By Muyiwa Adetiba
I was chilled to the bone as I read last Saturday Vanguard’s account of how a few young men kidnapped the aged mother of our Finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and how a septuagenarian was killed because the ransom money was not enough.
I really do not know which I found more disturbing; the ease with which young men are lured into a world of crime or the cold hearted ruthlessness of these young men who think nothing of torture and murder. Also distressing is the fact that over 90 percent of these young men will never lead normal lives again.
They are lost forever to the world of crime because no legitimate business will bring a few millions to the purse of young, unskilled men for a couple of week’s work. And for them, make no mistake, it is work, an occupation, not just a one-off.
I am still trying to figure out why the Police decided to give the story out to the press. Is it to show that crime does not pay? Or to show that crime has become a way out for our unskilled, unemployed and misguided youths? It is not cynicism that makes me to choose the latter because every where you look shows that crime does pay in Nigeria; and the chances of being apprehended for your crime are low enough to make the venture into criminality worth the while given the returns.
Crime pays because the system is unwilling and ill prepared to tackle it. Crime pays because the proceeds of crime are warmly embraced by the society, including the church.
A retired senior police officer once told me of his involvement in a kidnap case where the police acted as ‘brokers’. After a sum had been agreed upon, the family handed the money to the police. Unknown to either party, the police took its ‘commission’ or ‘broker’s fee’ and handed the balance to the kidnappers. The kidnappers felt the family had reneged and killed the victim in a fit of anger. Thereafter, the case went cold— to use the language of the police. No arrest was made and nobody was apprehended. A clear example of how crime pays.
Are we surprised therefore that kidnappers have become emboldened? Are we surprised that more people are being recruited into this new Ministry of Labour and Employment?
And still on the police, why are we not surprised that the largest pension fraud in the country took place in the police force? In the home of those who are paid to detect crimes? It’s hard to believe that there was no connivance, that some of those millions did not disappear into the accounts of some ‘oga at the top’
Crime pays when the judiciary is compromised and the rest of us accept it as a fact of life; when independence of the judiciary is threatened by unscrupulous men in public and private life as in the case of the pension thief who left court in a chauffer driven Mercedes benz.
Crime pays when the church, our moral sanctuary is being used to launder ill gotten money; when men of god readily accept houses abroad from corrupt public and bank officials.
Crime pays when politicians loot their ways to higher offices and nothing happens; when security and other votes are used to feather private nests.
Crime pays when militants and those on the fringes of law and order are rewarded with multi-billion naira contracts to secure pipelines that they have, and are wilfully vandalising.
Crime pays when Boko Haram terrorists are now the new bride in town and their sponsors are waiting to collect a hefty bride price.
How did we get to this sorry pass? We have to look at the structures of the society; at our apathy towards stolen and misappropriated funds; at our calm acceptance of crime and criminals. We have to look at the mother who asks no questions as her teenage son suddenly becomes financially independent because it means one less mouth to feed. At a mother who looks away when a child brings a ruler or an exercise book home from school. At a parent who buys JAMB results because they believe that is ‘the only way’ their ward can enter into a university. At a student who uses bottom power to get grades and a university system that looks away. At a family which sends a young, unskilled girl to the city with no questions asked as long as money is sent home to feed her siblings.
Ultimately, we have to look at our attitude towards money as it has become a god that we all – from peasant to president – worship.
The following day after the Vanguard story, I was driving along Awolowo Road in Ikoyi, grateful for the Sunday evening free flow of traffic on that normally mad road. I stopped for the traffic light and a car, driven by an expatriate, stopped by my side, effectively blocking the two lanes towards Falomo. Suddenly, a vehicle hooted impatiently behind us. My rear mirror confirmed it was a commercial bus. I told myself he would have to fly this time. And that was almost what he did. He actually reversed, veered left, and sped past the traffic light. The expatriate and I exchanged glances and shook our heads. Guess what? The ‘smart alec’ got away with it. And you still wonder why crime pays in Nigeria? First, it gives you an unfair advantage. Second, you get away with it.