The Altitude of Corruption

Tuesday, 05 February 2013 19:01

Segun Elijah

As corruption grinds the Nigerian masses under the present administration, President Jonathan has lapsed into fantasy – to escape responsibility

With a pinch of native psychology, and a long hard look, any Jack can fairly tell the cross between denial and delusion: both ignore facts to grab whatever quickies any event can offer. And President Goodluck Jonathan’s soliloquies on national issues in recent times hint he’s been reeling in such reverie. Few weeks ago, the President shocked Nigerians during a graveside address at General Andrew Azzazi’s funeral in Bayelsa. “Corruption is not the cause of our problem [in Nigeria],” he told the mourners.

 

Yet those interested in Nigeria’s development have insisted corruption is the nation’s most virulent canker worm. Oby Ezekwesili, a former World Bank Vice President, has never been mealy-mouthed about it, though she was once in government. Some years ago, she said Nigeria had lost more than $400 billion of its oil revenues, earned since independence, to corruption. And currently, the lady is hitting Jonathan and his predecessor smack-dab for frittering away Nigeria’s wealth.  She stated in her recent speech on accountability that $45 billion in foreign reserves and another $22 billion in the Excess Crude Account, pickings from the recent oil boom, were handed over to the successor government in 2007. And as of last year, the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) grossed in N5 trillion. That’s more than 2013 budget, and about what some analysts say Nigeria needs to fix its power problem. In the same period, the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) made $100 billion in crude sale, which is around N15 trillion. “Where did all that money go?” She asked.

The Transparency International (TI) has been trying to follow the money. Nigeria, one of the world’s largest oil producers, remains the 35th most corrupt nations on earth, according to the TI Corruption Perception Index for 2011. Even local anti-corruption watchdogs aren’t disputing that. “It is sad that with all the opportunities and resources available in our nation, there is still under-development, massive unemployment and pervasive poverty,” said Ekpo Nta, the chairman of Independent Corrupt Practice and other related offences Commission (ICPC) in Katsina last July. “The root cause of all these is corruption that has almost become a culture.” It was the same reality of widespread poverty that has stuck with Hillary Clinton, former U.S minister of states, in her many visits to Nigeria. And her verdict: “The corruption is unbelievable”. She told her audience in a town hall meeting in America two years ago.

But Jonathan will still deny all this. He first did so in the wake of the TI report, claiming in his October 1 speech that the same anti—corruption watchdog rated the country better. He would later blame the ballyhoo that followed his false proclamation on his speechwriters. And now, the president sees something else to hang for Nigeria’s woe. “If we change our attitude of doing things, most of the things we think are caused by corruption are not,” he said.

For attitude, many believe Jonathan’s a jellyfish. And that spinelessness has brought his administration’s anti-corruption campaign under attacks by his critics. The Patriots, a group of senior citizens led by Prof. Ben Nwabueze, said Jonathan’s’s loose handling of high-profile corruption cases is responsible for the “failure to punish appropriately and promptly” the few politicians prosecuted for corruption.

In Nigeria, this character flaw has a suite of other monikers, depending on the namegivers. Lai Mohammed, ACN’s national publicity secretary, would describe it as “an amazing lack of political will”. To Debo Adeniran, chairman of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), the ministries, departments, and agencies championing the crusade against corruption are “a bunch of unserious lot”.

All this name-calling, galled as it is, seems to have some rhymes and reasons. Since ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo teed-off the anti-corruption campaign in 2001, 1500 cases have been prosecuted, 12 years after. As at the administration of Farida Waziri, the second chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the arrowhead of the campaign, 400 convictions were recorded, out of the 600 cases concluded. Most of these are petty cases, including advanced-fees frauds and other cyber crimes. The heat was fully on initially, under the commission’s pioneer chairman, Nuhu Ribadu. He actually racked up over 700 of these cases, including those of 19 governors’ in office between 1999 and 2006. By 2010, about $6.5 billion, Waziri said, was recovered while around N1 trillion worth of asset was temporarily forfeited. The total number of high-calibre cases prosecuted stood at 50 by 2011.

