"The moment we [Africans] lost our languages was also the moment we lost our bodies, our gold, diamonds, copper, coffee, tea." - Ngugi wa Thiong'o

The Difference Between Stealing And Corruption

During his recent media chat, Pres. Jonathan was asked to explain the following statement that he made in 2014; “What many Nigerians refer to as corruption is actually stealing. Stealing is not the same thing as corruption.”

The President clarified his statement as follows: “If somebody is a thief, he is a thief. We should not use the word ‘corruption’ to cover a case of stealing. Thieves should be called thieves.”

He also supported his argument by giving an instance, if you call someone ‘ole’ (thief) in Lagos, that person will most likely be accosted and lynched. But if you call the same person corrupt; people will probably laugh over it.

Pres. Jonathan, further told his audience that he was in fact, referring to the statement credited to Ekpo Nta, the Chairman of Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC). According to Mr Nta, “Stealing is erroneously reported as corruption. We must go back to what we were taught at school to show that there are educated people in Nigeria.”

Now, let’s analyse Mr President’s statement and then, consider especially the criticisms that it has received from ‘civil rights lawyers’.

In the first instance, Fred Agbaje criticised the President by telling Punch Newspaper: “defence of stealing as different from corruption is indicative of the fact that President Jonathan’s administration is morally bankrupt”.

Then he asked; “which of them is allowed in our law whether he calls them in different names? They are both punishable under our penal laws. Stealing is even worse than corruption”.

Well, Agbaje has equally differentiated stealing from corruption by saying “stealing is even worse than corruption”. When he said a thing is worse than the other; it means that he has compared the two. And comparison is done on two different things.

And therefore, if not because Agbaje was biased towards Pres. Jonathan, he would have realised that they were saying the same thing. That stealing is worse than corruption.

However, Pres. Jonathan’s statement never indicated that either stealing or corruption is allowed by the law like Agbaje queried. In my opinion, Jonathan was emphasising the negative impact of stealing on the sensitivity of Africans.

For instance, Ndigbo say: of all the vices in this world; stealing is the worse. And I know that Hausa man will never forgive anyone that calls him 'barawo' (thief) while in Lagos, calling someone 'ole' means death sentence.

And that is why Jonathan said “we should not use the word ‘corruption’ to cover a case of stealing”. May be if a corrupt person is simply known as a thief then the toga may prevent ‘corruption’.

Furthermore, the lyrics of Fela Kuti’s Authority Stealing music seem to support Jonathan’s opinion of substituting Corruption with Stealing. Incidentally, Jonathan listens to Fela’s music at his spare time; he probably got his ideas from this track.

In his music, Fela described how people are only interested in lynching pickpockets and armed robbers etc. while nobody touches government officials who are the big thieves. He sang, if an armed robber steals N80,000 with his gun; authority man will steal 2 billion Naira with his pen and nobody will call him a thief. Please watch this video.

Then Fela suggested why people don’t consider Authority stealing as theft. He said that government officials use big words such as misappropriation and maladministration etc. to deceive the people into believing that what they are doing is not stealing. 

And that brings me to the next ‘civil rights Lawyer’ that also criticised Pres. Jonathan. His name is Prof. Itse Sagay who also told The Punch that “In a broad legal sense, they are the same. Stealing is taking what belongs to another person without the consent of the owner with the intention of keeping it permanently". Correct!!!

He said in addition that “Corruption is using an office to acquire the resources of an organisation without working for it and without the organisation’s awareness… ultimately, every act of corruption is an act of stealing”.

Prof. Sagay, let me beg to differ with your definition of corruption by referring you to another definition of corruption by dictionary.com; it simply defines corruption as dishonesty, especially bribery.

Now, if bribery is corruption it will be fair to say that bribery is equally stealing because according to Sagay corruption and stealing are the same. And as we know; both the giver and taker of bribe are criminally liable.

And therefore I do not agree with Sagay when he said; “every act of corruption is an act of stealing”. For example, if a drug baron bribes a Drug Law Enforcement Officer to free himself and avoid prison, then, between the giver and the taker of the bribe; who is the thief? And what did the thief steal?

In my opinion, stealing is an aspect of corruption. I consider stealing as a child of corruption. Taking this analogy further, stealing is like a first name while Corruption is a surname. And hence, corruption has other children such as bribery, nepotism, forgery and perjury etc.

Another example; if somebody swears an affidavit that all his educational qualification certificates are with the military board and it turned out to be a lie; would that make him a thief? He committed perjury and thus, perjury is not stealing.

Overall, if not for politics I doubt if Pres. Jonathan’s statement would have attracted such condemnation. The President was only saying that any official that dips his hands into government coffers should not be described as corrupt but should be called what he is; A thief.