A Vanguard editorial, in my view, belongs in the heavyweight echelon of Nigeria’s commentariat. The weight of its punch is to be judged not only by the resonance of the message over the years, but also its economy of phrase – the uncanny facility to say a lot in so few words, packing so much into so little a space.
But its edition of August 3 must rank among those that fall miserably short of the high value it normally espouses. In the comment entitled, “Looting of ex-President Jonathan’s home,” the newspaper said everything expected against the cops-turned-burglars and those who trafficked the stolen goods.
What would have been a fine argument against yet another iniquity of man was, however sullied when, in the next breath, it openly sought to either deny anyone the right to outrage against Jonathan on any count whatsoever or make a villain outright of those unable to express pity or empathy with the victim on this matter.
It wrote: “No decent human being can claim that what took place in… President Jonathan’s house is excusable on any ground. All people of conscience must rise up and condemn evil, no matter who is involved. The atmosphere of hatred which seems to have seized the people of this country by the throat must be made to give way to empathy for one another, as that is the only way we can build a united, strong country.”
For effect, it reminded us of the great sacrifice GEJ made to secure democracy:
“It was due to his gentle and patriotic disposition that the nation experienced a peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another in 2015.”
In the haste to whip up sentiments, the editorialist, alas, missed the context and the nuance of the great heist at issue. To start with, seeking to overplay Jonathan’s 2015 concession of defeat as reflected above is very cheap indeed. Care needs be taken against overdrawing that goodwill account. His action then was the most honorable thing to do at that moment, for which enough encomium has been showered on him both within and outside our shores.
But that can, by no means, now amount to an entitlement to pity at all times. Nor can it possibly be tendered as adequate inoculation against reproach or perpetual immunity against public scrutiny.
Otherwise, we, given what is now also known about the sordid aspects of the same past, risk enthroning a new relativity of morality with the suggestion that gross ethical inadequacy be excused in the throes of sentimentality or being captive to one memory.
Rather, the intelligentsia must be seen as setting very high standards for the society, holding all actors by a universal principle. Inherent in that resolve is a commitment not to compromise values or lend itself to those seeking to lower the society’s ethical bar on sentiments ranging from ethnicity to creed.
Two, there can be no disputation as to whether Jonathan, were he another ordinary Nigerian, would be deserving of pity over this loss of valuables. While it may be true that most Nigerians indeed lack true love for their nation as an entity, they certainly do not hate one another at an interpersonal level, as can be verified from the instinctive response of the average Nigerian meeting complete strangers at an accident scene, for instance. He is very unlikely to turn the other way but play the biblical Good Samaritan – lending a hand to those in distress.
As a people, Nigerians are not incapable of pity when sufficiently aroused.
In the present circumstance, the truth is that Jonathan is definitely not the guy next door. And if we can summon courage to face the more inconvenient truth, many – if not most – Nigerians today would argue GEJ only just got a mini dose of the bitter portion the nation was force-fed with under his watch as president.
In a poetic reversal of roles, while the man from Otuoke grieved over the loss of domestic valuables under police guard, his fellow compatriots have not stopped bemoaning the mindless looting of their own country while Jonathan was sentinel.
On account of what is now known, those who wish to discount the GEJ silhouette as only totemic of looting without limit cannot therefore be accused of being uncharitable. The cost of plasma TVs, refrigerators and bowlers is certainly insignificant compared to, say, the $150m (N54b) of luxury assets recently forfeited by Diezani and co. to US authorities alone, not to mention the estimated $15b (N5.4t) systematically stolen through Dasukigate.
Funny enough, when the likes of then CBN governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi were crying out that the national exchequer was being bled to death, Jonathan took it upon himself to parlay every national platform to vigorously defend Diezani as hapless victim of those playing malicious political games.
When you occupy an enviable office, he once philosophized on a national television in her defence, enemies tell fat lies to pull you down.
So, if some citizens are now unable to bring themselves to pity Jonathan over the Gwarinpa burglary as the Vanguard editorial surmised, it must be understood in the context of a nation still unable to come to terms with the mega heist under his watch, the lurid details of which continue to unfold with stifling pungency both at home and abroad.
In the statement to the police, he lamented his home was “completely stripped bare,” underlining an epic betrayal of truth. Policemen asked to guard a home chose to become the thieves themselves.
But once the marauding vultures had been upbraided and chased away, it will be time to censure the mother fowl for exposing her chicks to danger in the first place. By Jonathan’s own admission, the theft was only discovered last month. The truth he was obviously too shy to share is that the property in question was lying waste as he lives elsewhere in Abuja. That apparently left the door ajar for the evil cops to systematically clean out the four-bedroom duplex over the months.
Of course, in a society where estimated 60 percent of the population is thought homelessness and many more go to bed on empty stomach at night, that is not the sort of secret you want to let out.
So, had the media not become awash last week with “sensational” claims of what went missing, it is debatable if Jonathan would not have preferred to hush things up to avoid eyebrows being raised or some hard questions being asked. His statement on the theft would then seem to be motivated more by a desire to debunk the “exaggerated” claims than a willingness to give self up for scrutiny.
Obviously to deflect initial reports suggesting “36 Plasma television sets and 25 refrigerators,” the former president detailed the haul to include only 6 flat screen TV sets, toilet seats, 3 refrigerators, doors and one gas cooker. His statement was however conveniently silent on the reports on “bales and bales of babanriga wears and designer suits with his names embroidered on the inner linings.”
Without being induced, some witnesses have already volunteered accounts of what really happened.
One Mallam Shuaibu has been named as one of the buyers of the stolen items at the popular Pankera Second-hand Market, Abuja. One account said each suit was auctioned for N5,000. And what a boom time it was in that corner of the market for a long time before the secret leaked. You would see locals of all nations and creeds trying assorted bowler hats on display and “woko” Ijaw jumpers of many colors in the open before making a pick.
Not surprising, the four cops implicated in the shameful conduct have since been dismissed by the police after an orderly room trial preparatory to their being formally prosecuted. The same way Ibrahim Bagobiri, chairman of the Pankera Market, has been defenestrated by members for allegedly partaking in the receipt and disposal of the stolen goods.
From media pictures of the crime scene, it is easy to feel anger, vengeance in the clinical severity with which the policemen-burglars violated the haven where Jonathan once dined and slept.
Literally, what remained was for the brigands to excavate the floor tiles and the blocks to complete a furious plunder.
Though no one can tell for sure how long it took them to finish the pillage, since they were reportedly posted after the former president quit Aso Rock, it is perhaps safe to assume they had taken charge before the slime of Dasukigate began to seep out by the twilight of 2015.
Dazed by the stories of grand larceny that began to circulate, chances are that the unscrupulous policemen themselves only saw Jonathan’s personal effects and household goods as their own fair portion of the elephantine loot. Ordinarily, no one would wish to be left out when the proverbial butchered elephant is being shared.
It is clear karma had passed through Gwarinpa with all its mystical stealth.