Desperate Times, An Unhinged People, By ‘Tope Fasua
Somehow, the shallow and fleeting goal of obtaining money by any means has been elevated to the most important aspiration we could probably have in Nigeria. Nigerians have become unhinged. This is not corruption going on with us as a people. I will put the problem somewhere near insanity, confusion, immaturity, lack of vision, stupidity, sheer wickedness, and a deep sense that the devil has taken over the hearts of many of our people.
Don’t get it twisted; it is not the desperate times that created these unhinged people. The people had been unhinged before the desperate times came, even though the desperate times are now swelling the ranks of the unhinged. Yes; now, both desperate times, and totally unhinged people cohabit in the space called Nigeria. Nigerians are a people who do some of the craziest things for the craziest reasons, though I’m more concerned today with what we call corruption, which I have always argued underestimates and belittles the problem that we really have. Nigerians are not corrupt. We weren’t born corrupt. But what hails us is far worse and needs to be urgently discussed.
Take for instance the case of Andrew Yakubu, one of the previous GMDs of NNPC, who stashed, in some nondescript mud house in a poor area in Kaduna, the sum of $9.2 million or well over N4 billion, among other foreign currencies. The man, Andrew, was reputed to be one of the most decent GMDs NNPC has ever had, such that some people – including the then opposition party, APC – complained when he was replaced. Others were there before Andrew, others have gotten there after him. All of them without exception have their own stashes of dollars, perhaps more than Andrew’s. Many people are saying that Andrew is really unsmart; they ask why would he leave all that money in some safe in some run down house in Kaduna? I will attempt to psychoanalyse what could have happened. But first, we need to remember that Andrew supervised Nigeria’s oil sector where they complain about too much subsidy going to the people, where they increase our pain by increasing prices of these staple products because we have no choice. Andrew presided over an NNPC that has been declaring losses for ages, yet he had that stash and that is the one we can see. Andrew, and the rest of them who have impoverished this country and who delight in the mass poverty they have created, deserve the hottest parts of Hell.
But wait; what sort of educated man keeps that much dollars in some house? Someone made an analysis that if he spends N250,000 daily – including weekends – Andrew will need just over 51 years to finish that money. And he still has other monies, plus dozens of properties, many of them earning for him. There are two things; one, it is possible that these ‘lucky’ Nigerians who get to these positions just get the monies shoved in their faces by all sorts of people who want some huge government patronage or the other. In which case they offered little or no resistance, and then the floodgates opened. Maybe they didn’t know the money will be this much and are now stuck with tons of cash of which they do not know what to do with. Or secondly, one begins to ask how people could be so extremely stupid – not greedy because greed does not explain this mental state – as to go after such amounts just to prove a point. Many Nigerians will readily allege that these government officials actively go after these bribes. Maybe that is the case. Any new appointee strives to make more raw cash in comparison to the guy before him. And the story goes on and on. It is a sickness which we haven’t properly diagnosed. These momentary sensations of outing one big thief or the other does not approach solving the problem. Many times these cases fizzle out and the alleged criminal simply continues to mingle with the rich and powerful. Most Nigerians have gotten to the level where they will tell you that if they were appointed today, they will also go for their own heists. The situation is almost hopeless. The Buhari approach to attacking corruption is half-baked and dishonest in part. I will explain further shortly.
Most of those who lead Nigeria at different levels are men. And we could easily decompose that mindset because men want to impress others. Everybody wants to be the go-to guy for favours. Money buys power and that they say is today’s politics. In my little sojourn in politics I have been told often that since our generation does not possess the money to dole out to Nigeria’s perennially poor majority, we should forget about making an impact. We have told those who care to listen that we are here to change how politics is being done. All the politicians who have the money to dole out in tiny bits to the population that they have deliberately kept in penury and confusion are people like Andrew Yakubu. Not only have most of them not created anything tangible in their lives or added value to anything, most of them are total dimwits, even if they are quick to do violence in order to maintain their positions. I pity those young people who do not see all the signs that point to the fact that we should do away with the entire shebang, and are ready to continue playing this politics that is taking Nigeria straight to the gates of Hell.
