ON February 18, 2017, we published in this column the pathetic and disturbing story of Paul Collier, an Oxford University Professor of Economics who had flown in to deliver a lecture on urbanization and how to develop the megacity of Lagos.
The event was at the Muson Centre, Lagos, under the auspices of Prof. Pat Utomi’s Centre for Values in Leadership. After the well-received lecture, Collier was busy shaking hands and signing autographs when a well-dressed man approached him, offering to assist him with his burdensome bag. Thinking he was Simon the Cyrene who helped Jesus to carry His cross, the professor innocently allowed himself to be “helped” by a rogue disguised as a Good Samaritan. He even said “thank you” to him.
“I thought this man in white was part of the entourage of his Royal Highness (the Ooni of Ife) but he wasn’t…By the time I emerged from the great crowd of young people who wanted to talk to me, it was too late. Then I realised that this man was gone.”
He had vanished with the bag containing a laptop, iPhone, passport, money, credit card and other valuables. A day after the incident, a stranded Prof. Collier was lamenting to me the painful loss of his laptop which had his writings.
“My soul is missing, because I put myself in my writing. That’s my identity…This guy should feel ashamed of what he has done. But the most important thing is to make amends: Get me the laptop back. Get me my passport back. My passport is of no use to anybody. Without that I can’t travel. I’ve got a very, ver
y busy travel schedule which would be completely cancelled because I can’t do without a passport. So, this guy has really messed a lot of people up. So, readers of The Sun, here is my appeal to you: We’ve got the photo of the guy who did it. Put the guy’s photo in The Sun. There would be loads of people who would say: ‘I know this guy.’ I have no interest in punishment. I just want restitution of the things that to me are vital. Return my stolen bag and the contents.”
The good news is that the thief has been caught. To use the time-tested cliché, the long arms of the law has finally caught up with a young man who wanted to reap where he didn’t sow, who has attracted obloquy to himself, who has disgraced his family and his country. In any case, this is Nigeria, the land of Ali Baba and the multiple thieves. Everywhere you look there are thieves, thieves, thieves. My friend Onukaba has just died, trying to escape from highway thieves and ending up being killed by an oncoming vehicle. Thieves on the highway. Thieves in high places. Thieves in low places.
Thieves in government. Thieves outside government. This is the rotten country where one of our leaders was quoted as saying “stealing is not corruption.” This is the country where dollars are stolen in millions and hidden in decrepit safe houses. When it comes to stealing, Nigerians are so creative and innovative. The young man in this picture is a small fry in the larger picture of a nation plagued by Goliath thieves who loot our treasury in billions, yet escape with their loot unpunished. The fact that his picture was put on the back page of Saturday Sun and on Facebook did not deter him. He still went on with his business as usual. A hardened criminal! Or maybe he didn’t even know he had been put in the papers and in the social media as a wanted person.
He was spotted at an event in Lagos neatly dressed like a dignitary and sitting close to the Vice President of Nigeria Yemi Osinbajo who had come for the groundbreaking ceremony of the Lagos-Ibadan railway project. The thief was even chatting freely with a minister when security agents invited him for questioning. He identified himself as Prince Agabi Okanu, 34, from Cross River, a “contractor” with Total Oil. He even brought out an ID card to back his false claim.
Not satisfied, the security forces arrested him for further interrogations during which he was discovered being the thief who stole Prof. Collier’s bag and laptop. He sold the laptop at the Computer Village, Ikeja. It was later resold to another person who was tracked down. The good news is that the laptop is still intact. The content has not been wiped out or reformatted. This is a miracle. God’s intervention.
Agabi also confessed to specialising in stealing laptops at conferences, pretending to be a delegate. At the Civic Centre, Lagos recently, he successfully deprived two foreigners and a Nigerian of their laptops, it has been revealed.
He is helping the security forces to recover all other items stolen. When asked how much money he got from Collier’s bag, Agabi reportedly claimed to have found just 100 dollar note. He would soon be charged to court. We learnt that Prof. Pat Utomi would soon be travelling to Oxford to personally hand over the recovered items to the lucky professor.
Meanwhile, Prof. Collier has written to thank me and The Sun readers for their support. He also thanked the Nigeria Police for a job well done. This is his letter:
Hi Mike, since the police caught the thief and have recovered my bag and much of the contents, I would like to write a letter for publication (if the editor wants to include it – it’s entirely up to you/him): here goes:
‘Sun readers may remember an article about the theft of my bag following a lecture I gave in Lagos on managing urbanisation. The article included a photo of the thief. Thanks for the response of Sun readers and the efficient work of the police, the thief has been caught and my bag recovered. All societies have their bad apples; what matters is whether people and systems can curtail them. I would like to thank Sun readers: in Lagos things are clearly working and you can take pride in it.’