Leaders Who Steal – A Psychiatrist’s Perspective (Part 1)

by Olayiwola Ajileye

During one of my visits to Nigeria in late 2005, I was quietly waiting at the Ibadan Airport lobby to board my plane to Abuja. Looking around me, I found myself in the company of so many other co-travellers who were also waiting for the same flight which was then delayed. This was shortly after the tragic Sosoliso flight that killed so many people in Port-Harcourt. My anxiety was high but I managed to enjoy myself looking around pensively waiting for what potentially could be my last journey on earth given the recent happenings at time in the Aviation Industry in Nigeria.

I noticed that majority of my co-travellers happened to be very familiar with one another, to them the wait was not unusual and indeed, it offered them ample opportunities to interact, which I noticed they were doing convivially. However, they did not fail to notice my very presence, I later found out that they were surprised to see that another Nigerian was waiting to board the same flight, but appeared not to be so keen to join in their interaction or at least accord them the courtesy of paying their presence some cognisance. I later found out that they have been murmuring amongst them, asking each other…Who is this fellow? Where is he from? Could he not see us here…?

They must have concluded that, he must be a ‘stuck up’ Nigerian or perhaps a foreigner. But they did not fail to wonder…how come he is looking so fresh and cool like us and yet he does not seem to want to, at least, approach us for a chat. Well, some of them, I knew so well…they were serving cabinet ministers, ex-ministers, former DG and Permanent secretaries, Senators, serving Commissioners, and other Political office holders, Special Advisers to Governments and top technocrats. But also, amongst them was an academic, a Professor (I had earlier seen his name on the boarding list and wondered if he was one of my lecturers during my undergraduate days in the University). He was so at home with the rest, fully interactive. I later found out that, indeed he was a new Vice Chancellor of a University in the South-West of Nigeria. He must have provided them with some analytical possibilities, theories and hypothesis of who, perhaps, I could be and why my attitude appeared to be dismissive of their hallowed presence.

Lest I be lost on the point of this discussion, Leaders Who Steal Public Funds…Oxford dictionary definition of Stealing as “the act of taking something from someone unlawfully without right or permission and avoiding detection”.

Later, the delayed plane arrived and here we were as seemingly civil Nigerians, gathered to form a line for the boarding protocols. I then decided to do what I didn’t do earlier, stretched my hand out, introduced myself to them…my name is Dr…, I was expectant that in return, I will get to put names to their faces. To their surprise, something very much unusual to them happened; I started asking for their names as I shook their hands. I must say that some of them were already known to me by name but out of courtesy to others, I thought I should get each one to do as I did to them… One after the other they introduced themselves… I am Otunba…, Mr…, Dr…, Senator…, Professor…, Hon…, and Chief… However, I did not fail to notice that some of them did this albeit, very reluctantly and of course with a tinge of disappointment on their faces.

Then the Professor curiously asked me loudly, where are you from? Don’t you live here amongst us? I found the questions to be laden with palpable undertone. To put them out of their obvious discomfort, I replied, I am Dr…I live in the UK, just visiting my family and friends. He spontaneously spurted out as if a bubble had just busted…Yes! I said it! I knew it! He is looking so fresh like us! I couldn’t have been wrong… he said. Did I not tell you? He asked his fellows. He then asked me…so what do you do in the UK? I gladly told him, I am a Psychiatrist and Mental Health Practitioner.

Again, he orgasmically retorted, really! We need you here…, you need to come and open a ‘shop’ in Nigeria. I curiously but politely asked him, but why? His reply was as poignant and direct as his questions. In a bid to answer him, I was not prepared for the barrage of questions that followed from him, as if he had waited for years to get them out of his chest.

He continued…Dr, how do you explain all these leaders, stealing billions of dollars, millions of pounds, stacking billions of hard currencies meant for national development in their bedrooms, in local and foreign personal accounts? Don’t you think there must be something of an aberration in their psychological and behavioural framework? How can one person own so many properties secretly worth billions of Naira, majority of them unoccupied and yet many suffers around them, homeless and they cannot bat an eye lid about it? In the International media then was the story of a Niger-Delta leader under investigation by the EFCC and the UK government…, so I could relate with why he did not miss the chance to get his questions out of his chest.

Don’t you think that our leaders who are doing this need to have formal psychiatrist assessments? Can you not see that this behaviour is socially inappropriate but it seems to be becoming culturally appropriate amongst these leaders? Can you not detect some form of psychological deviance that will explain this compulsive acquisitive vanity? We really need you to be doing psychiatric and psychological assessments to profile people in position of leadership and public trust in this country, with this kind of pervasive tendency to steal bold-face and yet parade themselves with an air of dignity, wearing cloaks of respectability.

