I knew to give the matter no further consideration. Language, I have learnt, can be just as mind-bending as any complex mathematical expression. Thus, I did what I considered the wise thing: I put the matter aside and continued with the daily grind of my existence. Besides his comments were made in a private moment, and I still think it’s rude to eavesdrop on people. That’s like one step away from becoming a voyeur. God forbid.
We’ve got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain… Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world.” David Cameron.
Well, I know now that not everyone, especially not my fellow Nigerians, whose dear fatherland some white man flippantly described as fantastically corrupt think it’s funny or okay.
Why, oh why, did this white man in one brief stroke awaken the painful memories of imperialism and slavery that Nigerians, like many Africans, are trying to put behind them?
I also know now that “fantastically” and “corrupt” when used together is never a compliment; it cannot even be considered a passing phrase. It is derogatory and pejorative through and through, just like the N-word. Quite a number of Nigerians now think, fantastically corrupt is probably the latest phrase invented by the white man to describe people or countries of colour. To be sure, Nigeria wasn’t the only country mentioned in the conversation; Afghanistan was thrown in somewhere in the mix too.
Possible reasons why the Afghans seem to be taking the issue lightly is beyond me. Maybe they are just as upset as we are, but with barely 30 million of them, they are too few in number for their voices to be heard as compared to a potential 170 million Nigerian voices screaming blue murder at Mr Cameron’s comment. Maybe they just don’t know enough history as well as we do.
Nigerians like me have learnt from history that the white man is a sly fellow, slippery and immoral. He is the type that would father a child with your wife and later warn of the dangers of infidelity. We know all these in Nigeria because we are conscientious and observant. So now we lie in wait for the white man, his many lies and his hypocrisy, determined to expose him for what he is and never again be blindsided by his empty preaching.
But then again, maybe the Afghans know something that I and my fellow Nigerians don’t; they know that their beloved Afghanistan is indeed fantastically corrupt. When you rank in the bottom pile of most corrupt nations on earth — they are 3rd from the bottom while Nigeria, for its part, ranks as 136 out of 168 countries on Transparency International’s transparency index — there is really nothing to hide and it is an open, gaping, butt naked secret. In the end, it doesn’t matter from whose mouth you hear what is quite obviously the truth.