Between Successful And Poor Criminals | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Between Successful And Poor Criminals

Posted: Jul 21, 2015 at 4:22 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

It was a normal news report in a not too recent newspaper; the type we are used to seeing regularly, but would, most likely, merely glance through before turning our attention to more ‘important’ matters. But when I saw this particular report, confined to a small corner of the newspaper, something about it spoke a very clear message to my heart.

Under the heading, “Cow Thief Bags 12yrs Jail,” the report said that an Oshogbo Magistrate Court had sentenced a certain Mr. Audu Mustapha to 12 years imprisonment for stealing a cow. The police had accused Mustapha of selling the cow and using the proceeds to purchase a small truck with which he conveyed other ‘liberated’ cows to either where he sold or hid them.

Now, if Mustapha who had earlier served a jail term in Ilorin for a similar offence, does not have a powerful, well-connected godfather, especially, in the ruling party, or other powerful quarters, he should, as you read this article now, be in one of our dilapidated and uninhabitable prison houses enduring the just recompense of his “grave sin” against the State, and dreaming about his young (and probably beautiful) wife and their three tender children.

I must hasten to add that nothing can justify Mustapha’s ungodly action. Even people poorer than he is are resisting the temptation to steal. This can only teach one lesson: when crime is punished, deterrence is instituted.

Now, if that is always how all such cases end, society would really be a better place for all of us. While up here, we, in an impressive show of self-righteousness, may haul condemnations down on Mustapha with every scorn and unmitigated rage befitting a common criminal, more discerning people would rather view him as an unfortunate victim of a disastrous accident on his way to the exalted circle of the nation’s elite class. I suspect that he did not bother to study the rules of the game very carefully and so may have easily run foul of a very important law of the game, namely: Thou Shall Not Be Too Greedy.

What this means is that if he had generously ‘settled’ the OC’s at the checkpoints (All correct, Sir!), or even ‘cleared’ with the DPO of all the police stations on his route, he would most likely had escaped the humiliating appearance before the learned judge in Oshogbo, even if he had stolen a human being! In fact, he would have been a free man today, doing his ‘honest’ business without let or hindrance, and even getting the opportunity once in a while (that is, if he prospers very well) to attend state banquets and shake the smooth, soft hands of the high and mighty, more so, if he had allied himself with some influential ‘responsible’ party elders in his community and secured the usual “immunity” by regularly donating handsomely to help his “anti-corruption” party secure its usual ‘fraudslide’ victories.

The truth we all know today is that many of the people parading themselves as prominent Nigerians today climbed to the top through the Mustapha route or variants of it. At the risk of repeating myself, assuming Mustapha was not caught and disgraced this early in his career, and his business had thrived and he had been wise enough to invest his wealth in the installation of many of his less-successful thieves in power, he would today be dinning with “highly distinguished and honourable” public officers and other elites, and being invited regularly to high profile events to deliver brilliant sermons on integrity, transparency, anti-corruption and good governance – citing his exceptional industry and sterling honesty as worthy of emulation by today’s youths.

But, while he would now languish in jail for twelve years for stealing a cow, more successful and influential thieves that may have pocketed billions of naira from the public treasury are easily and eagerly granted bail, and after sometime, their cases in court will just die mysteriously. And soon, they will start starring at high-profile and lavish parties and hobnobbing openly with the nation’s rulers whose ‘zero-tolerance for corruption’ is universally acknowledged! Something must be wrong with a nation that severely punishes small thieves and celebrates bigger criminals.

As cases of suspected graft (and they are legion) are swept under because the calibre of the persons involved, impunity is effectively entrenched. Influential Nigerians abound whose sources of boundless wealth are shrouded in very deep mysteries. Nigerians know many of them and quietly dismiss them as Very Important Criminals (VIC), but the government and even the media celebrate them as ‘statesmen’ and ‘patriots’.

Unlike Mustapha, they were able to avoid being caught early in their career until they amassed enough wealth to qualify for admission into Nigeria ‘s privileged class of untouchables. Some of them even get National Honours and are appointed or ‘elected’ into highly exalted positions of power and influence where they characteristically help immensely to deregulate and institutionalize stealing and political corruption. What all these go to show is that in Nigeria , it is, perhaps, safer and more rewarding to be a successful criminal than a poor man – which is very saddening indeed.

Successful criminals are either in power or its corridors, or friends and associates of those in power. We all know that it is usually the honest poor that gets arrested on the mere suspicion that their haggard, hungry looks suggest they might be criminals, or even for such non-existent offences like ‘wandering’, and dumped and forgotten in detention camps for being unable to buy their freedom. In Nigeria , where crime is class-defined, poverty has since been criminalized. The rich only get into trouble when they are on the wrong side of the power equation, and their ‘trials’ are celebrated to prove the point that “no one is above the law.” If you, dear reader, don’t know all these, then you hardly know anything yet about Nigeria.