The first animals to make headlines in Nigeria were the rats.
The rodents had reportedly occupied the president’s office while he was in London for 103 days last year, receiving treatment for an undisclosed ailment. When a frail-looking President Muhammadu Buhari returned home last August, he discovered the rats had wreaked havoc, causing “a lot of damage to the furniture and the air-conditioning units.”
“Some renovations are ongoing at the office,” a spokesperson to President Buhari said at the time. “He will be back to the main office after the works.”
Seven months later, Buhari has yet to return to his official place of work and still run this country from his private residence.
Then came the snake.
At the start of February, an official of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB)—which conducts entrance exams entry at all tertiary institutions in Nigeria—said that 36 million naira ($100,000), which had been raised from the sale of admission scratch cards, and which had been in her custody, was swallowed by a mystery snake.
“I have been saving the money in the bank, but I found it difficult to account for it. So I started saving it in a vault in the office,” Philomena Chieshe, a sales clerk for JAMB, said in her confessional statement to heads of the parastatal. “But each time I open the vault, I will find nothing.”
In a country where around 70 percent of the populace lives on less than $1 a day, a whopping $100,000 is a lot of money to be “swallowed” by a snake.
Not to be outdone, reports soon surfaced of monkeys carting away $194,000 from senators in their well-guarded homes.
“I think this country is becoming a huge joke,” Shehu Sani, one of Nigeria’s most vocal and influential senators, told reporters in Abuja. “First of all, it was the rodents that drove away the president and then we now have snakes consuming about N36 million and now we have monkeys raiding farm house.”
Sani was reacting to what he said were “allegations that some monkeys raided the farm house of executives of the Northern Senators Forum and carted away” 70 million naira (about $194,000) belonging to the group, which led to removal and replacement of the leader of the forum.
“We have removed Sen. Abdullahi Adamu as Chairman of the Northern Senators Forum for financial mismanagement and maladministration,” an official statement signed by Sen. Dino Melaye, spokesperson for the influential Muslim majority caucus, said. “The allegation investigated and found out to be true is that there was financial mismanagement; that monies were spent without the consent of members and the executive members were not being carried along.”
All told, animals have been blamed for stealing nearly $300,000 from public officials in the past few months.
News of monkeys stealing from senators had barely gone round when Transparency International (TI) revealed in its Corruption Perception Index (CPI) that Nigeria now ranked 148 out of 180 surveyed—a significant 12 places below where it was the previous year.
“What [other] countries call scandal that often leads to the [resignations] of their leaders, in Nigeria, such scandal make [leaders] bolder,” tweeted Ahmed Sakilda, a notable Nigerian journalist who was once declared wanted by the military for releasing video messages by Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau.
“It’s a direct opposite of the marks and the applause we give to ourselves,” Sani, who is chairman of the senate committee on local and foreign debt, tweeted. “We have a choice now; to condemn them [the TI report] as anti-government or anti-Nigeria or we reset our drive and make amends.”
Nigeria is also battling a number of crises on the domestic front. Fulani herdsmen have stepped up their attacks in the northcentral part of the country. Long queues have become constant in petrol stations. Corruption levels have increased. Boko Haram is back in the global news—and, yes, animals keep stealing cash from humans in public office.