My Neighbour is the Thief

“If Nigeria is so rich, why are Nigerians so poor?” -– John Campbell

This article is not one of those usual gripes currently associated with discussions about the problems of Nigeria. The truth of the matter is that the current narrative discourse on the trouble with Nigeria, as Chinua Achebe made the characteristic title of his 1983 monograph, has become sickening, disgusting, nauseating, downright annoying and full of rubbish talk. Come to think of it. Next year will be 30 years since Achebe published his 67 page monograph The Trouble with Nigeria in which he argued, with the opening words of that book, that “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.” Achebe noted that it is difficult to point to one important job in Nigeria that is held by the most competent person, something he painfully describes as the cult of mediocrity of intellect and character. In Achebe’s opinion, “We have displayed a consistent inclination since we assumed management of our own affairs to opt for mediocrity and compromise, to pick a third and fourth eleven to play for us. And the result: we have failed and will always fail to make it to the world league.” Those who are lovers of football know that a good team is always constituted by eleven best players. When Achebe says that in Nigeria leadership has always been in the hands of a third and fourth eleven, we can relate with the painful truth.

For too long, our country has been training people who only know how to keep the routine going; people who can answer questions but don’t know how to ask questions; people who are experts in maintaining what has been handed on to them without adding any value; people who can fulfill goals but don’t know how to set them. We have simply been training technicians and not leaders. What we don’t have, in other words, are thinkers—people who can think for themselves and formulate a new direction for our country, a new way of looking at things, a new way of doing things. “If Nigeria is so rich, why are Nigerians so poor?” This is how John Campbell, America’s former Ambassador to Nigeria, phrased the theme of the second chapter of his 2010 book, Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink. Campbell comes to the conclusion that greed, corruption and bad politics are responsible for Nigeria’s present state. Day after day, under pain of deep reflection, my assessment of every single wealthy Nigerian is becoming resolutely damning and pessimistic. There are over 100 million Nigerians today who are living under extremely harsh and poor subhuman conditions. Many of these people, millions actually, cannot afford N320 ($2) a day, that is, the minimum standard for judging people living below the poverty line. Under this circumstance, I am compelled to believe that if there is any single Nigerian who has more than 10 million Naira cooling off in his bank account, that Nigerian is a thief, no matter how legitimate the business he or she does in this country.

The truth is that nearly every single Naira note that circulates among the hands of the rich and wealthy is blood money. It is the money that belongs to those who suffer and are not heard. All stolen monies in Nigeria signal, in the final sense, a theft from those who are hungry and are not fed, those who are naked and are not clothed, those who are sick and are not medicated, those who are thirsty and cannot find water, those who are homeless and are not sheltered, those who are illiterate and are not educated. This country in shambles is not just wasting money. It is spattering the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its thinkers, the hope of its children. What I am expressing here is the disgust that if there is any morally sane person in Nigeria who lives in arrogant flamboyance and ostentation and cannot come to terms with the sobering that there are millions of human beings like him or her who, because of the greed of a few, have been consigned to a life of drudgery and crushing hardship, then that person needs the services of a psychiatrist. The truth is that we must begin to see this kind of people for what they really are: thieves.

This is not about political or economic arithmetic. It is more about an old type of calculus called moral and spiritual mathematics, that thing which all religious and moral traditions of humankind refer to as “love of neighbour.” Economists call it corporate human social responsibility. If you accept, the truth of my sobering realism, you have to accept these premises and conclusions too. If you really do, you will soon come to see that that neighbour of yours who lives in well-secured mansion with tall fences, iron gates and multiple guards is a thief. If you accept the truth of my sobering realism, you will come to see that that man or woman who terrorises you with his or her sleek M-Class Mercedes jeep each time he or she drives pass your vicinity is a thief. If you accept the truth of my sobering realism, you will soon realise that that politician who has transported two mansions from Abuja and planted them in his obscure village where no one ever lives in them is a thief. If you accept the truth of my sobering realism, you will soon come to terms with the fact that that man who cannot construct a simple sentence without breaking multiple rules of grammar but who presides over a business conglomerate that boasts billions of Naira is a thief. If you accept the truth of my sobering realism, you will not hesitate to see that that business-savvy university lecturer who takes advantage of his office to make a hell of fortune from marketing intellectual wares not fit for human consumption to his students is a big thief.

If you accept my sobering realism, you will sooner than later realise that that neighbour of yours who has London for his sleeping bed, Dubai for his bedspread, Paris for his pillow and the Bahamas for his duvet is an international thief. If you accept the truth of my sobering realism, you will not argue as to why you should believe that that Honourable Representative or Distinguished Senator or Honourable Minister who camps women of easy virtue in Transcorp Hilton for a weekend and foots their bills with poor tax payers’ money is a thief. If you accept the truth of my sobering realism, you will entertain a cerebral disdain for that fellow who calls himself “Man of God” and flies in the posh jet which he has bought with the tithes paid by poor church members. If you accept the truth of my sobering realism, you will readily see why that political godfather who gives peanuts to other people’s children to plan their funerals by detonating bombs but whose children are planning their future studying in world-class universities in Europe and America is a thief.

If you accept the truth of my sobering realism, you will soon realise that that man in your neighbourhood who has no qualms turning on his 50KVA generator set for 24 hours every day and doesn’t seem to bat an eyelid over the fact that public power supply is badly erratic is a monumental thief. If you accept the truth of my sobering realism, you will agree that that army General who has never fired a bullet all through his military career but who presides over the sharing of fat military allowances is an armed thief. If you accept the truth of my sobering realism, you will realise that that man who has no exact occupation but is famous, and who calls himself social activist and earns a living from caricaturing our country at home and abroad is a big thief. If you accept the truth of my sobering realism, you will soon realise that the cause of your deprivation is not that “evil” uncle in your village whom you think wants to hinder your progress by diabolic manipulation. You will realise that the source of your deprivation is to be found in the greed and recklessness of a few who think that they are the owners of Nigeria and that the country and all its juicy resources belong to them, th

eir families and cronies. If you are one of those wealthy Nigerians, and you fit well into this profile, shame on you!

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