Men sometimes compare the sizes of their houses, cars and even private parts… the bigger the better. The silliness of the entire venture does not occur to us while we are engaged in this childish practice. Nigerian men, in particular, seem to be stuck at a stage in human evolution where man is measured strictly by these things; houses, cars, the women they acquire and whatnot. Our music says it all. The rest of the world has since moved on and men are doing great things for their country, for their people. But the women who have served Nigeria at different levels have also shown much prowess in the art of stealing it must be said; after all, a grade level 12 woman civil servant was recently announced by EFCC of having ‘owned’ 63 houses, which was recently seized. Diezani Madueke, Stella Oduah, and Mama Peace (with her $15 million deposit at Skye Bank and elsewhere) are still fresh in mind. I would however say that in my humble opinion, the ladies learnt from the guys who ill-defined the ethos of leadership in Nigeria. Recall Okotie-Eboh and his long robe which one boy was employed to tie around his neck about ten metres away!
The insanity is much. It is unbelievable. And unconscionable. Nigerian public officers have no pity. Even the ones who are serving now are like that. I know at least two ministers who I’ve heard say that they moved around with hundreds of thousands of dollars in their car boots everywhere they went. They probably still do. These were once broke men who had never done any real work in their lives and had no preoper careers. They got into government and public funds became theirs to spend freely, while they hounded poor businesses for more taxes. We can see several video clips of people swearing that something is afoot, that a rebellion is coming. We can see students shouting down and pointing fingers in the faces of governors. We can see the ease with which Nigerians are demonstrating. Indeed enough is enough. Nigerians will soon take their destinies into their hands.
It is very normal these days for MDA officials to operate illegal accounts and nominate themselves as signatories to company accounts without the real owners being aware. Old invoices can thus be reawakened and cleared through the system with money being paid for jobs not done, going straight into the pockets of a few smart Alecs.
My analysis of what happens to the likes of Andrew Yakubu is that they are transfixed. Transfixed like a deer is with the oncoming lights of a car. Andrew didn’t know what he wanted to do with that money, even though he collected it all the same. All of those who have milked and bilked this country like him – and they are there in their hundreds – have no idea of or plans for what to do with the monies that they have stolen. They just steal. I imagine that a Dangote would know where to quickly deploy $9.2 million without having to dodge around. Andrew could not spend it. Andrew has more everywhere. Andrew should be pitied. Andrew is unwell. And that goes for millions of Nigerians who have been miseducated, whether in their schools or especially these days, even in religious houses. Business schools tell us that what matters is that we get money through competition. Churches tell our people that it is their right to have money because God has ordained it for them. Somehow, the shallow and fleeting goal of obtaining money by any means has been elevated to the most important aspiration we could probably have in Nigeria. Nigerians have become unhinged. This is not corruption going on with us as a people. I will put the problem somewhere near insanity, confusion, immaturity, lack of vision, stupidity, sheer wickedness, and a deep sense that the devil has taken over the hearts of many of our people. Perhaps there is a cult these people belong to where they are instructed to bilk Nigerians to death, because if these monies were not embezzled and kept by them, this country will be prosperous and even they will enjoy themselves better.
I always tell people that there is much value in being broke; being without money. A broke person thinks better, and is able to use little to achieve much. I personally think better when broke. And I deliberately refuse to quickly go a-borrowing. The education we get these days – even in so-called Ivy League schools, tells us to quickly dash to the bank. Many businesses are surviving on loans that they could never repay, because cheap and easy loans replaced that invaluable space for deep thinking and reorganisation. People like Andrew Yakubu, saddled with so much money than they could ever spend in a lifetime, simply stopped thinking. They may be alive, but mentally, they are dead. And unfortunately, it is his type who lead Nigeria in all facets. Those who pray for riches however it may come, should stop and ask themselves some difficult questions. Our religious houses and business schools need a rethink of what they preach and teach. That Nigeria is here today shows that we are on a permanently wrong course in what we have been feeding our brains. This inability to think again explains why the dollars found in Andrew Yakubu’s mud house are the old types.
