Nigeria Matters

Perspectives On Nigeria’s Anti-Corruption War

What is truth?” Pilate asked. As for Pilate, he sought no answer from Jesus for his question. Instead, he washed the responsibility from his hands (Matt. 27:24) and walked away from the truth. In Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ, Pilate’s wife answers her husband: “If you will not hear the truth, no one can tell you.”

Truth, when trying to define it, extends from honesty, reality, good faith, and sincerity in general, to agreement with fact or reality in particular. The term has no single definition about which a majority of professional philosophers and scholars agree, and various theories of truth continue to be debated. There are differing claims on such questions as what constitutes truth; how to define and identify truth; the roles that revealed and acquired knowledge play; and whether truth is subjective, relative, objective, or absolute (Wikipedia). Truth can be mythological, religious or scientific. I will not bore the reader with the details.

Truth …“Is the opposite of lies.” “What is truth but what we believe to be truth?” “I don’t believe that there’s one truth. There are so many different people, and there are so many different ways you can look at things. I don’t see how there could be just one truth.”

These quotes, giving vague descriptions of truth, point towards relativism – a doctrine instructing that truth and morality are relative and not absolute. Relativism asserts that what is accepted as truth is relative to a person’s situation or standpoint, and denies that any standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others.
If truth is relative, then absolute right and absolute wrong become doubtful and obscure. And if truth is relative, then only subjective and indefinite answers exist for the purpose and meaning of life. So is there any absolute or real truth in this complex and uncertain world?

The same theory applies to certainty, which, like knowledge, is an epistemic property of beliefs. (In a derivative way, certainty is also an epistemic property of subjects: S is certain that p just in case S’s belief that p is certain.) Although some philosophers have thought that there is no difference between knowledge and certainty, it has become increasingly common to distinguish them. On this conception, then, certainty is either the highest form of knowledge or is the only epistemic property superior to knowledge ().

My point therefore is that truth is not a certainty as far as Nigerian politics is concerned. Truth is very relative, at least on a general level. This is not to say that in our individual interaction with one another, truth does not come into play. Indeed it does, and this might probably account for the reason why the Nigerian society has not degenerated into chaos and anarchy all these days, because when you consider the level of falsehood, insincerity, corruption, dishonesty, deceit, fraud, duplicity and cheating that goes on in our daily life, one will come to the conclusion that finding truth in Nigeria is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. It is really very painful to the mind. Certainly, it has affected adversely our way of life and Nigeria will never be the same again. I say this because I have been fortunate, and many have been too, to have experienced certain truth and other virtues as I was growing up in our country.

Again, since truth is relative, our way of interpreting what is true in Nigeria is open to subjectivity and uncertainty. And this brings me to the way Nigerians have been looking at, and measuring the success, if any, of the Government’s anti-corruption crusade, if indeed it is a crusade. I said if indeed, because, obviously, the war against corruption is not really going on as Nigerians would love and expect it, but whose fault is that?

The problem with our anti-corruption efforts lies with the way we perceive Truth, and the way we want to interpret it. Certainly, my interpretation of truth will be different to those of many of my 140 million-strong compatriots, and this I will recognize, admit and understand very readily.

When the Obasanjo Administration took the bold step, never before taken in the history of Nigeria, to establish the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and its counterpart, Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) through several Acts, the majority of long-suffering and very angry Nigerians saw it as a way forward in curbing the excesses of those professional political charlatans and opportunists who somehow manipulated themselves into power, usually with the sole intention of plundering the treasury. Although, we took the establishment of these anti-corruption bodies with a grain of salt and skepticism, we started warming up to them. The first Czar of the EFCC, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, a police officer, was especially popular with Nigerians, and in fairness to him, he took the anti-corruption fight to an entirely different level, which earned him many plaudits both home and internationally, and indeed, played a good role in convincing the international community, especially the Western countries to cancel most of Nigeria’s debts, as they saw Nigeria on the path of good governance, curbing corruption being an issue of good governance.

Initially, the EFCC was pulling in the notorious “419” fraudsters and fraudulent bank officials, and everybody was happy. The moment Ribadu, probably spurred on by President Obasanjo himself, decided to shine his torch on several corrupt state governors, he started having problems with some sections of Nigerians. This can easily be understood in a country where sincerity and truth in the generality are very scarce commodities. There were many attempts on the life of Ribadu. Even the Nigerian press, some of them controlled by these politicians, joined in defaming him, alleging that Ribadu was being used by Obasanjo to persecute or harass his political opponents and those who were opposed to his infamous Third Term Agenda. Some even went as far as saying Obasanjo used Ribadu and his EFCC to harass those who were his rivals in his many extra-matrimonial trysts. Ribadu himself started making mistakes and uttering unsubstantiated statements against these corrupt politicians, when he should have concrete evidence before making such statements, or backing up what he alleged with facts and evidence. For example, he said he had files on 31 governors and was ready to prosecute them, when in fact, investigations on them had not been concluded.

