Stealing by stealth

Stealing? Not me! This could be your reaction to the title of this article, but are you stealing by stealth? I have discovered that being light fingered is so rampant in our society that I am inviting readers to give this a thought and share with me their experience on this matter.

This article is not about armed robbery or heavyweight thievery by politicians, this is about you and me. For example, you have in your possession a book which is not yours, it has been on your bookshelf for two years with the owner’s name written on it, the owner hasn’t asked for it and you have not offered to return it. You may have become comfortable having the book in your possession with the passage of time. “I didn’t steal it after all and the owner possibly knows that I have it”. But does it make it yours? Does it really matter?

Stealing can be defined as ‘taking or keeping what is not your own without the owners permission’. It is a practice that no one would readily admit to, after all, it is the 8th commandment and no one wants to feel they are breaking God’s rule. So they adjust the goal post by redefining what constitutes stealing.

Stealing can exist in many different forms – the big, the small or the unnoticeable. For example using someone’s phone without their permission is stealing. It’s as good as stealing the person’s money because the owner will have to pay the bill. This type of stealing by stealth is so covert and ordinary that you may successfully convince yourself that you have done nothing wrong.

Perhaps you are in the habit of claiming someone’s belongings by bravado, it’s still stealing by stealth particularly if the person is unwilling to part with it.

In Nigeria today, our definition of stealing has changed so drastically. Words and phrases like ‘doing the business’, ‘carrying out runs’ or ‘odu’ have replaced the simple and direct words like ‘ole’, ‘barawo’, ‘onyeoshi’ which emphatically speaks of theft. Experiences of friends taking items without permission, books lent out and never returned, pens disappearing from your desk, office stationery being used for personal business are all too common.

It is also a common occurrence these days that the leftover change from an errand is assumed to belong to the person who has carried out the errand. If you ask for the money, the party who has done the errand gets upset and labels you as mean, harsh, wicked and selfish. But let us examine this case without any sentiments. To whom does the change rightly belong? When has it become the norm not to return leftover change. This is a case of keeping what is not offered to you.

Sometimes people take things that are important to others. Late one Sunday evening, my husband found out he needed a once in a year insert from that day’s edition of the UK Sunday Times. A friend of his who was at our home said he knew someone that was coming to Lagos within days and he generously placed a call to the United Kingdom to request for her assistance. This lady dashed out of her house in London at about 8pm to look for the newspaper and succeeded in getting one which she delivered to my husband’s friend a few days later on her arrival in Lagos. Before this could be passed to my husband, someone else visited the office of my husband’s friend whilst he was out and took the paper without informing him. But for his secretary who was present, it would have been a case of whodunit. My husband did not get his newspaper even with the international call and the massive effort of the poor lady, just because someone could not look and ignore.

Regardless of how you may convince yourself and your chosen views about taking other peoples property, if it is without permission, it is wrong and it is an act of stealing. It may not matter how close you are to the person or the fact that you think ‘they may not mind’. Perhaps, contrary to your belief, they may be holding their peace because they are unwilling to embarrass you.

Not too long ago, the African society so radically shunned the act of stealing, meting out stiff punishments to culprits, often with families disowning their own in order to make a statement, and as a testament to the accepted cultural values.

Let us ponder on the following guiding points:

1. If you do not have permission to take another persons belonging, then you may be guilty of stealing even if you don’t realise you have.


2. You may never know how other people perceive you. Perhaps you see your behaviour as normal, others may see it as ‘thieving.’


3. A rule of thumb may be to ALWAYS expressly ask before you take or keep anything that doesn’t belong to you and also to return what you borrowed.


4. What you do regularly (once a month, or even once in three months) becomes a habit which ultimately becomes a part of your person.


5. Your personality is the sum total of your person. How does your personality affect your career, social life and even reputation in the community?


6. Everything you do has consequences either for bad or for good.


7. Let’s call a spade what it is, stealing is stealing, whether it is outright or by stealth. Refrain!


We all benefit when we do things right!