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Ten great things Nigeria can learn from a thief

The title of this piece is not intended to attract the attention of the reader. But if I succeed in catching your attention with it, neither you nor I will have any cause to regret it. This is because I think I have a great message to give and that you, on the other hand, stand to gain something valuable from what we are about to say here. As a newsman I know that the story headlines that are the greatest attention drawers in the world have to do with love, sex and crime. And stealing stories are great attention grabber because stealing is a crime and a sin.

In all cultures and in all religions, thieves are despised and when they are caught, are often severely punished, sometimes through instant mob lynching, imprisonment or they have other dreadful pains inflicted on them such as judicial execution through shooting or hanging. What then can any one possibly learn from a thief?

You have a right to feel superior to a thief. But I bet you that at the end of this piece you will be compelled to agree that there are certain positive attributes you can learn from a thief to improve your personal and public lives. I am particularly concerned that as a nation we urgently need to imbibe certain characteristics of the thief to help us become a developed country within the shortest possible time and not have to wait till 2020 as promised by President Umar Musa Yar’Adua. You sure do not like a thief but I want to get you to adopt some of his success methods and strategy for your individual success and for the success of our nation.

My concern arises from the fact that the contraption called Nigeria which was coupled together by Lord Luggard in 1914, is not working well at all. Those who thought they will take a joy ride in it are not very happy at all. They sound frustrated and despondent. Nigeria looks like a rickety car whose engine is about to knock any moment from now. It is like a jalopy that takes great delight in taunting its owner by engaging in great motion without significant movement. And my thinking is that in our current battle for survival and progress the attitude we must adopt is to have an open mind; to be prepared at all times to learn from all sources and to learn from anyone, whether rogue or saint, positive attributes that can help propel our drive for progress.

In spite of the fact that thieves are universally despised, they do have some admirable qualities that society can learn from for its progress. What are some of these admirable characteristics worth emulating? The Jewish Rabbi Zusha of Anapoli, whose greatness lies in his self-effacement and simplicity of thought and action, has identified what he calls “seven good things to learn from a thief”.

He said: “I learned seven things from the thief.1) What he does, he keeps to himself.2) He is willing to take risks to attain his goal. 3) He does not distinguish between ‘major’ and ‘minor’ things, but takes equally exacting care of each and every detail. 4) He invests great efforts in what he does.5) He is very swift. 6) He is always optimistic.7) If at first he fails, he is back time and time again for another try”.

I may not be a rabbi, but I have added three more. There are negative attributes of a thief which I think we also need to learn from and they dwell essentially on why thieves fail to become very successful. 1) A thief tends to be too optimistic and foolish.2) A thief neither fears the laws of man or of God which ultimately brings him down. 3) A thief is too selfish and inconsiderate. He steals from both rich and poor. He does not distinguish between the bread meant for kids and the excess treasures of the filthy rich!

To summarise Rabbi Zusha of Anapoli, a thief has a great sense of self-management and protection of his vital interest. He also has persistence, doggedness, optimism, and hard work

As a people, is there anything we keep strictly to ourselves as a vital national or personal interest that can not be divulged to unauthorized persons even on pains of death? We are the most open, the noisiest, and the most boastful set of human beings that God has ever suffered himself to create. We are profane and even vulgar and I think there is hardly anything we hold as sacred. We go about Africa and the rest of the world proclaiming that we are the giant of Africa and the hope of the Black race. We build up resentment against ourselves and our nation everywhere with such boastfulness. And the result is that we are not loved very much anywhere. We forget to heed Professor Wole Soyinka’s counsel that a tiger does not proclaim his tigritude. He demonstrates it, sometimes very stealthily.

And this brings me to another great leadership quality of a thief. He knows how to keep his secret secret. He deals with people strictly on what the intelligence community calls a need-to-know basis. He takes great care to hide the secret of his success from those who are not in his trade. He is a great custodian of his trade secrets! Everywhere in the civilized world, a few persons who feel called upon, come together and plan what sort of nation they need to build. Such persons are called founding fathers.After that, they expand their circle and bring in other talented, visionary, passionate and patriotic persons to help them in their task.

But in Nigeria what happens? The leaders engage in endless and meaning talks, declarations and promises without any action. They have no vision, no plan and no commitment to positive action.

Nigerian leaders talk too much about their plans and reveal vital secrets to possible enemies. Nigerians as a whole do not keep secrets. Nigeria is the most open country in the world. It has nothing like state secrets. This helps to explain why even a military coup whose penalty is death is an open secret in Nigeria. Once a coup plot is on those who are curious by nature will know. It is only in Nigeria that our sport journalists will write a story telling the world that a Nigerian soccer coach is in an ‘enemy’ country spying on the Super Eagles’ next opponent in a World Cup qualifier!

I always tell myself that even if I had a mind to be corrupt or to conspire with others to do evil, I will not be foolish enough to do so with Nigerians! A Nigerian will give you bribe now and the next minute he is telling somebody else that he bribed you, quoting chapters and verses! We can not keep secrets even on the pains of death. We are a very openly boastful people. Even before they do anything significant, they talk and boast so much about this thing which they have not even started doing, thereby making their plans easy sabotage target for competitors. They do not know that great leadership and even personal self-management require some secrecy and some element of surprise. You must take some people by surprise if you are to accomplish some great goals. Survival in both the ancient and modern world has always been some kind of war. In the Bible one king who revealed too much about his kingdom and its possession to a friendly enemy was severely punished by God through the loss of that kingdom.

In some very serious-minded countries, economic plans or secrets are held very dear to the hearts of leaders but in ours, such things are open secrets. We openly boast about how we are giant of Africa and how we will manufacture goods for the West African market. It beats my imagination how a sane nation with imperialistic ambition will put everybody on notice of her intention. If you read the recent history of nations such as China, India, Korea, Singapore, etc which have burst unto the scene today as economic giants they did so almost by stealth. They planned, and to fend off sabotage, they kept from the world much of their secrets and they worked hard before they announced themselves to the world. Here we do not plan and we do not work. And when hunger and malnutrition come upon us we even reveal to the world how hungry we are by telling them how much billion dollars worth of rice we are desperate to import from them.

In the mid-80s during the Babangida administration when the governor of old Rivers’ State Police Commissioner Fidelis Oyakhilome was vigorously pursuing a green revolution that was actually producing food, many nations in especially Asia which supply us food even till date, were visibly worried. They did not want what Oyakhilome was doing to catch on. As a passionate, energetic, vibrant and highly interactive young journalist in those days I got to know this from those countries’ diplomats. When later Oyakhilome ceased to be governor and his idea was killed I suspected the sabotage of those nations. The Babangida administration’s Accelerated Wheat Programme also suffered a similar fate because we do not plan our moves and surprise the world with their outcomes. Let us learn from the thief.

I am daily praying for that single serious-minded Nigerian leader who will come unto the scene one day, assemble equally serious-minded, intelligent, patriotic, self-effacing, taciturn comrades, keep them severely at the background, plan with them and spring into the open one good day and begin to do things with minimum noise that will transform this nation.

Idang Alibi is an Abuja-based journalist {linkr:related;keywords:nigeria;limit:5;title:Related Articles}

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