Two stories about Nigeria caught my eye this week. They fascinate me because their disparity best captures the peculiarity of being Nigerian. Let’s start with the good stuff.

In what has been viral news during the week, a Nigerian, Ifeoma Amuche, studying at a Chinese university, went on to finish as the school’s best-graduating student. As the valedictorian, she delivered a speech over four minutes long in fluent Chinese. If it isn’t apparent, that’s a pretty impressive feat.

Another way to think of it is if a Chinese studied at a Nigerian university and finished as the best-graduating student—while learning in Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo or any of the hundreds of languages spoken in Nigeria. Ifeoma’s feat typifies Nigerian excellence, setting an incredibly high bar.

And now, to the other story. People’s Gazette exclusively reported that two federal civil servants conducted a $76 million heist, the proceeds of which were kept in cold storage at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The story’s lede reads like vivid imagination—the kind one only daydreams about when struck by severe hunger pangs. Here’s a screenshot below:

The story has several interesting subplots, including the alleged involvement of the disgraced police officer, Abba Kyari, who was alleged to have received kickbacks. You can read the full gist at your own time.

When the story broke, it triggered several reactions, like this one:

Having read through the story, here are a few thoughts:

Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade was a farce

Muhammadu Buhari may be away from power for good, but his terrible legacy remains

. He had the option of strengthening our institutions but chose to hinge his initial anti-corruption crusade around the force of his personality. The result? Public officers carted away millions of dollars from government coffers wantonly.

Stealing huge sums is easy. Spending it is hard

It’s one thing to hatch a plan to steal plenty of money. As the last administration showed, that happened a lot. But spending it without leaving a paper trail while still serving in government is very hard. White-collar criminals usually find their way around that by laundering money. We explained here why that’s bad.

They might have gotten away with it

The reason we know about the story goes like this, in summary. Some government workers allegedly stashed $76 million. A driver for one of them thought COVID-19 palliatives were locked up in storage and told his friends, who were scrap metal collectors. These guys came around hoping to get their share of Indomie—recall that this period was when government officials were hoarding palliatives. To their surprise, they broke in successfully and found that what they thought were packs of noodles were stacks of dollar notes. They managed to cart away $4 million, leaving $72 million behind, while the driver himself was unaware. As they say, there’s no honour among thieves.

The government officials found out. They could have chosen to forgo the $4 million but decided to involve the police to recover it. Maybe they feared that they could return to cart more loot. Police managed to recover around $2 million, but long and short, a paper trail had emerged. Would their heist have remained a secret if they’d chosen to count their losses instead? We’d never know.

Something has got to give

If you recall that Nigeria suffered a severe dollar shortage, you’d understand why having $76 million in cash is mind-blowing. But an even bigger question is how these government officials got their hands on it in the first place. This represents the first major corruption case that the current administration has on its hands.

How the investigation will proceed from here on is anyone’s guess. But it would also indicate whether this administration is serious about reforms or if things will remain business as usual. 

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