These are indeed difficult times for Nigerians. Not only is the universal credit crunch and global economic downturn biting much harder on our people, but the profligacy and unconcerned response or non-response of the people at the helm of affairs of the country are making matters worse.
A few days ago, I wrote on my Facebook wall, that (pardon my language) I am pissed off at our political leaders. I was expressing my frustrations. A friend of mine (a real friend) then left me a comment admonishing me that as a public speaker and opinion writer, I should not be saying such things. I was a bit mad at him, but still replied him politely. What does he want me to do? We have talked to these leaders; we have pleaded with them to change, both publicly and sometimes privately; we have appealed to their good side (if they have any at all) and their collective conscience; we have threatened them; we have died for them; we have even accepted that we are serving them instead of them serving us and all we ask in return are little crumbs to make life easier for us. But have they listened? Are they concerned? Are they likely to change? No! Brothers and sisters, not on your life.
Then I read three articles: One is a piece on Pointblanknews reporting that an Indian company, Global Holdings Limited, wants our Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Michael Aondoakaa to refund $6 million bribe money. Global Steel Holdings is asking Aondoakaa to either “deliver or refund the $6 million dollar bribe he received, over the inability of the former ( Michael Aondoakaa) to deliver on a deal to convince President Umaru Yar’Adua to reverse the Federal Government’s cancellation of the concession granted the company on Ajaokuta Steel Company”. This is a very grave allegation.
Then came another article by the same Pointblanknews that the Chairman of BUA Group, Abdulsamad Rabiu is also demanding that the Attorney General refund a $400,000 bribe back to him (Rabiu) for reneging on a deal to revoke the sale of Delta Steel company to Global Steel Holdings, and instead sell the company to BUA Group. It was alleged that that notorious political jobber, hatchet man and money launderer for several Governors, the ignoble Terry Waya was the delivery man for the bribe. Another grave allegation that must be investigated.
I am not one to rush into conclusions, and I believe these allegations must be corroborated, but right now, it sounds authentic, knowing what out public officials can get up to. And Ajaokuta Steel Company and Delta Steel Company have been bedrocks of corruption, wastefulness, mismanagement and exercises in futility for many decades since they were launched; many top Nigerians have made their money out of it, the Russians took us for fools, the Germans had us, and now the Indians are also trying to make mugs out of us, and not a single sheet of steel has come out of them since the 70’s. Although there’s no smoke without fire, we must not rush into judgement until we have the government’s take on this. So let’s wait, listen and watch the Minister respond. How can any country respect Nigeria if a highly placed government functionary as our Minister for Justice is involved in such scandals? And the President himself knows about what is going on? Talk about the good image or the recent “re-branding” of Nigeria.
Lord have mercy! This is the man, who oversees our anti-corruption campaign; who should be ensuring the prosecution of several corrupt ex-governors; in fact, who should ensure justice for all Nigerians. Up till now, our AGF has not spoken out about these allegations, however, when the Indian company takes him to the International Court of Arbitration, maybe the whole scandal will be blown wide open and he will be forced to make a statement, or better still, resign, be arrested and prosecuted. I said maybe, because such powerful people are usually above the law in Nigeria.
The third article was The Guardian editorial of Tuesday 17 March 2009, titled “Bribe Givers and Takers”, where it was reported that our learned Minister for Justice, the same Michael Aondoakaa, was suing the multinational firms of Halliburton, Siemens and Wilbros for damages to the tune of $10 billion dollars, for daring to bribe Nigerians, and for bringing the good name of Nigeria into disrepute. I was aghast at the thinking of this man, and at the same time could not help laughing at the inanity of the man, who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. Can he be serious?
Why does he not start with prosecuting the Nigerians, over whom he has jurisdiction, who are involved in the bribery, mostly taking of the backhander? He knows them, doesn’t he? I will refresh his memory: Three former Ministers for Communication, a serving Senator and several government officials and civil servants, NNPC and Shell officials and members of the ruling PDP, already identified by name and amount of bribe received.
Nigerian leadership officials do not know their responsibilities in terms of good administration of the country and its resources. The AGF is chasing a phantom enemy while the real enemy is in his living room, eating with him. He does not need to look abroad to tackle the corruption at home. The whole country is swimming in corrupt practices and he stupidly wants to catch culprits abroad. I don’t think the Honourable Minister of Justice was actually going out in pursuit of anything serious. Maybe the guy has other businesses to run in the USA or UK, or maybe he has some stolen money to stash in a bank abroad. They say “Charity begins at home.” If the man has anything serious to do, why not start off with the people (over whom and) where he has absolute jurisdiction and authority?
