Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
OPERATION DECLARE YOUR ASSETS OR FORFEIT YOUR SURPLUS
May 11, 2005
Please let us stop chasing the ghost, cut the chase and go after the individual surplus. Every Nigerian knows where the money is. We know there is even more money outside the Country, foreign Governments have been sensitized to the source and they are now embarrassed as receiver of stolen properties. The problem is those conspicuous spenders who are spending the money in our face, living it in our face and no one can query them. Actually, Obasanjo had to negotiate with one to keep some stolen millions to avoid lengthened litigation, only to renege on the terms of his release.
Once upon a time, a Nigerian would take ten percent kickback from the central Government contract, but never from the local area where everybody knows everybody. Time has changed. Conspicuous spenders have taken over. They are encouraged by praise singers who eulogize them. There are two ways to dislodge their ill gotten surplus – 1. By revolution or 2. By due process.
There has to be due process. It has to be done with human face so that it does not become a class or an ethnic thing. I do not think Jerry Rawlings is better than those he killed in Ghana in the name of revolution.
Many of us are copy cats. If it is done in American and Europe, fine. If that is the only way to catch the fat cats, I will tag on. Well, the best way to catch a drug dealer, a spy, a terrorist and a rogue in these countries is to demand accountability for any conspicuous spending. Can you imagine a Nigerian oppressor without conspicuous consumption?
Conspicuous spending is a major part of our moral bankruptcy. It sends a powerful message to the have-nots to make money by any means possible. The armed robber, Oyenusi confession did not teach us any lesson. They always return to the crime scene.
Oppressor, for fear of dying, has to spend his money sooner than later. Watch out for his cars, his houses, political donations and funding of privileged organizations. We have a tax system in Nigeria but we have deliberately not used it to catch the oppressors. We are on the right path though. If anyone needs Government service, they ask for three years income tax receipts. Great! Let us move a step further. If you under-declare, explain how you are going to finance your proposals.
Some Nigerians inflate their earnings when trying to bring relatives and friends to Europe or America. Some swear to Affidavits about their earnings and properties. They have to present these to convince the Embassies of their capabilities to care for those sponsored. Little did some of them realize that Uncle Sam was taking note. At the end of the year, the tax man knocks based on the earning declared!
It is one thing to live like a pauper in Europe or America trying to help a relative, it is quite another to live like a king in Nigeria spraying dollars and pounds claiming to be a pauper, on record. We know the salary of head of Governments, head of the Arm Forces, head of corporations. If we multiply it by two, taking “fringe benefits” into consideration, oppressor would still have a case to answer. The allowance the politicians award themselves these days is nothing short of legalized looting, while the masses groan.
The story these days is that some individuals who are not well connected are being turned into scapegoats, to make anti corruption bodies look good or bad, only to be discharged by our court of law. They must be chasing ghosts to come empty handed. If cash is seized, properties seized, cars are seized and video camera showed conspicuous spending in Europe and America, who will discard those as evidence? These are stronger evidence than the reports of committees. It is used in the countries we mimic and copy to death.
American CBS 60 Minutes showed us how easy it is for foreigner on a visit to get Nigerian passport, how children of African dictators spend money overseas. Our Press has lived up to their reputation in Africa, as the most vigorous against all odds.
I have been investigated by a manager in the Central Bank myself. Before my family joined me in Nigeria in 1981, I had to send them some percentage out of my modest salary to help pay mortgage and my student loan. Niara was mighty then. I never had Federal or State scholarship just like many of us. I had to work and go to school, so it was no brainier that I had student loan. Nevertheless, he decided to investigate me because I did not “cooperate” and the result of the investigation solidified my application. What about those who “cooperated” and were left uninvestigated, while wasting time on me? I now realize how lucky I was, he could have gotten vicious.
Poor Nigerians have been asked to show proof of any money anywhere and anti corruption bodies would go after it. Haba! Asking the mouse to catch fat cats! I think it should be the other way round. Go after their cash and belongings and let them account for it. That is why these countries have laws against money laundering.
