Are We All Thieves?

by Fola Ojo

My sauntering sojourn in the US began about a quarter of a century ago, and like the afflictions of the righteous that are always many, humbling and sometimes humiliating have been my tread. The troubling experiences I had did not come from my early years when I had to jostle with the most menial of all jobs to jumpstart my new life., neither did the torturous battering emanate from the mud-wrestling I had to sign up for to get a “Green Card”. But the constantly soul-searing, heart-bruising face-offs were and still are the bastions of rabid reports posited about Nigeria and Nigerians in the global media. These are images I cannot scrub off the chalkboard of my mind. I concur, however that some of these stories about Nigeria and Nigerians may not be too far from the truth. But I also know that many of them are padded up in a showcase of ignorance about a people who are guilty first until proven innocent. Name it! My people have been fingered in different scales of untoward behavior stretching across all imaginable and unimaginable facets. I need not go through the list on this page. A few times, these reports had made me cry. Many times, they had made me angry. But a rehashing and reinforcing bludgeon came to me penultimate Friday, and my ageing and yet healthy heart could not resist a quiet sob.

A young Nigerian-American man had called me from a US Mid-Western city expressing his desire for a connection into the mean, menacing, and mafia-managed Nigerian Oil & Gas business. According to this young man, his team, comprising mostly Americans had fallen into the snare of hoodlums in the treacherous terrain of Nigerian business world. They had been swindled to the tune of almost 1 million dollars over the last six years. In a tone tainted and tarred with hopelessness and surrender to fate, the young man concluded by saying and I quote; “sir, right now my American friends believe that all Nigerians are thieves, and I am not sure if I should believe them or not”. Friends, I couldn’t sleep well that night. My heart was heavy; my spirit was submerged in pity, shame, and embarrassment for myself and the country I love. But let me ask you my friends, are Nigerians all thieves?

The frustrations of these name-callers are understandable if you’ve had to do business in Nigeria. When you buy a land, you may land no land, but land in la-la land. When you build a house, the contractors steal from you. When you buy a house, you may be buying a mirage and a photograph. You pay double the regular rate for acquiring a travelling passport, and you are milked dry and dirty for signing up with NEPA whose offices seem to be in NEPAL (far too removed from the people). Nigerian Customs and Immigration services nail you for entering Nigeria, and you are not spared the hammer for exiting. Lies and deception have almost become our second nature, and the good ones among us have to pay for the lunacy and schizophrenia unleashed by the mixed multitude.

Not too long ago, I read in a Nigerian Newspaper the confession by a gang of preying pirates who terrorize our waters. According to the arrested thugs now in police net, their support comes from powerful people and some of them are even in the Presidency. They have a network of ministries’ workers that give information on the location and content of the vessels to be hijacked. The loots are then shared among government workers and the gangsters. Although the veracity of the confession is still hanging out there, if a coalition of criminals can rest their shoulders in safety and sacredness on the cradle of the mighty presidency, then we are in trouble. Even some supposedly holiest places have become palaces of untruth. Any uncompromising truth-teller is an endangered species because it is almost counter-culture to tell the truth in Nigeria. As a Christian when you tell the whole truth, your Christian friends will tongue-flog claiming you are not applying wisdom. When you don’t inflate prices on your quotes, it is assumed that you have chosen to die a poor man or woman. Even in the house of God, the devil is reigning and ruling, and we are pulling and rooting for him. But, are we all thieves?

Offensive frisking of Nigerians at airports all over the world is as a result of the halo of stereotypes orbiting the heads of my people. In my small US town of Hartford with about 14,000 inhabitants, a big poster hung on a bank wall warning customers about Nigerians and fraud. But, are we all thieves?

Friends, I can boldly submit to you that WE ARE NOT ALL THIEVES, period! There are tens of millions of Nigerians who have not bowed their heads to the Baal of thievery nor kissed the image of corruption. WE ARE NOT ALL THIEVES! There are millions who would still do business without soiling their fingers in blood money. WE ARE NOT ALL THIEVES! The few “I AM INVALUABLY TOO EXPENSIVE (INCALCULABLE, MONETARY, INTELLECTUAL, OR SPIRITUAL WORTH) NO ONE BUT JESUS CHRIST CAN AFFORD ME; THE DEVIL WITH HIS OFFER OF THE WHOLE WORLD CANNOT!”bad eggs are just loud, lousy, boisterous, and brutal. Their bacchanalian un-abashfulness goes on and worse by the day unabated. They have outshouted, outmuscled, out-maneuvered, outrun, out-moneyed, out-influenced and out-affluenced the good guys. Nigeria is like any other nation run by human-beings who will break any law if they know they can get away with it. In the US and other developed nations of the world, the law is the check, and the law works. That is why there is some modicum of decency in the society. But in Nigeria, laws don’t have worth! They don’t even have meanings. And our leaders are not helping matters. They are the makers of laws, and the brazenly blatant breakers of same.

WE ARE NOT ALL THIEVES and I tell you, the good guys are still in the majority. There are some of them in government, many of them behind pulpits, many of them in the business world, and many of them in politics. It could be a struggle to find them, but they are out there! But if you have penchants for business, God, and only God has to order your steps to find them. BUT WE ARE NOT ALL THIEVES!

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