A critical evaluation of the governance index in Nigeria, especially under the President Yar’Adua administration, tends to reveal some defining features of an evolving political culture, which can be constructed seamlessly along a continuum, of sorts. These features range from cynicism and skepticism at one end to pervasive indifference, at the other end.
For anyone bent on examining, interrogating and exploring citizens participation in governance in Nigeria within this period, this continuum, it must be said, would be imperative in order to capture and explain the extant disconnection evident in the polity.
Suffice it to note, however, that cynicism and skepticism are necessary twin bye-products of government’s historic inability, read failure, to fulfill commitments and promises made, willingly, to the citizens over the years. A few of such in the last two years would suffice here: Without any prodding, President Yar’Adua promised, while campaigning for election, to declare a state of emergency on power 100 days into office. It is now two years and months after, with related promises made thereafter, and with power supply at a more embarrassing state than before, the promise has yet to be made. So, when the self-same President promised to generate and distribute 6000 megawatt by December, less than 5 months from now, doubt was the response from the citizens.
The same is even reported to have dogged the so-called amnesty promised militants that have castrated the nation’s economy thus far, through well coordinated attacks and destruction of oil installations in the oil-rich Niger Delta region. It all seems the government cannot be trusted, as some militants reportedly said, to fulfill its own part of the bargain. Ditto, on the promises for electoral reforms and constitutional amendment.
But, it looks that there is no aspect of our democratic governance that citizens’ cynicism is more evident as in the self-imposed, but largely uncharted, anti-graft war by this administration. Since inception in 2007, officials of this administration have persistently and consistently made a public show of their determination to “Kill Corruption!”, apologies to Concerned Professionals, given the latter’s capability to “finish off”, as they say, the country. This undertaking is given greater impetus consequent upon the pledge made, under oath by the President, during his inaugural address, to “intensify the war against corruption more so because it is central to the spread of poverty”, not to mention underdevelopment and misery, in Nigeria.
The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), in fact, had in its 2008 report stated that “There is a virtual agreement among observers that corruption – political and economic- primarily explains poverty, which stands at 70 per cent of the population, in Nigeria. According to it, corruption has “held back economic growth and development and frustrated incentives to align budgetary allocations with development priorities”. And, as the 2009 Failed State Index further indicated, “Although Nigeria is an oil-rich nation, oil revenues, which a former World Bank President, Mr. Paul Wolfowitz, claimed amounted to $300bn in four decades, scarcely benefit the majority of Nigerians. Instead, “elites and criminals benefit from the vast oil reserves…”
While corruption holds the nation prostrate, efforts of government to checkmate it seem increasingly ineffective, and at worst defective. In the concluding remarks of a recent article Has Nigeria lost the anti-corruption war?, I had observed that the number of arrests made, and celebrated by the relevant agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is not a good measure of the success of the anti-graft war, until a big fish is thrown behind bars for corruption, as done in other climes.
Sadly, while the big stick is wielded in other societies, not minding whose ox is gored, in order to serve as a deterrent to others, in Nigeria, the political will is simply lacking or the process too windy and cumbersome to accomplish anything. For instance, at a time the EFCC was celebrating the hand over of assets worth over N44.5bn recovered from the former governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Diepreye Alamieyesiegha, to the state government, a federal court in New York was sentencing Bernard Madoff, the 71-year-old swindler to the maximum of 150 years in prison; a term, which the Associated Press claimed, is “comparable to those given in the past to terrorists, traitors and most violent criminals”.
The US District Judge Denny Chin, while delivering the sentence, described Madoff’s crimes as “extremely evil” and “an irresponsible manipulation of the system” that is not “merely a bloodless financial crime…but one that takes a staggering human toll”. Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, which amounted to $50bn, according to the judge, began since the 1990s and reportedly “demolished the savings of thousands of people, wrecked charities and shook confidence in the US financial system”.
But, besides spending the rest of his life in prison, the sentence required Madoff to sell his $7 million Manhattan apartment, an $11 million estate in Palm Beach, a $4 million home in Montauk and a $2.2 million boat, which will be put on the market. Already, a judge had issued a preliminary $171 billion forfeiture order stripping him of all his personal property, including real estate, investments, and $80 million in assets his wife, Ruth had claimed were hers. And, come to think that Madoff’s prosecution and eventual conviction lasted not more than six months tells much about Nigeria’s slow and tardy judicial process which obfuscates the anti-graft war.
Instructively, while Madoff is to spend the rest of his life in jail, none of the 56 Nigerian politicians who EFCC said collectively “removed over N243 billion from the nation’s treasury” since 1999 alone (See Nigerian Tribune, Friday July 10), not to talk of the over $300billion said to have been looted over the last four decades from the country by its rulers and politicians, is in jail! Instead, they are living large and free today, while others secured laughable convictions. The prosecution of Madoff began in December 2008, when he was arrested, and concluded in June 2009!
Now, contrast Madoff with the former governor of Bayelsa, whose looted assets worth billions of naira were recently returned to the state government after being convicted of corruption by the court in 2007. A Federal High Court in Lagos had on July 26, 2007 ordered that Alamieyeseigha’s assets worth several billions of naira be sold and forfeited to the state government, after he pleaded guilty to a six count- charge, and was subsequently sentenced to a mere two years in prison on each charge. However, because the sentences were set to run concurrently, and the time was counted from the point of his arrest nearly two years before, his actual sentence was relatively short. He is now living his dream, as a free man, having quickly served out his ‘jail term’, while the hapless people of Bayelsa who were the victims of his indiscretion while in power are enmeshed in needless misery, poverty and deprivation.
Two forfeited properties owned by the ex-governor, which included Chelsea Hotel, Abuja, valued at N2.8 billion and N0.2 Marscibit Street, off Aminu Kano Crescent, Wuse II also in Abuja valued at N210 million, were recently handed over by the EFCC boss, Farida Waziri, to Governor of the state, Timipre Sylva.
A breakdown of the figures also realised by EFCC from the sales of assets and recover
ed monies are made up of N3.128bn in Nigeria, 441,000 dollars in the U.S, 7,000 Euros and 2,000 Pounds across Europe, all remitted to the CBN. The Metropolitan Police had allegedly found £1 million cash at one of his many London homes while he was allegedly found to own real estate in London worth an estimated £10 million.
In the U.S, while Madoff could forfeit his monies and properties and still end up with a lengthy jail term, this is not possible in Nigeria as could be seen when EFCC celebrated the returning of Alamieyesiegha’s corrupt proceeds while he is now a free man. Same way, while a former governor of Edo state could trade his one-count charge conviction with a plea bargain, and walk home a freeman after paying a laughable N3.6m fine, after earlier being charged of plundering billions of public funds, Madoff did not enjoy such luxury.
If Nigeria is to be taken serious in the anti-graft war, it must begin to take some very stern actions, and fast too! There are a lot of people walking about free in the country who should be in jail, if reports by credible agencies and bodies are anything to by. It is inexplicable that the country is persistently and severally ranked poor in human development indicators on account of corruption, while we slap the alleged perpetrators on the wrist. Corrupt individuals in Nigeria must be given the Madoff treatment to deter others. This way, citizens cynicism to the anti-graft war, in particular, will be eliminated.