I felt the need to write this article because of what happened in London last week when ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo came visiting to brief the world press on his peace mission in Central Africa. Although I did not attend, I read and learnt that the briefing was marred by protesters, mostly Nigerians, who do not feel Obasanjo is morally right to be accorded such honour as overseeing and bringing about peace to another African country with regards to his own dismal performance as President of Nigeria for eight tortuous, but eventful years. Eggs and rotten tomatoes were allegedly thrown at him and I think he finally got the message that he is not the most popular of Nigerian leaders. I had written some time ago that Obasanjo was always fond of not taking responsibility for anything (An Abject Abdication of Responsibility) I have been proven right almost a year later.
During a subsequent interview with the BBC, he must have been exasperated by the questions thrown mercilessly at him to explain himself on allegations of his government being very corrupt, that he burst out “I’m Ready For Trial – (Nigerian Tribune, 20.03.2009).
I thus would like to comment on some of the issues thrown up by him, and I have therefore broken them down as he was reported to have answered some questions and tried to draw my own opinions from the ex-President’s answers.
“FORMER President Olusegun Obasanjo on Thursday vehemently declared that he was not corrupt and that he was ready to face trial if found culpable of corruption”.
My views and opinions on this outburst by our former president is that we should take him up on his offer to subject himself to a probe. He has thrown down the gauntlet to the authorities. And in fairness to him and to Nigerians, let Obasanjo prove to the world that he himself, personally, was not corrupt. It the least he could do or say under the circumstances.
Was it just righteous indignation or was he being sincere? History and posterity surely will be the best judge of him. At the risk of sounding sanctimonious and being accused of being in support of Obasanjo, I have always been of the conviction that on the balance of probability, Obasanjo might not have been personally corrupt in the sense that he was dipping his hands in the treasury, however, there are three issues that made him culpable and which as a leader, he cannot absolve himself of:
One is that as the elected and recognised head of the nation, it was his absolute and moral responsibility to ensure that his government was not corrupt; that the people he had around him either as Ministers, Aides, legislature, and judiciary and even the state and local government executives were not corrupt. The buck should always stop at his desk. He has to be help responsible for anything that goes wrong. A leader is always held responsible for the actions of his followers. Right now, we are seeing the fall-out from his eight-year administration (many ex-governors from his party are known to have looted their states’ treasuries; power probes, scandals upon scandals, etc) that has even led a leader as knowingly corrupt as Babangida to be labelling Obasanjo’s administration as worse than his own in terms of corruption. Even the Abacha clan are saying the same thing.
Secondly, the fact that Obasanjo imposed Umar Yar ‘Adua on the country cannot be denied. This in itself is political corruption. Obasanjo supervised the most unfair elections in the history of Nigeria, both in 2003 and 2007. It is on record and we are also seeing the fallout, with governors, new and existing forced out of office now and again. This is a blot on any good intentions he might have. Also linked with this political corruption was Obasanjo’s attempt to get a Third Term in office, against the rules of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He heated up the polity so much with this ill-thought, ill-advised idea, that it was a wonder the country did not break up.
Third, he had eight long years to turn this country around, despite the fact that previous military regimes had virtually ruined the country. When he was elected, he swore before God and Man to do his best for Nigeria and Nigerians; eight years later, Nigerians discovered they had been had, nothing changed for them, yet Obasanjo’s acolytes and followers had become billionaires. Obasanjo failed to take action against the corrupt excesses of his favourites (or maybe his errand boys and girls) like Peter Odili (Obasanjo almost allowed him to become the President of this country), James Ibori (the consummate thief is now a power behind the ruling party and the Presidency itself), Andy Uba, Lamidi Adedibu, Tony Anenih, Bode George, and many other party officials and executives. He allowed Chief Adedibu to virtually bring Ibadan and Oyo State to their knees. These are all political corruption of the highest order. And OBJ was responsible and culpable.
Culpability descends from the Latin concept of fault (culpa), which is still found today in the phrase mea culpa (literally, “my own fault”). In explanations and predictions of human action and inaction, culpability is a measure of the degree to which an agent, such as a person, can be held morally or legally responsible. Culpability is defined as deserving of blame or censure as being wrong, evil, improper, or injurious.
From a legal perspective, culpability describes the degree of one’s blameworthiness in the commission of a crime or offense. Except for strict liability crimes, the type and severity of punishment often follow the degree of culpability.
Legal definitions (Wikipedia) of culpability are:
1. A person acts intentionally with respect to a material element of an offence when:
a. if the element involves the nature of his conduct or a result thereof, it is his conscious object to engage in conduct of that nature or to cause such a result; and
b. if the element involves the attendant circumstances, he is aware of the existence of such circumstances or he believes or hopes that they exist.
2. A person acts knowingly with respect to a material element of an offense when:
a. if the element involves the nature of his conduct or the attendant circumstances, he is aware that his conduct is of that nature or that such circumstances exist; and
b. if the element involves a result of his conduct, he is aware that it is practically certain that his conduct will cause such a result.
3. A person acts recklessly with respect to a material element of an offense when he consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that, considering the nature and intent of the actor’s conduct and the circumstances known to him, its disregard involves a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the actor’s situation.
4. A person acts negligently with respect to a material element of an offense when he should be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that the actor’s failure to perceive it, considering the nature and intent of his conduct and the circumstances known to him, involves a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would ob
serve in the actor’s situation.
