So, Is Every Chief A Thief? (1) By Simon Imobo-Tswam
Posted On Feb 5, 2016
“If you steal, do not steal too much at a time: you may be arrested. Steal little by little.” – Mobutu Sese Seko to Ministers/party Delegates, 1971.
I begin this piece with a question: Is every chief a thief? I ask this because in the biggest bazaar of corruption in our history, of which Dasuki-gate is but a rehearsal, every one of note being mentioned in negative light is a chief.
If you do not understand what I am saying, just look at the roll-call: Chief Raymond Dokpesi, Chief Olisa Metuh, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, Chief Olu Falae, Chief Jim Nwobodo, Chief Bode George, Chief Tony Anenih, Chief Rasseed Ladoja, Chief Musliu Obanikoro, Chief Peter Odili, Chief Amadu Ali etc.
And there is mention of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as well as Dr. Iyorchia Ayu. They may not be titled chiefs, but to the extent that are a Ph.D is an academic chief, we can talk of the duo as Chief Okonjo-Iweala and Chief Ayu. And if we factor in the fact that Okonjo-Iweala was the Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister of the Economy (a Prime Minister, sort of), we can up-grade her to a High Chief. Ditto for Ayu. As former Senate President and Minister many times over, he too is a High Chief. And for those who are obsessed with gender equity, they are not disappointed: for besides Chief Okonjo-Iweala, there is Chief Diezani Alison-Madueke and Chief Stella Oduah.
I do not know if an “Alhaji” can also be considered a chief of sorts since, but if yes, then, we have them aplenty. Many Alhajis feature in this notorious bazaar. There is Alh. Tanko Yakassai. He forgot that he collected money from Dasuki, and then he remembered it. It is either forgetfulness or amnesia. One is a bad habit; the other is a sickness. There is also Alh. Mohammed Haliru. An ex-Customs boss, he appears wedded to the custom of collecting customs! There is Alh. Adamu Muazu. And, yes, there is Alh. Attahiru Bafarawa, the prayer-warrior, prayer-consultant and prayer-specialist all combined into one!
However, even if an Alhaji is not ordinarily qualified to be a chief, to the degree that an Alhaji is a chieftain of a party, in this case the PDP, he is a chief. Matter-of-factly, both chief and chieftain are in the same neighbourhood. After all, a chief can be the short form of chieftain. And so we have these Alhaji-Chiefs: Chief Bashir Yuguda. Chief Mahmud Shinkafi. Chief Shuaibu Salisu. Chief Bello Sarkin Yaki etc.
And in running the bazaar, the chiefs were very fair, very equitable and very balanced: no zone was marginalized. In the South-South, Chief Odili led the locust army; with High Chief Dokpesi providing adequate cover. In the South-East, there was Chief Jim Nwobodo, with his evergreen handsomeness. (I cannot help but remember that in 1984, he grossed over 200 years as jail-term for corrupt enrichment from a military tribunal during Gen. Muhammadu Buhari first coming. Will history repeat itself?).
Well, let us move on. In the North-Central, there was Dr. Amadu Ali. He was chaperoned by Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, From the North-East, there was Amb.Yuguda himself. And was ably supported by AbdullahiYerima. In the South-West, there was the SDP leader, Chief Olu Falae: ex-banker, ex-SGF, ex-Finance Minister, ex-Presidential candidate! (Although the Dasuki largesse was for the SDP, the party did not know about it until January 2016 after the Dasuki testimony!) The Ondo chief was serenaded by the (in)famous Lagos-Boy, Chief Bode George, Chief Obanikoro, Gov. (Chief ) Ayo Fayose among others.
Nigeria’s North-West is the biggest in terms of electoral demographics, and that is, not surprisingly, where the bulk of the bazaar funds went. Chief Muhammed Haliru made a big impression, but the prize really goes to Chief Bafarawa, who, besides allegedly collecting money from Yuguda and Muazu, grossed another N4.7 billion for prayers and “spiritual” purposes. One just wonders: If Bafarawa could take almost N5billion from President Jonathan for prayers, how much did he pay for his two election-victories in 1999 and 2003? And, by the way, since Witches and Wizards also endorsed President Jonathan, and he was paying for endorsements (Listen to Falae), was it Bafarawa’s schedule to pay the National Association of Nigerian Witches and Wizards?
