Is there anything Nigerians won’t steal?

steal1According to some estimates, late Gen Sani Abacha, who was head of state from 1993 until his death in 1998, allegedly siphoned over $4 billion from Nigeria’s treasury. How he managed that monumental feat at a time when crude oil prices barely averaged $10 per barrel reflects a measure of financial genius. But that is no longer a record; James Ibori improved on the Abacha Paradigm and somehow managed to steal N80 billion from the coffers of just one state, Delta.

Abacha and Ibori are by no means unique: It was estimated that the now pardoned Diepreye Alamieyeseigha made off with over N126 from the coffers of Bayelsa state during his six year as governor; an unheard of perpetual injunction has stopped the investigation of former Rivers state governor, Dr. Peter Odili that might have uncovered allegations of even more godless theft. Not to be beaten, former governor Saminu Turaki used his mathematical genius to milk an alleged N34 billion from prostrate Jigawa state.

When former Central Bank governor Charles Soludo unveiled his banking reform and consolidation project, many thought he was a genius. As it turned out, his genius was not in his economics, but ability to market flawed policies and contrived statistics to a gullible public.

In the end, trillions of naira worth of depositors’ funds was ‘consolidated’ by some bankers: Oceanic Bank’s Cecelia Ibru was convicted of stealing over N191 billion from her bank; Intercontinental Bank’s Erastus Akingbola allegedly helped himself to about N164 billion while PHB’s Francis Atuche and others are still dancing around our legal systems in court over allegations of massive theft.

If previous administrations thought they had set unbreakable records in thievery, they were baldly mistaken. Without breaking sweat, the Jonathan administration managed to ‘lift’ N2.6 trillion from Nigeria’s treasury in the name of fuel subsidies and other unwholesome practices – including payments of billions of naira to companies not even registered; over $1 billion was recently wired into the accounts of several public officials from the Malabu oil scandal.

Not surprisingly, one year after Nuhu Ribadu submitted his panel’s report on the petroleum sector, who really remembers, or cares about its findings anymore?

This kind of impunity is not the exclusive preserve of politicians and bankers: What has become of a former director of Pension Accounts, Dr. Sani Teidi Shaibu and his accomplices who allegedly stole over N12 billion? Did a director of police pensions, Mr. John Yusuf, not also not steal N27 billion in broad daily light? What happened to the judge that set him free? A mere suspension before he returns to the bench to continue to sell justice to the highest bidders.

These humungous thefts came to light only because some of the perpetuators are dead, are out of favour with government, greedily refused to ‘spread’ the loot, or were simply careless. Not that public knowledge has led to penalties: the Abacha loot was never returned; only a fraction of what Ibori stole was recovered; Odili’s perpetual injunction may protect him until death; the Ribadu report on the oil sector is dead and buried; the Halliburton and Siemens scandals are long forgotten and many notorious ‘election miracle’ judges are still on the bench.

Add these to several allegations of impropriety against the country’s minister of justice and attorney general – Mr. Mohammed Adoke, and it becomes clear that the rot is deeply rooted.

Since most large scale thievery not only goes unpunished, but is sometimes admired and praised, no one seems to pay much attention to theft at smaller levels, thus Nigerians now steal things like metal manhole covers – leaving gaping holes in the middle of roads that pose grave dangers to both drivers and pedestrians; it is common to find bridge and pedestrian crossings missing metal and aluminium railings – stolen in the dead of night; even public trash bins that are chained to streetlamps get stolen, as do light bulbs, solar panels, power cables and anything that apparently belongs to government, even if they have no real value.

Petty theft is commonplace: police siphon fuel from patrol cars for sale on the black market, and valuable evidence in police custody regularly disappear; customs officers steal and sell seized contraband; bureaucrats have been known to steal files and even entire records of service of staff; security guards steal diesel from generators on property they are supposed to guard; drivers steal parts from the cars they drive; domestic helps steal foodstuff and anything they can lay their hands on; even babies get stolen.

Unfortunately, because so many of our political actors – in the executive arm as well as the legislature – came to government through stolen mandates, there seems to be little that can be done about theft – large or small. Which is Nigeria has become a place where anything and everything is fair game for theft, thus the question: Is there anything Nigerians will not steal?

Salisu Suleiman
September 29, 2013

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