Vanguard (Lagos)

5 February 2013

Nigeria: 'I Only Stole N23 Billion...'

LAST week, Nigerians were outraged. Mr. John Yakubu Yusufu, one of the eight civil servants accused of stealing N40 billion, note; not N40 million, from the Nigeria Police Pension Fund, got a limp tap on the wrist.

He had pleaded guilty to stealing N23 billion, again note; not N23 million! The judge sentenced him to two years imprisonment. Anyway, he was not to serve the two years imprisonment.

He was given the option of walking away by paying just N750,000! Yes, you heard me right, N750,000 only, not N750 million! That was the reason for the national outrage!

But in the din of the uproar, we missed the profound message Mr. YakubuYusufu was sending to us! He told us, "I only stole N23 billion. Government has already seized my 32 property!" Got that? He stole only N23 billion when he could have stolen more!

It was out of patriotism that he decided to limit himself to N23 billion; chicken change, you must agree. After all, the money was there to be stolen and he stole only N23 billion.

And "my 32 property" seized (wrongfully?) by government were proceeds of the "only N23 billion" he stole. So, why should he be crucified? Why the hullabaloo?

Perhaps if you made more noise, Mr. Yusufu could refer you to the series of scandals that went on in the National Assembly and challenge you to show him one person that has been convicted. He could even remind you of the rot in the NNPC.

He could point to the trillions of Naira budgeted annually that get us nothing in return. He could even recall the Permanent Secretary who, in the early months of Obasanjo's administration, stole "only" N400 million and got away with just nolleprosecui!

So a man steals "only N23 billion", of money that was readily available and waiting to be stolen, and the nation is outraged? I believe the Judge appreciated the generosity of Mr. Yusuf and reciprocated his goodwill with a handshake instead of handcuff.

Tell me; have you ever wondered why it is possible in Nigeria for someone to steal N50,000 public fund and he or she is not found out? He or she steals one million Naira, and nobody finds out? He or she steals two million, N10 million, N20 million, N200 million and yet the system does not find out?

He or she steals One billion, yet the system remains blind to that? One, two, three, four...up to 23 billion and the man gets bored and stops! Then Rip Van Winkle wakes up!

There is something fundamentally wrong with our country that the Yusufus of this world are pointing out to us! Nigeria, as presently structured, can only sustain corruption!

Between the town and Abuja money

Remember what late Dr. Ukpabi Asike, former Administrator of defunct East Central State, described as "Ogbomosho syndrome"? He did not mean any offence to Ogbomosho people. He simply used their great virtue to explain the very thing wrong with the structure of our federation.

He illustrated that an Ogbomosho man will never embezzle the money entrusted to him by his town's union. This is because he easily relates with the owners of the money; he is one of them; he relates to the objective for which the money was collected; he would not disgrace himself or betray his trust among his people!

But the same man may not entertain the same sensitivity for money stashed in Abuja and owned by an anonymous entity. If he steals it, people may rally behind him as "our son", not a thief. The church will collect his tithe and look the other way.

In other words, stealing (okay, we euphemistically call it corruption) like defecating on the water front on Marina Street, Lagos, hides under the anonymity of our faulty federation. A goat owned by everybody is easily starved, say my people.

Those who are opposed to the restructuring of this country for effectiveness forget that order is the first law in heaven. And God said, let there be light. That was order being ordained! And there was light. And He looked at the result of that order, and IT WAS GOOD!

The universal truth is that order is good! Another truth is that disorder is anti-good! In the order of things in the universe, where there is truth, falsehood has no place. We have been labouring on the Nigerian project, shed blood, tried leader after leader, yet nothing is working--from ordinary roads to pension funds! Why is it so?

The truth is that the foundation is wrong and nothing good can stand on it. We must get that and stop chasing shadows.

Disorder and a country at war

It is only a disorderly federation like ours that can allow any man so disposed to steal as much as he can without being caught and when caught, walks away with a slap on the wrist. A disorderly country is like a country at war; it is susceptible to looting.

Can anybody tell me when and where in the First Republic we saw the level of rot we are seeing in every facet of our national life today? Why is it impossible to steal one million dollars in the United States of America and get away with it? Why is it impossible to steal one million pounds in the United Kingdom and get away with it?

Why is it impossible to steal one million Rand in South Africa and get away with it? Now nearer home; why is it impossible to steal one million cedes, in Ghana of today, and get away with it? These countries are structured for effective law and order! Simple! It is this order that has made it possible for the citizens to have no alternative to being patriotic.

Yusufu and others like him who freely help themselves to public funds are mere symptoms of the ills we have refused to correct in order to get our country functioning effectively.

The good sign, though, is that many more eminent Nigerians have seen this truth. I listened to General Ibrahim Babangida last

Thursday at the launching of two books written in honour of Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi admit that we have made mistakes all these past years. And so "right policies have been wrongly implemented and temporary solutions have often been turned into permanent policies, even though the problems they were designed to address have long been solved".

It is common sense that a wrong structure can only yield wrong policies. And once the policies are wrong, they cannot be implemented. IBB admitted that "the starting point has to be an admission that we have to fix things"!

Unfortunately, there are people who think that the solution is to panel beat the constitution in a way that serves their personal interests.

The truth is, a Nigerian that works for only a few as it is now, will ultimately not work for anybody! And people like John YakubuYusufu will continue to find it easy to steal "only N23 billion" and get away with it.

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