But Ribadu had been eased out early on in 2007, about the time the EFCC began to lose steam. And the ousting of Waziri, too, for non-performance, in 2011, brought in Ibrahim Lamorde. Critics, however, believe the fight is icing over faster than ever before. Under Jonathan, corruption has graduated from the stealing of millions to trillions, the Executive Director of the Anti-Corruption Network, Dino Melaye, told a newspaper. Other civil rights leaders are equally spurting out figures, angrily. “In the last two years, an estimated N5 trillion has been stolen by our government officials,” said Joe-Okei Odumakin, president, the Campaign for Democracy. Odumakin’s guesstimate would have factored in the N1.2 trillion mismanaged in the oil subsidy scandal, the Malabu oil scam, the pension fund heist, and the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting N2.1 billion misappropriation. There, on the other hand, is a cabinet-load of probe reports gathering dust in Aso Rock. No ass-kicking yet.

As these billions of naira evaporate, the EFCC and its sister commission, the Independent Corrupt Practice and other related offences Commission (ICPC), are just faffing around. Both have admitted their failures. “The fact on the ground is that no case has been concluded,” the EFCC boss told the Senate Committee on Narcotics, Drugs, and Financial Crimes in November. But Lamorde, like his master, wouldn’t take responsibility. The non-conclusion of many of the cases, especially of the politically exposed persons’, according to the EFCC boss, is inevitable. “These are people who have the resources to drag on these cases indefinitely and perpetually,” he told the committee. Actually, there are cases that have been dangling since 2006. Plus many of the over 200 Larmode has brought to law.

Dragging on the cases, with those pedestrian applications, is effectively the specialty of the corrupt lawyers – the bigwigs among them. So Lamorde will like the Nigeria Bar Association to take the knock, too. As expected in the blame game, the NBA has shot back. “They are their own problem,” said Okey Wali, NBA’s president, in December. Besides the investigative incompetency of the anti-graft agencies noted by the NBA, the judiciary too, Wali said, is part of the problem. “What are the judges doing with these frivolous applications brought by the lawyers?” He asked.

The buck has been lying on the bench for long, really. Mike Aondoakaa, a former attorney-general of the federation, stuck out like a sore thumb in the late President Umar Yar’ Adua’s administration. It was the AG that moved artfully against the prosecution of the 19 governors caught in Ribadu’s dragnet then. He particularly wagered his wig on James Ibori, the former governor of Delta. Ibori was already discharged and acquitted of 170 corruption charges in Nigeria before he got convicted and jailed in the UK. In defence of Ibori, Aondoakaa, then, had gone as far as Southwark Court in London.

It, thus, seems the AG office is calculated to miscarry justice. Mohammed Adoke, Nigeria’s No. 1 lawyer, for instance, first dealt the anti-corruption fight a crippling blow when he took over: he attempted to scotch the EFCC by stripping off its prosecutorial powers. Had he succeeded, the commission would have had to wait for his wink to dock any suspect.

Adoke’s declaration didn’t just surprise Nigerians; it made them further believe the judiciary is out to help corruption fester. Many have already given up on the third arm of government. Yet the judiciary, according to John Walker, a US judge that visited Nigeria last year, can’t function unless it has public support. Now, the public perception, says Itse Sagay, law professor and constitutional lawyer, is that judgements are purchasable and judges have no integrity.

Court registers across the federation groan with names of such big buyers. These are mainly well-heeled bureaucrats, party heavyweights, and their cronies. They include former governors like Joshua Dariye, Plateau; Boni Haruna, Adamawa; Rasheed Ladoja, Oyo; Attatiru Bafarawa, Sokoto; Abdullah Adamu,  Nassarawa; Orji Uzor Kalu, Abia ; Saminu Turaki, Jigawa ; Chimaroke Nnamani, Enugu; Bukola Sraki, Kwara; Michael Boatmang, Plateau; and many others.

Among the sleaze-balls in the ruling party, Bode George, PDP’s south-west chairman and former chairman, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) was the most unfortunate. He bagged two years for the N84 billion he stole from the NPA. Vincent Ogbulafor, another PDP’s national chairman, was able to manage the noise of his corruption prosecution. Other big shots in the party charged with graft include Femi Fani-Kayode and Babalola Borishade, both former aviation ministers; Kenny Martins, former co-ordinator of Police Equipment Fund (PEF); Prince Ibrahim Demuje, PEF;and Roland Iyayi, former MD, FAAN.

In corporate Nigeria, there’s also batch of mega-rich execs that have escaped justice, after haemorrhaging the banking industry: Cecilia Ibru, former MD, Oceanic Bank; Erastus Akingbola, former MD, Intercontinental Bank PLC; Batholomew Ebong, former MD, Union Bank; Francis Atuche, former MD, Bank PHB; Sebastine Adigwe, former MD, Afribank PLC; and Chief Osa Osunde, chairman, Afribank.

