Since the partial opening some years ago of Kaduna’s eastern bypass road that snakes past Rido and right behind the Kaduna Refinery, I always take this route into and out of Kaduna. It passes right through Sabon Tasha, a place recently thrust into national consciousness when EFCC agents raided a rusty house in this ghetto and found millions of crisp American dollars and British pounds. Before this raid opened our eyes I always drove through Sabo, as Kaduna folks call it, without a second look at its zinc sheds, wrought iron roofs reddened by rust, mud and cement walls reddened by dust from passing petrol tankers and even the goats, sheep and pigs that dart across the newly paved road. Most of the dwellings and shops in Sabo look so hard up that I didn’t expect to find a million naira in any of them.
Actually, I have been a more or less frequent visitor to Sabon Tasha since 1990, when I first went to live in Kaduna City. Even then Sabon Tasha was a sprawling slum. Merely driving through it was a motorist’s nightmare because dozens or even hundreds of petrol tankers lined up on both sides of the narrow highway that passed through it, the main gateway to southern Kaduna State. They were waiting for their turn to load fuel at the Kaduna Refinery. In 1990 we had not yet starting hearing about problems with the refinery’s Fluid Catalytic Cracking [FCC] unit or the vandalisation of oil pipelines. Passing through Sabo in those days, one could see hundreds of tanker drivers whiling away the time in various sheds and under tree shades. Tanker drivers are relatively well to do and their presence was a boon for Sabo’s landlords, hoteliers, food sellers, shop keepers and women of easy virtue, as the UN called them then; it had not yet invented the phrase commercial sex workers.
Since 1990 Sabon Tasha has been hit by three consecutive socio-economic calamities. One was the virtual collapse of the Kaduna refinery. The second was the serial inter-communal riots that bedevilled Kaduna between 1987 and 2012, leading to mass relocation of people to Sabo and its severe crowding. The third, more recent hit has been the economic recession affecting the whole country. Before the discovery of Andrew Yakubu’s dollars I was beginning to compare Sabo with the slums of Cairo, Manila or Mexico City. Now however, I am reassessing my view of Sabon Tasha and I am looking at its reddened iron roofs in a new light.
Quite often in life we are reminded that appearances could be deceptive. One should never judge a book by its cover. Everyone thought that the centre of dollars in Kaduna is the bureaux de change right by Hamdala Hotel. It now turns out that all of them combined do not have the dollars found in one shack in Sabo. I once thought of mansions in Asokoro and Maitama as unofficial vaults of the Central Bank. Since EFCC’s Eagleclaw software made hiding money in bank accounts a hazardous business, Nigerian officials that milk government coffers dry have looked for alternative places to hide money. It turned out that fire proof safes and deep freezers hidden in ghettos was the answer.
For me, this episode was only a reminder of a fact I knew long ago, that looks can be deceptive. In 1991 I was driving my old Fiat car from Kaduna to Sokoto when the shaft broke at Samaru. I chartered a taxi that took me back to Kwangila where I bought another [second hand] shaft. I carried it from the spare parts dealer’s shop, past two Igbo men who were playing draught under a tree, to the taxi. Presently I saw my taxi driver with both hands on his head, his eyes popping out. I asked him what was the matter and he said, “See dat man under di tree! Him get 100 taxis and buses for dis Zaria!” I glanced back at the man playing draught. He was wearing short knickers. Half his shirt’s buttons were open, revealing most of his chest and abdomen. I had almost trampled on the man’s feet as I carried the heavy shaft back to the car. Now, with the taxi driver’s revelation, I suddenly saw him in a new light.
Sabo’s new status as a secret extension of the US Federal Reserve Bank suddenly made me less awestruck by the huge mansions of Asokoro, Maitama and Wuse II. Very few if any of them hold ten million dollars in cash. Nobody will keep a lot of money in those mansions, not after DSS agents clambered up the houses of Supreme Court judges in the dead of night looking for evidence of bribery. Not after DSS searched a former National Security Adviser’s house and carted away five rifles as exhibits. And certainly not after government blew the whistle on its whistle blower policy.
There have been long running arguments in Nigerian joints as to who, between political office holders and mainstream civil servants, has creamed off more money from the public till. Most Nigerians think politicians have creamed off more money because they are constantly sharing it with supporters. Civil servants on the other hand hardly share out money outside their circle of relatives. They often sit under trees and spill out the secrets of politicians, but not their own. They tell stories about all the vouchers that passed through the treasury that day; which financial rules were broken; which tender was selectively opened; which contract was awarded without due process; which audit queries were ignored; which subhead was overdrawn and which vote underwent virement. They spill politicians’ secrets but they keep mute about their own roles. Andrew Yakubu is the biggest evidence yet that primed and proper technocracy could be more deadly than rambunctious politics.
Whistle blowers are now scrambling after every kind of official. Security men, butlers, chefs, gardeners and cleaners now have their necks stretched out like so many giraffes and their ears strained like so many hippos, hoping to blow the whistle on someone and get a cut that will change their lives once and for all. One newspaper claimed that it was a woman that blew the whistle on Andrew Yakubu and that she is about to earn N256million in accordance with Government’s whistle blower policy. Phew. I thought about it for a while. I have worked in five different academic and media establishments over three decades and have not made a fraction of that money. If I can get N256m for just blowing a whistle, what is the use of sitting up all night punching computer keys?
My only cause for pause is that millions of Nigerian youths who have been looking for opportunities to make fast money have already jumped at the whistle blowing opportunity. I hear that already, there are thousands of bands of youths roving around the streets of all Nigerian ghettos, searching for an Andrew Yakubu-like safe house to blow the whistle on. Although government has adequately advertised the rewards of successful whistle blowing, it did not advertise the perils of unsuccessful whistle blowing.
I suspect there are dangers. Even professional referees sometimes blow the whistle wrongly. During the Challenge Cup final in 1972, referee Sunny Badru glaringly allowed a goal wrongly scored by Enugu Rangers and he glaringly disallowed a good goal scored by Mighty Jets of Jos. The Nigeria Football Association cancelled the match, suspended the referee and ordered a rematch. So, if a desperate young whistleblower alerts EFCC and it undertakes a costly raid in a dozen vans and nothing is found, what is the penalty? I want to hear the answer before I change my career from column writing to professional whistle blowing.
Written By Mahmud Jega