A more prudent, logical and productive process will be for the Attorney General to go after Nigerian criminals first, before going after the foreigners. Catch criminals in Nigeria, not abroad. He should let us know how the rule of law being bandied about by his Administration works. If the Nigerians do not ask for or accept the bribe, there will not be any need to go after the foreigners. Why is the AGF treating for ringworm, when he knows the disease is leprosy? He should punish the Nigerians involved first; he has the laws of Nigeria on his side. Names have been mentioned, the proofs are there; he should haul them before the law. He should ask the EFCC to arrest them and carry out the investigations, and prosecute them. Only by doing this shall we believe he is not trying some delaying or diversionary tactics from the real issues at hand.
The AGF should not be concerned about the foreign firms; at least for now; their foreign governments have already taken care of that end, he should get himself concerned about the Nigerian end of things. However, by delaying so long, and now with his ludicrous plan to sue the foreign firms, the Minister has actually jeopardised any investigation or prosecution that could be carried out on the Nigerian component of the bribery scandals. Evidence, if not already destroyed, would now be actively destroyed.
The actions of Mr Aondoakaa have always been mysterious, suspect and controversial ever since his appointment in June 2007. I wrote articles (“Mediocrity Rules in the Ministry of Justice” and “The Attorney-General, The EFCC and the Anti-Corruption War”) then and I am being proved right. According to widely held beliefs in Nigeria, Mr Aondoakaa was the major cause of Nuhu Ribadu being removed as EFCC Chairman, and his eventual dismissal from the Nigeria Police Force. He scuttled CBN Governor, Charles Soludo’s plans or ideas for Naira re-denomination. Then it is widely believed that he installed the current Chairperson of the EFCC, Mrs Farida Waziri, for the main purpose of jeopardising or hampering the anti-corrup
tion campaign, the result being that aspersion and doubt have now been cast on whatever good intentions this woman has to fight corruption in Nigeria. That cloud is still hanging over her head, and will be very difficult to get rid of.
In other words, our Minister for Justice and Attorney General has always been a barrier and stumbling block to progress in the anti-corruption fight. I really cannot comprehend how Nigeria came to have such people as Aondoakaa and others of his ilk in government, in the midst of much more talented, committed and sincere Nigerians. I know they rigged themselves into power, but this is ridiculous. It is another reflection of our failure as a united people; we allowed it.
As a result, what we have is a bloated and corrupt bureaucracy, kleptomania, mediocrity, greed, selfishness, and all these in turn transmute to abject poverty, hunger, unnecessary deaths, denial of justice, sense of hopelessness, underdevelopment, retrogression and utter despair for our people. Nothing, it seems, works for us. Definitely, these leaders are not working for us, but for themselves. And there are plenty of them in Yar ‘Adua’s cabinet.
We should be worried. Recently, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria lamented Nigeria’s chequered political journey to nationhood and warned that the country still has a long way to go to reach stability. “We are yet to build a nation where people dwell in security, but we have a country where life and property are constantly exposed to danger. The Niger Delta crisis in the South, the religious conflicts in the North and ethnic conflicts in different parts of the country are part of the insecurity Nigerians face”, the bishops said. They recalled that “corruption and the theft of public funds, which largely have remained unabated despite their call for prayers, had brought Nigeria to its knees” and regretted “the collapse of infrastructure, the lack of basic amenities … the increasing number of unemployed in the ever-rising crime wave in the land. The fact is evident that we still have a lot of work to do so that we (Nigerians), our children and our children’s children can have our legitimate aspirations fulfilled and our potentials actualized“, they said. The bishops also spoke of recent riots in the cities of Jos and Bauchi. “Each time we witness ethnic and religious conflicts, each time we hold elections lacking in credibility, we lose opportunities to build a nation. Each time the people of our richly endowed land are impoverished through acts of violation of fundamental human rights, each time we make or fall victims of injustice, bribery and corruption, we lose opportunities to build a nation.”
However, it is no use moaning and wallowing in self-pity. We are the architects of our own future and that of our generations yet unborn. All is not exactly lost, if only we can seize the opportunities that flash by once in a while. Many governors who rigged themselves in, for example, in 2007 are now being removed and replaced. Those are chances. Foreign governments are doing their bit to expose Nigerian bribe takers; seizing laundered loot and generally aiding in the fight against corruption (The US Government has promised to release names of Nigerian bribe-takers in the Halliburton and several other cases). These are chances to correct the system.
And in 2011, another chance to keep out both existing and prospective looters will present itself, we have to take it and ensure they do not get into power, power of incumbency or not. If they try to rig, we reject the results forcefully; if they insist in occupying the state houses, we storm the State Houses or throw stones at them. The political party does not matter, what matters is the calibre of the contestants. Political leaders must be made to know that they derive their power from the people, and no other way. Public officials must be made to realise that they are there to serve us and not to be served by us.
We, the people, must do the right thing for us, the things that are right for us, and not for them. It must be a case of us versus them. Not a religious or tribal war, but a class war of sorts; but they are not prepared to give in to us, so we must keep the pressure on them at all times.