The Moral Bankruptcy in Ethiopia, by Zayd Ibn Isah

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The Moral Bankruptcy in Ethiopia, by Zayd Ibn Isah

Something quite unusual happened in Ethiopia recently that prompted many Nigerians on social media to start asking, “God, when?” This is because the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, which is the largest in the country, experienced a technical glitch which allowed people to withdraw more money than what they actually had in their bank accounts. Even those who had no money in their accounts were able to withdraw and transfer substantial sums unhindered. Apparently, over $40 million was lost during the period of this freakish glitch. And the glitch in question was caused by a routine system update inspection, according to news reports.

There is a popular saying amongst my people that mushrooms don’t grow for those who have teeth, which simply means that opportunities don’t often come for those who would utilize them well enough. I bet you that if this sort of technical glitch were to ever happen in Nigeria, the figures would run into billions of dollars. At this point, there are many Nigerians who are mocking the Ethiopians for not looting enough, for not taking enormous advantage of such a “daily manna”from heaven. Interestingly, Ethiopian students were the biggest beneficiaries of the glitch as many of them took big slices of the national cake.

Although the bank’s Chief Executive Officer, Abe Sano, said efforts are currently being made to retrieve the stolen funds (and as at the time this article is being written, about $10 million has been recovered). What happened in Ethiopia goes to confirm what some of us have been saying: that the poor masses in Africa are not so different from the ruling class of elites whom they routinely criticize for being corrupt and self-serving. H. G. Wells put it succinctly when he said, “Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo.” Truth be told, many of the ‘oppressedʼ are just waiting for the slightest opportunity to get into a position which would guarantee them a share of the proverbial national cake.

This brings us back to what played out in Ethiopia, because immediately news of the technical glitch went viral, people trooped out in their numbers to the nearest ATMs. Even those with no bank accounts ventured out to partake in the show of shameless theft. And how could anyone call it a crime when everyone was on the take? To most of those people, fortune had merely chosen to be quite generous to all, instead of favoring only a few. As such, anything resembling a voice of reason would have been drowned out in the cacophony of greed and depravity.

It was really a saddening sight to behold, seeing young men and women standing in long queues, waiting to take what was not theirs at all. Is this the future of Africa? Even parents who should have known better, and the elderly who were supposed to restrain the youths, were also scrambling to partake in the rush. It was a free-for-all, an orgy of chaos, an exercise in criminality, with total disregard for any sense of morality or responsibility, and minimal fear of repercussions and consequences. All in all, the Ethiopian fiasco snowballed into a microcosm of the moral decadence that has devoured traditional African society like a cankerworm.

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Now, if the Central Bank of Japan were to ever experience such a technical glitch, the authority would issue an official statement, apologizing for the inconvenience caused, while promising to resolve the problem as soon as possible. The statement would be issued knowing fully well that only a few Japanese or no one would take advantage of the situation. This is simply because the society they inhabit is guided by long-standing values which forbid and condemn such acts, and moreover, there is even a system in place to checkmate such acts, such that anyone found wanting would be severely dealt with.

I read somewhere that in Japan, you could forget your money at a restaurant or anywhere and still come back to pick it up the next day. This cannot be said of most African countries, sadly. It is not that we don’t have honest people here, but that such individuals are a dismal minority. Often, I see how we celebrate individuals, especially tricycle riders who return items forgotten by passengers in their tricycles. There is often a tendency to see such people as unreal, as fabrications even. And even more troubling, there is usually a wave of derision and mockery aimed at such upstanding citizens, with many seeing them as fools or losers.

Almost ten years ago, on December 23rd, 2014, Josephine Ugwu, a cleaner at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, while going about her duty, found a misplaced sum of ₦3 million which she later returned to the rightful owner. On 27th December, just four days later, she found ₦600,000 and just as before, returned it to the owner. And then, in 2015, the world would get to know of Josephine Ugwu. This was because she came upon a misplaced bag containing about $28,000 dollars (₦12 million at the time) which she yet again returned to the rightful owner. Although many people marveled at Josephineʼs rare sense of integrity at the time, a great percentage of Nigerians (in true Naija fashion of humour) took it upon themselves to make the woman the butt of vile jokes. She was called a fool, an idiot, a dull person. They said she was destined to be poor, and had unknowingly thrown away a divine opportunity to elevate her family from poverty.

And it did seem, for a while, as if Josephine Ugwuʼs virtuous deeds would receive no recognition or reward beyond brief news interest. For years, her story was relegated to the background, until the year 2020, when she found and yet again returned a sum of ₦17 million. After this, she could not be ignored any longer, and President Muhammadu Buhari would thereafter honour Josephine with a distinguishing ICPC Integrity Award, alongside a house and an over 90% salary increase in her workplace.

Apart from the appalling level of disdain thrown at honest and upright individuals like Josephine Ugwu amongst us, we are wrong as a people for even complaining bitterly when good deeds do not attract mouth-watering rewards and benefits. This usually makes many people feel that there’s no gain in being upright, forgetting that virtue is its own reward. They forget the ability to sleep with peace of mind is an understated blessing, as opposed to constantly being on edge due to the fear of being exposed or harmed for being greedy and dishonest. With that being said, there is a need for a fundamental shift in cultural orientation, if only to instill values of integrity and accountability as the general rule within our society, rather than the exception.

Ultimately, fostering a culture of honesty and ethical behavior is essential for the sustainable growth and development of any nation. Just take Japan for an example. And then look at Ethiopia, look at Nigeria. In comparing these countries, it is easy to see how national progress stems from collective values shared by a majority of any nation’s citizenry. And it all requires concerted efforts in education, governance, and community engagement to promote values that prioritize the common good over personal gain.

That may very well be the one thing that can save the soul of this country.

Zayd Ibn Isah can be reached at [email protected]

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