There are so many projects the loot could be invested in, other than being squandered.
If it is spent to open a business, we can say at least gainful employment is created. No matter what we say about Abiola, he created jobs, to his own credit.
That money could have been used to create first class hospitals and solid returns could have been made. Americans and Europeans are going to first class hospitals in Asia for elective surgery that are too expensive at home while Nigerians travel out for headache.
Private schools investment is not so risky to make them so expensive. One wonders what they teach and how any Nigerian could afford them. They all have foreign sounding names, and Nigerians can pay in any currency. Well if the market is there, share the loot! However, public schools have been reduced to daycare centers. Where is the balance?
We now have men of “timber and caliber” who have not stolen all their life. But wait!
All they did was deposit hijacked salaries, in special banks while families go desperate and hungry. As soon as another allocation is released, they replace the one in the bank while the new allocation collects interest. They dismantle the fabric of our society by denying workers the regular flow of sustenance.
This is new in Nigeria. Nobody used to mess with salary.
This other side of the coin is the destruction of families by non-payment of wages.
Husband or wife without salary goes begging or goes into private practice, “pp”. The wife tries to cover for the husband, asking for neighbors’ help - “borrow borrow”. This is the beginning of the end of family as we know it in our society. When a woman goes begging, her honor is compromised. She looses respect for the husband. When that happens, her home becomes unstable. The next victims are the children. We are now destroying our communities because morals have sunk to the lowest level, discipline and order have succumbed. These chain reactions culminated into criminal activities and prostitution in our Country and beyond. It is manifested on our street, when allocation of salary and logistics did not reach the target and police collect twenty naira as “family support” and maintenance of vehicles. It is misery and suffering, a vicious circle in the land of untapped resources because of this curse – oil discovery.
Nigerians can learn from the situation of our brothers and sisters in Diaspora, if a case study is needed. Once the man is shamed out of the house, he is castrated. The family can not hold. We are falling apart faster than we realize. The only difference is that Africa is still a village where every man is a father figure. Every child has somebody to call a father. Even that is changing.
In a depressed economy where money is not circulating, prices should fall, right?
Wrong, not in Nigeria!
If a country gets the opportunity to export its surplus product, like cassava that can grow all over Nigeria, one would think that as more cassava is produced, more jobs will be created and the jobless would have money in their pockets, right? Wrong, not in Nigeria.
It seems the Government is happy that gari is now expensive and the farmers would be richer because the high cost will spur production. Is rice more expensive in Asia because it is exported? What do we have in Nigeria to eat within the grasp of the poor man? I do not understand why we turn every blessing into a curse.
Now I am having second thoughts about exporting cassava until proper planning is in place - not until kingdom come! People can not get gari to eat. Rice is even cheaper if the poor man could afford either. How can we make provision for export without corresponding increase in production? Cooperative farming by giving grants and revolving loan to agriculture graduates and farmers should have preceded export. On one of his foreign trips after the 1999 election, it was Obasanjo who asked foreign Governments if “na democracy we go shop?” We all clapped for him.
Hunger changes man into unpredictable animal. The days you asked children to eat well before drinking is gone. A woman had to confess that she had to put more pepper in food so that her children could drink more water as they eat. Nigerians skip meals certain part of the day and label it: 0-1-1 or 0-1-0 or 0-0-1.
It was Umaru Diko who said he had not seen a Nigerian picking from the dust bins as American poor picked from the trash cans. That was a prediction then, a reality now. What is the Agriculture Minister trying to tell us about gari? He needs to declare his asset and forfeit his surplus. He will then realize that the price of gari is not funny.
What is wrong? We all know what is wrong, jo! How can we correct it is the question. “Talk to me kangbo. Ti o ba so fun mi, ma so fun e” - a Hotel Bobby, Caban Bambo slang made popular by a brother learning how to speak Yoruba in the sixties.
