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No Honour Among Thieves

The classic proverb holds that, “There is honour among thieves.” The meaning, of course, is the concept of “professional courtesy,” that even the disreputable and…

The classic proverb holds that, “There is honour among thieves.”

The meaning, of course, is the concept of “professional courtesy,” that even the disreputable and unethical do— particularly among themselves—adhere to various sorts of moral codes of conduct. The original proverb probably arose out of an awareness of the widespread and rigorously observed code of silence among thieves with regard to incriminating a fellow thief, or from a vague knowledge of the equitable sharing of spoils that was common among confederates in a theft. No honour among thieves is the sentiment that thieves are criminals and are untrustworthy. This proverb is a direct disputation of the original proverb, honour among thieves, and first appeared in the early 1800s. It stems from an insistence that such code usually fell apart in extremis and a sense that thieves really couldn’t trust their fellow thieves not to steal from them if they could.

This quote came to mind when a patient narrated his ordeal to me. Maybe it was his waning health that contributed to his vulnerability and honesty, but that day, in a quiet room in a busy hospital setting, he spilled his truth in a discerning and pitiful manner. An older colleague of mine who is a psychiatrist, once confessed that his greatest regret in psychiatry is the secrets that people unburden to him. From the most gruesome to the most scandalous of narratives, he had to listen to people dispassionately and treat them equally without judgment.

It is no easy feat, I tell you.

That day, a man in his fifties narrated to me his story of gluttony. Like most people from poor backgrounds, his sole ambition in life since his teenage years was to become rich through any means. He had started as a apprentice in his uncle’s shop. There, under his uncle’s guidance he was trained in the art of trading. From an ordinary shop boy, he made sure to endear himself to his uncle and became quite indispensable to him. Soon, he was in charge of the shop  and was the one traveling to China to select the items for import. As an ordinary shop boy, he had already mastered the art of tampering with the transactions so that records of his theft were never suspected. By the time, he started traveling for international transactions, he had already amassed enough to open his own business. However, he had to wait for his uncle who was his ‘Oga’ to release and settle him, so that suspicions about his wealth would not arise. Already, the uncle was complaining that his business was not doing well.

While waiting, his uncle suffered a massive stroke. My patient saw an opportunity, and immediately seized it by taking over all his businesses and cutting off his children. In the uncle’s vegetative state, he could do nothing as he was relegated to the background and decisions about finances made on his behalf. The uncle died two years later.

I listened in amazement as my  patient whom I had just diagnosed with chronic kidney disease due to Diabetes narrated to me how, in addition to the money he already embezzled, also took a chunk of the man’s inheritance while remitting the meagre that was left to his uncle’s widow and children.

The man’s wealth continued to grow and in true Northern Nigerian fashion, he started to marry more and more wives. As at the time he presented to the hospital, he had 4 wives and 18 children. His older children schooled abroad, and most were involved in his textile and building material business. Life was good for awhile, when he was in his forties. A few politicians had recruited him to launder their ill-appropriated funds and so his business had expanded far beyond his expectations. When one his business partners, who was a politician that had invested heavily in his business died, he denied having any dealings with him. The family of the politician could not make much fuss or take him to court as there was no written document and tracing of the funds would mean an investigation into how he had obtained his money.

Yet again, my patient proved that there was no honour among thieves.

A few years ago, he was diagnosed with diabetes and hypertension in Germany. His Diabetes was a rare type that needed insulin for treatment. Oral hypoglycaemic agents which are typically used as first line drugs would not work in his case. He was diligent with medication and seemed to be doing well for some time.

During COVID, like a lot of businesses, his sales suffered a setback. In an attempt to regain his loss and to bring his lost glory, he began to take a closer looks at his accounting  which he had previously entrusted to his oldest son. To his utter shock and disbelief, he realised that his beloved son had been cheating him.

Karma, is a bitch, I swear.

The hair on my skin stood still as I watched the grown man cry. His tears were not from the money lost or from the uraemic frost that had settled on his skin leaving with an ashy-gray complexion. Nor was the pain from the body weakness and weight loss he suffered making him look twice his age. No, the pain was from the fact that his child, his oldest and most beloved son with which he shared all his secrets, could do this to him.

Ever since this discovery, he has lost all will to live. A combination of depression and paranoia had taken over his life. He removed all his children from all his businesses but not without losing a significant amount. The patient was not on speaking terms with his children and their mother. The betrayal, too strong to stomach, led him to alcohol which destroyed what was left of his kidney and liver. I looked at the results of his renal function tests and saw that his creatinine and urea levels were  through the roof. Dialysis was our immediate solution. That, and consequently, a kidney transplant.

His story still haunts me, till date. So far, the dialysis sessions has proved successfully and we (the nephrology team and I) have been able to get him to quit drinking. He is fully dependent on three sessions of dialysis per week for survival. Preparations are being made to travel abroad for a transplant, but the major setback is that no one has agreed to volunteer to be his donor. Sons, Daughters, wives, nephews, and friends are all reluctant to come forward to have their tissue tested. Even with a monetary incentive been attached to the donation, all of them have remained adamant.

Too many bridges have been burnt by him.

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