Daily Trust (Abuja)

4 February 2013

Nigeria: Looting Happily Ever After

opinion

Our land of milk and honey has become a den of thieves stealing in the name of work. I am surprised that so many people are surprised that 'billionaire' John Yusuf Yakubu got away with a fine of N750,000 and forfeiture of some properties in Abuja as punishment for conniving with Essai Dangabar (Director of Police Pension Fund), Atiku Abubakar Kigo (Permanent Secretary), and others to steal a total of N27.2 billion belonging to the Police Pension Office.

In a much criticised verdict, Justice Abubakar Talba sentenced Yusuf to a prison term of 2 years with an option of fine of N250, 000 for each of the 3 counts in a 20-Count Amended Charge, to which Yusuf had pleaded guilty., in addition to the custodial punishment or fine, the convict was ordered to forfeit, to the State, 32 real estate property in Abuja and Gombe, and the sum of N325 million, proceeds of his crime, stashed away in banks and frozen.

In this area of high profile conviction, Before Yusuf, there was Bode George who was given 30 month imprisonment in October 2009 for fraudulent contract splitting; there was Cecilia Ibru jailed for six months in October 2010 for a N150 billion bank fraud; there was Tafa Balogun who got six months in November 2005 for money laundering; there was Lucky Igbinedion who, in December 2008 bagged six months for corruption with an option of N3.5 million fine; and there Diepreye Alamieyeseigha whose celebrated saga in 2007 ended in two years imprisonment for money laundering.

In some of my earlier pieces I had argued that the best way of robbing Nigeria and getting away with it is to steal enough to bend the law. Whereas poor people receive upwards of five years for stealing goats, the elite steal billions, rent a senior advocate to negotiate their freedom, and walk away with the bulk of the loot under a plea bargain deal. The more you steal the better for you. In the supreme paradox of our stranger-than-fiction circumstances, the more you steal the better for you; the bigger your loot the likelier you are to be able to negotiate a way out.

I will not break sweat adding to the angry words that many people have flung at Justice Talba in particular and the judiciary in general. Apparently the law allows camels to pass through the eye of the needle. I take consolation in the fact that ill-gotten wealth is laden with curses. I have to invoke JK Rowling now: "Enter, stranger, but take heed/ Of what awaits the sin of greed,/For those who take, but do not earn,/Must pay most dearly in their turn./So if you seek beneath our floors/A treasure that was never yours,/Thief, you have been warned, beware/Of finding more than treasure there."

One becomes even more despondent when one remembers that if the laws that allow thieves to escape justice are to be reviewed, the job has to be done by the national assembly which also has its own fair share of 'goalkeepers'. But our lawmakers have to rise up to the challenge in their own interest before the people resort to self-help. Remember how our kind of situation degenerated in Latin America with orgies of assassination many years ago? I am not suggesting anything drastic but I do know that a situation where evil routinely trounces good cannot be sustained for long.

To the thieving elite and their acolytes, I offer the words of Saint Basil: "The bread which you hold back belongs to the hungry; the coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear mouldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes. The silver that you keep hidden in a safe place belongs to the one in need. Thus, however many are those whom you could have provided for, so many are those whom you wrong."

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