Among native speakers of Nupe language in Nigeria is the adage expressed as appeared (in its translated form) in the title of this piece. The proverb took its origin from the folk tale of a thief who went at night to steal from a silo filled up with grains. The tale continued with a narrative that when the fictional thief criminally gained access into the silo, he was disappointed with what he found in the silo, and therefore, became angry; complaining about the sizes of the bundles of grain (called ‘dami’ in Hausa) that were kept in the silo. Speaking in a loud voice probably to pass a message to the owner of the silo who was deeply asleep in his room, the thief audaciously queried the situation, saying, “why were these bundles of grain tied in small sizes?”
While it was the owner’s choice to tie stalks of un-chaffed grains in the sizes he wanted, the thief was unhappy with the owner’s decision. This writer was not there with the thief, but he guessed the irritated thief was complaining because it would take him several trips to empty the silo if he had to be ‘carrying’ (since he didn’t believe he was stealing) the bundles of grain in their small sizes. He expected the silo’s owner to have fastened the bundles of the grain in bigger sizes in order to ease his task of taking them away. What an overzealous yet angry thief!
This thief was probably the one on Chinua Achebe’s mind when he said a bad thief would steal so much until he is noticed by the owner. Only a thief with a brain similar to the psyche of Ferdinand Edralin Marcos (1917-89) and his wife Imelda would go to this length. As an intruder overstepping bounds, how come this thief was complaining over a property he had no right, and which he had gone to the silo to steal? As you would read in the next paragraph, some officials of an anti-graft agency fighters in Nigeria have already become students of this fictional Nupe thief. Actually, the Nupe use this adage when someone begins to fight over what does not lawfully belong to him.
Mid this week, it was reported in the media that three personnel of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) attached to the Sokoto State Command were involved in a scuffle over items recovered from a suspect; resulting in to the death of one of them. The deceased, identified as Inspector Abel Isah Dickson, reportedly died from the injuries sustained during the fight. Reports obtained by reporters form officials of the anti-graft agency said the fight among the young officers ensued following the disagreement they had on the custody of the items.
EFCC spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren who confirmed the incident to reporters in Abuja was quoted as saying, “There was nothing like loot in this case, it was just a scuffle among the young officers”; adding that “They had disagreed over procedures for the custody of items belonging to a suspect in detention, leading to a fight; a conduct which the commission frowns at.” According to him, the two suspects in the case, Apata Oluwaseun Odunayo, an Assistant Superintendent of EFCC and Ogbuji Titu Tochukwu, Inspector of EFCC, have been arrested and handed over to the police for further investigations and possible prosecution.
Meanwhile, a two count-charge bordering on criminal conspiracy and culpable homicide is said to have been filed against the suspects at a Chief Magistrate Court in Gwiwa, in Sokoto. Both offences are punishable under Sections 60 and 191 of the Sokoto State Penal Code Law, 2019. It was also gathered that, without prejudice to police investigations, the suspects would in addition face further disciplinary measures in line with the EFCC’s code of ethics and staff regulation.
Fighting over what does not legitimately belong to them is a good reason to believe that the three EFCC personnel were admiring the thief in the Nupe adage. Why should the custody of a property, which is suspected to have been unlawfully acquired by someone and is being investigated, be anyone’s headache? It would only be someone else’s headache which no paracetamol would provide a relief (because the headache itself is artificial) if the three personnel in the team of the EFCC investigators believed that the temporary forfeiture or seizure of the assets was tantamount to converting same into personal property.
Was it that the three personnel doubted one another’s integrity? Was it that one or two of them sought to convert the property into his or their personal ownership? Are there no laid down procedures in the EFCC for the safe-keeping of properties temporarily forfeited by suspects on the orders of a competent court of law? The likely answers to these questions and other unspecified enquiries would provide clues as to why the three personnel of the anti-corruption agency had to engage in a needless fight that stands condemnable even among ordinary members of the public. It’s a national embarrassment, and therefore, bad enough that a shameful fight of this nature happened among operatives of an antigraft agency, the EFCC.
This incident, which should be the last thing to be heard of the EFCC is also a smack on its public image. Many Nigerians, who for over a long time have lost confidence in the rectitude of everything about the EFCC, could be justified to use this sad event as a vindication of their long-standing insinuations of alleged infractions perpetrated by some staff of the Commission.
While we encourage authorities of the EFCC to work hard to regain public confidence in its activities, it must also pay attention to training its staff on the need to tame their greed. The principle of esprit de corps in the military and para-military services must not be deployed by the EFCC to shield its bad eggs. To deter others, suspects found guilty in the recent incident that led to the death of its personnel in Sokoto should be dealt with in accordance with the law, and in addition, face necessary disciplinary actions as provided for in the EFCC’s ethical code. May Allah guide us to resist all evil temptations and exercise restraint in all we do and say, amin.