For several weeks I could not decide whether or not to put my foot at the door of the serpent. I did not join the ongoing serpentine conversation because I was uncertain whether it would caress me or bite me or swallow me as it swallowed N36 million at the JAMB office in Makurdi, Benue State. JAMB already has a reputation, fair or foul, in the little matter of getting young Nigerians who have a thirst for higher education into our tertiary institutions. Obviously as things are today JAMB cannot take that reputation to a bank for a loan. JAMB says 100 marks over 400 is a smooth road to travel into Nigeria’s tertiary institutions. By this process Nigeria is guaranteed the quick manufacture of idiot-graduates for our society. And now the slimy animal has brought its bag of tricks to compound our problems just as it did in the Garden of Eden.
The story is that Professor Ishaq Oloyede, the new Registrar of JAMB had on arrival, apparently smelt a rat so he set a trap for the rat. He ordered an auditing of the sale of scratch cards in all of JAMB’s offices nationwide. In Benue State where cows like to feed on human meat, Oloyede was told by the madam in charge of the scratch card sales, Mrs Philomena Chieshe, that a huge snake had swallowed the money, all of N36 million, that she warehoused in the safe. She has not told us the various denominations of the N36 million so that we could jointly decide which colour of notes we must reject in future lest they tempt the cunning serpent again. But I guess and this is just an uneducated guess that the snake’s preference may have been the nomination often described as the “one with two heads.” Of all Nigeria’s currency notes there is only one that carries two images, the N1000 note. It bears the images of Alhaji Aliyu-Mai-Bornu and Dr Clement Isong who had been Governors of the Central Bank many years ago. It must have been quite tempting for the snake to swallow not only the money but the two eminent men at once.
Snakes have a history of doing wonderful things in Nigeria. Many years ago, NEPA (Never Expect Power Always) told us Never to Expect Power Always because some snakes had snaked their way into their installations and damaged them. Twenty billion dollars later, our power installations remain damaged and we remain blinded by darkness.
In this little matter of swallowing things I suspect – and this is an uneducated suspicion – that the snake in question only followed in our footsteps. Quite often people who wish to make quick money do the needful by swallowing sachets of cocaine or heroin or both. When they board the plane they eat no food and drink no liquid so that there will be no complication with the science of indigestion until they reach their destination and disgorge the commodity for sale. Also, our policemen at checkpoints, legal or illegal, do collect tolls either by asking the traveller wetin you carry or simply telling him that the territory is safe. The money comes in various denominations from low to high depending on the generosity of the gift giver or his desire to get away quickly with his hidden arms or his trunk box of money in the car. We are told that whenever an anti-corruption team from the Inspector General’s office arrives the policemen at roadside checkpoints often do the most sensible thing: swallow the money.
To speak the truth JAMB’s problems are multiple. Apart from having to contend with angry parents and students for their non-admission it has now had to contend with thieving snakes. But that is not all. At its Nasarawa State office, JAMB has had to contend with fire as well. The State Coordinator of JAMB, Mr Labaran Tanko, told JAMB officials tearfully, I suspect, that he had an accident and all the scratch cards in his car were burnt. That is why he was unable to account for N23 million worth of scratch cards. However, he said he had all the serial numbers of the “burnt” scratch cards. On examination it was discovered that all the “burnt” scratch cards had been used by Nasarawa State candidates to register for JAMB. That means that the scratch cards were actually sold and bought, not burnt. Security science is of the view that for every crime there is always a loophole. Mr. Tanko thought there was none. I am told that Professor Oloyede is a fire-eating CEO. He must be ready to fight this fire in Mr. Tanko’s car but he must first congratulate him for escaping from the inferno unburnt. That means that his god was on the throne.
I had my own encounter with fire in 1983. I had written an article, which the Sunday Concord published. It wasn’t an article full of fire but one of those prescriptive excursions into the heart of current happenings. It was customary in those days for fire incidents to occur in government offices where there was fraud or an investigation of it. Based on my observation of the trend I asked the Federal Government to take care of the Nigerian External Telecommunications (NET) building where fraud had occurred. The day after my article was published NET was set on fire. Two people died. I was arrested, detained and charged for murder. The case did not look ridiculous to the government but it did to the judge who promptly threw it out apparently because of the public uproar it generated. The press dubbed the trial “murder by pen.”
Back to our Nigerian snake. It is apparent that our dear snake that has now put our dear Philomena on the firing line had been watching what other Nigerians have been doing. You must have heard of money warehoused in cemeteries, soak-away pits, roofs of buildings, underground bunkers and safe houses. The snake decided to show unusual creativity to prove that what humans can do it can do better. Our worry ought to be whether this ingenious snake may decide, based on its success at JAMB, to lead other colleagues to the Central Bank for a massive swallowing expedition. Or is the snake’s audacity a response to the Army’s Python Dance? The logic might be “if pythons can dance we too can swallow.” As you know this is a copycat nation. If no one finds a solution to this snake imbroglio, if other snakes follow in the footsteps of the Makurdi snake, this country may fall back into recession. Our billionaires and trillionaires will be pauperized. That will be a big setback for the country. It will mean that we will have no money in any currency available for the 2019 elections.
On second thought do you think it was probably the Fulani herdsmen who sent the snake in question to make life more difficult for Mr. Ortom, the Benue State Governor? This strategy would make sense because people have been accusing the herdsmen of openly hanging their AK 47 rifles on their shoulders without being accosted. Now who can accost the snake? The Federal Government, too, will not have to explain or defend anything because no one expects the government to exercise suzerainty over snakes.
A snake is a slimy person. It knows how to snake its way out of trouble. Now the Makurdi snake is nowhere to be found. JAMB’s N36 million is gone with the snake. Where does that leave Madam Philomena? I feel for her because the snake has left her holding the short end of the stick. She is now gnashing her teeth and scratching her bewigged head as JAMB arrives looking for the swallower of its money. Some people think that the snake episode is evidence of our shit-holeness or of our fantasticalness as a corrupt nation. I don’t think so. It only shows that we are a fantastically creative nation.
Those kids who paid for the scratch cards in this serpentine story have already taken JAMB. Whether they passed the examination or not they deserve some compensatory consideration. I suggest that their cut-off marks should be reduced to 36 over 400. If the snake thought that by swallowing the money the kids would not see the four walls of a university, it was mistaken.
As we walk gingerly towards 2019 there are some lessons to be learnt from the Makurdi serpent: that it is ready to swallow anything of evidential value. I ask INEC to watch out because in the heat of the elections some snakes may borrow from the Makurdi serpent’s playbook and decide that votes are a favourite candidate for swallowing. Chai!