There was national outrage late last week when officials of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced they have arrested many Nigerians for their involvement in money laundering. Should we have been surprised by the scale of the criminal indictment? Those who expressed righteous anger were offended by the lavish lifestyle of the people now in incarceration. Not only did they abuse the magnanimity of their host country, they showed little regard for their own image, their family name, their nationality, and their cultural identity.
The suspects knew exactly what they were doing. They chose to live on the fast lane of life that often ends in ignominy. They knew that life on a highway could end abruptly. That was precisely what happened last week. All the partying, heavy drinking, the exhibition of women of low moral character, the audacious tossing of the US dollar in open air amid dancing, the irritating swagger, and all the noise and bragging have ended in a blaze of infamy. Life on the fast lane is a life unfulfilled. It is transient. It is meaningless. It is like a candle in the wind. It could be extinguished any moment.
Those arrested in the US last week were in a hurry to live the good life. They drove on the fast lane but forgot the fast lane could be catastrophic. A key characteristic of people who drive on the fast lane is that they lack patience. A delay constitutes a hold-up or setback in their life.
All through human history, ambition has always defined the rise and fall of men and women. In their eagerness to attain fame, high status, esteem, wealth, and worldwide acclaim, many youth allow the pursuit of momentary happiness and pleasures to destroy their lives, persona, identity, family name, and community character.
This illustrates the lavish but temporary lifestyle of Nigerians indicted last week by the FBI. Videos trending on social media depicted revolting images of youth spraying the US dollar carelessly on the dance floor. We can understand that kind of imprudent behaviour if they were in Nigeria throwing around the naira. But no, they were sneezing at a widely sought-after global currency. The ignominious treatment of the US dollar could be attributed to the disrespectful way our politicians, businessmen and women, and crooked people spray money during parties. It is their own way of announcing their presence and their elevated social status.
When people throw money so recklessly, as the arrested money launderers did, you know they must be involved in some form of illegal activity. People who earn money through hard work do not treat money with so much disrespect.
When the criminal activities of the money launderers yielded millions of dollars, everyone craved their friendship. Their circle of friends expanded rapidly beyond their geographic location. They were given awards by international organisations. Now they have fallen from grace to become ordinary members of society. When criminals fall into the rarefied world of daydreaming, they see nothing but illusory entitlements to fame, nobility, dignity, and respect shattered. In confinement, they realise they have no more access to their former life of extravagance. They are now avoided as men overwhelmed by the bubonic plague.
Money launderers do not give up their illegal trade easily. The stimulus for remaining in the business is far more gratifying than pulling out of the swindle. The more they defraud, the more they believe they can continue to fleece other people. The question must be asked: Why do some Nigerians engage in the unlawful business of setting up scams designed to deprive other people of their money? There are many reasons, some of them sociological, psychological, physiological, and economic. Some people believe money laundering is the gateway to instant fame and wealth acquisition. This is often based on the assumption that illegal activities offer some kind of cathartic relief from economic hardships and other social problems in the country.
There are some criminals in our society and elsewhere who became rich by swindling other people of their money. They relish open celebrations that are driven by their large appetite for ostentatious lifestyle. They love to make merry to mark their new-found status. They drive posh cars. They wear gold jewels. They drink the most exotic wines. They parade flimsy women who are morally inadequate. These are the women whose arms, tummies, and buttocks are decorated with tattoos.
It is not difficult to trace the history of the collapse of our moral values. In every city, the message of instant wealth is being conveyed. It pays to be rich. The youth looked at the way our society treasured wealth and liked what they saw. If you want to be recognised and respected, you have to be rich, astonishingly rich. No one cares how you make your money. What matters is that you are affluent, not how you acquired wealth.
That was how our society started to adore criminals. It marked the beginning of the end of the social fabric that held our society together. In every metropolitan city and rural community, religious institutions and leaders spread the gospel. Churches rolled out red carpets for prosperous members. Front row seats were reserved for members of the millionaires’ club. Some of them were allowed to preach to the congregation about the virtues of hard work. How ironic! Unashamedly, religious institutions shifted from preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God to sermonise about the kingdom of the rich.
At various church services, pastors, priests and bishops sold the message that God loves a cheerful giver, particularly those who give thousands of naira and even dollars. Implicit in that message is the notion that the kingdom of God is solely for those who can afford it. What about the poor? Well, let’s get the truth out. The kingdom of God is not for the poor. The new message, take it or leave it, is that the rich shall inherit the kingdom and the poor shall be consigned to a life of suffering.
As the basic doctrines of the church were abused and abandoned, so did our traditional institutions lose direction. Chieftaincy titles were contrived and conferred on men and women of dodgy character, not because they distinguished themselves in service to their community but because they had successfully bought traditional leaders with buckets of local and foreign currency. Overnight, well known crooks, ex-convicts, murderers, corrupt politicians, and big-time criminals were awarded traditional titles. The guardians of our traditional institutions have become the wreckers of our values.
Every time we contemplate how we got to this point, we must reflect on our past and present practices. What were the social values that held our society together, those values that were cherished and admired by everyone? To what extent are they still respected? The social disintegration of our society must be attributed in part to the haste with which we dumped our core values. A society without values is a society without honour. And a society without cultural principles and approved standards of behaviour is a dysfunctional society.