Now my concern for today’s write-up is to look at the clever and crazy things Nigerians have been doing just to make money. Many grew up with a deep sense of spiritual poverty and have prayed all their lives to get near money. Many are stealing just to measure up to standards that society has set for them. Many are of fickle mind, just out to impress. Many grew up with kleptomania in their blood. When President Buhari says he wants to end corruption I’m not sure he knows how the mad quest for money by Nigerians keeps morphing and the extent people will go to be big men/women. He admitted it himself when he said he was not aware of budget padding. Maybe while he was out of action for 30 years, he did not keep in touch with reality. Anyone who will make a dent on these issues must be informed, efficient and speedy, and must know how to follow the money.
See what I got:
1. Contract Cloning
This is the habit of creating papers for a contract that mirrors another real contract exactly. Many times the big men who sign are aware but feign ignorance and sign both papers. One payment goes to the real contractor. The second payment goes into an account opened by officials of the MDA, in the name of the contractor, even though the contractor is unaware. An elaborate system of forgery and collusion between the bankers and MDA officials ensure that this goes through. Billions are bilked each year through this means.
2. Invoice Recycling
This is where invoices that have since been processed and paid are suddenly given another lease of life and reprocessed through the system. Many times it is the big men who call for this to be initiated. The contractor may or may not be aware. It is very normal these days for MDA officials to operate illegal accounts and nominate themselves as signatories to company accounts without the real owners being aware. Old invoices can thus be reawakened and cleared through the system with money being paid for jobs not done, going straight into the pockets of a few smart Alecs.
3. Budget Padding
This is the one the president said he was unaware of. The budget items could be stuffed individually with illegal amounts. National Assembly members are in the habit of asking MDAs to add some pork barrel amount otherwise the entire budget will not be signed off on. They do this allegedly in the name of their constituencies. Another way may be the inclusion of an entirely fictitious item. I hear there is a line item of N6.8billion for ‘Irrigation’ in the budget for Education this year. Well, every contract in Nigeria is inflated beyond value for money. These days things are even more desperate. The blockage of some areas have led to contractors bearing more of the brunt as officials go for the jugular. Contractors are now slaving away for these officials.
4. Contract Hijacking
This is a scenario where rather than clone a contract, officials at an MDA simply issue a contract in the name of a qualified company, but without the knowledge of that company. They will find people to execute this for very cheap, and pay the money into an account where they are signatories.
Many people thought the advent of the BVN was the final straw that will break the back of criminality in Nigeria. No. We hear some unscrupulous bankers now sell BVNs to whoever needs them, by the batches. Any company who wishes to justify anything to regulators can simply hire some BVNs from the banks for a fee.
5. Contract Splitting
This is as old as prostitution itself; good old contract splitting in order to game the controls that limits how much can be signed by official signatories. In some instances, the leadership of some MDAs will sign hundreds of payments of the same amount to a single account on the eve of their departure.
6. Dead Man’s Chest
The other day a frustrated contractor committed suicide at one of the MDAs. He had been parading the office for years with no success. On this occasioned he merely warned ‘I will kill myself o. I will kil myself o’. Everyone ignored him. Then he threw himself four floors down. He was as dead as mutton on hitting the floor. If Nigeria is what I know it to be today, the next day, some people will unearth the man’s invoice where they kept it, and process the money for themselves. Nigerians are so heartless and unhinged that they have nothing against spending a dead man’s money. When airplanes used to crash in Nigeria, it was because officials signed AOK on aircrafts when they knew that they were flying coffins. They collected money. It is funny how some Nigerians are able to sleep. But they do. Sometimes all they have to do is donate their tithe and give generously to the church and bingo! On other occasions, a fine little mosque in front of their houses say ‘Allah take your own’. The idea behind the ghost worker phenomenon is also closely related to this. Many of the ghost workers (Madam Kemi Adeosun said she discovered 50,000 of them), are dead people whose names remain on government payroll. Some smart big men continue collecting the money, even if the families of the dead worker wallow in poverty and die themselves.
