Commentary: Our chief is a thief
BY KEN UGBECHIE
And it came to pass that our most revered icon is also a despicable crook in the white man’s land. Our dear chief whom we have garlanded at home with national honours and rewarded with juicy political appointments including electing him into prime political position is on the wanted list of security apparatchik across Europe and America. Our chief, even our latter day defender of democracy, was also a drug baron in America in his early life. I also hear that the one we call our Leader, the one we so much adore with canonical awe, was no better than a common criminal in the books of the white man.
Yet, the same we honour at home. The same we knight in our churches, revere in our mosques and festoon in grandeur in social gatherings. But a thief is a thief. The badge of ex-convict cannot be removed by stealing more and donating to churches and building mosques here, there and everywhere. Never! God cannot be appeased by the sacrifices of giving or by the tokens of charity. But it is not my worry that men of questionable character have paradoxically taken over the nation’s socio-economic and political space. What bothers me is that for each category of thieves in our ever growing clan of chiefs, it has taken the white man, an outsider, to announce to us that the one we so adore as a beacon of hope, a crusader for the general liberation of the common man and a defender of our nascent democracy is nothing to them but a piece of filthy rag.
The Halliburton scam, the Siemens scandal, Willbros bribery bung, the Ajaokuta buy-back sting, the refinery turn-around swindle, the voracious decimation of our external reserves just before democracy was birthed in 1999, the on-going fuel subsidy scam, the forex subsidy scandal (still happening) are a few of the many monumental frauds that may never have been reported but for the whistle-blowing white man. Amazing!
Even more amazing is the fact that those named or convicted in the white man’s land are the same people who claim they are fighting corruption in Nigeria. They are the ones who still badge into churches with their retinue of aides, seize the microphone on the invitation of the priest and take the bible reading of the day. And for the rest of us, it is an honour to hear our chief read the Bible. We are only privileged to hear the voice of our chief from Aso Rock, from government houses across the states or even from the private sector. As he reads with celestial piety, our chief admonishes us to be of good conduct. He tells us to shorn corruption. He urges us to walk the path of nobility; to fast and pray in sackcloth and ashes for the purgation of our soul. He tells us that when we live right and walk with our maker in righteousness and holiness, God will help us, make us rich and deliver us from our state of poverty.
Our chief takes us on a voyage, a testimony of his life, how God liberated him from a low estate and set him on high far above the rest of us. He kneads intermittently at the lapel of his bespoke three-piece suit or the heavily starched contours of his flowing Agbada.
Inside the mosque on a Friday, our chief occupies a huge swathe on the front row. He appears in immaculate white Agbada to show us just how holy he really is. He chants his prayer with pious demeanour. He assures the Imam that he would complete the remaining part of the mosque single-handed.
But he never tells us that he is a thief. He never tells us that he got money from the Halliburton bazaar; that he actually drew up the sharing formula in the Siemens bung; that he was in the thick of the Ajaokuta kickback scam. Our chief who is also a thief does not tell us that he still sniffs a cocktail of drugs; that all the hoopla about good governance or lack of it during his administration was because he got high, in fact very high, on drugs, including codeine.
And what a people we really are. A man of scorn abroad has become our hero at home. A notorious thief abroad is now a noble chief at home. There must be something wrong with a culture that rewards roguery. The Nigerian culture does just that. We deify a buffoon as a baron, a moron as a mogul. We dignify a thief as a chief and decorate him with national honours and an assortment of merit awards. Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) which ought to read Grand Corrupt Father of the Republic (GCFR), Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) ought to read Grand Corrupt Officer of the Niger (GCON). It is a long list including the Conman of Nigeria (CON) which we wrongly labelled Commander of the Order of the Niger.
A nation that does not reward ordinary people doing extra-ordinary things like Kenneth Nnebue, the pathfinder of home video who gave hope to legion of Nigerians and other great minds of Nollywood, an industry that has brought both fame and fortune to the country, but turns round to reward a clan of thieves who pillage the national till is doomed.
How do we justify the sordid reality that some Nigerians who were convicted in US and Europe years ago are the ones writing the template for good governance and anti-corruption in Nigeria today? What really is our definition for public service? A place of refuge for crooks; a den of thieves? Or a clan of clowns?
When the story broke that Abdulrasheed Maina, a former Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms, declared wanted for alleged fraud, has miraculously re-joined the civil service with a promotion to boot, we all blew hot air. Both the man who was declared wanted and the two key members of Buhari’s government, Minister of Interior, Gen. Abdulrahman Danbazzau (retd) and Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, who masterminded his dubious recall and reinstatement are still busy working in the service of their fatherland. Such is our voluble appetite for national service.
Nigeria is a nation of many thieves garbed in the noble regalia of chiefs.
It was not a surprise, therefore, to see that of all the past heads of government, their deputies, ministers and government contractors named in the Halliburton, Willbros and Siemens scandals, none is without a national honour, a chieftaincy title, a tag of royalty or a badge of religious piety. Yet, these are proven thieves named in court papers in the white man’s countries as recipients of bribery for which the white men who offered the bribe had since been convicted in their countries. Isn’t it something that borders on odium that our chief whom we so idolise and adore at home is actually a thief abroad?
You see what I mean? Our dear chief is a thief. It is as shameful as it hurts.
First published in Sunday Sun