No sun. No moon. No oil lamp. No torchlight. He loves the night in its pagan blackness. Darkness clips the lips of the loquacious, arrests the feet of any potential informer and saturates the thoughts of men with a throbbing unease, hopelessness, tension, all the allotropes of fear. Darkness is a great provider, his season of exploits, miracles and plenty: Kalashnikov sacks the serenity of one neighbourhood and then another. Bubbles of bread. Bloated casks. For him and for the lucky call girl.
Nowadays it is difficult to get bread: bread is scarce, like water in Negev. Hunger is even more reckless, spurring her old stallion, careening down every street, firing at will. Many are the deaths from her shots. Bread is scarce, he has become morbidly aware. He no longer wears a mask, no longer cringes at daylight; now it is an equally fecund season. Because he has to get bread.
He boards a taxi or a bus. He goes to a neighbourhood. Before him reinforced concrete walls dissolve in dust and chattering pebbles. He gains the apartment and in a split second disappears into thin air, taking a fortune with him.
The tenants of the house are startled awake, howling and screaming: Armed robber! Armed robber! Armed robber! He stole my television. He stole my laptop. He stole my phone. Oh, he’s killed my husband! Oh, he shot my fiancée. Oh my son, you should have lived to bury me…
Grief purloins people’s heart, and the ground is wet with mourning. The aggrieved and the bereaved splurge execrations on the terminator. May he never bear children. May thunder strike him in the street. May his laughter dry up. May he be stripped naked in the market place. May… Tongues run a marathon course until satiated. And then the beleaguered people run to the opium houses. They importune the divine – God, Allah, Amadioha, whichever will respond with serpentine celerity – for security. May the armed robber never come to our door again.
Armed robber. He is much hated, and in the eyes of the public he is stupid, brutal, feckless, reckless, callous and unfeeling. If he had been caught, the people would have been much more vengeful; he would probably have blazed to ash before a tumultuous crowd grinning in mollification.
The armed robber’s life is uncertain, unpredictable like a bomb. He is not alone, however. He has a brother just as rapacious, just as brutal, just as callous and unfeeling, but unrecognized by sociological scholarship. This brother of armed robber’s is elected. He sits behind an ornate desk or in a plush sofa in a chamber and kills and robs with pen and words. He inflates contracts and creams off the profits. From the peoples’ wallet he buys a Schloss in Berlin, a chateau in Paris, a Ferrari and a Maserati in Como, a castle and a Bentley in London, and a Rolls Royce in Washington DC. He sends his children to Oxford, to Cambridge and to the Sorbonne and dares the harried, underpaid and starving professors back home to remain on strike.
The armed robber’s brother is the corrupt politician. I am using the word corrupt politician advisedly. A distinction has to be made between the corrupt and the rectitudinous politician. While the rectitudinous politician repudiates stealing, and is always at his desk trying to find solutions to the country’s problems, the corrupt politician, as we know him, steals whatever he can, invariably ensuring that some have more than enough to eat, while others are dying for want of bread.
In Nigeria, where it is fashionable to be blind, the corrupt politician is never taken for what he is: a criminal as brutal, as callous and unfeeling as an armed robber. He is never seen as stupid. He is not hated but loved, and, unlike the armed robber, he has never been set ablaze in the street. He is sacred, like a member of the Brahmin caste; sacred because money has put around him an impervious vest of immunity. He can buy Dick and Tom and Harry. The Judge may name his price… Money…
He has it aplenty, and is always on the lookout for avenues to steal more. No one questions him or the source of his money. And if he wakes up one morning and decides to take a governor hostage, no one would demure. If he burns down a state, he would be given police escorts and would most likely earn the trusteeship of his party. He rigs into power a myrmidon who would not stop a cheque on him.
He walks the streets with pride. He mounts the nearest pulpit and makes a hefty donation. The old starving priest falls flat on the floor of adulation, expiring with joie de vivre. He is godsend, everyone says. May his winepress never run dry. May he be cradled by long life, the knight with the lion. If the corrupt politician is caught, he bluffs his interceptor, calling for his own immediate probe. If he is eventually tried and convicted, – and this is as rare as an ounce sense in the head of a lunatic – a section of Kirikiri is turned into a pleasure dome for his amusement. After maybe four months, he returns to his turf, an Honourable Member or His Excellency.
The corrupt politician is the luckiest species in Nigeria. His brother the armed robber is not half as fortunate. The armed robber is of the strong breed; he is the one to expiate the sins of the other guilty. He is hated, mocked and imprecated. He trudges in a hail of ignominy, naked, emasculated, alone, all alone. Incidentally, it is his brother the corrupt politician who signs the letters of his threnody.
Between the corrupt politician and the armed robber there is no difference, but because of the epidemic of perverse logic in the country, one is shot, the other hailed. It is an unacknowledged apothegm in Nigeria today that the distribution of justice is snobbishly restricted. The corrupt politician splurges his stolen funds with Mobutuic glee and is made a chief, is promoted and deified, while his brother the armed robber is tied to the stakes…
The corrupt politician has wrought as much agony, death and destruction as his brother the armed robber. Both are equally deserving of the firing squad.