POKÉMON GO AND THE NIGERIAN WAR ON CORRUPTION: TALES FROM BERLIN
For those who may be living on Mars, Pokémon Go is a free to play location-based augmented reality mobile game that has taken the world by storm. It was released by game developer Niantic and Nintendo this July 2016. All you need is a good android or IOS phone, download the game, establish a game account, create your avatar, turn on your geo location and bingo you have joined millions across the world in the mad craze to capture as many Pokémon as possible, maximum currently possible is 151, though highly unlikely, probably impossible. The Pokés lay eggs which only hatch into characters if you walk a distance stipulated by the game. Many of the game’s characters are highly elusive.
Just the other day, I observed a group of teenagers visiting the United States from Japan start running in different directions as if simultaneously under a spell. I panicked, thinking there was a terrorist threat, an old lady calmed me down by revealing the source of confusion. It was the sighting of a Pikachu nearby, an elusive Pokémon Go character. The ensuing mad dash for the capture of this prize made these teenagers totally oblivious of the danger presented by oncoming vehicles. For all the efforts involved in capturing the Pokémon, amassing all the points, chasing after the elusive Poké characters, one cannot earn a coupon good for a scoop of ice cream, a plate of rice or a loaf of bread for that matter. That however has not stopped the world from being hooked on this game.
I was at a popular Nigerian restaurant in Berlin, Germany, awaiting my order of food. Two gentlemen seated at a corner table struck up an interesting conversation.
Gentleman One: Have you joined the Pokémon Go craze?
Gentleman Two: (Looking bewildered), “What’s that?”
Gentleman One launched into a long explanation of the game Pokémon Go, how it is played and how its craze is ravaging the world.
Gentleman Two (With a bemused smile): “And how much money can you make from all these efforts?”
Gentleman One: ” Nothing. You cannot earn any monetary rewards from this game, only the joy of playing the game.”
Gentleman Two: “But did you not say that the characters sometimes will lay eggs which you walk miles to get to hatch?”
Gentleman One: “Yes, at least you get to shed some weight, do some exercise. (Sighs loudly, swirls his Heineken around in a glass). Ok! Let me explain this Pokémon game the way that you will understand it. Pokémon Go is like all this fight against corruption back home Nigeria”.
Gentleman Two: “How?”
Gentleman One: “You spend a lot of energy, capturing various characters, losing a lot of weight, but nothing to buy a loaf of bread”.
Gentleman Two: “You are very funny indeed. Very funny”.
Gentleman One: “Let me elaborate”.
Compare the bandits that stole Nigeria’s money to the very elusive Pokémon hiding in many parts of the world, some in plain sight, others in parts unknown. Compare the Pokémon players to all the law enforcement agencies trying to catch the looters and return stolen monies to Nigeria. These agencies like the EFCC, the DSS, the ICPC, and the Criminal Justice System like the courts, Judges, Prosecutors and Prison Officials are the players, only that in our case many believe that they do not battle to capture the embezzlers and looters like in other countries. The only ones captured are the Zubats, the ordinary and most common Pokémon. Whether you will succeed in capturing the Pokémon will depend on whether you have used the right ball, the right force to throw the ball and whether you throw the ball at the right time. Many players throw the Poké ball after the Pokémon has escaped or fled.
Not long ago the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) told us that certain ministers now living outside the country had billions of our money; that they would work with the countries where the monies are kept to repatriate the monies to Nigeria. Their family members were harassed and shaken. Their business associates were alleged to have stolen enough money to fund Nigeria’s budget for a few years. Even a much publicized injunction was obtained to seize bank accounts, airplanes, houses in exotic locations. Capturing this group and making them to return Nigerians money would be like capturing Moltres, Mewtwo or Zapdos, all- very elusive Pokémon.
We also heard of billions embezzled from the arms scandal by persons who should know better. While many of the accused persons spent some time in detention, they easily made bail set at millions of Naira with sureties in like sum. We heard that many have made promises of returning some of the stolen money in exchange for no jail time or light sentences. That is like converting your catch of Omanyte into an Omastar in the Pokémon game. Meanwhile, Marafa Hamidou Yaya, the former Minister of Finance of Cameroun is spending twenty five years in prison for his role in embezzling $47.52 million meant for the purchase of a presidential plane.
More mind boggling, is that the world is told that many of the persons holding our monies are hiding overseas. This is like where the Pokéstop with an elusive Pokémon is in China while you are in Lagos. To catch it and add it to your Pokedex, you must travel to China. In the case of James Ibori, the British Government had to travel to United Arab Emirates to make their case aggressively before he could face trial in the United Kingdom where he was convicted and remains in prison.
We have heard of many INEC workers who shared electoral bribes, people who embezzled government money in billions of Naira, who are negotiating with government as to what percentage they may return to government. Like Pokémon, nothing stops even those who are caught from reappearing in public in other embezzlement schemes where they are alleged to have fleeced Nigeria of more millions or billions. Some were linked to the arms scandal, the campaign finance scandal, the Sure-P scandal, the fuel subsidy scandal, yet they have not faced trial and certainly, no jail time. It is hard for the common man to understand that someone who stole billions could be enjoying at a party in Lagos, Abuja or London where he is supposedly receiving “medical treatment” for a life threatening condition. That is Pokémon. While you have captured it on your phone, the character lives on in virtual reality. You can never truly imprison a Pokémon.