And the professions were fairly represented too. The Imams, the Bishops, the Ogboni Fraternity, Witches, Marabouts, even the media, a usually neglected zone, was represented by the Chairman/Editor-in-Chief of THISDAY newspapers, Chief Nduka Obaigbena.
And just when I was thinking that chiefs and the pejorative connotation of thieves is a civilian thing, the military top-brass made a powerful, even if shameful, advent. There is Col. Sambo Dasuki himself. With a whole Gate (Dasuki-Gate) forever named after him, he stands kampeas the Grand Father Christmas. As a scion of the Sultanate, Northern Nigeria’s paramount traditional stool and even an heir, Dasuki is a chief in his own right. Then, there is the former Chief of Air Staff, AVM Adeola Amosu. If the chief of Air staff is not a chief, I do not know who again is a chief. But that is not all: a chief must have followers. And so there is AVM JB Adigun, Chief of Accounts and Budget, NAF. There is also another chief: the former Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika. And there is the whole former Chief of Air Staff and former Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh. Did you see that? A Chief of Air Staff and Chief of Defence Staff who is a Chief Air Marshall! That is a Chief in three places! So he is not just a chief or a high chief – Alex Badeh is a Triple High Chief! And if you see him, he looks like a chief: big, full, large…overflowing in his uniform.
And because this is a democracy, the chiefs were democratic in running the bazaar. This is why we are reading and hearing of academics, ambassadors, statesmen, doctors, publishers, bureaucrats, technocrats, ex-servicemen, service men etc. In other words, we have academic chiefs, bureaucratic chiefs, technocratic chiefs, political chiefs, military chiefs who ministered as chiefs, high-priests and chief-priests in Dasuki’s temple of trans-national corruption.
But I am worried. We have chiefs all over the place; some of them looking respectable and doing respectable things i.e. as far as eyes can see. So it cannot be true that every chief is a thief. I do not want to believe that. Nonetheless, the worry lingers. Today, when Chief A appears on TV, someone says: “That chief is a thief.” And when another chief is shown on another channel, again, someone exclaims: “And that chief too: he is a thief.”
So how can we know which chief is not a thief or associated with thieving? How can we tell that this clean chief today is not a potential thief or that his name will not be in tomorrow’s newspaper? Is it until Dasuki sings or stops singing? Is it until the probe is over? Can we tell the character of a chief by his dressing or smile or carriage or voice? It is confusing. When I asked this in a café, a Peace Ambassador told me that: “Every chief is not a thief, but every chief is corrupt.”
More confusion. But ex-President Jonathan said: “Stealing is not corruption.” So it means these chiefs in issue were not stealing. But if they were not stealing, they are not thieves. So why are they in trouble now? He added that they were looting! I try to get the drift. A looter is not a thief – he is a looter. But what is looting? It is to raid. It is like a Pandora Box i.e. if you consider the synonyms. And these are its synonyms: despoil, vandalize, wreck, shatter, demolish, damage, knock down, pull down, flatten, ruin, desecrate, destroy….
So, well, yes: a looter is not exactly a thief: he is a senior or super-thief, a mega-thief. He is a damager, a destroyer, a vandal…, in fact, a weapon of mass destruction. This is because when one man loots N15billion, N30billion or even N5billion, it means roads go undone, hospitals become mere consulting rooms, hoodlums take over the streets, teachers are not paid, grasses take over schools, projects are abandoned half-way….
I insist that it is worrisome. How and Why? Let me explain. Every chief is a community leader. Many people look up to him: his clan, his friends, his supporters, his associates, his business partners, and even his community of chiefs: for there are chiefs and there are chiefs. And we can add to the list even his detractors who might seek to dethrone him.
On a wider level, both his nation and generation look up to him too. This is why his generation may confer a knighthood on him and his nation too may bestow this award or that National Honour on him: OON, CON, CFR, GCON ….
And talking about National Honours and Generals AVMs, as well as military chiefs, President Muhammadu Buhari comes to my mind. As a double Commander-in-Chief, he is a double chief. And being a two-star general, that makes him a double chief. If we combine double and double, Buhari emerges as a Quatro chief! He is also general: that makes him a chief. But this Chief is a very powerful argument that not every chief is a thief. And this is why in 1984, he threw many of these knighted, but thieving chiefs into Kirikiri prisons, with their National Honours and gleaming medals: OON, CON, OFR, CFR, GCON….Today, history seems to be repeating itself.
(To be concluded)
Imobo-Tswam, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja. He can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org