STARTING from today (as if I am Obasanjo), anyone who wants to hold public office, even as a dog catcher (majamaja) must forfeit his/her surplus assets. It must be repeated at the end of every term or change of position or every tax year. A relative who got transferred assets or “gift” must forfeit it and be punished for receiving stolen property.
I have noticed that it is the rich who apply for Government programs (house, land etc.) in Nigeria. If land that were taken from families for the purpose of establishing Government Reservation Areas (common good?) are not needed anymore, it should revert to the owners. Even properties of students returning from abroad which had got stuck at the Ports were also sold to the rich. Could it be because these policies are made and tailored for filthy rich instead of dwindling middle class and the poor?
So, any application to any level of Government, even for a parking permit, land, house, vehicle license must show, not only tax clearance (not cooked) as it is now done but must be willing to forfeit any surplus twice above his or her salary declared.
This is not new; Murtala Mohamed declared his assets and forfeited the surplus. That did not stop Professor Ohanbamu of the University of Benin from taking him to the court.
One of our Governors, while living in the US, had to forfeit about half a million dollars in his account to the US Government because his “lawyers advised” him that it might be more expensive to fight it. Well, let us mimic and copy that. If you can not account for it, it belongs to the Government.
Ribadu claimed that there are 20 Governors laundering money into foreign accounts, apart from the one that was caught red handed. There are local government chairmen who have switched the use of cocoa bags to carrying naira. If we block them at home and block them outside Nigeria, there will be less incentive to steal. What good is money a Nigerian can not spend?
Politicians award themselves allowances for trips inside and outside Nigeria indiscriminately as if they govern in Europe or America. Where they got their standard or guidelines from baffles me. That is the petrol that flames the anger of the people. I do not have to be from the South-south areas where environmental pollution has made fishing and farming impossible to be mad.
We must commend the Judge who granted strict bail condition to Tafa Balogun, but we must take a few steps further. All the sureties must declare their assets or forfeit the surplus. That will instill discipline among Nigerians that if you are going to stick out your neck, you must be cleaned, excuse me, I mean almost clean.
The who and who of Nigeria who asked Obasanjo to release the son of Abacha should be called upon to declare their assets or forfeit the surplus. If that was done, Abacha would either still be in jail or his sureties would be holding empty bags. Those standing by, for Dariye when immunity ends will have something to learn from.
All those who paid for Ikoyi houses must account for the money. If the bank gave it to them, there must be collateral (and a down payment) for that kind of money. Otherwise we have the reason why these banks go belly up. Another reason for investigation.
I do not understand why they can not find all the contractors who took Government (our) money and run. Before giving them contract, they must produce sureties or collateral with their fancy cars and houses, a lawful way to forfeit their surplus.
All those seeking titles in the communities as chiefs, in the churches and mosques must also declare their assets or forfeit the surplus for the sake of the poor. Nigerians figure that they can steal and give a percentage to Obas, Obis, Emirs, mosques and churches. Then, can wipe their sins off the slate. Pay off their sins.
I am not sure if you are counting how much money we would have made so far, but it seems like billions to me. Once we go after their assets, the crooks will come forward to redeem themselves or forfeit……… Agaracha must come back.
In the so called civilized countries, they have whistleblower law. You can get one to certain percentage of the money reported and recovered. We can do that in Nigeria but with the nuisance law in case of those who want to report their enemy for spite.
I am not under the illusion that I will be accepted as a poor man in Nigeria either but the masses are so angry, they can not identify their enemies or too scared to. They also claimed that the professionals, files pushers, are the ones who rationalize the actions of their fat bosses while they starve to death. “Who need enemies, with friends like that?”
My confession is that I enjoyed some of those hospitalities too. I had official use of donated UN, UNICEF, UNFPA or CVU car with a driver. When I realized that the drivers usually came late to take me to work, without my own car, I opted for molue bus from FESTAC Town to Yaba. But I continued to use the official car for field trips to States close to Lagos, and sometimes drive the small Volkswagen.
