If you happen to know any Nigerian armed robber, pickpocket, small-time con artist, low-level 419-er or participant in medium-grade crime, do invite them to read this important piece, a novel and indispensable how-to-survive manual. Verily, verily I say unto this fraternity of felons: If you hearken to my message and manual, you shall no longer know the peril of torture, detention or death. Instead, you shall be exalted by society and exult in a new found, judicially enforced freedom and prestige.

Okey Ndibe

Kai, if you know any man or woman who has been seriously contemplating a career in armed robbery or any of the allied disciplines of junior criminality (the senior categories being politics and the bureaucracy), do them a favor. For unto them, a prophet is born today—moi! And I bring them, my beloved heroes and heroines, glad tidings of life without molestation, without detention, without trial or tribulation of any sort, and certainly without death.

Have all the armed robbers drawn near? Are all the scam artists here? How about kidnappers, are you all present? The pickpockets, nko? Good! Welcome! Open your eyes, oh long-suffering petty felons. Open them wider, wider still! Now, use some soaped sponge to shine those eyes well well. Shine them that they may begin to see and to see clearly.

My message to you this day is a simple one. Ah ah, your mumu don do!

Don’t you see, oh fraternity of persecuted low-level criminals, that Nigeria is designed and run as a law-free zone? Yes, there are laws in the books in Nigeria. There are statutes that define crimes and stipulate punishments and fines. Some of these laws were inherited from the British who used to run the law-and-order show around here. In court, Nigerian lawyers and judges endlessly invoke this or that section, subsection or annex of this or that penal code, as amended. But don’t be fooled by all that legal wizardry and judicial abracadabra. All na for show!

Nigeria observes some of the rituals associated with the idea of the rule of law. At a moment’s notice, Nigerian lawyers can quote the law with a dexterity that rivals a fast-tongued, tithe-hustling pastor reciting biblical passages. I don’t deny that Nigeria has beaucoup laws in its books. Yet, all that proves is that the idea called “letter of the law” exists in Nigeria.

The practice of the law is a different matter. E no dey for Naija oh! Nigeria is run as one of the world’s no-holds-barred, free crime labs where the biggest, baddest, most successful criminals can expect—and do receive—beads of traditional rulership, crowns of chieftaincy titles, hordes of national honors, front seats and positions in churches and mosques, and hauls of praise names: statesmen, stakeholders, political chieftains, philanthropists, Sir, Dame, Double Chief, Yeye!

Nigeria’s open spaces are polluted, rife with the odor of men and women who—if they operated in geographic zones that take crimes seriously—would be in slammers serving life without the possibility of parole. But these odoriferous peacocks preen on the Nigerian stage, addressed as His Excellency This and That, Distinguished Senator A.X. Rump, Honorable O.X. Butt, etc, etc.

My question to you, low- and medium-grade criminals, is: why aren’t you demanding to be treated as your patron demons in the political and bureaucratic classes are treated? Why is it that what’s good for the senatorial goose who’s guzzled billions of naira is not extended to the pocket-picking gander looking for loose change to buy akara?

Don’t forget you heard it first from me: It’s about time you opened and shined your eyes, bo! It’s time you claimed your rights as law-breaking, order-ignoring Nigerians. It’s time you emerged from the shadows and laid claim to what is yours by Nigerian convention: medium-level chieftaincy titles, local government honor rolls, second-row seats in churches and some junior knighthoods to go with it, and a few middling praise names. I mean, why not?

Why do Nigerian jails and other detention centers overflow with your cohorts, men and women who are mere petite criminals? Worse, many of your number never even make it to trial. You’re simply picked up by the police and locked up, often on flimsy or zero charges, end of story. It gets even more macabre, according to lore as well as investigations by international human rights organizations. Many of the unlawfully detained, who may or may not be low-grade criminals or suspects, are summarily executed, victims of extra-judicial execution.

Haba, I say! That lots of non-political, non-bureaucratic criminals and suspects like yourselves languish in Nigerian jails is clear evidence that you don’t understand your potential rights in a country like Nigeria. If you all would spend a little time to understand the ins and outs of Nigeria, then few of them will ever be herded into prison.

I say to you, keep those eyes wide open! And keep shining them, jor! How many Nigerian public officials, current or former, have you seen in jail? And how many Nigerian bureaucrats, serving or retired, are imprisoned. Go ahead, count to zero!

Yet, we know they don’t hide the proceeds of their greed. They live openly, in full view of everybody, in their opulent mansions. They fly in their private jets, from one big-name funeral to a grand wedding. They donate millions to pastors or imams. They’re chauffeured about Nigeria’s potholed roads in their Rolls Royces and Bentleys. Photos of the swanky homes they own in London, Toronto and Potomac adorn the glossy pages of Nigeria’s celebrity magazines.

Open your eyes, become attentive apprentices, and learn from these gurus of big-time, richly rewarded crime. First, embrace the wisdom that there’s strength in numbers. Quick, quick, form an association of low- and medium-level criminals. Nigerian politicians know how to look out for themselves. They created this nasty, muscular bouncer called “Mr. Immunity Clause” and set him smack in the middle of the Nigerian constitution. If you ever accuse a Nigerian president or governor of pocketing public funds—or even of more grave crimes—this expert bouncer will just rise to his full mammoth height and say in a hectoring voice, “This [name of official] is fully covered.”

Lobby for your own minuscule Mr. Immunity, so that when you commit crimes he’ll flex his muscles and tell the police, “Touch not my shielded middle-brow armed robber!” When the system malfunctions and one of you is arrested and charged to court, make sure you suspend all your activities to accompany him/her to court. Nothing intimidates a judge and prosecutors better than hundreds of armed robbers storming a court to display solidarity with one of their arraigned associates. 

In the unlikely event that intimidation fails, you must master the art of hiring the right kind of lawyer. First, never hire only one Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) where you can retain 37, one from each state of the Federal Republic, plus an additional one thrown in for the Federal Capital Territory. Next, be as wise as a serpent in your selection of defense lawyers. There are SANs and there are SANs. Some of them know the fastest way to drive to the judge’s home to drop off Ghana-must-come-back bags stuffed with cash. Yes, those are the ones you want to hire!  


You can follow Okey Nbide on Twitter @okeyndibe and email him at [email protected]

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