One news story that dominated public discussion in the past few days was the grotesque tale of how a mystery snake consumed the whopping sum of N36 million from the Benue State office of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). There are indeed moonlight tales emanating from the offices of JAMB.
The first astonishing story was narrated by a sales clerk in the Makurdi, Benue State, office of JAMB. On interrogation, the woman told the far-fetched story of how a “spiritual” snake consumed the stupendous amount of money received through the sale of scratch cards to JAMB candidates. The money, she said, was kept in the office safe from where the mystery snake took the entire collection.
What an incredible tale fit to be narrated to idiots. But wait, that was not all. Just as everyone was digesting the disingenuous story, news emerged of another dubious tale from the Nasarawa office of JAMB. In this particular case, the sum of N26 million could not be accounted for because another untrustworthy staff of JAMB had claimed that the money, along with the remaining scratch cards, were incinerated inside his car during a road accident that occurred on his way to the Abuja office.
These two stories deserve a national award for the best fictional thrillers of 2018, if not that they are both serious cases that border on audacious theft of public money. How two staff of JAMB located at different offices could weave such unbelievable tales and expect the nation to believe them is in itself a mystery. Has JAMB become an easy conduit for the perpetration of crimes of extraordinary proportions? While the man and woman await their day in court, what we know for now is that JAMB and the nation have been scammed, defrauded and deceived.
The hare-brained story of a mystery snake that was narrated by a sales clerk is as much a reflection of the stupidity of the woman. The story symbolises lack of standards and moral values in our society. It is puzzling how a public servant could connive with her house aide to rob an institution of government of such a large sum of money.
It is difficult to believe that the woman at the centre of the scandal mustered the courage to tell a lie in the public sphere. The story is so bad you don’t even know how to handle it, whether to laugh or cry. Should the story teller be garlanded or prosecuted? Are we chasing corruption or tracking shadows in Nigeria? What is the fundamental responsibility of anti-corruption agencies in the country? At times like this, you feel like denying your nationality.
Nigeria has since crumbled but, strangely, it is still pretending to be alive, to be standing unsteadily, precariously, and erratically on wearied legs. We live a life of denial. We are bombarded with official lies from the government and from private citizens. There is no one to believe. How could a snake that feeds on rodents and other animals big and small suddenly develop the appetite to consume millions of our local currency? The story teller alluded to a “spiritual” snake with the capacity to swallow money.
This is a reflection of what ill-informed religious teachings have done to our psyche. Here are some related examples. When people die in local communities, their relatives say they were attacked by “spiritual” forces. When a woman divorces her husband, she says she was advised to do so by “spirits.” When a married man is caught having a secret liaison with a married woman, it is another form of “spiritual attack.” When people die in accidents on our bad roads, they are seen as victims of “evil spirits” that ambush road users. No one talks about the condition of the roads or the level of intoxication of the driver of the vehicle.
Someone once asked the question: do people ever die of natural causes in Nigeria? A woman who is having childbirth issues must have had her womb tied up by “evil spirits.” A senior public servant who raids the treasury pleads for forgiveness on the ground that he was in a trance caused by “evil spirits.” Do all these excuses make sense?
Sometimes we have to laugh at our own stupidity. I have not heard and I am certainly not aware of anywhere in the world where embezzlement of public funds is attributed to a snake. I am not aware of any country in the world where corrupt public servants take the nation for a ride or as a country populated by fools. Ever since these absurd stories broke out in the public domain, everyone has been making fun of the two serious cases. Newspaper editorials, cartoonists, and columnists have tried to analyse the strange story of how a snake swallowed N36 million and disappeared just like that.
Look, N36 million is not a small amount of money. The country can achieve many things if the money is properly invested in genuine causes. The lives of many unemployed citizens can be transformed instantly if the money is allocated to them as small-scale loans. Businesses that are struggling as a result of the poor economic situation can be revived with this staggering amount of money. Many indigent students who could not afford to go to universities and polytechnics could be empowered with the money, which could be given to them as scholarships. In fact, N36 million could be used to do a lot of things for local communities. The money could be used to renovate decrepit community clinics and dispensaries. It could be used to set up medium-scale farms, poultries or other forms of business.
It is deeply troubling for anti-corruption agencies to watch this sordid soap opera playing out in our society and pretend nothing is wrong or morally distressing. The nation deserves to be saved the current embarrassment caused by two staff members of JAMB.
I have heard some people say there is no cause for worry because the matter is under investigation. This argument is flawed. We might as well wait for eternity, given the government’s abysmal record of failing to follow up cases of people involved in corruption. How many cases of corruption have been prosecuted or successfully investigated since this Federal Government was elected? Soon, someone would suggest that we should immerse ourselves in national prayers that would compel the blame-worthy snake to emerge from hiding. How we mislead ourselves!
I am prompted to ask some penetrating and uncomfortable questions. Are some public servants trained to lie? Why should the two JAMB staff in Benue and Nasarawa states treat us as gullible people who could be easily fooled? Should they have advanced ludicrous excuses to explain how a total of over N60 million went missing from JAMB’s coffers? Civil society is not that unsophisticated, you know.