Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Authority Stealing Pass Armed Robbery - BabaWilly

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In recent times we have heard songs like Yahozee, Maga don pay and I go chop your dollar, all obtuse references to advance fee fraud perpetrated via the internet. If music is a barometer of public sensibilities, then one could assert that the era of the beautification of area boy and area thief is really upon us.

Seems everyone complains about politicians stealing money and natural resources in Africa (yes o. Not just cash but crude oil, gold , diamonds and even yams have all been stolen from mother earth), yet we laugh when we are blood relatives of these same thieves. Sontin muss touch mai hand. In the same vein, any relative with an opportunity to chop, who doesn’t on account of moral principles becomes the village fool. Principles count for nothing when cash is involved. See yua chance and take am.

Asking people to define stealing is no different from asking them all to pose on quick sand for a group photograph. Everyone is reluctant to respond and when they eventually do, they sink into a self- contradicting mode. For some, what is left behind after the ‘acquisition’ determines if a theft has occurred.

For instance in a warehouse containing two million mangoes, the worker who pockets five for the kids has not stolen. What he took will barely be missed. This logic is applied to unlawfully ‘taking’ from rich individuals, corporations and governments. If di change plenti  den mek poor man chop im own. Notin spoil.

Hence illegal down loading of movies and music is alright because they (the corporations) are making billions anyway. Pirate copies abound of any product you can think of. The pirates feel they are making cheaper products available to the masses and the masses love cheaper products. Let di big men dem buy dia originals.

Surely this is wrong for we all know what stealing is. People everywhere will give a definition fit for the occasion but their attitudes betray them. For some ‘taking’ it before someone else is being sharp. It was destined to go anyway, so no burden of conscience there. Dat is the auditory anaesthetic statement applied liberally in Naija. Everybody dey chop, so yu too chop up and neva   dull up. Finally, what the ‘taker’ does with what has been taken affects how some define his actions. If some of the gains are repatriated into sections of the community, then the individual becomes a proud son of the soil and his people will not call him a thief but a hero. He buys the local monarch a big car, ‘settles’ the area boys, buys a chieftaincy title and all is well. Di man don try for us well well o.

Stealing is a crime and crime does not pay. It is a Trillion Dollar industry that does not pay? Peoples in every country are stealing daily and justifying themselves.  Only one per cent of the population will steal from people intentionally (as opposed to opportunistically)with the use of violence but when an opportunity arises with little risk of being caught, such as money lying in a wallet on the floor, 60-80% will pocket the cash. If stealing is given another name, then the number could raise as high as 90%. Using office supplies and telephone lines for personal use is stealing but many don’t think so.

Before striking, people do a quick costs -benefit analysis in which they compare the risks of being caught and the nature of punitive actions that might be meted out versus the pleasure they would derive from satisfying their greed or yielding to temptation.  Where institutions make stealing easy, then people steal. Such institutions have an unwritten code by which business is done. All stake holders are ‘settled’ and you keep what you have ‘taken’.

A pre-emptive Kola-nut can be served to local powers that be to make sure that the law is not enforced on an unwilling citizen.  People respect institutions and role models. If these institutions turn a blind retina in the face of stealing then the thief is en powered to carry on with his illegal tendencies.

It is my humble opinion that nobody is born a thief and even though harsh societal pressures i.e. penury or intense ambition can make some individuals take what is lawfully not theirs by way of purchase or inheritance, it is the institutions of family, community, law enforcement agencies and law courts that shape the individual in his formation. They all affect the calculations of his personal risk benefit ratio i.e. to steal or not to steal.

So much has been written about Naija’s stolen government money. How it has hampered development and denied a generation the infrastructure needed to thrive. If society stops lauding people who have stolen government money and if the police becomes effective in arresting fraud suspects, then that will bring a change to how people look at stealing. For instance, a man on a monthly salary of N500K a should be embarrassed to pose with a car worth millions in front of his mansion in a glossy magazine especially when he has no other means of livelihood save his salary. If community leaders steal and flaunt the proceeds in the full view of the next generation, then the future becomes dark.

Make what you may of this but Fela’s song- Authority Stealing (1980) insinuated that it was wrong to use the position of power accorded by a white collared job or high powered political post to steal funds. Authority stealing pass armed robbery.

A friend complained to me about problems he was having at work. He was driving down one of Lagos streets, not the best place to hear someone whinge as traffic was moving like pregnant snails. The brand new Range Rover with its soft leather comforts that looked like an air-conditioned heaven on the inside and purgatory on the outside helped to focus my mind as we drove through a traffic situation best described as Hell. ‘That man does not want to ‘play ball’. We will deal with him o!’ said my friend. He spoke about a colleague refusing to inflate a contract so that all the boys can see sontin chop.

Looking at my friend, you would not believe he was the mass servant with the angelic voice of our childhood. He had made his name in field of honesty by returning money found in the playground to the class teacher even though we told him it was money for Goody-goody. Of course the teacher pocketed the cash. But that was Timi for you. Honest to a fault (in our young eyes). Now he was an office thief. What had transformed Lucifer, the Star of the Morning assembly into the angel of darkness; Satan the evil one? Pride? The need to beta pass mai neighbour? Or just plain environmental and institutional factors? Surely the chap at work disturbing is a product of the same society.

Timi’s complaints didn’t end there. His wife has been inflating chop moni costs and asking for money to service her car when nothing is wrong with the car. His drivers falsify petrol costs. The children sef inflate the costs of their books and keep on asking for school fees almost convincing that schools now have six terms. A relative had begged for cash to treat his tuberculosis with imported drugs. This treatment went on for one year, till he found out there was no tuberculosis in his relative’s lungs, but rather an infection of evil ingenuity in his heart. The poor chap with the phantom TB had a big quarrel with his wife over moni (you guessed right) and she rang Timi to report her husband.  She now hated his stealing twelve months down the line. She however did not abhor stealing when she was getting her cut.

The last story almost made us crash the car. He called his second son a ‘born thief’. Aged four months he shared his parent’s bed. One night his wife work up startled and violently shook his shoulder. She began to accuse him. ‘Thief wey I marry. See as my right breast flat. Yu don drink all the milk. Wetin Junior go drink now’. Timi looked at the bulging stomach of his son and called his son a thief and a liar for implicating him in the breast milk bunkering. ‘Yu tief sotey, yu come tief wetin bi yua property’ he said reprimanding his son. His wife did not believe him (You know women and their sons). Junior had drunk the right breast empty when everyone was asleep and told his mum it was daddy that stole the milk.

Timi said God saved him by making Junior vomit all the milk he had ‘taken’. That was his defence. We laughed all the way home and on arrival ate dinner out of plates bought by stolen money in his large house which was his official ‘spoils of war’. The TV was large, digital and obscene. We ate sweet stolen food as we watched Brad Pitt et al steal in Ocean’s Eleven. (Wetin man go do. If yu visit white collared tief and he offer yu food, yu go chop nau. Abi?).

May those who have stolen Naija’s cash suddenly vomit it up. So help us God


Dr Wilson Orhiunu


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