Former President Goodluck Jonathan, had in one of his interactions with the press, stated that, “stealing is not corruption.” He later explained his statement above thus, ‘what was perceived as corruption were mere cases of petty stealing by government officials’. Both statements riled many Nigerians and observers of the anomie, crass aggrandizement, larceny, misappropriation, subterfuge, deceit, and wanton stealing that characterized governance in the last 16 years. President Jonathan in trying to defend what went on under his watch tried to confuse Nigerians about what they perceived. That incident surreptitiously emboldened all those who were stealing Nigeria blind, as the person who should otherwise be very worried became their greatest cheerleader. That to me was the lowest point of the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
Corruption is evil. It is the reason patients die in Nigerian hospitals. It is the reason we have death traps as roads. It is the reason students graduating from our universities are half baked. It is the reason we have fake drugs. Our boarders are porous because of corruption. Our ports are also porous because of corruption. The oil giant NNPC with our refineries do not function well because of corruption. In fact, the Nigerian experiment has been a mirage because of corruption. It is this evil that is destroying our corporate existence. It is, in fact, ‘a crime against humanity.”
The United States circuit court in the case of U.S. V. Johnson (C.C) 20 Fed.082, defined corruption as, illegality; a vicious and fraudulent intention to evade the prohibitions of the law. The act of an official or fiduciary person who unlawfully and wrongfully uses his station or character to procure some benefit for himself or for another person, contrary to duty and the rights of others.
Stealing or theft has been variously defined by the Legal Dictionary, as, ‘a criminal act in which property belonging to another is taken without that person’s consent.
The term in a broader sense encompasses forms of deceitful taking of property, including swindling, embezzlement, and false pretenses. In generic terms, it includes all crimes in which a person intentionally and fraudulently takes personal property of another without permission or consent and with the intent to convert it to the taker’s use.’
In the two definitions above there are recurring decimals. These decimals include, illegality, viciousness, fraudulent intention, unlawfully, wrongfully, embezzlement, false pretenses, without permission or consent, conversion and more. These words aptly describe what has been going on in Nigeria. By whatever name that it’s called, it is antithetical to our existence as a nation and destroys the fabric of our human existence.
The problem of corruption in Nigeria is as old as the nation itself. It is a problem that has a lot to do with the foundation and structure of the nation. The Colonialists who amalgamated Northern and Southern Nigeria in 1914 created ethnic enclaves and power bases. Emerging political parties were more of ethnic parties than national parties. The National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroun’s (NCNC), which had a national outlook failed in its bid to win national acceptance. The enthronement of ethnic leaders gave rise to a ruling class which saw Nigeria as a cow to be milked dry. Chief Obafemi Awolowo the late erudite leader of western Nigerian described Nigeria’s’ corrupt situation thus,
‘Since independence, Nigerian governments have been a matter of few holding the cow for the strongest and most cunning to milk. Under those circumstances, everybody runs over everybody to make good at the expense of others’.
Such wanton disregard for the common good, a system of self-aggrandizement and crass individualism, was one of the reasons that gave rise to the first military coup in Nigeria. Since then and after the civil war, Nigeria has had several governments each bogged down by corruption. The only period that Nigeria experienced some relief from corruption (which was very short lived) was the 20-month rule of the Generals Buhari and Idiagbon administration. The experiences of that period coupled with the level of impunity that had become the norm in all previous administrations of the past sixteen years moved Nigerians to give General Buhari, a chance to rule Nigeria again.
Another factor that has militated against the fight for a corrupt free Nigeria is greed. Nigerians are by nature very egotistical. Their vain and vile nature pushes their greed to unimaginable levels. The out do themselves in their pursuit of vanities. Profligate Governors buy private jets to fly to Abuja and junket around the world while their citizens wallow in hunger and deprivation. They send their children to schools in London and Switzerland while our universities are denied basic learning infrastructures. News is coming out about civil servants, who own mansions in Abuja, London and Dubai, which their salaries cannot afford. Our Senators have rejected a pay cut to their nauseating allowances, because the cow must die before the stop milking it. This malaise can also be found among Nigerians who are not in Government. The YouTube and other social Media platforms are littered with videos of Nigerian weddings in far away Dubai. Why would somebody whose daily life is in a Nigerian city move a wedding party to Dubai, if not to show off and exhibit vanity? We have made ourselves the butt of jokes around the world because of our stupid lifestyles. Such display of wealth can only come from ill-gotten money, for those who suffered to acquire wealth through dint of hard work, exhibit a great level of decorum and restraint in their actions.
Weak legal structures have aided and abetted corruption. Nigeria’s legal system is filled up with laws, yet the observance of the rule of law stricto senso is nonexistent. Economic and Financial Crimes Commission EFCC, has been described, ‘as catch and release” institution. I am anxiously waiting to see when one ex-governor will go to jail. Their immunities have been removed. There was a case of a governor who was released on bail and was sworn in outside his state so as to cover him with immunity. He is now a serving senator! In the United States Governor Blagojevich of the state of Illinois, is serving a jail sentence for merely trying to sell the senatorial sit that President Obama vacated when he became President. That will be a nonissue in Nigeria.