Ribadu, however, before he was “seconded” out of the EFCC, which he founded, took about eight former governors to court, but all these managed to be bailed and the cases are still in court after almost two years. His successor, we are told, has concluded investigations on three others and charged them to court. That Ribadu was able to charge only eight of the former governors to court even one year after they lost their immunity in spite of his open boast that he had concluded investigations on 31 of them and ready for court is an indication of his indiscretion and empty grandstanding which in no small way make the work of his successor pretty difficult, because these ex-Governors would have gone all out to destroy available evidence before they left office since he had done them a great favour by alerting them by boasting that he had done what he in truth had not done. Now these corrupt bastards are swaggering all over the place and laughing in our collective faces, boasting and causing all kinds of credibility problems for Ribadu’s successor, Mrs. Farida Waziri, another police officer. (I will come to her later)

This again makes me come back to “certainty”. Nothing is certain, because our perception of truth is different. How certain are we that the investigations conducted by the EFCC when Ribadu was the head, were thorough and water-tight? If all the evidence against these corrupt ex-governors were water-tight, why are they still walking around in freedom today? Or is it that the current EFCC head and other government officials are putting a dampener on the fight against corruption deliberately, according to some hidden political and government agenda, to frustrate this crusade?

The ordeal of Ribadu in recent times has generated a lot of debate in Nigeria, and what I can only say here is that I honestly believe that he has done his best for his country, and he should be able to hold his head very high, without persecution or threat. He has partially achieved what the majority of Nigerians wanted. However, we have to acknowledge that a man who does not make any mistakes does not make anything at all. Unfortunately, and herein lies the hypocrisy of human beings; the same people who were castigating him when he was Head of EFCC, accusing him of harassment and being used by Obasanjo, are now the same people who are trying to make him a martyr. I can mention a few instances, but I won’t. We alI know them. That tells you that we all have different and divergent agendas, and again, the truth is dependent on which side of the fence you are sitting.

Immediately after Mr. Ribadu was “seconded”, there were allegations made against him; one of such is that he had properties in Dubai and elsewhere, and that he had salted various amount of money away in some foreign banks. Of course the man denied them all, and we have not heard about these allegations since. This tells you these were spurious allegations, but somebody will tell you they were telling the truth.

Nigerians’ aversion to truth should be an academic study in itself. We find it very difficult to tell the truth, and all because of vested interest, money, power, tribalism, nepotism, intolerance and all other traits of corruption and depravity. It seems to be sub-conscious; ingrained in us. Till today, we have not heard of the findings of the House’s investigation into the power sector, where trillions of naira was allegedly mismanaged by Obasanjo’s Administration in our endless quest for energy stability. Similarly are other investigations. Even the House of Representatives is finding it extremely difficult to find the truth and tell us the real situation with the N2.3 billion allegedly spent on buying Peugeot cars for its members. It should be very simple; there are receipts, cheques, people who carried out the deal, the supplier themselves, etc. The truth will be buried and Nigerians, who are famous for their short memories, will soon forget about this. Mind you, we have been through these for ages, too numerous to recount here. Of course, we do not expect a former head of state or an ex-Governor who has stolen billions of our money to come out publicly and confess their sins (God will have to come down first); what we want and expect is somebody else to find out the truth and the authorities to deal with such misdemeanor appropriately and according to the laws of the land, but we are not even getting this.

And this now brings me to the current set-up of the EFCC. I do not believe in passing judgements on people, because I am not God, nor am I a judge. A few readers disagreed with my thinking – and of course they have the right to do so – when I called for support for the current crop of EFCC officials (“Why we should Support our Local Sheriff, the EFCC”, published in several media recently). My take on this is that the EFCC, as it stands today, faces a credibility problem because we do not really know the truth. Ever since Mrs Waziri, who came with impeccable credentials, was appointed, she has had to live with innuendos and scathing criticisms. Numerous scandals and allegations have been allotted to her and her person. She has been associated with the worst of the corrupt ex-governors and current governors. If indeed, as is the rumours going round, she was recommended and backed for the job by the likes of ex-Governor James Ibori, the current Attorney General of the Federation, Michael Aondoaaka and current Governor of Kwara State, Bukola Saraki, then she will ever continue to have credibility problems, because of the reputation, or rather, notoriety of some of these high-powered people when it comes to fighting corruption. Ibori is arguably the most corrupt ex-governor in Nigeria, we all know, even without evidence. He was an ex-convict. Michael Aondoaaka’s attitude towards fighting corruption, since coming in as this Government’s Minister for Justice and Attorney General, has been anything but inspiring. The first week he was appointed, he was already fighting Ribadu’s EFCC. He was also alleged to have represented some of the corrupt governors. His association with Mrs. Waziri is not good for her, despite the fact that they come from the same state. And as for Bukola Saraki, I don’t really have anything against him as a Governor, but the fact that his family was neck-deep in the collapse of a bank which affected many Nigerians adversely, and which the family had not even tendered an apology, not to talk of compensation.

It is with these alleged godfathers, and perhaps several other things that I do not know of, to my mind, that my very good friend of over 30 years and respected journalist, Sonola Olumhense, has been calling for the removal of Mrs. Waziri. Indeed, the head of an anti-corruption organisation should not really be associated with these unscrupulous elements, should they? I will not try to cross swords with Sonola, suffice it to ask that if Mrs. Waziri is removed now, who does the next appointment. And who are we going to get to replace her, who will not have connections with anybody in government?

