Monday, 15 February 2021


Diezani Alison-Madueke

Greg Odogwu


A Nigerian court recently ordered the seizure of $40 million worth of jewelry and a customised gold iPhone belonging to a former minister of petroleum resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke. According to a statement from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the items, including hundreds of bangles, rings, earrings, necklaces and watches, were found at a property owned by Diezani.


When I first saw the news, I did not even think about it – we are used to profligate (former) politicians. But a few days ago, I saw something that made me realise that our society needs to actually restructure the psychology of the rich. There are little things that matter. And life is transient. At the end of the day, all the money amassed as we chased the big things of life will not be there to save us from the same society that we sought to “belong” to. At that time, it would be those little things that matter, that could come around to give us the peace of mind required to transfer the baton to the next generation.


When we fail to sort out these little things, then the big things we achieved can never be small enough to respond where small things are required. This was made manifest when Alison-Madueke spoke to Ijaw youths in faraway London in a public event. She said the moral fabric of the country had decayed because youths craved quick ill-gotten wealth. Many observers watched and hissed. They already knew about her over N16bn worth of silver, gold and phone stashed away somewhere in Nigeria. Her voice now sounded hollow, even to her own people.

This article was inspired by what I witnessed recently in Abuja. It was a cool evening and I decided to take a walk along the pedestrian lane of the well-constructed Ahmadu Bello Way. I had my face mask on, because observation of the COVID-19 protocol was in full swing. After strolling for a couple of yards, I noticed two young men approaching. They were in a spirited discussion, and looked like labourers returning from one of the various construction sites scattered all over the Federal Capital Territory.

I also noticed that as they approached, one of them was consciously scanning the sidewalk as if he was looking for something. When they were almost shoulder to shoulder with me, the scanning man stopped abruptly and also made his colleague to stop. It was as if he had seen what he was looking for. I followed his eyes to the well-manicured grass straddling the concrete pedestrian lane. On top of the grass was a discarded face mask. It looked incongruous in its grassy surrounding, not only because of its bright sky-blue colour, but because it looked clean and fairly new.

From the look of it, the face mask was recently discarded by an unknown pedestrian, appearing “fairly used”. I was puzzled because the two workmen were wearing their own face masks; though theirs looked dirty and worn out. One could only wait and see the actual intention of the young man who had sighted the discarded face mask, and was now hesitating before it. Ostensibly, he wanted me to walk past. But because I really wanted to know his intention, I did not want to stride off. So, I slowed my steps, passed the duo, and stopped, to see what happened.


The young man casually bent over, picked up the waste face mask, examined it as if to ascertain its “cleanness”, and then carefully folded it into two, and pocketed it. I was amazed. I was shocked to my marrow, so I stood as if transfixed to the spot, staring at the two workmen. Now, I did not care whether they noticed that I was staring. I just could not understand what prompted the young man to pick up a face mask used by someone else!

There was no logic to explain what was happening. For one, face masks are as cheap as N100, hawked in every corner of the town, even right up the road where we stood. So, why would someone pick a used face mask discarded by an unknown person. Secondly, face masks are supposed to protect us against air-borne viral droplets. It is worn by both COVID-19 patients and non-patients. So, why would someone pick a discarded face mask when the person who discarded it may be a COVID-19 patient?


There were many troubling questions that popped up in my head, and refused to go away. Meanwhile, the journalist in me took over. I mentally worked on the best way to confirm my fears about the action of the two workmen. I now saw them as partners in guilt because the one allowed the other to bend down on the road and pick up a discarded face mask without as much as cautioning his friend.

Before I finally decided what to say, the man that now had the used face mask, observing that I was quizzical concerning his action, looked me straight in the eyes and laughed. It was a guilty-sounding, high-pitched, unnatural squawk. I immediately felt ashamed on his behalf. It was now obvious that he understood what he did.


“Bros, na so we dey do am o!” he desperately shrieked in pidgin English, as if he was trying to explain to the whole world. Other pedestrians did not know what he did. They just walked past. I was the only person he was talking to. Without being told, I could feel what he meant by “na so we dey do am” (this is how we always do it). There are some areas of the town where affluent people were likely to discard “new looking” face masks. Some people pick them up and reuse. In the same manner, people scavenge for used plastic bottles and cans in similar areas.

I decided to lecture the guys. “But don’t you know that you can contract COVID-19 by using used face masks. There are cheap face masks you can buy in every corner of the street. And the ones made from textile materials can be washed and reused many times over. You can use those ones, instead of picking up used ones from the side of the road. Please you have to also consider your loved ones and even your colleagues at work. You are actually putting everybody around you at risk by unnecessarily exposing yourself to COVID-19.”


But the young man did not seem to get my point. Rather, he began to justify his action. In fact, he sounded angry. He said that he was trekking on Ahmadu Bello Way because he could not afford N50 to board a public transport along the express. He said his wage at his construction site was not enough to take him through the month. He said the government did not care whether he died or he lived. He said that he expected his superiors at his work place to provide him with face mask free of charge – but they did not.

The young man talked, and talked. It was as if I had helped him to let off some bottled-up anger. He then sighed, and said, “Don’t worry, I dey wash am with hot water before I use am!” Suddenly, I remembered Diezani’s jewelry and gold iPhone lying somewhere, unused and useless. I could not help calculating how many face masks they would have been used to purchase for some people who could not afford it. Or, how many palliatives they could have provided, for many Nigerians reeling under the societal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Punch) 

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