And it came to pass that a certain Godwin Moffat Eyo who carries the title of ‘pastor’ got convicted this past week for stealing. That is no news because hundreds of people get convicted for stealing in Nigeria every week. It is also no biggie that he committed the crime while serving as a ‘big man’ in one of the ‘big’ government offices. Many of them do, still do and will continue to do so. The part that stood out for me in this matter was the items he stole. The convict stole electricity transformers; not one, not two, not 10, not even 20 or 30. He stole all of 56 transformers. Yes, you read that correctly, 56!
When the news broke, many people asked what he wanted to use all those transformers for when he is not NEPA. As an aside, NEPA (National Electric Power Authority) is the precursor to the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) which was later unbundled to give way to the present power generating companies (gencos) and power distribution companies (discos) that dot the entire country. Names have a way of sticking with us here, so by whatever name the power supply company goes, most Nigerians call them NEPA now, since the generation that knew of ECN (Electricity Corporation of Nigeria) is now in the minority.
So back to our man, Pastor Eyo. How on earth did he come about 56 transformers valued at N220,176,320? That’s the big question. As I hinted, Eyo is (or was) a big man. He was the commissioner representing his state (Akwa Ibom) in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), a specialised intervention agency of the federal government meant to address some of the peculiar challenges of that region. In saner climes, such an agency and its resources would be treated with utmost protection by everyone from that area the way communities treasure their stream as the source of potable water. You don’t mess with it without grave consequences from the people. But not so with the NDDC.
To many citizens of the Niger Delta, the commission is just another spinner of freebies coming from a distant federal government. You just pray to get into it or know someone in it to take as much from it as possible. So, it was that this representative of an entire state applied for 90 electricity transformers for the benefit of his state and was given 70. When these were released, the convict claimed that the NDDC office in the state capital did not have enough space to store that quantity of equipment and he was benevolent enough to offer his private home in Eket for the safe-keeping of the transformers. It turned out that this thief eventually released only 14 of the equipment and, well, ‘pocketed’ 56!
My questions are many, but let me pose a few here. How so easy is it that all of 70 transformers approved for an entire state by the NDDC could be physically handed over to an individual? Shouldn’t the agency have verified the specific location the transformers needed to be sited and ensure they were delivered there? Could it be that the agency works like one huge bazaar where the big men just share and cart away as much as they want and nobody cares about what it is meant for? Does NDDC have a way of following up with equipment it shares out?
How did the pastor dispose of those 56 transformers without people raising issues? Possibly, he became a huge benefactor, sharing transformers to different communities whimsically, or, as some pastors like him are wont to say, ‘as the spirit led’. Did it ever prick the consciences of the beneficiaries that there was something amiss in the manner he doled out the transformers? Maybe he became known as the transformer man. Did his church ever see anything absurd and wrong with that? He couldn’t possibly have stolen 56 of those equipment without ‘blessing’ his church and maybe other ‘men/women of God’ with a few, you know.
It is likely that many who knew of it and many more who would read this would justify the action as a norm because they have accepted that our society cannot run better than this. This is the shocking reality for us. The problem is not usually only about the criminal, but also about the society members who abet, acquiesce, endorse or celebrate the criminality. I was sore disappointed a few days ago where I read about a young man who swindled a bank of N53.6 million by hacking into its database during his internship with the bank. It was not just the criminality that I was disappointed with, but the comment of another young man who chided the thief for not being smart enough to have escaped from the country soon after the loot.
That says a lot about our society. And I am sure there are many more Pastors Eyo across the land and in different scales who are being protected by the same society. Until we sensitise ourselves enough to spew out their likes, our society will continue in this cycle of rot.
First published in The Niche newspaper, May 3, 2015 http://www.thenicheng.com/do-we-ever-spew-out-the-rot/