Has Nigeria Lost The War Against Corruption?

We are determined to intensify the war against corruption, more so because corruption is itself central to the spread of poverty…”- President Umaru Yar’Adua

Were Nigeria to be a country where the success or failure of its leaders are measured by how they fulfill the promises made to their citizens, it would be difficult to identify any Nigerian leader who can be said to be successful. No doubt, the country is in this current depressing and distasteful state because its leaders, at various levels of government over the years, have perfected the art of saying one thing and doing another almost at the same time. And, when any efforts whatsoever are made at all, it is, almost always, at variance with the promise made.

If there is one promise the current administration has made a meal of, it is its purported commitment to wage war against corruption, whatever that means. Interestingly, if there is any promise that it has also dithered and looks simply unwilling to fulfill, or totally lacks the capacity to fulfill, it is the same promise to prosecute the war against corruption.

On his inauguration exactly two years ago, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had, among other things, expressed his determination to intensify the war against corruption, as quoted above from his inaugural address, a war which many critics of the previous administration had then dismissed as being too “selective”. According to the President, his intensification of the war against corruption stems from the centrality of the vice to the spreading poverty in the country, which in a recent estimate of the Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of Economic and Social Research (NISER), Prof Tunji Akande, stands at 80 per cent of the population. Another report even reckons that poverty has shot up in the country from 46 per cent in 1996 to 76 per cent presently, sadly at a time when a study conducted by the United States Energy Department ranked Nigeria among the poorest countries in the world despite raking in $55 billion from oil exports in 2007 alone.

And, like every other promise President Yar’Adua made on that unfortunate day, none has been, and may never be fulfilled. It would therefore not be strange if in the years to come, he, not uncharacteristically, volunteers that he was not in office to fight corruption in the same manner former President Olusegun Obasanjo said recently he was not elected to provide electricity.

There is no doubt that President Yar’Adua was spot on in linking corruption to the inexplicable and unspeakable poverty that struts the Nigerian landscape as a monk would a monastery, but what is in doubt is if the same president is not overwhelmed by the war itself, or does not just want to belabour himself fighting a war he is not sure of winning. Any thought to the contrary is mere pretension if some events reported in the media in recent times are anything to go by, the recent improved rating of the country by the Transparency International notwithstanding. What this has shown is that it takes more than issue-identification, in this case the corruption-poverty nexus in Nigeria, as done by the President himself, to be on top of the situation. It takes practical and well meaning efforts.

Many analysts are of the view that if the Obasanjo administration was “selective” in the anti-graft war, President Yar’Adua has simply failed, two years in office, to dispel the widespread observation that he lacks the steel and political will to prosecute the war and do the mortal damage, as they say, on corruption itself . This was given more credence by the way the government has handled corruption allegations involving top officials in the country in recent times as well as how the corruption charges against past governors in the previous administration had been handled . For instance, it took a sustained public outrage over the gale of convictions by foreign courts on the graft cases involving top Nigerians in the now infamous twin Halliburton and Siemens scams before an evidently embarrassed Federal Government could be forced out of its self imposed “see-no-evil-say-no-evil” posture.

On the $6 billion Halliburton bribe-for-contract scam, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Michael Aondoaaka, widely accused of being a cog in the wheel of the anti-graft war, belatedly announced the “Federal Government’s intention to explore all diplomatic channels to get the United States to release to it the list of the officials known to have received the bribes” from the group, when this is public knowledge to all. To put gloss over its farcical undertaking, the Federal Government has since set up a panel headed by the Inspector General of Police, Mike Okiro to investigate a matter that had long been investigated overseas and those found culpable sanctioned.

As I write, former governors who have cases of graft hanging over their heads like the proverbial Sword of Damocles are dining on the same table with the one who has “intensified the war against corruption”. Two years into this “intensified war”, not one single conviction had taken place, yet evidence of graft abound. A statement from the British High Commission announced that stolen funds seized from Mrs. Joyce Oyebanji an associate of a former governor of Plateau state, has been returned to the Nigerian government. According to the statement, “1.28 million pound stolen assets have been returned to Nigeria since 2006” following “investigations into the financial dealings of Joshua Dariye and the former governor of Bayelsa state, Diepreye Alameiseiyegha”. It further disclosed that some 40 million pound more may be returned subject to successful UK court judgements”. The confiscation order against Oyebanji totaled 198, 045 pounds of which 150, 000 pounds was previously returned to Nigeria by the Lord Major in May, 2008.”

Beside receiving the returned stolen funds from Britain, no word has been heard on the matter again by Mr. Aondoaaka, yet his principal has “intensified war against corruption” two years ago. A former minister of energy was recently convicted by a French court on money laundering charges linked to the Halliburton scam, yet no word from the government.

Evidently, it is this lack of conviction of any one from its numerous corrupt prosecutions that seems to embolden many in perpetrating various forms of graft in the country in recent times. The media is awash with such disclosures recently such as when top officials of the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) were arrested over alleged N5 billion fraud in the commission. The nation had hardly come over the story when it was reported that the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Power, Nicholas Ugbane and two officials of the Rural Electrification Agency were arrested, and still being detained, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over alleged N5 billion contract scam. This was followed some days later by the arrest of three members of the House of Representatives for their role in the same scam. According to media reports, the Senate and House of Representative committees on power were alleged to have smuggled the controversial N5 billion projects into the 2009 budget without the knowledge of the Presidency. Almost at the same time, over six directors of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) were arrested over an alleged N1.7 billion contract scam.

It is instructive that the number of arrests made is not a measure of the success of this “intensified war”, but in the thorough prosecution and conviction, where necessary, of those deemed culpable. But Nigeria being what it is, no one would be jailed even if the combined foreign reserves and excess crude account of the country are swept dry by some th

ieving public officials. When the President says he has intensified war on corruption, nobody believes him simply because he has no history of successfully prosecuting any. Have we then not lost the war given all these realities?

Written by
Joel Nwokeoma
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