That was when he told me that, he is a Vice Chancellor of one of our Universities and he had wondered if in fact, psychiatric profiling of people he would appoint to positions of trust within the University administration would help him to decipher their vulnerability to this kind of maladaptive kleptocracy and inform his better judgement on who to give what and what level of supervision would be necessary. I really found the conversation very interesting from there, while our co-travellers look and listen with rapt attention at our sudden copious level of rapport.

Increasing Awareness of Psychiatric Assessment:

In recent times, this issue of the psychiatric assessment of leaders and people in position of public trust have re-surfaced and it has merited duly, some degree of public discourse. Recently, the New EFCC Czar, Mrs Farida Waziri (Ret AIG), wondered aloud why indeed psychiatric assessment should not be a pre-condition for taking up public appointments, given the level of economic recklessness and public stealing, that has become almost a national embarrassment. Professor Wole Soyinka, sometime ago had also queried, why not?

It has been observed recently by one of Nigeria’s foremost editors of a daily Newspaper, Mr Simon Kolawole that probes at the National Assembly have brought up a lot of revelations, but yet, no convictions. I also remember being asked once in 2001, during one of my Postgraduate Lectures in the School of Public Policy, UK, coinciding with front page news in the UK Financial Times (Nigerian Leader found with a secret £4 billion account in the UK bank). They asked me to explain, how can one person siphon £4 billion out of a state fund and yet there is no precipitant economic meltdown? Then, I struggled to position a sensible answer to that pose. Little did I know that, it was only an evolving sign and symptoms of many worrying and disturbing economic crimes against our national development?

We have heard in recent times, how $16 billion NIPP power project and 300 billion naira allocation for roads is yet unaccounted for. It is well in the public domain, how 50 billion naira PEF was mismanaged and yet the gladiators are treated with kids gloves with a slap on the wrist, while, a boy who stole 5,000 naira from his friend was jailed for 3 years with no option of fine. We have seen the charge lists of Ex-Governors released by the EFCC. The 19.5 billion naira of the Aviation Intervention Funds/Safe Tower Project and £2.6 billion Oil block bidding revenue and so on and so forth are still unsolved and the super-celebrities leaders, who mismanaged the funds, are laughing at government efforts to get justice for teeming number of Nigerians.

Given all this madness that has become an evolving trend in public funds mismanagement and national betrayal of public trust, Will it not be right then in agreeing with the Vice Chancellor and the New EFCC Czar, that psychiatric assessment and profiling is needed as a tool of selecting our leaders into positions of trust? This is not definitely an attempt to medicalise what has now become a deeply ingrained, culturally appropriate but morally and socially inappropriate public behaviour. But in doing this psychiatric assessments, we, can have a baseline for all of them, at least, certify them well or otherwise from mental health point of view before they attain that position, so that when in fact, they become stealing leaders, with obsessively criminally acquisitive compulsive behaviour, they can be made to take responsibility and criminal liability for that and punitive consequences can be meted out as it is normally done in other civilised societies, where equality before the law is paramount.

And, if for any reason, they are deemed normal psychologically before public appointment and are then caught engaging in such maladaptive criminal acquisitive behaviour, even if psychiatric illness is feigned or appeared to be the cause, then appropriate mental health intervention can be suggested, like treatment in a Mentally Disordered Offenders (MDO) Low/Medium/High Secured Unit or Mental Asylum and therapeutic community. Also, we may then be better informed of the possible causes or precipitants to such deviant behaviour in an apparently previously normal individual.

From the Psychiatrist’s perspectives, we can then begin to hypothesise whether exposure of some individuals in Nigeria, to power, public funds, public positions of authority and responsibility is aetiologically linked to progressive deterioration in their mental health status or sudden change is personality or rather, if there is in fact, ab initio, an element of deeply ingrained, enduring, pervasive, inflexible personality disorder which manifest in multiple domains, particularly in situation where public fund is being handled or over a broad range of personal, social and occupational level of functioning. Then, should this be case, our constitution and healthcare system should find a means of addressing such kind of clinically significant phenomenology, given its prevalence, its destructive and malignant effects on our national socio-economic development.

In Part 2 – I will elaborate on Psychological and behavioural phenomenon that could possibly explain some of this kind of stealing behaviour in highly placed people. So, Watch Out!

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