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Where To Find The Money

By on April 23, 2012

When armed robbers broke into my home more than a decade ago, the first question they asked me (after giving me “two minutes” to open the door) was, “Where’s the dough?” “The dough?” I responded. “Come with me.” With their pointed guns and flashlights, they followed me to a room where I kept loose change.

I gathered the naira notes available – I think coins were no longer legal tender  in the country even at that time – and handed over to them. They ordered me to count, and I counted N650. “If we search and find any other money here, we’ll waste you,” one of the hoodlums threatened. I nodded.

They did not search, but refused to take the money I counted and quietly went in search of “dough” in other homes. Actually, I had told the robbers the whole truth. Even in those days, before the coming of the ATM, I did not keep money at home.

Were it yesterday that I was asked that question, I would have asked my questioner if he had not been listening to the news to know where to find the dough. One pension thief kept N2billion cash in his home. Another  had 27 estates in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt. Yet another was worth more than N12billion. And these were civil servants [or evil servants] whose legitimate income in a year did not exceed N2million each.

During the fuel subsidy probe, we heard how many a young man claimed his firm had been paid N30billion but was being owed N60billion. Companies that had  no addresses were paid hundreds of billions. And the panel that has just submitted its report says the subsidy thieves should refund N1.06trillion to the public treasury. I laugh!

I laugh because scores of other probes’ reports have either disappeared or been burnt. And, in spite of the rampant cases of stealing in high and low places, nobody is in jail for corruption anywhere in the country.

Farouk Lawan and his colleagues want people in the executive branch of government to return the money they used to fight elections, and then put themselves in jail. In any case, something that is more attention-catching will soon come up to swallow all the noise over subsidy fraud.

Who remembers the power probe that was even more interesting, four years ago? More billions have been sunk into the power sector since then, yet we don’t have power supply.

The youngsters who covered part of their faces with hankies when they invaded my home were not sophisticated  or wise like their counterparts in the public or private “service”. I’m sure that, by now, most or all of the 15 or 16 robbers must have been killed in the course of other operations or rendered useless by drugs.

One authority says that few armed robbers survive beyond three years of ceaseless involvement in the crime. In Nigeria, however, the other  robbers are adored. They are the richest and the most influential. They run and ruin banks. Many of them have received  national awards from a nation grateful for the looting of its treasury.

Where to find the dough? Many women have good nose for deep pockets. Adulterous men in positions of power are ever ready to shower millions on them in exchange for their services. Drug couriers still make a killing after narrowly escaping death by swallowing wraps of cocaine and heroine or serving jail terms abroad. The gullible and the greedy still fall prey to 419 fraudsters. Smugglers and oil thieves still do good business with our guards at the borders and on the high seas.

There are clever thieves and robbers quietly making millions and billions in banks and other financial institutions through various ways. It’s not the salary they earn. In fact, the fastest way to rob a bank is to establish one. That’s why hundreds of finance houses and mortgage institutions have vanished into thin air with customers’ deposits.By ANIEBO NWAMU

Millions belonging to a dead customer often grow wings as soon as an insider in a bank hears the “good news” of an air crash or a road accident. The official theft is the one that happens every week when the Central Bank “sells” foreign exchange to the banks at subsidised rates.

A few years ago, a friend (now deceased) told me a story he had heard from a participant in a civil service robbery. Workers in a government agency were detailed to travel to Lagos and take delivery of goods worth several millions of dollars. They took with them  a long truck belonging to the agency. On their way back, they conspired to divert the goods to a private warehouse.

After doing that successfully, they returned to the road and, in the dead of night, vandalised the truck itself before setting it ablaze. The story they took back to the office was that the vehicle caught fire mysteriously and consumed the goods. After an inquiry, they were exonerated from any crime. The office rewarded them with promotions. And they lived happily ever after!
Wherever you turn, you hear the same story.

Lawmakers decree their own pay. Government properties are routinely sold to cronies at giveaway prices. Contracts are awarded for non-existent projects. All the roads in a particular local government area are graded five times each year on paper or radio. It takes N2billion to construct a kilometre of road, but it costs a private person less than N20million. Nigerian government officials always travel on first-class tickets, but their counterparts in Britain and America take economy class.

Such extravagant Nigerians are the ones preaching to young people to go back to the farms even after obtaining a university degree. Well, the youth have not been listening. Militancy in the Niger Delta and Boko Haram in the north, I’m sure, are the youth’s response to social injustice in the land. What peace or progress is possible in a country where a few thieves in government and their collaborators hold everybody else to ransom?

In 1992, then military president Gen. Ibrahim Babangida literally expressed surprise that the nation’s economy had not collapsed. It was a frank observation. But after the publication of African Concord’s cover story entitled “Has IBB Given Up?” the military goons of that era  ran amok.

MKO Abiola (the magazine’s publisher) reportedly asked the then editor, Bayo Onanuga, to apologise to IBB, prompting Onanuga to resign along with a few others who subsequently co-founded The News magazine.

Other accounts hold, however, that Abiola did not ask Onanuga to apologise but the latter and his friends wanted to ride on the back of public sympathy to start their own paper. I have no reason to doubt the account of my former employers, however.

Has anyone found a satisfactory answer to the question IBB asked 20 years ago? Several times,  I too have asked the same question. Why, in spite of the regular assaults on the nation’s treasury, has the entire economy not crashed?  What I suspect as the answer, though, is the resilience of Nigerians, especially Igbo people.

Operators of the informal economy have not given up because part of the loot from government coffers still trickles down. It’s not all the money stolen that is hidden in foreign banks.

But everything has an end. Some would argue that this economy has collapsed already. The warning signs of the end are here: A Nigerian can now take his life because he can’t find a job. Frustrated youths can now make bombs with ease and are ready to engage in suicide bombing.

Each year, more than 1.5million candidates sit for pre-varsity exams; 80 per cent of them do not gain admission. Each year, more than 2million leave schools but fewer than 50, 000 get jobs, even if underpaying.

I see a conflagration ahead. And I see the truth spoken by John Kennedy in his inaugural speech in January 1961: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”