All along we were waiting for that part of the story, even if we did not know it. The Jonathan-era larceny has given us a plate nearly full. Billions of Naira, and even dollars, entertained us with characters who carted them away. Or allegedly.
An ex-soldier started the tale. Many followed: political impresarios, media moguls, business men, priests, princes and kings, professionals, known con men. Showmen and maestros. Bureaucrats who burrowed deep. The prude and prudent. The hustler who shuttled between government and banks. The bankers and the damned. The lawyers and the lawless. Even a vixen who preened like one who never tasted pepper in her life. The story was full, it seemed. Everyone and every part of society had come to judgment. If the war on corruption was to gain traction, then all of us must plead guilty.
Not the common man, until No 89. That was the address of infamy. Where Jonathan once lived, and abandoned. He tenanted not humans, but things. Choice TVs, bags of clothes, refrigerators etc. for close to a year, it seems, no Jonathan came close.
So, one by one, the items left. Neighbours might have seen the men take them away. They might have thought the former president was moving house, after being moved out of Aso Rock. Eventually, he knew of it. About a year and a half afterwards.
Odd though was the almost lack of universal sympathy for the man who lost gems. After we have had the stories of the Dasukis, the Diezanis, et al. It was time for the common man. So, to Jonathan’s tent, sorry, palace they came. It was time to steal from the thief. That is, “thief thief thief” in pidgin English.
This is a cynical view. No investigation has brought up Jonathan’s name. PMB had sworn that he had nothing to fear. But many Nigerians would not hear that. If the money was stolen on his watch, he was the fountain head. The fish, as they say, stink from the head down.
The people may not back stealing in principle, except as revenge against a “thief.” They might have thought, why is he keeping six television sets when the common man has to join a crowd of oglers on roadsides to see Messi La Liga or the smoky romances of Zee World.
The culprits were promptly arrested and fired. The justice was instant. The crime was grievous. But they did not steal a billion. They sold them for cheap. It might have helped to pay rents, school fees, sponsor naming ceremonies. So, it might have been big deal to the thieves.
Well, so how was it that it took just days to convict these guys? Former governors, CEOs, ministers, senators enjoy the luxurious rigmarole of the law, playing with procedures and postponements. “We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office,” noted Aesop.
Corruption has come full cycle. The poor can no longer claim that the Jonathan era – impunity was a class matter. The pauper has acted like the prince. It does not exonerate them that they stole for thousands while the upper class heaved billions. “The number one rule of thieves is that nothing is too small to steal,” remarked the great Jimmy Breslin.
When the guards stayed at #89, they saw things, too. They did not see the owner, but property. It represented oppression. Jonathan had a lot that he did not need. They had nothing by comparison. They protected the property, but who cared for them. The big house, its rooms, its fancy stuff symbolised tyranny and alienation.
Yet, when they sold the properties at Tipper Garage market, Abuja, everyone knew but no one reported. The seller and buyer enjoyed the deals. When they bought the bowler hat, they had become President Jonathan walking on Eagles Square; or in babanriga, they became Jonathan on the hustings in Kano dancing azonto; or when they had the Ankara they were Jonathan, head bowed, in a Yoruba palace receiving blessing from monarchs for blessings they had received themselves from him.
They saw it as stolen property. They followed the words of French anarchist Pierre Proudhon declared that “property is theft.”
Again, it warns our smug leaders that the poor are looking to get back at their leaders. It may not be a revolution, but something more cynical. The rash of kidnapping, robberies, even the so-called separatist tension in the country are ways to channelling lower-class frustrations. Jonathan’s men acted and had their comeuppance.
But the common man makes the guards into heroes. The people’s mind has never criminalised those who steal from the rich. When Oliver Cromwell overthrew Charles 1, he sold orbs and sceptre in England. When they were replaced at the royal restoration, a crook named Thomas Blood attempted to steal the crown jewels. Yet, he received royal pardon. It did not matter that his epitaph partly read, “And let’s rejoice that his time has come to die.”
Like the royal pardon, our people hail the thieves of #89. And it should worry us.