Although Pokémon has recorded the first grand master who is presently at level 31, a feat accomplished by catching 4,269 Pokémon, hatching 303 eggs, walking 153 kilometers over the course of a two week journey with 142 Pokémon characters, nine characters still eluded him. the nine are reported to be Farfetche’d, Kangaskhan, Mr. Mime, Ditto, Articuno, Zapdos, Moltres. Mewtwo and Mew. You can liken those to people Nigerians believe are untouchable in the war against corruption. The World Bank, foreign and local non-governmental organizations have published various forensic audits of people who stole the commonwealth of Nigeria. Yet nothing became of those audits because Nigerians believe that those implicated are untouchable. In recent times, allegations and counter-accusations by top government functionaries of trillions of Naira missing from government coffers makes one to ask whether we are talking about real money or Poké currency. (He paused to drink his Heineken).
At that point, I could no longer contain my discomfort, I felt the need to enlighten these young men who may be a bit out of touch with events in Nigeria. I educated them on: how the fight against corruption is at the heart of the policy of the Nigerian government; how this fight enjoys the goodwill of majority of Nigerians and the world community; about the many big-wigs who are cooling their heels in Nigerian prisons, with millions of Naira forfeited, in currencies and properties both in Nigeria and overseas. I even told them of the massive sums of money allegedly dug up in farms, under swimming pools and those hidden under madams and house boys’ names in bank accounts under fictitious names. I told them of detentions of bank managing directors, the sack of a bank board and the cooperation of the bank executives in revealing the bank accounts of some of these elusive corrupt Nigerians. Both gentlemen were looking at me with skepticism, as if I had been paid by the government to spread propaganda. One of them asked me, “When will the ordinary Nigerian see one Naira of that money? Will it not be the same story as the Abacha loot?” I explained that from what I had read, the Abacha loot was used to cover our budget at some point and that there was a World Bank audit that said that the money was spent wisely. They persisted, “We bet, that money will end in a few pockets.” I told them that I did not think so. Nigerians have opened their eyes. After all, reports have been published itemizing all the monies recovered so far. The only thing Nigerians are asking for is for Mr. President to keep to his word to publish the names of those who robbed Nigeria blind. One of them asked, “So do you think that one day, the average Nigerian can buy a loaf of bread from this money?” “Of course”, I answered, “As a matter of fact the Honorable Minister, Kemi Adeosun has promised that such funds will be utilized in funding our budget with transparent accounting of any and all recovered loot”. To which one of them replied, “That will be very good if it truly happens but I doubt it, you know Nigeria, anything goes”. I assured them that this was a new Nigeria. “Has anyone been jailed so far for all this theft?” they asked. Of course I said. I read that one person, an ex Director General of NIMASA was sentenced to five years for a N1.5 billion contract scam, but what I could not tell was whether he has started his prison sentence or whether the case was appealed. One of them said, “You know if it was when Buhari was Buhari, all this nonsense would not happen”. I reminded them that a democratically elected government is different from a military regime. I gave them a little talk on the Rule of Law, Due Process, and Presumption of Innocence until proven guilty in a court of law. “That is another thing”, one of the guys quipped, “Nigerian courts like everything else are corrupt”. I assured them that I knew judges of impeccable character.
It was then that I found out they lived in Berlin. They wanted to know if it was true that things are now very bad in Nigeria. They narrated that their relatives in Nigeria report that there is so much insecurity; that there is hardly any electricity and the darkness that exists is followed by high NEPA bills; that since the removal of fuel subsidy the prices of all staple food items had gone through the roof; that the price of kerosene was beyond the reach of the common man and many civil servants are owed many months of salaries while there are ongoing massive layoffs in the private sector. I advised them to treat all these dark and horror stories with a pinch of salt. Nigeria is not as bad as it is being painted. I told them that the story of Nigeria can be likened to the tale of the elephant and the seven blind men. I asked them whether they knew the story? “Vaguely” they answered. I then told them how the king sent out seven blind men in search of a fabled animal, the elephant. When they encountered this giant of an animal, each touched only a different part of the body, some the legs, some the sides, some the tusks , while others the ears. When they got home, the king wanted to hear what the elephant looked like. To those who touched the legs, the elephant was a giant tree trunk, the ones that touched the ears thought it was a giant fan, the ones that touched the tusk thought it was like a giant horn while the ones that touched the side said it was an endless wall, like the great wall of China. That is Nigeria, many might be suffering but many others are smiling. The answer as to how Nigeria is, depends on who you ask.
Finally, my food arrived. As I paid my bill and rose to retire to my hotel and enjoy my food, gentleman two said to gentleman one, “Now I see your point, I hope this whole thing about this fight against corruption does not turn out to be one massive game of Pokémon Go, all motion without movement.”
*Dr. Jude Akubuilo is an International Trade and Public Affairs Consultant. He holds a Doctorate Degree in Law from the University of Birmingham, England.
Email: [email protected]
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