The campaign of calumny against Waziri, as I will put it, reached a crescendo recently, when it was reported by Sahara Reporters that a Governor of a South-South state had bought a $500,000 Mercedes Benz jeep for Mrs Waziri. This I find to be preposterous. First I don’t see how that car can cost that much, no matter its enhancements. Second, where will Mrs Waziri drive it, cruising such an expensive car on the streets of Abuja, knowing her position and that normally she can’t afford it? Or is she going to hide it in her village and then use it after she has left office? As a Yoruba proverb asks, the thief who stole the king’s trumpet, where is he going to blow it? Third, this woman is not so stupid as to accept this kind of gift that will easily give her away, when she could easily have accepted cash, which will not be traceable. Again, the storyline of how the vehicle was driven round to parties in Abuja and Benue by the supplier before it was finally handed over to her sounds illogical to a sound mind. I therefore remain unconvinced about the veracity of this claim. The truth again, eludes us.

Having said these however, it remains for Mrs. Waziri to convince Nigerians that if indeed she is connected to these powerful figures, some of them discredited, some heavily compromised; she can still perform her role without playing to anybody’s agenda, but her own. In fairness to her, as highlighted in my article mentioned above, she has tried to do so, but Nigerians still remain unconvinced, so it seems.

My advice therefore, and this is gleaned from feedback that I receive, is that the one thing that will convince Nigerians of Mrs Waziri’s undiluted and unalloyed determination to fight corruption, and that what she has promised to do for Nigerians is not encumbered by a lot of distractive and unpleasant baggage, will be to bring three or four of the corrupt ex-governors to court, and this time obtain a prison sentence for them within the next 6 months, instead of them engaging in delay tactics. I know this is a tall order because her commission can only investigate, arrest and charge to court, it is for the judiciary to do the conviction and sentencing which makes her headache more cumbersome. We do not want to see them still walking around as if they are untouchable. This is where our judiciary needs to come in and support the work of Waziri, the EFCC and the war against graft in our nation. Nigerians want justice against those who have deprived them of a good life, good living, water, electricity, good roads, quality healthcare, education, housing, food, etc by plundering the treasury and converting our wealth into their own.

This one bold step will assure Nigerians that Yar A’dua’s government stance on fighting corruption has not been derailed by members of his government and party. And this will equally ensure that Nigerians will support the EFCC in many ways, especially with the ANCOR initiative which was launched recently, calling on members of the public to “See Something, Say Something”, a kind of whistle blowing initiative, and a call to Nigerians to give extra support to the EFCC, by empowerment. I am sure it will not be easy, but it must be done. We have to have examples made of these corrupt former executive officials. It will not only reassure us, but also serve as a deterrent to other potential common thieves whose sole reason for straying into politics or government is to defraud the Nigerian people, and there are many of such unsavoury characters currently in position or waiting in the wings, come 2011.

Other positive steps have been taken by Madam Waziri, but this is another important step to take.

Furthermore, Mrs. Waziri should do away with “plea bargaining” with these corrupt ex-Governors. Stories being printed that this is what is happening, especially with Lucky Igbinedion’s case, surely is not what Nigerians want or expect. But I think the very lenient punishment given to this thief just a few days ago has more to do with our judiciary than with the EFCC. How can someone who has stolen over $21 million made to pay a fine of only $25,000? Agreed he has been convicted, he is to refund over N500million, lose some properties and forfeit his company’s assets. This is still not enough and it is an insult to Nigerians. To allow these people to keep a large proportion of their undetermined loot and return only what they feel they should return is tantamount to just a slap on the wrist, and is not a good result for any serious agency charged with tackling corruption in Nigeria, knowing what is on the ground. It has not only set a very bad precedent, but people will continue to lose further faith in the EFCC, the Government, the Nigerian Judiciary, as well as pose a serious threat to the war against corruption, because this course of action will definitely not serve as a deterrent to others. It will also serve to further ridicule Mrs Waziri herself and erode any remaining confidence that Nigerians still have for the EFCC, not to talk of the whole country, the judiciary and Government.

Fortunately, according to the EFCC, they are going to appeal this court decision, and they had better do so, and most transparently and vigorously. Our judiciary that appears to be the major suspect in this must do everything to ensure that the EFCC’s appeal succeeds.

Finally, the moment we all recognise that corruption is deep-rooted in our society and that a war against it is not an ordinary one, the better we will be able to face the truth and be certain of who is doing what. The corrupt will not give up easily and will always fight back even more vigorously and dirtier than the anti-corruption brigade. They have the resources, the tactics, the strategies, and the power to prolong any war, and they use everybody and all means to do so. They are behind religious and ethnic riots to cover their arses or cause distractions; they can employ the very best of legal minds to defend them; they can buy judges, police, etc; they can buy the Press and journalists; they can do a lot of damage and brainwash us.

Let the truth be said always.

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