Who is stealing from the sick?


There are all sorts of thieves. There are the petty thieves who pick peoples’ pockets at bus stops. There are other thieves who steal peoples’ properties when the owners are not around. They sometimes break into peoples’ apartments, steal what they can easily cart away and at the instance of anybody stumbling on them, they usually take to their heels before the person raises the alarm.

The class of thieves that are most dreaded, however, are the daring ones that usually come fully armed with all sorts of weapons. Sometimes in the course of carrying out their nefarious act, they maim and kill. These thieves, called armed robbers, are considered some of the deadliest criminals. When they are caught, they are treated without pity. When they are undergoing trial, they are not even granted bail. When they are convicted of the crime, the punishment is usually protracted jail terms, death by hanging, or being tied to the stakes and shot in public glare.

I watched the shooting to death of convicted thieves in Osun State in the early 90s and till date, not only do I still remember the frightened expressions of those robbers when they were about to be shot, with one of them sobbing hysterically, but still imagine the ignominious disgrace they brought to their families and friends.

Having been a victim of petty thieves and armed robbers, I have zero sympathy for all thieves. I believe they all deserve the punishments they get for their dastardly acts. I must however say that it is high time Nigerians started having same, if not deeper feelings of revulsion for thieves who steal monies meant for the general public. Even though this type of stealing is sometimes couched in flowery words like ‘misappropriation’ and ‘embezzlement,’ the attendant consequences of this category of stealing is actually in some cases worse than those of armed robbery.

A glaring example of this heartless stealing is the alleged diversion of 3.8 million dollars meant for providing succor to people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWA) in Nigeria by workers and consultants of the National Agency for Control of AIDS (NACA), the agency with the mandate to provide care for PLWA in the country. Even more saddening is that this stolen money was donated to the country by Global Fund, an international financing organisation helping out countries with limited resources to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

This mindless stealing was uncovered when the Fund sent a petition in May 2016 to the Inspector-General of Police in Nigeria, accusing some officials of NACA of stealing the funds they had provided. The presidency eventually directed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate the claim and the agency found mind-boggling discrepancies of over 4 million dollars between drugs ordered and delivered; 20 million dollars paid to suppliers without confirmation of delivery; stock-outs of eight months for critical medicines and a total of 7.65 million dollars in unsupported expenditures.

As a result of this infamy, the Global Fund has promptly suspended the disbursement of its grants to NACA and the National Malaria Elimination Programme (NMEP), the two agencies indicted. Media reports say seven suspects from the department of Health Planning, Research and Statistics who were in charge of managing the fund have been arrested

However, while the government must be commended for acting promptly and decisively to uncover this heinous crime of stealing grants meant to help the sick, the government must also ensure that those indicted are expeditiously tried and publicly shamed like armed robbers.

Nigerians need to know the wicked faces of those stealing from the sick. It is unthinkable that while international bodies like Global Fund is trying to help reduce the huge disease burden of Nigeria, especially in HIV, TB and malaria, by providing needed funds, some Nigerians are stealing this money rather than ensuring it is judiciously used for what it is meant for.

This is the height of wickedness.  How can government officials be stealing money meant for healing vulnerable Nigerians battling life-threatening conditions? This is a crime against humanity. A crime that must be harshly punished to serve as a deterrent.

While I appeal to Global Fund to reconsider the suspension of its financial aid to Nigeria because of this incident, as many innocent Nigerians will suffer, I must hasten to urge the Nigerian government to work with the Fund to put necessary measures in place to ensure this kind of incident that should not have happened never happens again.