7. BVN Batching
Many people thought the advent of the BVN was the final straw that will break the back of criminality in Nigeria. No. We hear some unscrupulous bankers now sell BVNs to whoever needs them, by the batches. Any company who wishes to justify anything to regulators can simply hire some BVNs from the banks for a fee. Everybody in Nigeria wants to make money and be big. We are the ones who encouraged this to be so.
8. Oluwole Movements
Every Nigeria city has a den of forgers. Oluwole is standard for Lagos, even though that has now been democratised. There are places where one can obtain fake passports, fake visas, fake company documents, fake bills of lading, and everything in between all over Lagos and in every town in Nigeria. Some people wake up daily and that is their normal place of work. Nigerians no longer see any big deal in forging documents. Many people now move around with fake names, fake dates of birth, and fake certificates.
9. Milking Government Inefficiencies
This is normal, if the government does not know what it is doing. Take the current N200 spread between the official interbank rate for the naira vs the dollar at N305. Then the real rate in the parallel market is N505. Any businessman who wants to get anything below N500, must be ready to pay underhand ‘egunje’ of anything like N100.
10. Clean Cook Stove – Stealing from the Poor
Recently we heard about how less than 20 percent of the promised clean cook stoves were supplied to Nigeria’s poor families, while we’ve been billed for the full supply. The poor are the easiest to steal from in the country.
11. Nyanya Bomb – Stealing from the Dead and Wounded
Apart from dead civil servants, another category of ‘unfortunates’ that Nigerians are stealing from are victims of terrorism. The victims of Nyanya bombing are still stranded, as are victims of other mishaps. Their benefits have been embezzled by some big men in power. No mercy.
One of the worst types of corruption is when the judiciary is corrupted. It seemed too high-handed when masked security men stormed the homes of some old judges the other day, but emerging evidence shows that almost all judges in Nigeria receive bribes in order to grant judgment. In that case, they grant victory to the criminals and defeat to the innocent.
12. Corporate Burglary
Again nearly as old as prostitution. This is a case where a contractor is told to supply goods to a government agency in the morning (say 500 laptops worth N300,000 each). Then he is instructed to collect them back in the night when everyone has closed. The supply would have been registered and the disappearance will be put down to distribution and usage among the MDA’s staff. The contractor gets a cut for his troubles and still has his goods with which he can repeat the cycle at this or another MDA.
13. Election Bribery Fraud
We recently saw the display of N111 million in raw cash by agents of the EFCC, being part of the proceeds of bribes allegedly collected by INEC officials for the Rivers State rerun elections. The entire heist, they said, was around N350 million. As it has become the standard practice in high profile bribery cases, no names were mentioned. If they were small criminals, their names will be splashed all over the newspapers; alongside their pictures. Our anti-corruption strategy shows too much respect to criminals. It is therefore less than sincere. But the issue here is that the fundamental process of entrenching good leadership, through transparent elections and electoral processes, is deliberately screwed up by the umpire. Any other talk about governance is therefore useless. Electoral processes should be sacred; people should exercise their conscience. Not in Nigeria. It goes to the highest bidder and everything is about the money.
