By Josef Omorotionmwan
LEBEN und tot lassen”. This is a German expression for what has today become fashionable in Nigeria – Live and let die.
We are in a situation of acute economic recession in which more and more people are dropping dead while many others are resorting to suicide as an escape route. Yet, some privileged Nigerians with access to public funds are looting billions in all imaginable currencies.
Those in the letter category fabulously enrich themselves; live in opulence, and still appropriate stupendous wealth for their generations yet unborn.
We are talking here of the type of inequality that comes not from hard-work and paying investments; but the aspect of misappropriation of monies meant to provide roads, water and electricity supplies, provision of education and health-care and other social amenities being brazenly diverted to private pockets – thieves in high places!
The wicked aspect is the looting with reckless abandon, the money set aside for pensioners. These are people who in their younger years served this nation with their blood and sweat; but in the evening of their lives, when we should care for them; their money has become the easiest to steal, thus leaving the senior citizens to die on pension queue like poisoned rats.
The looters attract curses to themselves and the curses eventually come home to roost. In the Second Republic, a prominent politician of that era averred that Nigerians were not suffering as he had not seen anyone eating from the garbage can. By divine intervention, that politician was never the same again after the eventful day when the Military High Command attempted to import him into Nigeria from Britain in a wooden crate, like any common cargo. Nemesis must catch up. The Holy Book is clear on this: Those who dig a pit will certainly fall into it.
The more things change, the more they remain the same. My grandfather told me that there was a time when they kept their money in clay pots and buried them in the farm. It was the era of cowries and farthings. Sometimes, such buried monies were lost to various causes – at times, they lost sight of the burial positions; and at other times, big anthills developed on the positions where the monies had been buried.
There were no banks in those days. But far into the twenty-first century, when there are banks everywhere, treasury looters are returning to the old practice of burying their loots in graves. On Sunday, April 16 2017, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, informed Nigerians, “We have been told how looters have resorted to burying stolen funds in their backyards, in deep forests and even in burial grounds… It is now clear that a rapacious few have pillaged the nation’s wealth through a vicious orgy of corrupt practices.”
It is enough torment and punishment that a man has stolen so much money that he cannot sleep well. Such a man has murdered sleep! To steal at all is criminal; and to steal more than what can be kept in the bank is incurable malady. Such should be locked up in the asylum and the key thrown into the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean. Apart from the requirement for asset declaration, public officials should also be taken through psychiatric examinations at the entry and exit points.
We also see some good aspects of our military past. The time has come to change the higher denominations of our currencies – the N500 and N1000 Notes; and give the shortest possible time for people to exchange their old notes for the new. This will guarantee that ill-acquired wealth will get truly rotten in the graves where they have been buried.
Our experience in living under the same roof with idle cash money can only enter here as a testimony: after the Abiola debacle of 1993, when we lost our jobs, we re-migrated to Lagos, more like refugees, to begin life afresh. Our refugee camp was the abode of a friend at Abule-Osho, in the middle of nowhere, between Lagos and Ogun States.
In our offering bag, we had accumulated some N100,000 from friends; but we had not opened an account in Lagos; and e-banking was, at best, a toddler at the time.
On that fateful night, armed robbers came calling. We were perhaps more concerned with the money than with our lives. We had just enough time to wrap the money in a cellophane bag; and introduce same into the toilet sink before escaping through the window into a nearby bush.
We beat the armed robbers to their own game but not without a price. Water permeated through some torn parts of the cellophane bag and the notes were thoroughly soaked. We spent the next fortnight trying to dry the money. And money is not something you dry in public glare. From this simple hide-and-seek exercise, you can imagine what people who have billions stacked away somewhere go through. It is an ordeal. The slightest noise of a rat in the most remote part of the ceiling keeps them awake all night.
Public officials must know of the madness in looting funds that they are supposed to be keeping in trust for the people. Besides, inequality in society is a sure prescription for catastrophe. Basically, a society that cannot cater for its poor cannot also protect its rich.
Yes, times are hard but countrymen must realise that every problem has an expiry date. In any case, resort to suicide is not an option. Nobody ever cures a headache by cutting off the head. With a little patience, it will soon be clear that the change from poverty to wealth could be as quick and as absolute as the change from day to night.
The Federal Government is doing well in its chosen war against corruption. There is no looking back. Every Nigerian must support government in this noble fight. Let our motto be: NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER! History will remember this administration for saving the nation.