ABACHA LOOT AS A METAPHOR

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Aside the erratic nature of discourse on the social media, it is also a place of unending puns. Jokes, both cruel and mild, are the norms. Are you stressed? Are you bored? Are you disillusioned? Well, maybe you need to visit the social media where there is never a dull moment in terms of rib-cracking jokes that would readily make your heart merry a bit.

Right in the midst of the COVID-19 induced lockdown and all its attendant stress, I came across a joke that really got me reeling hysterically with laughter. It was about the image of late military dictator, General Sani Abacha, in an ATM machine. The picture was quite conspicuous. He was in his ceremonial military uniform with his usual self-effacing look.

The ATM machine was copiously bringing out US dollars like an uncontrollable running tap. Then came the catch. A wretched looking chap, putting on a tattered dress with the inscription, ‘Naija Masses’, says: “Thank you our loving ancestor for always coming to our rescue in time such dreadful national emergency as the COVID-19”. Trust the social media. It has its unique way of telling stories.

The above is a social media wry reference to the recently repatriated $311m Abacha loot from the United States of America. As flippant as the anecdote is, it is a sad reflection of the ugly state of primitive greed in our nation. The late Abacha died in office on 8th June, 1998, but his astonishing greed reverberates.

He had billions our collective patrimony stashed away in several countries. It is no longer news that we have had it bad with leadership, but Abacha is in a different class in terms of unpolished longing for gratuitous wealth accumulation.
In what is now famously referred to as the Abacha loot, subsequent governments since 1998 keep retrieving millions of dollars from the late general’s interminable reservoir of pilfered booty. In short, the late military despot stole so much that the loot he left behind has somehow become a source of steady national revenue.

Now, the main gist isn’t really about the person of the late general and his insatiable greed. It is about the unsophisticated thirst for thieving national treasures in our nation. The emphasis is not on Nigerian leaders alone, but Nigerians as a whole. Many a times, in our usual style of unjustified scapegoating, we mischievously zero in on past and present military/political leaders as the major architects of our national misfortune.

But our leaders are merely a reflection of our society. So, when they demonstrate primordial greed as in the Abacha’s loot, they simply portray what is in vogue in the larger society. Naively, many Nigerians keep putting all the blames of appalling financial larceny in the public sector space on the political class. This, to me, is too simplistic a deduction.

The point here is that the term political class is rather too vague and narrow. Almost every segment of the society is represented in the nation’s political landscape. There are lawyers, bankers, economists, accountants, doctors, university dons, priests, engineers, journalists, actors, sheikhs, retired security personnel, farmers, artists, comedians, comrades, sportsmen and a host of other professionals among our politicians (whom we sarcastically refer to as people in government). Since they cut across every sphere of the society, their action or inaction could easily be taken as a picture of who we really are.

Thus, the reckless pillaging of our national resources, over the years, images our collective obsession for primitive accumulation of illicit wealth. Though, as it in the case of Abacha, it could be agreed that some are more audacious than others in this inglorious path.

Notwithstanding, we are a people that worship money at the detriment of our souls. Therefore, the crude tendency to always want to amass wealth, whether it is desirable or not, is virtually a culture in our clime. It is easy to keep pointing accusing fingers at those in government because they are mostly in the glare of the public.
But in this country, we have had individuals whose brazen acts of preposterous theft ruined hitherto solid financial institutions, thereby throwing hapless depositors into utter despair.

Similarly, we have had instances when highly placed religious leaders betrayed divine trust by mugging celestial coffers. Equally, in the higher institutions, there have been reported cases of lecturers demanding financial gratification to offer students desired grades. Imagine what such hypocrites would do if they find themselves in the corridor of power!

Recently, I read that a South-West governor gave out millions of naira facemask contract to tailors in his state, but the leadership of the Association of Tailors swindled their miserable members, who would actually do the job, by offering them peanuts for the job.
We can mock and denigrate Abacha for all we care, he was only a torch bearer in the game we love so much.
Tayo Ogunbiyi, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Lagos