Early in 1961, I looked forward to entering a university by September. My options were University College Ibadan, University of Ife or University of Nigeria Nsukka. Eventually, I got admission into the three universities but destiny took me to the University of Ife to study Pharmacy.
As part of my preparations for university life, I decided to relate with those who had already passed through the ivory tower. Fortunately, I came across a young graduate. At that time, only Ibadan had produced graduates. Ife, Nsukka and ABU Zaria were just taking off. I admired this handsome graduate of History, teaching in a secondary school, and decided to come close to him in order to obtain information about life in the university.
Luckily, the day I visited him, he was just about to have his dinner. He invited me to the table and insisted that I enjoy the rice and fried plantain with him. Although I was not hungry, I had to join him out of courtesy. He dashed into the kitchen and brought a serving plate, tumbler and a set of cutlery for me and then blessed the meal. As I picked up the fork and knife, I noticed that ‘UCI’ was engraved on them. They were most likely stolen from the UCI refectory. Instantly, I lost my appetite for the food and my respect for him. From my family upbringing and the Christian school, Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Onitsha, which I attended, stealing in any form was an anathema. I didn’t visit him again because I did not want to associate with a thief.
Like this teacher, some of us do certain things without realising the spiritual implications. But the Word of God is clear on this issue. “Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20:13). Stealing simply means taking something that does not belong to you in a way that is wrong or illegal. It could be a tangible substance like money, pen, drugs; or intangible ones like an idea or an intellectual property.
In the workplace, various types of stealing are commonly practised by employees. Some steal their employers’ money, time, property, customers, goods and so on. Where these practices go on, the business does not prosper. The business owners suffer losses of their investments. As a matter of fact, any business that is free from any form of stealing by the staff will keep on thriving, even in hard times. And even in the best of times, businesses can collapse as a result of stealing by the employees.
On the other hand, employers also steal from their employees. An employer that keeps staff working beyond the official closing time without overtime allowance is stealing from the employee. You are stealing his time, his money, his peace of mind, his joy and his life. And do you consider the opportunity costs of doing so? For example, the time this staff should be using to take care of his family, undertake some private development courses, enjoy hobbies or rest, is usurped by the employer without proper compensation.
Some employers are guilty of defrauding their employees by paying starvation wages. Deuteronomy 24:14 says, “Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates:” As an employer, you must be honest with your employees and pay them when due. Do not say there is no money and deliberately withhold or divert what is due to them. Their cries may reach the ears of God. “Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabbath” (James 5:4).
Many businesses also steal from their customers in their ambition to make money. This is why there are fake and counterfeit products everywhere. From 1993, when the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), was established with Prof. Gabriel Osuide, as the Director General, it has been engaging in war with drug fakers and counterfeiters. This war came to a climax during the tenure of the Late Prof. Dora Akunyili (2001- 2009).
When Dr Joseph Ikem Odumodu was appointed the Director General of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria in 2011, we became more aware that a lot imported goods – electrical and electronic items, tyres etc. – were fake. The main motive for the faking and adulteration of these products is to cheat the consumers and take their money. For drugs, in particular, it is not only their money that is stolen. The producers and sellers of fake and counterfeit medicines also steal people’s health and sometimes their lives, resulting in death.
Are you guilty of adulterating what you sell? Are you using a false balance? Do you substitute high quality goods with inferior ones? Are your advertisements deceptive in order to catch gullible buyers? Are your cheap prices made possible by defrauding your customers, either in quantity or quality? Does your paracetamol tablet contain 100 instead of 250 grammes of paracetamol powder?
If your business is dishonest, your religion is a sham.