‘I No be thief. You be thief’ – Emmanuel Bello

Emmanuel Bello
Emmanuel Bello
Emmanuel Bello

I No be thief. You be thief’

The ongoing reality show called Dasukigate (Season one) is one of the most dramatic events in the history of Nigeria. Even the famed Oputa panel was not as riveting as the spectre of big men strutting in and out of court houses or being wheeled into jails in cuffs. I think the majority of my fellow countrymen and women are enjoying the show. And I don’t think it is because they are even sadistic. But I think, as a people, we are thrilled by such scenes; we like to see a little muscling of the men and women we believe have oppressed us for too long as if their suffering would alleviate our sad lot in life.  We harbour certain bile for men whom we believe don’t walk in the same stratosphere as the rest of us mortals. I believe those who wrote the current script knew this fact: That if they pick enough big men, name and shame them, ruffle them a bit and even hang some, Nigerians would be happy with them. And since the promised change is nowhere in sight, the ploy is working.

Ordinary folks now wait to see the latest offenders and how they would be treated. We rush to the television to see the latest to be handcuffed and thrown into cell. It doesn’t matter if they get bail or even go scot-free same day. We just want to have fun at the spectacle. And as they are paraded in agony with the tell-tale sign of an unshaven face, harried looks of uncertainty in their eyes, attempting to appear unperturbed with a fake smile, we sit back and ponder about life. Many really are enjoying the show and giving kudos to the new drivers, who are dishing out the hell. 

But, to be frank with you, I don’t know if I’m amused, entertained or appalled. Somewhere deep inside, I’m not carried away yet. Somewhere deep, something tells me this not the entire story. I would explain. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m all for the war on graft and would do anything to support a genuine attack on treasury looters. Who is not bothered about the theft in high places? Who would not cringe at the sight of an unholy opulence enhanced by a life of stealing public fund? Why should a few be beautified by the wealth of a nation while the rest of us look like ugly UFOs? A part of me wants to send all thieves to jail, make them suffer and even make them return all they have looted. A part of me is pinning for a better society where we won’t have the crippling bigmanism that makes one look like a failure. I hate the fact that a councillor is the richest man or woman in his ward; a member of the House of Assembly suddenly becomes the biggest boy in the neighbourhood and the governor becomes the richest man in his state, courtesy stolen funds.

I know of a certain member who owns the biggest house in his village. Now, when this member comes home, the traditional ruler of the village treks from his palace to this dude’s house. Nothing could be more insulting to the traditional institution than this but then the member is the richest man in this small community. The member’s late father was a lowly man, who dared not look the local chief in the face but there, today the chief treks to his son’s house! There was no way the member would have amassed all that wealth were he involved in a decent job outside politics.

So, I know, from real life experiences, how public offices and the common patrimony have transformed the lives of some people who ordinarily would have existed like the rest of us. I’m all for the pruning, the soul searching and punishments. Why should a common thief who gets into public office suddenly become wealthier than the next law abiding fellow, who has been struggling all of his or her life? It is not fair.

Yet, I’m a bit cautious the way the current war is being prosecuted. First, I see that almost any one wheeled into those courts belongs to a certain political party. I don’t get it. I’m not justifying anything but does it mean no one from the ruling party is tainted? How did the ruling party come about its campaign funding? Was it from honest, stainless money or was it from crooked politicians, who stole their states blind? After all, tainted money is tainted money. It doesn’t matter what political party uses it.

Another worrisome thing is the blanket accusations. There is something I don’t get. Does it mean that all funds from the Office of the National Security Adviser were meant for arm purchase? If I did a legitimate business with that office like may be, plumbing work, and was paid my money, do I automatically transform into a thief? What if, as a publisher, I got a small contract to place adverts in my paper? Do I become a thief for collecting my cheque for a service rendered? And how was I to tell that the money being paid to me was originally earmarked for the war on terror? How do you differentiate these monies, especially when nothing is written on them? And then we have to differentiate between monies collected for services rendered and those who were actually paid to go and purchase arms and didn’t. Who are the arms contractors? The Nigerian Guild of Editors? The Nigerian Union of Journalists? You mean they also applied to buy guns? It is all confusing.

But we are getting entertained and getting to know things reserved only for the initiates in the past. Like that television station owner who got billions and still owes his staff many years’ salary. My heart actually broke at that one. You mean this oga had all that money and his staffs are looking like IDPs?

Right now, no one is asking these questions. The moment you are named, you become a thief! The judge and the Jury have condemned you. So, you are guilty! And, to hell with the courts, you are guilty! Period! This is not about justice. This is about change! But again, maybe, the whole aim is to keep us busy. You know, things are not strengthening out and the masses need to be kept busy, discussing these things. If that is the goal, it is really effective. With every arrest, the mob screams in adulation.

They are happy their perceived oppressors are now feeling the heat. Predictably, many of the accused would get bail, go to court and hide behind the rule of law. Reminds me of the late Fela Anikulapo song: “I no be thief. You be thief. I no dey steal. You deal steal. I no be robber. You be robber. I no be armed robber. You be armed robber. Argument, argument, argue. Argument about stealing. Somebody don take something wey belong to another person.”