By Juliet Rogers
That morning Dr. Teodera appeared in court and stood in the dock was an unbelievable moment for the people of SAGBI because no one believed a man like that, of all people, could stand there to answer questions on bribery and corruption – he hardly looked in the faces of people, rather, his head remained bowed most of the time, and only lifted it up when the final verdict was read which sentenced him for twenty-one years.
The record on corruption was really messy, and it was not only evident, but also smelling badly everywhere in the nation of SAGBI. Every success, every step in doing anything, even to secure a job – everything hinged on who had money to pay for it. And it was not just who paid, but who paid more carried the day.
That day which saw the appointment of Rev. Dr. Teodera Sambo brought promises, hopes, and many forward looking thoughts that the cankerworm was going to be purged out, not temporally, but completely and permanently. The overcrowded city hall received him in earnest. The anticipation was rather high; early that morning, people started trickling in to take their places in attendance of a meeting of the newly appointed Minister and Chairman of International Studies and Scholarship Trust. It was much publicised in the local dailies, as well as the magazines, in the streets, in the market places, schools and colleges. Some of the headlines in the newspapers displayed expressions like “CORRUPTION MUST GO,” “LIBERTY IN EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS,” “THE JESUS AND SAVIOUR OF SAGBI, NOW HEADING MINISTRY OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES AND SCHOLARSHIP TRUST (MISST),” “MISST A SAFE HEAVEN,” “NO MORE BRIBERY IN SCHOOLS AND COLLEGES”
Therefore, even before the day of the meeting, many had concluded that “rain or shine,” they would be there to get firsthand information. “No one will relay his message to me, much have been said and heard about the Reverend,” one permanent secretary said to his friend in the pool of crowd just outside the hall. “Does it mean the syndicate of corruption or bribery is now over? Note that we have all benefited and enjoyed it in the past,” the other man replied. As they moved closer, everyone realised that it was not just a meeting, but a formal press conference, comprising state ministers, the clergy of different church organisations and missions, parliamentarians, heads of parastatals, schools and colleges, a mixed bag of students from universities, all were talking about the honesty of Rev. Dr. Teodera Sambo. “Do we have to conclude that our teachers will no longer ask for money for grades? Or are we saying that the poor can now go to Egypt, China, Singapore, Japan, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Seychelles, South Africa, Equatorial Guinea, India, Rwanda, Japan, Germany, Cabo Verde, United States of America, Sao Tome and Principe and more on scholarship?” Rhetorics like these were the common chats, serving as prelude to the meeting.
The pressmen, in their black coats, with lines of white strips betraying the white long sleeve shirts that were worn under every coat of the journalists; they had already taken their seats at different locations in the hall, files in hands, heavy pistol cameras, mounted on their shoulders in readiness to snap and capture every information that will be detailed in their newspapers. At last the Rev. Dr. entered the hall, amidst a thunderous cheer. It became like a month of October when the flash of camera lights began lashing on the Minister, from every angle of the hall, certainly, the outcome of that display of cameras was meant to decorate their newspapers and magazines.
Corruption had eaten into many lives of the people of SAGBI; they saw that session as an opportunity, coming at the time when the majority poor had grown tired of seeing their youths who could not progress beyond high school with all the academic qualifications, either because they could not afford to pay for them in their own universities, or source the Government Grant-in-Aid, let alone a huge bribery for foreign universities scholarships.
Our guest speaker who will be giving us the keynote address is a son of the soil, from a very humble background,” the local counsellor who served as the chairman started his introduction of Dr. Teodera. “He has always been a minister and a pastor; he was a minister, not only politically in the Student Union Government, but also headed the Scripture Union. He later studied in the United Kingdom on the ticket of a commonwealth scholarship – today he is an academic doctor and well read in divinity and philosophy. Our guest speaker is no less a person, but Rev. Dr. Teodra Sambo, the new Minister and Chairman of International Studies and Scholarship Trust (MISST),” he concluded as he beckoned to him as if he wanted to tell him that his task has ended and the people were eager to receive his message.
“Mr. Chairman, State Ministers, Honourable Members of Parliament, the Clergy, Heads of Academic Institutions, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,” Rev. Dr. Teodera started as he majestically whisk around, adjusting his brown coat at every gaze. “For far too long, our nation has suffered under the heavy burden of bribery and corruption. The poor could not access justice – they could not access higher education because they do not have enough to bribe in order to source a scholarship, internally, as well as external. I am saying enough is enough,” the cacophonic cheer which has been gathering momentum, broke the silence and punctuated the Dr.’s speech. Quieting them by gently waving to them, he continued: “Mark my words, I believe the journalists are taking notes. I must ensure that not only as Minister and Chairman, but also as a Clergy, the very man who interpretes God’s words to mankind – will ensure that this syndicate of organised crime, like a ‘strong man’ in our lives should end to exist. No more bribery as an instrument to source scholarship. The only way – to induce our youths to study hard is by academic merit, not by financial merit – No more! No more brown envelop,” he finally and softly, but strongly rapped up.
A newspaper journalist anxiously stood up, frowning and he asked: “Rev. Dr. Teodera Sambo, we have had speeches like this before, beautifully dressed up and eloquently put too. What guarantee can you give this gathering that just after few months, it will not be business as usual?” Rev. Dr. Sambo quickly responded by saying that ‘the taste of the pudding is in the eating.’ He strongly promised such will not occur again, not when he will be in charge, to say the least. “Only time will tell,” the journalist concluded.
Everybody dispersed, with high hopes that the Rev. Dr. gave them his heart, and the narrative was going to change from a corrupt society to corrupt free. Days came and went by; weeks turned into months. It was a little past one year since Rev. Dr. Sambo made that historic press conference, and honestly, things were fine. But most government authorities and parastatals started facing sharp financial challenges. The government appealed to them to use their private cars for official purposes since the state treasury could not afford to buy for them. The old Belgium honda car developed lots of problems – the under carrier required enormous overall repair, he had to fuel it himself, two wheels were to be replaced. He had to pay college fees for his younger brother and sister. Cintia, his wife, was expected to continue to live a life that befits a minister’s wife that could match up with the dictates of the 21st century; needless to suggest that the African traditional system demanded from him the sole responsibility to cater for the general wellbeing of Dad and Mum who were aged – this responsibility was also to reflect on the uncle and aunt because he was the only son who succeeded to make it in life.
So, that night when his friend stood before him in his private sturdy, with two high school leavers, envelops in their hands, he marvelled at them, and knew exactly what they stood there for. “To every rule there is an exception Honourable Minister,” his friend who was with the students said. Besides in African social system, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible to avoid helping certain people, just like the ones mentioned – don’t reject the tokens from these students,” he concluded. They left the brown envelops on his table and went away. Each envelop contained two thousand five hundred dollars. ($2,500). Their problem was to get a scholarship each in order to go America.
With the financial blews rapidly falling on him, and with this new responsibility, he stayed in his office pondering over it – he took the money from the brown envelops and let them have the scholarship, called them for interview even though they failed to get the score that would have awarded them a scholarship. When the scholarship results were published, their names topped the list; he even helped them to get better results that could match with the standards of scholarship holders.
The shock resulting into an investigation which landed Rev. Dr. Sambo in police net and subsequently charged the matter of bribery to HIGH COURT – for various corruption crimes. Rev. Dr. Teodera’s case attracted public attention as no one believed that he, of all people, could mortgage his integrity. “Was this not the Jesus of Africa?” One journalist cynically asked as he was accompanied to his prison cell to serve a prison sentence of twenty-one years with no alternative.
Juliet Rogers is a Societal Engineer, Life&Emotional Intelligence Coach.