Virtually two months back, the Nigerian nation and indeed Nigerians were once again shamed by people whom can be referred to as our leaders or better still leaders - in – training. This time around it was in far away China and this alleged act, perpetrated by no one else but MR. D.A. Briggs, an Assistant Director at the prestigious National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, himself an institute nominee for the senior executive course 30, what a privilege! The most stunning part of this bad news was the stolen item - A digital camera! I was shocked to see the news running across the TV as a subscript on CNN; immediately I logged online to verify the substance of this script which some visitors in my place at the material time had already dismissed as ‘another smear campaign against Nigeria by the imperialists’. Low as we logged on, the news was already everywhere on the Nigerian web space, Saturday Tribune and Daily Trust respectively reported and I quote partly, “A course participant at the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Plateau State, who is also a nominee of the institute for the Senior Executive Course 30 (name withheld), has been caught stealing in faraway China when the participants were on study tour of the Asian countries. The Director-General of the institute, Professor Akin Akindoyeni, it was learnt, had set up a three-man committee to investigate the allegation, saying that the issue remained a rumour until the Committee submitted its report. A highly dependable source close to the institute told Saturday Tribune that the alleged participant who travelled along with other participants to China on a foreign study tour, was caught with the aid of close circuit monitor, stealing a camera belonging to one of his colleagues in Beijing, China. The source narrated that when the owner of the camera raised alarm that his camera was missing, the participant who stole the item kept mute for two days until the management of the hotel where the incident occurred was contacted and told that one of its staff had sneaked into one of the participants’’ rooms to steal a camera. It was learnt that the accusation forced the management of the hotel to swing into action and invited the police and all the participants to watch a recorded event on the circuit monitor. Saturday Tribune gathered that it was the prompt intervention of the Nigerian Embassy in London and the pleading of his colleagues that saved the man from being arrested and tried in China.” Ref – Nigerian Saturday Tribune – 14/6/2008 “……….The case involving Mr. Briggs was first reported several months ago, when he was caught by a hotel camera in a Chinese hotel to have picked up a camera that was dropped by fellow course participant Alhaji Sani Daura. Though Briggs repeatedly denied that he took the camera, the Chinese hotel produced a close-circuit camera film which showed that he took it. He was only saved from the Chinese police and allowed to return to Nigeria following pleas by Nigeria’s embassy officials in China. However, attempts by the NIPPS management to discipline him by withdrawing him from the course and suspending him from work have produced the current conflict, with the Vice President’s office, which supervises NIPPS, saying due process was not followed. Daily Trust had reported when the case first broke that Mr. Briggs, a native of Bayelsa State, was accused by his NIPPS course mates of stealing on more than one occasion. In one instance, he was accused of stealing $500 from the wallet of former Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) chairman Malam Nuhu Ribadu, a fellow course participant. In another instance in Lagos, the Benue State Head of Service, who is a course participant, accused Briggs of stealing N100, 000 from his jacket’s pockets. The money was recovered when Briggs was accosted………”. Ref - Daily Trust I was in Kuru, Plateau state a couple of weeks back, I went over to NIPSS to visit two long standing family friends, Senior Research Fellows, whom I hadn’t seen for almost a decade. Primarily my visit was to catch up on things of mutual interest and secondarily to get the first class info on what happened in China. On getting to the imposing gate of the well secured institute, I asked to see my hosts and I was told to wait while the security men placed a verification call to confirm my intentions. As the process took quite sometime I engaged the other security details in a short chat, I asked ‘wetin dem say de happen for dis una NIPSS’ and they replied ‘oga you be journalist, wetin you mean? “I hear say one of una director carry person camera for China”, I replied. They looked at me suspiciously and after shunning me for some minutes asked, “You sure say you no be agent, e get as this your pidgin they sound, were you comot from”? I introduced myself to them showing them my card, ID even passport after which they relaxed. Immediately one of them shot, “Oga Briggs thief Camera for China, him no de shame, him salary for one month fit buy one container of digital camera”, playing the fool to get more details I asked them, “but him talk say him carry am keep so em fit give am back to pessin wey get am but him come forget”, angrily one of them replied, bros why you de yarn like this now, which level sef, shine your eye ohh, na naija be dis, how you go carry person thing to give am come forget for two days, na so e de be, abegi Sam Edem no talk say na juju make am burn 800 million, nobody sabi lie reach this govt people”; just then I was accepted to go in and as I left one of them chipped, “you no hear anything from our mouth ohh, carry go”. When I got in, I confirmed from the two families that indeed the man had even stolen from the ‘anti stealing’ czar himself, Nuhu Ribadu and a host of others and it has indeed become a subject of humorous jibes at Ribadu as his colleagues often tease him. They said though Dr Sankey is unrightfully moving against all oppositions to his confirmation as substantive NIPSS DG, Briggs is not a victim of any power scheme and was indeed found culpable by the Chinese police who allowed everyone watch the video copy of the camera and also witnesses who are themselves his colleagues all the way from Kuru. On a serious note, it is sad that stealing in high places in Nigeria has now descended to such petty level and to add salt to injury, outside the country in the full glare of monitor cameras. My heart longs to give Briggs the doubt benefit because I find it hard to reconcile the fact that a Director in waiting could not resist the urge to pick up an item that wasn’t his, but this benefit is shattered and hamstrung because there is an incontrovertible evidence that caught the whole act. Rightfully, as the security detail said, Briggs could afford hundreds of those cameras, why steal? Is it an endemic problem or maybe a curse of some sort? His supporters at the panel cited his suffering from amnesia to be the reason for his inability to return the camera, but does amnesia cause itchy fingers as well? Did amnesia lead him to pick Ribadu’s money from his card wallet? He was never known to be like this until the travelling aspect of the course started which required closer personal contact with other participants and then ‘the real Briggs evolved’. An ethnic dimension has been introduced leading to the recent spat between the Vice President and the Acting Director General. With the intervention of the South South People Assembly SSPA, the issue of theft has been swept under the carpet as the item of reference at the front burner is ethnic victimization of Mr. Briggs. It is an unfortunate development that indicates that our nation is actually being undermined by the duo of corruption and ethnicity. Ethnicity is often used to explain away corrupt practices and tendencies while justifying villainy. The deed has been done, whether a panel sits from today till next year, another record has been created internationally and enemies of our nation once again will thump their chests feeling vindicated in our long time dismissal as a corrupt entity. It is a shame!
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