I used to enjoy the slang, idioms and music in those molue buses. Especially the conversation, Nigerians can strike conversation with one another even if they have never met before. We would talk about those who stole millions with pens (Nobody could count to billion dollar or naira then.) Compared to those who stole hundreds of naira, that faced firing squad. Pen robbery was more damaging to Nigeria than armed robbery?
It took me a while to realize that I was the butt of their jokes! Some would come in and mess up my suit. I first thought it was an accident, so I took it graciously. As they told me to catch a cab if I did not like it, I got the message. Frankly, I could not afford a cab everyday on level ten.
Later, I found out that the car drivers were not happy with me because they could not collect passenger before coming for me at home and after dropping me at home. By rejecting their service, I deprived them of making extra money.
My mistake was that I did not bring a car with me. When I finally bought my tiny car from car loan, I was so glad that I could go to Surulere to fetch water with enough Jerry cans. When I first left Nigeria, there was water running from the faucet and electricity was constant. We used to exchange fabulous stories (fabu) under the street lights.
My Suzuki Alto was a three cylinder car. One of my female colleagues joked after test driving it with a blessing that as the “only car in town” I would face problems nobody did. I certainly got kicks out of the fact that money bags wanted to buy it at my price. I told them – your money can’t touch this.
There was Biola, the sweeper of my office who could not understand why I got to work earlier than everyone. I thought I came on time. I also found out that they thought my wife must be kicking me out early everyday. After coming late, she would get so mad at me for getting to work before her. She would start sweeping if I could not leave the office fast enough for her.
So, I might have seen myself as a poor man since middle class had been wiped out, Nigerians might have seen me differently. After all, we used to get Shagari rice, milk, oil etc, at reduced price and water delivered to my tank - another confession!
Nevertheless, I can not understand why people see themselves as filthy rich with so many poor people around them. I feel some guilt when I see helpless poor people. That could be me. There was a time there were no homeless people in Canada and I was surprised to see them in the US, the richest Country in the world. In terms of number and percentage, we have to feel guilty in Nigeria. Conspicuous spenders are amused to see their fellow men bow, Rankadede.
If we can shut off conspicuous spending, there will be less desire to steal. Where are you going to show off? Outside Nigeria where nobody knows your name? Unless you present your ID and where you got your money from.
If you drive expensive cars, you better have a solid job to back it up. As Mark Foreman, the police investigator during O.J Simpson trial said – if you are a Blackman, you better wear a $1000.00 dollar suit in that car with presentable credentials. It was racial profiling.
Buying a house outside Nigeria in those days was not easy either. You had to make sure your coworkers do not know. They might become jealous of a foreigner because they had none, as they spend their money on vacation and other luxury, while we saved. There was this friend of mine, a West Indian, who got fed up. He declared at work that he just bought another house, the biggest in the neighborhood. He could care less about how his coworkers felt. That was his own sweat and hard work and if anyone tried to harass him, he would fight to protect his job. A hard working man should have nothing to fear.
I heard some of the rich Nigerians were moving their money to Canada, hoping it will be safer than US. Let them. No comment. Some may even move it to South America. The more they move the money, the less the chance of seeing it again. Cuba may be better!
In Nigeria we do not work as hard as we do outside. We come back home and become oppressors contrary to what we preached and protested against when we were outside. As a friend told me, outside Nigeria you have to work for dollars and pounds. In Nigeria, your workers do and you spend. No place like home, eh?
I am really surprised when I see some of the most dedicated people outside Nigeria turned into kleptomania once they land on Nigerian soil. Some of the oppressed consider it a national cake, and can not wait to get there and steal their share. It is greed and the ease of getting away with stealing. Operations declare your assets or forfeit the surplus will instill fear of being caught into us.
By curbing conspicuous spending, the pressure on our people, especially youths to live up to unsustainable standard will be gone. Who knows, sanity may return to my dear Country.
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