Parody Of Ci ka Kwanta’s Debt

Posted: August 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

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By Jaafar Jaafar

When the former military governor of Borno State, Brigadier Lawan Maina, spent N3.5 million to give a “befitting reception” in honour of Prince Charles and his charming wife, late Princess Diana on March 17, 1990, the whole nation was agape in shock. Again, Maina took the nation’s breath for allegedly spending N500,000 to attend the burial ceremony of Brigadier Dan Archibong, the Principal Staff Officer of Chief of General Staff, Admiral Augustus Aikhomu. These, among others, put Maina in the cross wire of Dodan Barracks. He was relieved of his appointment posthaste.

Maina’s case did not happen in the 21st century— it happened in the twilight of the last century. It did not happen under the eagle-eyed vigil of democracy— it happened during the military regime and detected through the very dark goggles of the ruling junta.

Although the amount could have made changes in people’s lives in those days, it is relatively a pittance today. In those days, the amount was enough to change the lives of millions. But today a local government chairman can squander millions on far less important jamboree. A few years ago, the then chairman of Rimin Gado local government of Kano State emptied the council’s coffers into his pocket and flew to Dubai with a local soccer team to play against an equally nondescript local team in the UAE.

Tafa Balogun, DSP Alamiseigha or James Ibori would weep for Maina for getting the boots on account of what can pass as ‘pick-pocketing’ today. Apart from former Inspector General of Police Tafa Balogun, Nigeria’s legal system failed to find the duo of Alam and Ibori guilty. But for the long arm of British law, Ibori would now be walking free and resting in the comfort of his home.

When the federal government, through the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of Economy Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said government was negotiating with subsidy thieves who were initially dragged to court by the same government, I wondered what kind of banana republic we are living in. I think banana republic is even flattering for Nigeria. The way injustice and impunity are elevated to high heavens in Nigeria makes me avow that we are living in dialium guianense (tsamiyar biri) republic.

Perching precariously askance on her forehead, the minister’s iconic headscarf (daurin ture ka ga tsiya) reminds you of the pop culture of Layin Pam Bakwai in Fagge in the 80s. It also reminds you of the wrath you will incur for attempt to poke the gear. So any attempt to dare the cocky minister will be met with tsiya (trouble).
“Those (subsidy racketeers) who we consider their infractions not too grievous,” she fumed, “we are willing to talk to them and if they are willing to work with us, we would also be willing to settle their claims so that they can go and import.

“But to some of those who are bent on blackmailing the Federal Government even though they have committed very serious infractions in the subsidy, we are not willing to pay them when they have not cleared their case.”

What does the minister mean by this statement? What brings negotiation into the matter of theft not debt? Are their “infractions not too grievous” as the pickpockets languishing in our prisons? Why can’t the government allow them go on trial? What is wrong with a law that can jail a pickpocket and fail to jail a thief who stole billions? What is wrong with our law that a ‘white-collar’ thief (who ordinarily should have been in jail) will have the temerity to dare the government? How could the marketers that sabotaged the government be seen not in the dock but on negotiation table with top government officials?

Given the sleaze, fraud and heist that are daily happening, I couldn’t but wonder which country will beat Nigeria in terms of corruption. What are the criteria of assessment by Transparency International that Nigeria is not given a permanent seat at the Security Council of the United [Corrupt] Nations? We deserve that if government will wine and dine with those who stole the billions of naira meant to cushion the effect of our hardship.

We deserve the seat if Tafa Balogun who stole over 10 billion naira will spend just a few months in prison, while a thief who stole worn-out shoes in mosque will spend years awaiting trial. We deserve the seat if the abductors of a sitting governor would walk tall, free —and even become governors and senators. We deserve the seat if a person on remand would become senator from jail. We deserve the seat if N2.5 billion cannot earn us an Olympics medal.

But prior to Okonjo-Iweala’s pontification, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation Mohammed Bello Adoke had ordered for the withdrawal of charges against some of the accused subsidy thieves. Why? I don’t actually know but I can hazard a guess: the government wants to strike a 50-50 deal with them.

Even on the first day of their appearance in court, some of the celebrated subsidy racketeers were wearing smiles – and shades. They looked every inch unfazed because they knew they will steal the more, negotiate their freedom, and then rest at home.

Every time I attempt to heap the blame on our weak legal system, I forgo the idea when I recall how the same “weak” laws are used to punish the less-privileged in the society. Only two weeks ago, a Senior Magistrates’ Court in Osogbo sentenced a 19-year-old motorcyclist, Oyedele Tunde, to two years imprisonment with hard labour, “for riding without side mirror and valid rider’s license.”

Poor Tunde had no Attorney-General of the Federation to withdraw his case. Tunde’s dad is not a ruling party leader to secure nolle prosequi from the Attorney General. He will go to prison, definitely. This really makes me wonder why can’t the real thieves go to jail if there is a law that can send Tundes of this world to prison.

One would think heaven would fall on an accused whenever EFCC reels out a long litany of charges against him/her. In an inexplicable twist of the law, the charges would either be slowly dropped or vitiated in the course of the trial. But Tunde was arraigned on just a four-count charge, to which he was found guilty. It is however ironical to see EFCC arraigning a suspect on about a hundred-count charge, and then halfway into trial, he would be acquitted. He would go scot free, walk tall and rest in the comfort of his homes. Mtseew!

This infinitely episodic Nigerian drama brings to mind the scarily scarified face of a Yoruba woman I once knew. The woman, whose wares did not go beyond two large baby bath tubs she carried alongside her daughter, would traverse our neighborhood in a house-to-house order in the 80s selling items. The local women, who preferred to ‘buy’ wares on credit from her, dubbed her ‘Ci ka Kwanta,’ roughly meaning “you can default in payment and rest without harassment”. Ci ka Kwanta’s repayment flexibility was superb and unique to her. She wouldn’t mind if you would opt to stagger a payment for a pair of infant crochet socks by as many as possible installments stretching up to a year.

But when the debt becomes bad, she would negotiate and propose, like the federal government, a 50-50 settlement.

And then, like the subsidy thieves, you can go and rest.

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