There is a phenomenon crying to be acknowledged as one of the unique features of the Nigerian kleptocracy. That phenomenon also represents a multi-disciplinary riddle: It should provoke research in the fields of law, criminology, and medicine. That phenomenon is the near-assured certainty that the average Nigerian politico charged for expropriating public funds will ‘fall sick’ and request to be permitted a vacation in some offshore hospital.
Until last week, the working of that phenomenon rested on the claim of the ‘sick’ defendant. It used to be the pattern that one SAN in the thief’s defence team would urge the judge to consider the ailment of ‘my client’ and grant the sick leave to depart Nigeria for treatment.
Olisa Metuh, former spokesman of PDP, changed that. He came to court and puked and puked. He tendered his semi-digested breakfast as evidence that he was sick.
He would later request that the judge permit him to travel to the UK to take care of his health. His proof of illness on the floor of the courtroom, he was sure the judge would oblige him. But the judge shocked him.
The judge declined to release him to travel. The judge told Metu, ”This is not a sentimental issue. This is not the issue of sympathy.” You would have to use Nigerian hospitals. Nigerian hospitals can nurse your hurting spinal cord.
The judge’s refusal is the right call. It should be the standard decision in similar cases. It should be the norm in our criminal justice system.
When any former or serving public official standing trial for corruption ‘falls sick’, as expediency inevitably forces them to, they should be subjected to the public hospitals they ruined. The money-grubbers should not be privileged the right to escape to a foreign haven after they have made a fortune from starving Nigerian hospitals of medicines, machines, and manpower.
All thieves on trial should partake of Nigerian hospitals. They should experience the rotten hospitals they bequeathed to their own society. They should participate in the disaster like the rest of us do…for better or for worse.
These thieves were too selfish to build and equip hospitals in their neighborhoods. They figured they could jet out the morning after they suffer a mosquito bite. So there was no point building hospitals for the have-nots.
In the few instances they were reported to have ‘built’ hospitals, they were pretexts for robbery. They conceived an architectural statement, awarded an inflated contract, and called the resultant husk of a building an ‘ultramodern hospital.’
‘Senator’ Godswill Akpabio, former governor of Akwa Ibom state, crashed his car and sustained a fracture while crossing against the red light in Abuja the other month. He should have asked to be ferried to Uyo where he claims to have built a 30 billion naira ”ultramodern hospital.” But he didn’t. He chartered a private jet… and flew to UK!
Nigerians have seen enough of corrupt politicians feigning sickness.
Sambo Dasuki was healthy throughout his stint as Jonathan’s National Security Adviser. His hands were nimble. He would write a memo of less than one hundred words. And his principal will order the vaults of the Central Bank of Nigeria open!
But when EFCC found out that he stole funds earmarked for the procurement of arms for the Nigerian military, that he was the reason our troops fought barehanded against ferocious terrorists and sustained heavy casualties, that he was the cause of those cases of ‘mutiny‘, Dasuki ‘fell sick.’ He became a cancer patient. A cancer patient whose ‘life is in danger’. A cancer patient that needs urgent medical intervention abroad.
Former PDP chairman and minister of defence, Haliru Bello Mohammed, used to be a healthy man too. He never showed any sign of serious ill health. He walked on his two legs and evinced remarkable youthfulness for his age.
But when the EFCC filed charges of fraud and money laundering against him and his son, the man who was not unwell to collude with Sambo Dasuki and divert funds meant for the procurement of arms for the Nigerian military, suddenly became a pitiable, ‘wheelchair bound‘ figure. Sure enough, he pleaded ”not guilty” at his first appearance, and implored the court to grant him bail so he can attend to his health.
Kingsley Kuku, the adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on Niger Delta Affairs, was also a healthy young man. While he presided over ‘amnesty’ funds, he was agile, walked sprightly, and seemed to contain the energy of two adults.
