Nigeria is suffering from a real crisis related to the scale of theft of public resources that is beyond all logic and can only be equated to madness. For decades, some public officials have been stealing billions of naira and subsequently some of them graduated into stealing billions of dollars. In the process, they have completely lost sight of rationality; that is, how much can you reasonably spend in your lifetime and the lifetimes of your children?! Two million dollars, for example, is over one billion naira and there is no way a family can reasonable spend one billion naira in their lifetimes. I say ‘reasonably’ because, of course, one can spend one billion naira renting planes and buying houses that are too big for a family to live in. It is the disappearance of reasonableness that I find extremely alarming.
We have it on judicial authority that the former Delta State governor, James Ibori, is a thief. Specifically, Mr. Ibori was convicted of corruption and money laundering on April 17, 2012, after five years of trial by the Southwark Crown Court in the United Kingdom, and sentenced to 13 years in prison. The whole world knows that, and yet he was bold enough to go for thanksgiving in his church and say that he is not a thief; that his enemies were simply maligning him. This happened when Mr. Ibori returned to Nigeria after serving a jail term in the United Kingdom for corruption and the theft of public funds.
During the special thanksgiving held in his honour at the First Baptist Church in Oghara, Delta State last Sunday, Mr. Ibori said he was wrongly accused and that he was truly hurt by the anguish his people went through because of the long absence of their hero.
He told them that: “They want me to go to the corner where I won’t be seen. Today, I have decided to speak for myself. I am not a thief; I cannot be a thief. Today is the day they say I should give testimony to God. For those who know me, you know that my life is a testimony itself. I have said it over and again that my life is fashioned by God, directed by God, sealed, acknowledged and blessed by God. I believe that since the day I was born.”
This is the other element of madness that I find unbelievable. People will break God’s commandments, do the ungodly and confidently declare God to be on their side. I find it difficult for someone who believes in God to act this way because the first principle is that God knows what you have done, and although human beings can sometimes succeed in deceiving other human beings, they cannot deceive God. The only real explanation I can think of is that they do not really believe in God.
Just before starting to write this column, I saw a video clip distributed on WhatsApp by the friends and colleagues of Andrew Yakubu, the former Group Managing Director of NNPC, giving testimonies of his life as a good Christian and an excellent professional. I remember when I met him once in a mutual friend’s house, he spent a lot of time talking about his devotion to God. At the same time, he would see no contradiction in being found with almost ten million dollars, which had obviously been taken from public coffers. I remember that when the discovery was made, a number of people from his zone in Southern Kaduna were complaining bitterly that he had never done anything for his community, had no record of helping people, and yet was hiding all this money he and his family would not have been able to spend.
The Federal Government announced a few days ago that its whistle-blower policy has started yielding fruits and has so far led to the recovery of US$151 million and 8 billion naira in looted funds. According to the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the amount does not include the $9.2 million in cash found with Andrew Yakubu. The monies were recovered from just three sources through whistle-blowers who gave actionable information to the office of the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation.
This means that relations and friends of looters of funds are releasing information so that they would get their slice of the cake, which is between 2.5 and 5 percent of the amount recovered. When I heard about this inducement, I had laughed it off thinking people would not take it seriously. As usual, I was underestimating the greed of some Nigerians. I now think this policy should be widely publicised so that more looted funds would be recovered. The whistle-blower policy is only about two months old and so much money has already been recovered. From all indications, only a very small amount of stolen money has been recovered so far. The capacity of some of our people to engage in mega looting is indeed scandalous.
I think some basic civic education is necessary for the Nigerian elite. The most important one is to send as many people as possible to long jail terms for corruption. That is the ultimate lesson that can teach people that corruption is bad. This approach is the most effective because many corrupt Nigerians are convinced that God is on their side, so lessons on morality and ethics cannot be effective. The second lesson would be for the National Orientation Agency to trace the home communities of all confirmed mega looters and organise seminars and rallies on how such people have done so much harm to the nation. Its difficult to succeed but seeing the way Ibori was received at home, we cannot fold our hands and say communities have the right to welcome thieves with a 21-gun salute and mega feasting.
Finally, we should open a register in what should be called the NATIONAL HALL OF SHAME, where the names and the terrible deeds of mega thieves would be displayed. The information on the register should be used to teach this history to our children, now that we have decided to re-introduce the teaching of history in our schools.
A professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, Jibrin Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, and Chair of the Editorial Board of PREMIUM TIMES.