A number of indicted lawmakers also found a solace in the rotten chamber of justice. Senator Nicholas Ugbane, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu and others in the N5.2b Rural Electricity Agency contract case, weaselled their way out of the scam. The former Speaker Dimeji Bankole and his deputy Usman Nafada also got away with a N40 billion scandal. Farouk Lawan, too, has been hibernating in court since he got smeared in the subsidy probe report. One of the big catch of the oil scandal–Femi Otedola, owner of Zenon Group—remains a fixture in Jonathan’s itinerary.

In all these screwups, there appears a beaten path to swinging justice: buying time to end up in a plea bargain. For many of the perennial cases, Lamorde explained, the EFCC has gone to Supreme Court twice — on mere interlocutory applications. “They will file this, the judge will overrule them, they will go to Court of Appeal and lose there, but they will still go to Supreme Court,” he said

At the Supreme Court , the case would then be referred to the trial judge for continuation, then a fresh application will follow suit. “We know how long it takes for a trial to go to Court of Appeal and get listed, then go to the Supreme Court to get it listed and decided upon,” he told the Senate committee.

Well, for those who still don’t know the duration: it’s usually as long as a piece of string. But the punishments are most likely whittled down in the verdict. It took former Edo Governor Lucky Igbinedion about a year to get convicted for laundering N2.5 billion. By December 2008, Justice A. Abdul Kafarat of the Enugu High court ordered him to refund N500 million, forfeit three houses, and pay N3.5 million–or go to jail for six months. Bode George spent four years on the frivolity before he lost out in 2009. He got a 30-month jail term that ran for just two years. But he kept his booty.

The trial of Yakubu Yusuf, the former head of the Police Pension Board, is the latest skit in the nation’s criminal justice system. Justice Abubakar Talba of the Abuja High Court on January 28 sentenced Yusuf to a two-year jail term for pleading guilty to the embezzlement of N23.3 billion. Yusuf will also forfeit property valued at N325 million. But the pension thief won’t be going to prison. He got an option of a measly N750,000 fine, 0.3 percent of the loot. The verdict was so sickening the EFCC, almost immediately, re-arrested Yusuf – on fresh charges – and clammed in Kuje prison. Melaye’s Network and other groups have flared up in protest of the judgement, demanding Talba should lose his wig.

Well, there’s no hard evidence yet to confirm the presiding judge traded the judgement here. That, however, doesn’t rule out the possibility in Nigeria’s judicial system–even as far as the Supreme Court. For instance, Justice Legbo Kutigi, an ex-chief justice of Nigeria, read a skewed judgement that favoured Yar’ Adua in the 2007 presidential election petition brought to the Supreme Court.  Although the panel was deadlocked in a 3-3 vote, Kutigi declared Yar’ Adua winner. The justice was said to have received a $20 million bribe from Aondoaakaa. Again, Ibori, in 2003, according to a group called the Derivation Front, gave N5 million to each of the apex court judges. To beef up their case, the group further circulated copies of the judgement about to be delivered in favour of the governor. On reading the manuscript, Mohammed Uwais, then chief justice of Nigeria, immediately had a hunch.  “We all agree that this is something from within, and I have the idea of who it is,” he said.   “It is a justice of this court.”  Justices Ayo Salami (Appeal Court president) and Aloysius Katsina-Alu (ex-CJN) also smeared each other with similar allegations before they retired.

And so it goes that tribunal judges, the late Justice Kayode Eso said, are now becoming billionaires in Nigeria. Although there have been some eminent jurists working to buck the trend. Justice Dahiru Musdapher, in his nine-month tenure as CJN, began a series of reforms. He was particularly hard on plea bargaining, ex-parte motions, and endless corruption trials. And legal experts have advised CJN Aloma Mukhtar to perfect what Musdapher started. My Lord Talba’s judgement could have raised the CJN’s hackle, too; she has ordered an investigation of the justice.

Mukhtar, unfortunately, also has 15 months to cleanse the Augean stable. But how much can she do when Jonathan, with all his executive powers, has been going round in circles since 2010?

He could be right, after all, about his sermon on attitude. Just that many Nigerians think their president has to slough off his gel first.

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