• A person causes a result purposely/intentionally if the result is his/her goal in doing the action that causes it,
• A person causes a result knowingly if he/she knows that the result is virtually certain to occur from the action he/she undertakes,
• A person causes a result recklessly if he/she is aware of and disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk of the result occurring from the action, and
• A person causes a result negligently if there is a substantial and unjustifiable risk he/she is unaware of but very much should be aware of.
The first two types of culpability are each a subset of the following. Thus if someone acts purposely, they also act knowingly. If someone acts knowingly, they also act recklessly.
With these legal definitions, Obasanjo cannot possibly absolve himself of any corrupt practices committed during his tenure, by his Government, by his Ministers, by his party chiefs and supporters, by his Governors, whether they belong to his party or not, because he knew, or should know, all that was going on within his country. He was the Commander-In-Chief after all, and he must be held responsible for their actions.
“Chief Obasanjo, who was answering questions on the British Broadcasting Corporation interview programme Hard Talk, said he is the only former president in Nigeria that has ever been investigated by the two anti-corruption agencies in Nigeria”.
Here I will agree with the Balogun of Otta. Why should Obasanjo be the only former President of Nigeria being investigated? What about Babangida? What about Abdulsalaam? Even what about the shameless Earnest Shonekan? And if we are going to investigate past presidents, why not all former Governors, both military and civilians? I acknowledge that investigating all these will pose logistical and resource problems e.g. lost and stale evidence, manpower, etc, but if we are going to crucify Obasanjo, then we must also crucify former heads of state like Babangida and Abdulsalaam. Unfortunately, Abacha was disposed of, but at least we knew what he did.
This is my take on this issue. Obasanjo must not be singled out for investigation, prosecution or whatever. Babangida and Abdulsalaam must be brought to justice too. Maybe even as far back as Jack Gowon, Shehu Shagari and Buhari. At least to prove which of them was not corrupt.
We all know impractical these exercises will be and the futility of it, so let us forget it and let God and history be these people’s judge.
Describing BBC Stephen Sackur’s allegation that he was a corrupt leader as an insult, said “when you allege you must have facts.” He stated that it was under his government that three ministers and a senate leader were arrested and prosecuted for corruption: “What else do you want?” Obasanjo queries.
I disagree with Obasanjo on this issue. In eight years of flagrant corruption, which he must not say he was not aware, to bring only three ministers, a senate leader, one police chief, two or three governors arrested and prosecuted can hardly be counted as phenomenal success, can it? Three ministers and a senate leader in eight years, when up to 36 governors, 40-something ministers and hundreds of top civil servants and Board chairpersons, government agencies like Customs, NNPC, PHCN, NDDC were actively salting away billions of our money, not to talk of hundreds of local government Chairpersons and others? And even after prosecution, these thieves got away with very light sentences which were no more than slaps on the wrist. No, OBJ, we want more! “What else do we want”, you asked? Indeed, Sir, that simply was not enough, and even then, those that you mentioned were only the tips of the iceberg. How much did they steal and were recovered compared to what their ilk walking around free today stole?
OBJ, Nigerians want justice, prosecutions, prison sentences, and even probably the death penalty for some of these thieves, who have made the lives of their fellow countrymen a living hell on earth. Nigerians want examples made of them to deter others permanently so that they know government money is not meant for government house. To make them know that they MUST be working for us, and not stealing from our collective, God-given wealth, and condemning us to poverty, disease, hunger, helplessness and death.
On his daughter, Iyabo, who is being investigated for alleged corrupt practices, Chief Obasanjo said she’s not been convicted. Asked if he will take responsibility for Iyabo, Obasanjo said, “I beg your pardon, she is a 42-year-old woman and can take responsibility for herself. You are insulting me, can you say that to a European leader?
Yes, Obasanjo could not legally be held responsible for his wayward daughter’s crimes. Like he rightly said, that woman is a 42-year old woman, who is supposed to be in her husband’s house (if she is) and not be dictated to by her father. However, Obasanjo can always advise her. And this is where his paternal and moral irresponsibility comes in. Today, at almost 53, I am still taking advice from my Mum, and if my father was alive, I would still be deferring to him and taking his advice. Obasanjo could have done the same. Iyabo took very great advantage of being the president’s daughter for eight ignoble years. If her father had not been the president, I doubt if anybody would have heard of her. After all, where was she all these years before she became a Senator? And instead of being humble as a First Daughter, she was throwing her weight about, getting involved in unwholesome corrupt practices and generally giving herself and family a bad name and press. Is that a responsible or good daughter? However, I cannot pronounce judgement on her, because each family to its own.
The problem remains that Iyabo has not been convicted despite admitting to many corrupt practices. When will that ever happen? She is still in the Senate, attending parties all over the place, and even being considered for the gubernatorial race in Ogun State come 2011. (See my article “Iyabo Obasanjo is Not Guilty; We Are“)
And Sir, you are very wrong on the issue of this kind of question being addressed to a European leader. The freedom of the press and general Human Rights that exist in Europe these days is such that journalists and even individuals can ask their leaders almost anything. That is freedom and transparency for you. The leader now has the prerogative to answer or not, truthfully or not, but we, the people, have a right to ask the leaders what they are doing for us, about us and against us. Asking you if you are responsible for your wayward daughter is quite in order. All you have to do is say No or Yes, or not answer at all.
This is the way I see Obasanjo’s outburst and feeble defence. He still needs to convince us that he was not corrupt – and believe me – that will be very difficult, but not impossible, for him to do.
It really is very simple. For his own sake, I sincerely hope Obasanjo can, otherwise his name will be vilified for centuries to come as the man whom God gave several chances to deliver his people, but failed to take the rare opportunities that God gave him. That is a sin.