It was judgment day for a thief who had been caught by the mob. And as they prepared to put a worn-out Dunlop tyre around his neck, he decided to make his last allocutus—a kind of plea bargain for mercy.
'Please, have mercy on me,' he cried from the depth of his stricken soul. 'I am just a petty thief, a pick pocket and a bag snatcher. I am not an armed robber. After this, I would not steal again.'
But it was too late. There was no mercy. He was set instantly ablaze. His crime was snatching the handset of an old woman who instantly raised an alarm and the whole city rose in arms, chasing him until they finally caught him by the railway crossing. There and then, they finished him off. And all that was left of him were macabre relics of a man that had metamorphosed into ashes. The burnt carcass of an unfortunate thief. A sad end.
It could have happened in Lagos, Ibadan, Aba, Port Harcourt, Kaduna, Sokoto or anywhere in Nigeria. Outside the law, the price for stealing in Nigeria is instant death, when you are caught. It doesn't matter what you stole. As long as you are branded a thief and you are caught by the mob, justice is instant. Justice straight from the jungle. I don't know why thieves are so much hated in our society. Or in any society for that matter.
From the beginning of creation, thieves have been stigmatised, disgraced and sent to the gallows. In the Bible, they were nailed on the cross. The Bible and literature are filled with what I would call 'thief quotes.' My favourite is the one by Shakespeare, which says: 'Good name in man and woman is the immediate jewel of their soul. Who steals my purse steals trash…But he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him. And makes me poor indeed.' May God not let anyone or any situation steal your good name from you, in Jesus' name.
My sermon today is taken from an 'epistle' in Daily Sun of July 12. Now, I don't know whether it is right to pick my sermon from the pages of a newspaper or from the Bible. OK, the Bible says it all: Thou shall not steal. It is one of the Ten Commandments. The Golden Rule which all religions preach and which we all should live by.
Now, who are the thieves mentioned in the Bible? There is the parable of a certain man who went down from Jericho and fell among thieves and was beaten to the point of death. There is Barabbas the thief. There is Judas Iscariot, the thief who sold out Jesus and later hung himself on a tree after betraying his master. Ah, the word betrayal. It is a serious matter. These days, everybody is talking about being betrayed, being stabbed in the back by people who are supposed to protect them from destruction. The world is a den of backstabbers. But betrayal begets betrayal. Jesus talks about his father's house being turned into a den of thieves!
Of course, you know the story of the most famous of all thieves, the one who ended up going to paradise at the last minute. I am talking about the two thieves who were crucified side by side with Our Lord Jesus Christ. While one thief was mocking Jesus and saying: 'Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and save us,' the other remorseful thief chastised his fellow thief. He said: 'Have you no fear of God? At least we are being punished for our crimes, but He has committed no crime.'
Next the thief turned to Jesus and made a plea, an allocutus: 'Remember me when you come into your kingdom.'
And Jesus answered him: 'Amen. I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise.'
In Bible literature and some commentaries, the one-time thief has transformed into a patron saint of all thieves. He was said to be a 'good thief' or the 'Penitent Thief.' Outside the Bible, his name was variously given as Saint Dismas, Dimas, Dysmas and Dumas. It makes me wonder: Is there anything like a good thief or a bad thief? For me, a thief is a thief, no matter good or bad.
When I was a child, I read of Robin Hood, the thief who stole to give to the poor. Today, as an old man, who clocked 58 yesterday, on July 23, I am reading and getting excited over the story of a repentant thief by name Sani Dan-Hankaka. The story goes that the self-confessed notorious bandit walked into the long arms of the law to surrender himself to the Sokoto State Police Command. For 40 years, he claimed to have been a menace to society, stealing, maiming and killing innocent souls as a way of life. After 40 years of living as an outlaw, it has dawned on Sani Dan-Hankaka that crime doesn't pay. That all is vanity. Vanity upon vanity.
He brought out an array of charms and surrendered them to the police, saying: 'All the charms you are seeing here are what I have been using to protect myself from the police for the past 40 years I had been in this crime business. I have burgled several houses and robbed people of their belongings.
'I realised that these were all vanities, that is why I came to surrender myself and renounce all criminal activities I had indulged in.'
Thank God for this one repentant thief and all other ones. When a story of this nature breaks, the citizens and the host of heaven rejoice for the lost soul that has returned. They throw a big party in heaven. The kind of party given the Repentant Son, the Prodigal Son, who returned to his father's abode after living a life of prodigality. At least, this is what Jesus narrated in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
The truth is: we are a nation of thieves. We are not better than Sani Dan-Hankaka. In fact, he is now a better person than most of us, because he has confessed his sins. I am wondering what would be the fate of this repentant thief of Sokoto? Would he be in paradise? Or would he wallow in police misery? I think, when a man repents, he should not be punished. All efforts should be made to rehabilitate this penitent thief, so that he can inspire other thieves to reform.
Nigeria would be a better place, if all of us can follow the example of this thief of Sokoto. Nigeria would be a better place and all of us would have a taste of paradise tonight, if we can renounce and surrender all the money stolen while in government, all the rigging and manipulated elections, all the stolen votes and stolen mandates, all the creative accounting in our corporations, all the money collected at police checkpoints and roadblocks, all the round-tripping in our banking system, all the inflated budgets, all the Ghana-must-go bags filled with stolen money given out to parliamentarians as bribes. All the bribery and 'settlements.' All the corruption. All the 419. All the proceeds duped from mugus and magas. All the kidnappings. All the ransoms collected from holding people captive. All the plagiarism. All the counterfeiting of currencies and products. All the stolen intellectual properties and brands. All the copyright violation. All the stolen secrets from rival companies. All the stolen church money. All the tithes and offering misused and abused by pastors and church leaders. All the stolen love trysts.
As Nigeria gets ready to celebrate its 50th birthday, let us all borrow a leaf from the repentant thief of Sokoto, for the kingdom of God, is at hand. Go and sin no more. May God bless you and give you a new heart, a repentant heart, as you read my Journalism of Evangelism!