14. Plain Fraud
As we evolve into a merciless society where the winner grabs all, plain old fraud is on the increase. Armed robberies and kidnapping too. Boys and girls are organising themselves into criminal gangs in order to forcefully get their own back from society. Their targets are the most vulnerable among us. There are more armed robberies in poor areas than in the organised rich vicinities. But lately, spontaneous kidnapping has also taken on a life of its own. No one is safe anymore. Housegirls kidnap children in their care. Armed men using speedboats lay siege on middle class communities, kill security men and police like they don’t care, and snatch victims. It is even very risky to now jog in the morning. This is the Hobbessian society that ineffective and visionless leaderships have gifted us. In banks and other corporate workplaces, workers are increasingly casualised. No one is employed directly anymore. The directors create a special purpose vehicle which does the employment because there’s money to be made from there. Those employed in this manner have no rights and no career. They therefore see nothing wrong in stealing their organisations blind. Everybody is smart.
15. Corrupt Judiciary
One of the worst types of corruption is when the judiciary is corrupted. It seemed too high-handed when masked security men stormed the homes of some old judges the other day, but emerging evidence shows that almost all judges in Nigeria receive bribes in order to grant judgment. In that case, they grant victory to the criminals and defeat to the innocent. They could give a death sentence to an innocent person, and free up the most dangerous criminals who will go ahead to unleash violence on society, all for money. Judges are seen as God’s representatives on earth. Nigerian judges, up to the highest echelons, are heartless and lawyers who know are aware that the judicial process in Nigeria is a huge joke. Everyone is on the take. It never used to be like this, but of late we’ve lost all sense of caution.
16. You Take the Car, I Take the Tyres
My office used to be close to the Federal Legislative Quarters in Apo, Abuja. We had vulcanisers behind the office. That was when I knew how drivers of big men also make their money. The big men think they are wise and greedy, but those who work for them see through them. Anyway, very often when a new car is delivered to a legislator, or any other big man for that matter, under a few days the driver comes to exchange the tyres for old ones. He sells the brand new tyres at a discount or just keeps them with a vulcaniser. An SUV tyre costs anything from N100,000. He can sell for say N50,000 each. No big man will check tyres every morning. And so after a few weeks the driver complains about the tyre. He shows the boss how bad the situation has become and gets a fresh set of N150,000 to buy new tyres. He may even buy back what he has sold to the vulcaniser or just collect what he kept. The same goes for every and any spare part in the car. That is why cars bought for government officials, especially, get run down much faster than those used and maintained personally by individuals. If our big men are smart and greedy, their workers are smarter.
But it is not merely a public sector affair. Last week the news broke about how 285 Dangote drivers had stolen and sold in the open market 3.5 million tyres! These are big truck tyres. They must cost at least N200,000 each. If they sold for a mere N100,000, that is N3.5 Trillion in their pockets. Everybody wants to be as rich as Dangote. Most of the fantastic houses we see around us are proceeds of crime.
17. The Turbine Heist
Did you hear about the attempted stealing overnight of a N7.2 billion Russian gas turbine somewhere in Delta State? The thieves had it all sorted and were going to dismantle the structure and mount them on several trucks. There is nothing people cannot steal in Nigeria. It is like dismantling and stealing the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Desperate times have collided here with an unhinged population
18. Selling Crude Oil In Hotels and Illegal Refineries
A fascinating story came out last week that Nigerians now sell crude oil inside hotels. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds, because the NNPC was just trying to draw attention to the activities that usually go on at the Transcorp Hilton. This has gone on since forever. The Hilton is where every high-wired stuff in Nigeria goes down. It is the only hotel close to world-class in the whole of Nigeria, so that is to be expected. What is more intriguing for me, is the news that illegal refineries are being destroyed in Kogi State. When did they discover crude oil deposits in Anambra State which shares a border with Kogi? Illegal refineries used to be a Niger Delta problem, and would usually be justified through the issue of the perennial neglect of that region. But today, it seems like standard practice. By the time crude oil is discovered in Borno and Bauchi, there will spring up, illegal refineries there too.
Nigeria is broken.