But as soon as he sensed that EFCC was set to arrest and arraign him for the hundreds of millions of naira he stole, he ‘fell sick’ and became a medical refugee.
From his hideout in US, he disseminated pictures of himself propped with crutches. He claimed that he was anything but a fugitive from justice. He had just had a knee surgery. He was a patriotic Nigerian: He has served Nigeria ”with power and might.”
Diezani Allison-Madueke, former minister of petroleum, more aptly described as the most powerful of the five co-presidents that discretely and jointly sacked Nigeria during the Jonathan days, was a lively, pretty lady while her apotheosis lasted.
She attempted to buy Jonathan and herself the 2015 presidential elections by spreading 115 million dollars bribe among all election rigging experts she knew. When the plot failed, she started chasing Abdulsalami Abubakar so the ex head of state would help her prevail on President-elect Buhari to shield her. Buhari did not show that he was disposed to protecting her.
So, she took matters in her own hands and smuggled herself onto the London-bound plane Buhari was scheduled to travel in. On board, she tried to snuggle close to Buhari. To sweet-talk him into granting her ‘amnesty’. The strict muslim man snobbed her!
That scared her. It made her ‘fall’ sick in London. It was from there that she summoned Dele Momodu, Nigeria’s foremost snapper, hagiographer, and sole auctioneer of ‘ovation’, for a chit-chat. She divulged her cancer secret in that ‘interview.’
When she got the feedback that her story earned few buy-ins, she lent herself to Momodu for a photo shoot. And then, we had pictures of a pale, shaven, and shrunken Diezani everywhere!
The pictures insinuated that we suspend the discussion of the 20 billion naira she disappeared from the NNPC. That we abstain from suggesting that she face reckoning. That we owe her the kindness of wishing her well, praying for her, and sending her flowers!
Now, the thieves don’t call in sick while they are in office. They refute any rumor that they are indisposed. They boast that they are permanently healthy and incapable of being bed-ridden.
And, truly, they seldom take ill as long as they are salting away taxpayers’ money. The hobby of thievery is their immune booster. It makes them strong and vigorous.
It’s only when the state disrupts the liberty they thought they had to enjoy their loot in peace that they ‘fall sick.’
This drama sickness is the art of repeat robbery. The thieves spend their time in office plundering the treasury and pushing Nigerians into reduced circumstances. When they are summoned to answer for their heists, after the expiration of their term, they start to steal empathy from the people. The same people they pauperized. The same people they esteem less than their pet dogs.
The thieves feign illness to prey on our humanity. To tease out sympathy from us. To instigate us to demand that EFCC give them time and space to recuperate.
The thieves reason that we are roughly as empathetic as we are gullible. We would buy their affectation of suffering. We would side with them against their ‘persecutors.’
The fake patients bank on our high aptitude for solicitude. The broader Nigerian culture doesn’t sanction the celebration of another man’s misfortune. We are socialized to dote on the sick and to prescribe a panacea.
But the Nigerian people have seen too much of those pretensions. Nigerians are sick and tired of them acting sick and weak. Nigerians want to see the looters return the spoils. Nigerians want them to ‘vomit’ the money they ‘ate’.
Metuh says his health has taken a turn for the worse. He is now ready to return the 400 million he made from the arms scam in exchange for freedom. He is willing to vomit the real stuff.
That’s the kind of nausea the fight against corruption should engender in all Nigerian thieves. They should be desperate to ‘vomit’. They should be begging to throw up.
Last week, a Federal High Court in Lagos asked Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, former minister of finance and coordinating minister of the economy, to account for the 30 trillion naira she and Jonathan stole from the nation’s coffers.
30 trillion naira is no trifle. 175 million Nigerians would receive 171, 428 naira each if it was distributed!
This is why the Nigerian state should make Ngozi and her boss ‘sick’ like Metuh. She and Jonathan should be so ‘sick’ they should beg to vomit the ‘missing’ trillions!
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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