When Your Papa or Mama is a Thief

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

What do you do or say to your dad when you know he is a thief? You know it, just as most Nigerians, that your dad is robbing the treasury. You know he is a damn thief; you know that he and his posse all dip their fingers into cookie jars that do not belong to them. He buys, inflates and resells contracts. He pays contractors who underperformed and even pay those who did not carry out the terms of their obligations. Gosh, you know it: you know he is a boldface thief who also abuses his office and engage in domestic exploitation and subjugation of his fellow Nigerians. You know his actions and inactions contribute to the bastardization of our society. What do you do, what do you say?

Ok, may be it is not your father who is the thieving criminal. It could your uncle, your aunt, your brother or sister. It could be any member of your family. Either way, what do you do or say to a member or members of your immediate family, whom you know are criminals. Most of us would be ashamed to know we have prostitutes, street urchins, or armed robbers in our family. Yet, when it comes to white-collar crimes committed by family members against our country, most of us keep quiet; we go along and partake in the benefits. We act as though there is nothing illegal about the illegal earnings.

Let me make a confession at this point: this essay came about because I am kind of “jealous” of some of the Nigerians I have come across in recent years. There are a lot of them, but two illustrations will do: (1) there was this gal in Ohio who junketed in and out of the country 2-4 times a year, drove expensive cars and allowed her friends to live free with her in her three-bedroom house; her graduate school tuition were usually paid at the beginning of each year. One would think she held three jobs to be able to afford all the amenities at her disposal. Oh no, she was daddy’s gal with dollars raining from heaven.

There was this friend of a friend of a friend who, when asked, would help fellow Nigerians with their school fees, rent, credit card bills, and other miscellaneous items. Sure, one could say he was a very generous fellow; or one could think of him as helping to spread his father’s loot. Year after year after year, if the mother or the father is not visiting from Nigeria, then the sisters, brothers, and aunts would (from the UK). His parents, along with their house helps, were the only ones still living in Nigeria. Oh well, may be his mistresses, too. You know how it is with Nigerian big-men, don’t you?

Ok, but seriously, what would you do or say to your dad knowing he is a thief? I am not even sure of what advise to give, i.e. should you disown him, reject the cars and roundtrip tickets he buys for you; or move out of the palatial home you call home, and refuse his offer of finding you a difficult-to-land job; or call in the cops and the EFCC fellow? Perhaps you should just keep your mouth shut and enjoy the ride while it lasts — helping to spend as much of the money as you can.

It is possible to argue that the way one’s father, aunt, mother or uncle acquired their money is none of the beneficiary’s business (assuming the beneficiary did not partake in the original looting and mismanagement). In the end though, the idea that one’s father is or could be a bloody thief is very disconcerting. A thief? Oh my goodness! Still, what would you do or say knowing your father is a thief? If we can find a solution to this puzzle, we may be able to discourage or contain thievery and criminality in Nigeria. But, why bother when there are no possibility of probe, prosecution and imprisonment?

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KikisMuffin December 2, 2006 - 5:52 pm

Well well well! LOL! What an article. Its happening live, and it would be great o get some feedback from the offspring of Alams, Abacha, Seseseko, etcetera ectetera!Hahaahaha

nonye December 2, 2006 - 5:56 am

Sabella, how you go dey ask this kind question? My people say that a snake naturally must give birth to a snake, thus the son of a thief must be a thief. if not, how many "sons" have you heard that disowned their father because the later "keeps government money in government"…appologies to Barkinzuwo or is it Barkinzuzu? Abeg leave that matter. If friends were to ostrachiase their friends for stealing public funds, then wouldn't we say that the kingdom is about to come? Rather what do we get?, they organise themselves to praise singers and all what nots, please let me go sell my crayfish!!! Well, I am not a theif so I know my father is not one, he taught when there was pride in teaching!!!!

Chi December 1, 2006 - 4:00 pm


I really do enjoy reading your articles. You ask a very tough but fundamental question. What do we do when we catch a thief who is a member of our family? It is noteworthy that in several countries, the constitution precludes forcing one to testify against a family member even if there is evidence that one is aware of the grievous act.

It is a morally difficult question to answer. As a child, I remember an instance in post-Biafra Enugu when I stole food from a shop because I was hungry and could not afford to buy it. But I guess that is not the kind of theft you are referring to. If I read you right, you are referring to the treasury looters of public funds who make it necessary for the small-time thieves who sometimes pay the ultimate price when they are caught, neck-laced and burnt on the streets of Lagos or Onitsha.

If one finds him or herself in a place of opportunity and cannot find creative ways to utilize such an opportunity other than to steal brazenly, such a person deserves whatever punishment he or she gets. If I catch my child stealing, that child would be disowned if the loot is not returned. If I catch my spouse looting public funds, she would be on her own unless she returns it. Any other family member would be isolated and risk being reported because my parents did not teach me to steal. Call me naïve, but, thats just the way I see it.


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