Our lawyers use every available legal trick in the book to try to keep their clients away from trial. There have been cases of Senior Advocates, fighting themselves in court in a bid to represent corrupt politicians and share in their loot. It’s a common sight today, to enter a court where a political or election trial is going on and see about five or more Senior Advocates of Nigeria, representing one politician. Such actions by senior members of the bar take away from the reverence and regard to which ministers in the temple of justice should have.
In the same vein, are they so-called “millionaire judges”, umpires who have thrown themselves into the ring and become contenders. They Nigerian judges have become lords unto themselves. The rule of law which among other things espouses, the right to a fair hearing by an unbiased judge, giving the litigant an opportunity to present their grievances has become a mirage. Attempts to fight corruption through the courts have become an exercise in futility. This sorry state of affairs in the Nigerian judiciary should be of great concern to the bar and the bench. We are fortunate to have an academic, a seasoned lawyer and a senior advocate of Nigeria as our Vice President. Hopefully, he can use his good offices to begin to gradually enthrone some level of accountability within our legal system.
Reports of the levels of alleged corruption that Nigeria experienced during the last administration, if news reports and statements by the ruling party (APC) are anything to go bye, are mind boggling. They include the following:
1. $2.2 billion illegally withdrawn from Excess Crude Oil Account of which $1bn supposedly approved by President Jonathan to fund his reelection campaign without the knowledge of the National Economic Council made up of State Governors and the President & Vice President
2. NEITI discovered $11.6 bn was missing from Nigeria LNG Company Dividend Payments
3. 60 million barrels of oil valued at $13.7bn was stolen under the watch of the national oil giant, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation from 2009 to 2012
4. NEITI indicates losses due to crude swaps due to subsidy and domestic crude allocation from 2005 to 2012 indicated that $11.63bn had been paid to the NNPC but that “there is no evidence of the money being remitted to the federation account.”
5. Diversion of 60% of $1bn foreign loans obtained from the Chinese by the Ministry of Finance.
6. Massive scam in weapons and defense procurements, and misuse of 3 trillion naira defense budget since 2011 under the guise of fighting Boko Haram.
7. Diversion of $2.2 million vaccination medicine fund, by Ministry of Health.
8. Diversion of Ebola fight fund up to 1.9bn naira.
9. NIMASA Fraud under investigation by EFCC, inclusive of accusation of funding PDP and buying a small piece of land for 13 billion naira
10. Ministry of Finance led by Okonjo Iweala hurried payment of $2.2 million to health ministry contractor in disputed invoices
11. NDDC scams and multifarious scams including 2.7 billion naira worth of contracts that does not confirm to Public Procurement Act.
12. Police Service Commission Scam investigated by ICPC that revealed misappropriation of over 150 million naira related to election-related trainings.
It should be noted that these are allegations and unless and until, individuals and corporate institutions involved in these alleged crimes have been passed through a thorough legal processes, they remain what they are allegations. I do trust the administration of President Buhari, who was voted in by Nigerians to clean the Augean stable, will do what is right by Nigerians and bring to justice anyone found guilty by our courts.
It is very obvious that if we do not as a country destroy corruption, corruption will destroy us. That will be a sad day. This new administration should therefore holistically, begin to address all the factors that encourage corruption. Ethnicity as the basis of our corporate existence should be jettisoned. The President should critically look at the structure that encourages ethnicity. Systems like the state of origin, quota system, and federal character should be reappraised. These doctrines should be abolished if we are to have a true federal structure. Tribal and ethnic irredentists, who remind us always about our differences should be told in very clear terms, that in this new Nigeria led by President Buhari, this President belongs to every Nigerian. He said so very clearly in his inaugural address and Nigerians believe him.If there are aspects of the reports of the last national conference that will move us closer to a more egalitarian society, such should be included in the Presidents’ plan.
I will fully endorse the creation of a Recovery and Corruption court or in the alternative empowering the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), with necessary manpower and backing to pursue and prosecute public servants and all those who abate them. Such courts will be a given a time limit within which a matter must be concluded. A delay of justice to Nigerians in these cases amount to a denial. We can no longer afford such denials.
I cannot stress enough the advantages of a paradigm shift, which can be accomplished through a concerted effort geared towards the reorientation of the mindset of the average Nigerian. I recall the effect of the jingles adopted by the WAR AGAINST INDISCIPLINE (WAI) creators. Its effect was contagious. Nigerians began to demand accountability from each other. Respect of the common space returned. Those who belonged to the past and will attempt to jump queues were immediately reminded, that no one was above the law. Society began to guard and guide itself. Normalcy began to return. It was painful, as the old dog will always resist new tricks, but surely but gradually sanity returned. Nigerians remember that period with nostalgia. That was one of the major reasons they voted for this President. The good aspects of the programs that helped in the past to give Nigerians some sense of dignity should be employed in our search for a corrupt free society.
In the final analysis, and to clear any ambiguities and confusion generated by the former Presidents definition, corruption is stealing and stealing is corruption. Let those who live by holding down our common cow to be milked by a few as per Chief Obafemi.Awolowo desists or forever face eternal condemnation. The President should not be deterred in bringing to justice culprits of the past sixteen years. If we are not resolute in trying cases of corruption nobody will take us seriously. This fight must be very inclusive. Nobody should be above the law. Fortunately both the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Peoples Congress (APC) are solidly behind the President in this effort. Nigerians deserve this chance at renewal.
Nwachukwu Okafor, a Lawyer and Policy Analyst, wrote from Cary, North Carolina