Lawyers would find it hard to agree that Suzanne Thabet’s action wasn’t induced under duress. They’re entitled to their professional opinion. But moralists and, indeed, the public, among them millions of unemployed, destitute and hungry, will rejoice.
They will see no better evidence of justice than a thief surrendering the stolen items found in her possession. And if people are willing to commit this material suicide only when they are incarcerated, so be it.
Thus, no matter what lawyers are wont to say, Suzanne Thabet, who, by the way, is the 70-year-old wife of ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, has set an example for the thieves of the world. On Monday AFP, quoting the Middle East News Agency (MENA), reported that she had given three powers of attorney to Assem al-Gohari, the head of the Illicit Gains Authority, authorizing him to withdraw the cash from accounts in (two banks) and to sell a villa she owns in Cairo.
And, echoing the message, the impoverished people of the world say to the executive thieves of the world: Surrender your loot. The people need it to change their lives. You were never entitled to it, in the first place! The message is particularly pertinent for the executive thieves – proven or alleged – of Nigeria. Their list is long, so we’ll just use the James Iboris, Lucky Igbinedions, Bola Tinubus, Ahmed Sanis, etc, of this world to represent them.
The executive thieves – proven or alleged – of Nigeria, with the exception of the more “civilized” ones like Peter Odili who are quiet in the way they enjoy their loot, have one predilection in common: rather than take the noble route of surrendering their loot and begging of forgiveness from the Nigerian masses, they use the proceeds to stalemate investigation and trial processes or to establish political empires. They are unrepentant.
The former Egyptian First Lady pledged to hand over her money and property to the state, days after she was ordered detained on corruption charges.
The Illicit Gains Authority is Egypt’s equivalent of our own Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), while Assem al-Gohari is the equivalent of our own Farida Waziri. But there are differences between the Egyptian institution and its head and their so-called Nigerian equivalents. When Farida organized Lucky Igbinedion’s plea bargain, it turned out to be a huge joke, even though she has tried feebly to distance EFCC from the charade. It took persistent national outcry for EFCC to reach out for the real list of choice properties and monies illegally acquired by the son of the Bini chief. In 1999 when he became Governor, the family, despite the façade of grandeur shown in loud and obscene birthdays, was as poor as the proverbial church rat. It was his personal connection to Abacha that saved his father from being arrested and detained like a common thief for the swindle that was his Crown Merchant Bank the same way many bank owners of his generation were treated.
Even in custody in Dubai, Ibori remains the most powerful individual political machine in Nigeria’s Niger Delta. Having funded the political ambition of Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole, Igbinedion remains the power behind the scene in the “Heartbeat of the Nation,” with the former president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) morally incapacitated from holding him accountable for the ruin that he wrought on Edo state for all of eight years.
Tinubu has the largest media empire in the country today – spanning newspaper, radio, television and digital cable broadcast network. Many of them are installed on illegally acquired public land. He has continually dared anyone to probe him. And as long as he is able to give freely to Area Boys (both on the streets of Lagos and in the academia), he continues to command vociferous loyalty. What are the sources of his wealth? Ahmed Sani, having treated the resources of Zamfara state for eight years as if they were his personal acquisitions, including using some of them for criminal child-abuse purposes, has just won re-election to the Senate, and remains in control of the political order in Zamfara.
Let’s go back to the difference between Egypt and Nigeria. The Egyptian people embarked on a popular uprising and now have in place a people-led process to cleanse their system. Hosni Mubarak was smart enough to bow to the people’s will. This is the context in which his wife’s decision can be best explained. And, come to think of it, what time is left for a 70-year-old woman to utilize all the wealth that she has stashed away in some bank vaults? But there’s no one leading a revolt in Nigeria with any moral force. That’s why we have this Russian roulette in our fight against corruption.
But I just hope that, one day, executive thieves – proven or alleged – of Nigeria and their stupendously wealthy spouses will show remorse and return all the ill-gotten in their possession, instead of using these same resources to subvert the very institutions that are supposed to bring them to book! Then, in the case of Luck Igbinedion, he can join his peer in playing street soccer in the ancient city of Benin. The Edos will forgive him, as indeed Nigerians are willing to forgive the looters of the people’s treasury – if only they’ll return the loot.
Yes, dealing with Nigeria’ executive thieves will always be a moral burden for Goodluck Jonathan. It is beyond Farida Waziri’s professional – and even moral – competence and capability.
Well, if the executive thieves – proven or alleged – of Nigeria will not, on their own, see it fit to make restitution for the iniquities, then let them wait for a people’s revolution, the kind that recently unfolded in Egypt, is raging in Libya and the rest of the Arab world, before they will do the needful thing, a la Suzanne Thabet, otherwise known as Suzanne Mubarak, the dethroned First Lady of Egypt.
Trootella, a socio-psychologist based in Abuja, is a commentator on global and national issues.