In the news in the last few weeks, has been the Police Pension and Fuel Subsidy scams and a common denomination is the looting of billions. Now in Nigeria, when a person in authority is being accused of corruption that amount is usually in billions and this includes bankers, religious leaders, national assembly members, government ministers, contractors, civil servants, etc.
Gone are the days when looting was in thousands or millions of naira and yet, our country is in desperate need of funding to undertake urgent infrastructural development. Also, the Federal Government in the last few years have been running a deficit budget (a budget that relies on borrowing to cover her expected expenditure) and yet, this is an oil boom era with oil prices per barrel over a $100 for a few years now. Our debt profile has increased and the country is broke.
It is this situation that we now regularly witness large scale looting of the limited resources available and as stated earlier, it is happening in every sector of our society and not just the politicians are guilty. Interestingly, when the cases are found out (usually due to political differences or dispute in sharing the loot with supervisory authorities), we the people cry out and after a few weeks normalcy (continuous looting) is restored.
Before we go further, it is important to understand that no matter how bad our currency has become, a billion naira is serious money. N1bllion translates into about ┬ú4million or $6.3million and with such amount you can accomplish so much in any society in the world.
So, one is forced to ask, is there a motivating factor for large scale looting in Nigeria? I believe there is and until we understand the existence of these factors and work to eliminate them, the trend will continue unabated and who knows, trillions as a target would be attained.
Here are some of the motivating factors for large scale looting:
Lawlessness: I have said repeatedly that Nigeria is a lawless society and by that I mean the laws do not exist. Not that we do not have laws nor is there any problem with most of our laws but when a law is not enforced it can be said not to exist.
We say bail from police station is free but we all know you will have to pay good money to the police officers to get bail even for a crime you didn’t commit and they have no evidence against you. ICPC, EFCC, SSS, the military, NDLEA and all other security agencies can arrest a Nigerian and with the right amount of money, the matter is ‘settled’.
Not limited to our enforcement agencies because even our judiciary system has long been overtaken by big spenders with huge bribes. It is no longer the politicians charged with corruptible acts but an ordinary Nigerian with loads of cash can secure favourable judgements or adjournment from our law courts.
Every sector of society is affected by big spenders. Schools compromise admission policies for these group of Nigerians, banks break money laundering laws for them (you can imagine that the banks did not report those Police Pension scam civil servants with huge deposits), relevant government agencies look the other way when these guys carry out taxable business or high value goods importation. Even the church endorse lawlessness by ignoring rules for ordination of Pastors, Deacons, Elders, etc. because they are quick to dish out these to the big spenders with little research into what they really do.
So, to enjoy mobile policemen (you determine the number you want), pilot car with siren, access to anywhere & to anything irrespective of what the law says, chieftaincy & doctoral degree titles without being qualified, freedom from persecution irrespective of your crime, tax exemption irrespective of your business type, you only need to have billions of naira in your account. How tempting and how motivating!
Nigerian Lifestyle: Because of lawlessness in our society, the looting by a few has created a culture of looting by many and the end product is a lifestyle lived way above proven means of income.
Not only do most of us seek to enjoy the benefits of exploiting our lawlessness through our money but we also enticed by the quality of life the money brings. For most Nigerians, it doesn’t matter what we do for a living and our potential earning potential, we all desire the luxuries of life.
Nigeria is a leading consumer of luxury goods and we compete with countries like UK, US, China, UAE, Qatar and yet these are countries with more wealthy businesspeople (not politicians & part time contractors like ours). We are among the top of the charts of nations with owners of Blackberry, ipad, Range Rover (we are now moving over to Porsche, Bentley & Rolls Royce), Toyota Landcruiser, private jets (high number when compared to our GDP), expensive designer watches, clothes, shoes, Brazilian hair, etc. In fact, gold is becoming common amongst looters that diamond is the new craze to show levels.
In addition, we spend hundreds of millions to build our mansions (one in Lagos Island, one in Abuja and a country home in the village). These mansions cannot be anywhere but in the prime locations of Lagos and Abuja where properties go for an average of N300million (almost $2m).
As if that is not enough, we spend millions on ceremonies (weddings, burials, naming ceremonies, child dedication, birthdays, titles reception, etc.) and it has gotten so bad that the Northern region previously noted for their simple lifestyle have joined the train. They have admired and copied the wastage lifestyle of the southern brothers.
Most Nigerians with a little exposure have strong desires for this lifestyle and many have spent so many nights in churches & mosques seeking God to open the heavens for this to happen. But I ask how many Nigerians can truly afford this lifestyle on their real income & savings?
Who cares, for as long as you can desire it, a way to your billion-naira will come. Whatever means you take to make it happen, you can be assured that you will become above the law because we have a lawlessness society. More interestingly, your community & your faith group will call you successful and blessed by God.
Love for self: The lawlessness and wastage lifestyle have produced a people who care only about themselves. For example, many of these looters send their kids to the best schools not because they desire better opportunities for their children but it a thing of boast to their peers or a way of highlighting their wealth.
So, we don’t love our kids enough to know that our pursuit of our billion naira will have a negative impact on their future irrespective of the wealth we pass down to them (will that protect them from the insecurity created by joblessness & anger amongst youths?). We love ourselves only and it is then too much to ask that we love our nation.
But the beauty of having loads of money is the affirmation we get from our religious leaders, our political leaders, our community leaders, our bankers, etc. and with the sycophancy, we are convinced that we are loved and that we have added value to our nation. What a fallacy!
This pursuit of billions is now a culture in Nigeria and by that I mean this is the desire of most Nigerians (who no for like hammer?). I believe, at least 90% of the people who read this article are Nigerians currently in search of their billion naira (many would have received false prophesies to that effect) and have a ready list of what it will be spent on (see lifestyle above for an idea).
But the reality is, not up to 10% of us were called to be millionaires (talk less of billionaires). According to Forbes Magazine, by 2011, China (the largest country in the world with 1.4 billion people) had 960,000 millionaires and they are second to the United States of America with 3.1m millionaires. These are statistics from two of the richest nation and as observed, they do not exceed 10% of the population.
In many nations, billionaires and multi-millionaires are usually owners or investors of big businesses and their success took many years to come to pass. For that 10% of Nigerians called to be a multi-millionaire or a billionaire, we must expect to see visible investments that are also contributing to the development of our nation. Love or hate him, Aliko Dangote is Nigeria’s richest man and founder of Africa’s largest manufacturing conglomerate producing many of our essential goods such as cement, salt, sugar, rice, spaghetti, pasta, juice, water, packaging, etc. He is a billionaire and we can see the platform for his wealth but even with this, he is said to have a simple lifestyle just like several real billionaires.
To change the current culture and to commence nation-building, we must change our mind-set from wealth by all means to a simple lifestyle seeking to focus on building a better society than what we met. This will enable us become better managers of our resources and when this occurs, we will see a rise of nation-builders who will become the group of Nigerians who will ensure Nigeria becomes a lawful nation where looters are exposed, trialled and severely punished.
This is not a role the government and the majority of Nigerians currently care about but if you and I genuinely care and desperately want change, we must first change (thoughts, words and actions) because that is the requirement to become the carrier of change that will build Nigeria.
Nigeria needs us now
Bobby Udoh is a nation-building evangelist, passionate blogger, impact public speaker, trainer and change agent. You can order the nation-building book at http://bobbyudoh.com/buy-the-book/