Jonathan Stirs Fresh Debate on Graft

ThisDay Live

07 Oct 2013

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The Monday Discourse

Last Sunday, President Goodluck Jonathan held another edition of the presidential media chat, where he responded to questions on pressing national issues, including insecurity, power, the 2015 elections and the cost of governance. But of all the issues addressed, the president’s position that corruption in Nigeria was “tolerable” generated the most reactions from the public. He blamed the local media and the civil society for what he described as the exaggerated perception about corruption in the country. Perhaps, he was right! What then is tolerable corruption? In this discourse, Shola Oyeyipo and Ojo Maduekwe seek more understanding of this concept

Time and time again, corruption is generally described as one of the nation’s major problems and the root cause of its stunted growth.  The corruption perception index rating of the country by Transparency International has however lent credence to the growing belief that Nigeria is neck deep in corruption that has seeped into all strata of its political, economic and social life.
Particularly instructive, albeit worrisome, about the corruption perception of the country is the fact that it did not start with this administration. Indeed, some often posit that corruption in the country is as old as Nigeria itself. But the disturbing angle to this is that the much touted fight against graft has made little impact.  Efforts by successive administrations to fight graft have been stalled by the endemic corruption in the system.
This much President Goodluck Jonathan acknowledged during his last week’s media chat. He however argued that the situation was not as bad as it was being portrayed, globally. For him, his government was already winning the war against corruption, and that the perception people have about corruption in Nigeria is exaggerated.

Jonathan argued that the global perception about Nigeria’s corruption was influenced by continuous reports by the Nigerian media and their civil society allies, adding that corruption in the country was still at a ‘tolerable level’ despite the myriad of corruption allegations against government officials.
This had immediately attracted reactions from some civil society groups which described the president’s position as opposite the reality on the ground.
Some of the groups that rose up against the president’s assertion include Advocacy Nigeria (AN), Alliance for Credible Elections (ACE), African Centre for Media & Information Literacy, Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Centre for Development of Civil Society, Citizen’s Forum for Constitutional Reform (CFCR) and Citizens Centre for Integrated Development & Social Rights (CCIDESOR).

Others are Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Community Action For Popular Participation (CAPP) Environmental Rights Action (ERA), National Procurement Watch Platform (NPWP),  Pan-African Strategic and Policy Research Centre (PANAFSTRAC), Partners on Electoral Reform, Say NO Campaign – Nigeria, Resource Centre For Human Rights& Civil Education(CHRICED), United Action for Democracy (UAD), West Africa Civil Society Forum (WACSOF-Nigeria), Zero – Corruption Coalition (ZCC) and Women Advocates’ Research and Documentation Center (WARDC).
The groups, which disproved the president’s claim, also listed some of the few celebrated corruption cases that are yet to be resolved to prove their position that corruption in the country is endemic. According to the group, some of the unresolved corruption cases that the Jonathan administration has refused to address include the Malabu $1.1 billion scandal. They argued that the Jonathan administration approved the transfer of the money to Malabu, a company linked to a former Minister of Petroleum,  Chief Dan Etete, in 2011, as payment for an oil block that Etete was alleged to have fraudulently acquired in Nigeria.

Their concern, they said was that the transfer occurred at a time the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was still investigating Malabu for registration fraud and in spite of Etete’s earlier conviction in France.
The groups also contended that the president’s claim that corruption was tolerable came despite alleged massive corruption in the petroleum sector as supervised by the Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Alison- Madueke, adding that at least, N300 billion was alleged to have been fraudulently collected as subsidy claims by petroleum marketers in 2011, with alleged connivance of some petroleum ministry officials.
As a result, several reports, including that by a presidential committee, NEITI Audit reports and the House of Representatives subsidy investigation panel revealed the unprecedented level of corruption in the sector.

Also worthy of note, the groups stated, are some well documented reports on corruption which suggest laxity and lack of interest in dealing with corruption in Nigeria. They listed such reports to include the KPMG report in which the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was indicted for corrupt practices and short-charging of Nigerians; the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) audit report which exposed 10 years of corruption in the upstream and downstream sectors of the oil and gas industry.
The reconciliation of justice on the Malabu oil deal with huge financial reward to the other party by Shell on the order of the president; the probe of the Pension Fund Management by the Senate Joint Committee on Public Service and Establishment, State and Local Government Administration; the case of corruption and money laundering trial against ex-Delta State Governor James Ibori in the United Kingdom for which he has reportedly pleaded guilty despite the acquittal granted him by a Nigerian court.

The Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) probe and the revelations of corruption in the capital market; the probe of the oil subsidy regime by an ad hoc committee of the House of Representatives;the bribery  scandal against Hon. Faruk Lawan, former chairman of the House ad hoc committee on Petroleum Subsidy; the non-prosecution of those indicted in the Haliburton LNG bribery scandal, the same of which the Americans involved had been prosecuted and charged in their country; that the integrity of the legislature has come under serious suspicion with the too frequent accusation of the probe committee members of bribery and the revelation by Shell Petroleum Development Company that Nigeria has since 2009 lost $1.5 billion yearly to crude oil theft, among others.

Against this backdrop, the groups maintained that corruption war must be waged by more committed crop of public officers and committed citizens, adding that “the EFCC, CCB, and ICPC alone can only be creating occasional drama, while avid corruption makes nonsense of every good policy of any agency, including the present administration. President Goodluck Jonathan should take a stand against corruption and stop pretending that corruption is being exaggerated and live by example in the fight against corruption.
“The under signed CSOs are worried with the rising profile of official corruption in Nigeria under this administration. The systematic failure has its root in the manifestation of corruption at all levels which undermines development and promotes insecurity and poverty in our country,” they said.

