We must not show surprise at the lying tongue of Philomena Shieshe, the conjurer of the thieving snake. We must admire not only her lies, but the fertility of her imagination. She has put the story of our war on corruption in perspective. She invoked a maid, a conspiracy, a large sum of money, and a snake. The corruption tale has come full cycle.
Right in the heartland of animal impunity, she conjures the most enigmatic of creatures performing the most fascinating business of humans: making money. The herdsmen in Benue State – not the cows – growl and attack and make mincemeat of man. The herdsman is in the business of killing in the name of cows. The snake was making a killing in the name of money. Both do business, but the rest of us suffer.
The woman is like the herdsman, the snake her cows. Thirty-six million is no small sum in any currency, so she’s no small woman. We have two lethal weapons in one state: one killing humans, the other swallowing their livelihood. Philomena and her maid are not interested in striking like a thief in the night. Hers is a snake but only to the spiritual eye. As Apostle Paul has said, the natural man cannot understand the ways of the spirit. When Jesus says to his Thomas Didymus that a spirit has no flesh, blood and bones, Philomena is paying attention. We have not seen but we should believe. She can conjure in the blaze of day, in the haze and in the blight of night.
She has learned one or two about corruption and how to mock it. She has demonstrated, through the hiss and jaw of a snake, that the war on corruption is phony. How different is her story from the reels of lies we have heard from the EFCC targets. The Dasukigate, the MainaGate, the NNPC tale with Kachikwu and Baru have had versions of snakes swallowing money. A person is charged, he says he is not guilty. He comes with a tale of phantasmagoria.
The billions disappear. Often the stories end up in obscurity even though they are clear to all of us. When the men are detained and questioned, they come out afterwards with one triumphal lie. The snakes in our anti-corruption war are manifold. The first liar is the defendant. He says he is not the thief. He or she followed the rule of law. The more we look, the less we see. The best way to steal is not by direct putting of the hand in the cookie jar. Not in secret. But in plain sight. All who must sign, appends their signatures, all the way from to the lawyers and contractors and permanent secretaries. Yet billions are being stolen.
The SANs are their serpentine accomplices. The case takes on are sinuous pattern. It goes to the court, it follows to the appeal court and when it gets to the Supreme Court, we think it is over. But we have only just begun. They were only treating a superficial part. The substantive matter is still hanging and hiding like the billions. Like the snake, it takes a path back to where it seems hidden. How many corruption charges have yielded jail terms since 2015? Like Philomena, the snake has swallowed the money, but no one can see the beast. What you cannot see, you cannot hold.
We started the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) to spike the serpent. But because it is spiritual, no one can strike it. A number of cases have followed the pattern of the swallowing snake. The Saraki case that has gone up and down, right and left like the adder on the alley. Or Patience Jonathan, who says the late mother owned the money and the EFCC is showing disrespect for our heroine past for her labours of love and profit in this land. Or the case a few years ago when top SANs defended two colleagues allegedly caught in the bribery scandal.
Our money often assumes a lot of paths like the snake. They are stolen in Abuja or any state capital. They take a route to the bank. In the banks are many turns. It goes to a vault in Naira, meanders through files, and desks, slithers up to the offices of the bank directors and hisses in a disappearing act into another currency in the forex department.
It reaches Europe in Euros, or goes to America in dollars, or other climes in their own currencies. They blend with the environment, look lush like the greenback of American dollars, or tawny like the desert sands of the Middle East. We search for them here in our banks, lawyers defending their thieves, whereas they have changed form and home. The “pepper has rested” elsewhere.
In the case of Philomena and the N36 million, money is a spirit, it takes wings and disappears – into the bowels of the snake. In a few cases, a snake is caught. We applaud ourselves for such rare heroics. Like in some cases where some money has been returned to our coffers. But snakes have a way of escaping, like the re-looting of the Abacha $500 million. A big snake had vomited that. But another has swallowed it again.
Nor is the snake the only victim of our lies. The goat, the stubborn mammal, bleats lies. Not long ago, children often lied when they failed exams and did not want their parents to know. They claimed, “Baba, I passed but the goat ate up my report card.” We may think the goat harmless unless when it sinks its teeth in an errant piece of yam. But the goat made news in 2009. One was prosecuted in Kwara State for stealing a car. The police arrested the goat, claiming that the real thief transfigured into the bleating beast.
The Nigerian incident was foreseen by French writer Victor Hugo in his famous novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. A beautiful woman, Esmeralda and her goat are arrested and hanged for sorcery. The author was taking a swipe at the Spanish Inquisition for canonising violence in the name of justice.
For the witch snake, Philomena was only mocking us for our hypocrisy. If billions disappear on apocryphal tales from politicians and get away with them, it was time shadowy citizen gave us a witch snake with a conjurer’s twist. The latter was provided with good humour by Senator Shehu Sani, who materialised with snake charmers at the JAMB office.
But snake charmers, by their nature, are also phony. They cannot charm a snake in the bush, only the ones they bring to the show. But our people steal strange money, so we need a new breed of snake charmers. EFCC does not seem equipped for this, not with their lawyers, or our SANs sans honour, or our judges on the take.
We have been happy to take what we can from the looters, even if they are small compared with what the witch snakes have swallowed over the years. As they say where I come from in the Niger Delta, ‘at all, at all na winch.’
The bard and the trance
Writer Wole Soyinka gave us an interesting word last week to describe President Muhammadu Buhari. I am still trying to figure out what he means by trance. Does he mean Buhari is in an ethno-nepotistic trance, which means the spirit of his ancestors have so overwhelmed him that he sees only people from his clan when doles out appointments? So, he is president of Nigeria, but that trance makes him see Katsina even when he is supposed to see Owerri? Is that why he asked his Benue men to embrace his neighbours?
Or is he in a religious trance, and he sees only men and women on Friday prayers and when Sunday comes he rejoices Friday has come so soon, and so appoints as though it is a one-faith country? I am not sure that trance is always a good thing. What we need, if we are to believe the bard, is to look for men who can exorcise that spirit and bring our beloved president back to earth.