Expectedly, this has elicited debate in the public as more and more Nigerians are yet to come to terms with the dismissal that corruption in Nigeria is tolerable.

A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Kayode Adeniji, was of the opinion that “Saying corruption is tolerable is a direct reflection of weakness of any leader in this country.”
Adeniji who believed that “the greatest need of this nation is a strong leader capable enough to influence its citizens to change their ways of life if they want to get to the promise land,” held the view that Jonathan was shying away from such a responsibility as evidenced in his statement of a tolerable level of corruption.
The author of the political book, ‘Righteous Man in Power’ described the president’s statement as someone who is “trying to play safe,” adding that “the greatest obstacle to fighting corruption is ethnic colouration and vested interests. One of the major reasons foreign investors are discouraged in investing in Nigeria is because of corruption.” He added that an iota of corruption, not minding how little or ‘tolerable’ it may be, could be a put off.
In summary, Adeniji posed a question to President Jonathan: “For example, incompetent road contractors have killed a lot of people in road accidents in this country. I hope that is tolerable enough?”
Also speaking, lawyer and president of the pan Igbo think-tank, Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, said an association with corruption should be discouraged since “there is no level of tolerance of corruption that is acceptable.”
Uwazurike said: “The aim of every government all over the world is to eliminate corruption,” adding that though corruption cannot be completely eliminated, governments should target at reducing the scourge to the barest minimum.”

In fighting corruption, Uwazurike opined that what is absolutely wrong is for those in government to be hobnobbing with corrupt people. He said what should obtain in Nigeria is what daily obtains in the West.
“In developed countries like America, when a government official is charged with corruption, he immediately tenders his resignation. Also, top government officials disassociate themselves from such a person.”
Describing the president  as human and not a superman, he urged him to do his best in fighting corruption and leave the rest for the next president, noting that if “he (Jonathan) is working hard, we all will see it.”
On his part, the President, African Masses for Survival, Adeniyi Sulaiman, contended that the president’s position on the issue of corruption gave him away as a leader that lacks the will to fight graft. “Even the president we are talking about is the most corrupt leader the country has ever had. And the corruption level in Nigeria today is gargantuan,” he said.

He noted that there is widespread corruption in every sector of the economy while looting of public funds goes on daily, making Nigeria a very notably corrupt country. “We are one of the most corrupt nations worldwide: no proper accountability. They should inform Nigerians how the country’s money is being spent,” he said.
The Coordinator, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL),  Debo Adeniran, maintained that Jonathan is not in touch with Nigerians and as such, does not know what problems confront them and why.
“I will not agree with him at all. It really shows that the president does not appreciate the enormity of the problem that is confronting Nigeria. He does not seems to understand why Nigeria has been speeding backwards instead of making progress; why factories are not working; why children are not in good schools; why infrastructure is not developing and the few we have are dilapidated.

“It means he has limited appreciation of the yearnings of Nigerian people. It means that he does not even understand the root cause of the general apathy of the people to governmental policies and programmes in Nigeria. It is unfortunate that we have a president who does not seem to be in close contact with the ruled. Even during the media chat, you will discover that he left so many gaps unfilled – even directing the interviewers to some of his ministers. Which means that he does not know what is happening.
“He does not even know the man who designed the national flag. So he said the Minister of Information will take care of that. He does not know what is going on in the petroleum sector; he is referring to the ministers of petroleum resources and the finance minister and all that. He does not even know anything about corruption which is the root cause of all our problems in Nigeria!

“I have created a problem tree, with a tap root that is called corruption. So if the president was talking about infrastructure decay and the rest of them; if infrastructure is decaying what led to it? It does not mean we do not have enough money to repair our roads. We can even construct more. Somebody is spending N39billion on a less than 2km road in Lekki here whereas that could have taken care of a road from Ikorodu to Epe and back to Lekki. So it is because of the leakages in governmental handling of money that led to inadequate and dilapidated infrastructure around,” he posited.

He therefore noted that the situation was hopeless if there were no efforts at making a systemic change. “There is no hope if we continue to have a president that does not have any link with the people – who depends on ministers who are profligate in their life affairs. So if we continue to have this kind of president, there is no light at the end of the tunnel at all. And that is why we are asking for a system change,” he said.
Jonathan’s comment regardless, the Lagos State Coordinator of the PDP National Youth Vanguard, Engineer Sunday Kudehindu, believes that the president remains a committed agitator in the fight against corruption.

“The president’s fight against corruption is a strong part of his administration’s transformation agenda and, from what we all know, that hasn’t changed. He remains committed to ridding the land of corruption. The fight to rid corruption from the corridors of power and in every sector of the economy is a gradual process; it is not something that can be achieved in a day,” he said.
According to Kudehindu’s interpretation of the president’s comment, Jonathan was only playing the role of an all-inclusive father who was concerned about the welfare of all his children.

“What he was trying to say during the broadcast, as a father, is that every member of the larger family called Nigeria, irrespective of their shortcomings can always find a father who is willing to forgive, and a home that recognises their repentance and welcomes them back by charging them to go and sin no more like the Bible said.”
He gave an instance in the Bible where a lady was brought before Jesus for committing adultery: “While her persecutors were expecting that Jesus would crucify her, instead he told the lady to go and sin no more.”

Kudehindu therefore maintained that the president remained a committed campaigner to rid Nigeria of corruption: “Let us not misinterpret his fatherly role; he remains a strong agitator of fighting corruption to the barest minimal.

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