By Ben Nwabueze
IN this write-up, the word “fight” is used instead of “war” to describe the efforts to stop corruption. It is an abuse of language to call the make-belief that has been going on until now by the name war.
It is not anything remotely like a war, nor is it even a spirited fight. But whatever we call it, the fight or war, to be meaningful and successful, should be waged holistically across the lines separating successive Administrations, and should not be constrained by any dividing line between one Administration and another.
Why probe of corrupt practices should not be confined to the Jonathan administration only
Probing corrupt practices is being demanded for two main reasons. The first reason has to do with the purpose or end intended to be achieved by probing corruption.
A probe is being demanded not for the sake or fun of it, but rather as a means of stopping or eradicating corruption which, apart from Religious Divide, is the foremost factor strangulating the country. Probing just the Jonathan Administration, when there are other past Administrations equally or nearly as corrupt as, or perhaps more corrupt than, his, will not stop or eradicate corruption. It will not therefore achieve the purpose or end for which a probe is wanted; it will not even add much to the attainment of that purpose.
Probing the Jonathan Administration alone when there are other past Administrations equally or nearly as corrupt as his own is not right, proper or justified for various reasons.
(i) It is selective, and selective probe has the appearance of a vendetta aimed mainly at denigrating or demonising individuals. It discredits the exercise, and deprives it of public confidence.
The people must be made to believe in the genuineness and sincerity of the exercise if they are to give up the entrenched and rampant culture or habit of corruption. This is the factor that robbed the so-called war against corruption under the Obasanjo Administration of all credibility and effectiveness.
Indeed, the entire EFCC outfit as an agency of government and the way it was used by Obasanjo as an instrument for the harassment, persecution, victimization and repression of opponents ostensibly for corruption, while his favoured group, “the Obasanjo Boys”, as they were called, were left untouched, need to be investigated, and the EFCC itself overhauled.
There is, however, the rather strange argument that Jonathan has a “duty to have probed the [Obasanjo] government from which he took over”, and that, because he failed to do so, “Buhari has no business going to a government which is not back-to-back with him.”
The insincerity of this argument is transparent on its face. It is simply an argument of convenience or expediency, one that completely disregards the compelling need to eradicate corrupt practices, which, as earlier stated, is the raison d’etat for probing them. To begin with, from the point of view of truth, it is not correct that Jonathan took over from the Obasanjo Administration; Umaru Yar’Adua did.
More importantly, the argument conveniently disregards the inescapable reasons precluding Jonathan (and Yar’Adua too) from probing the Obasanjo Administration. All three Administrations were PDP Governments, and it seems inconceivable that one PDP Government should probe another.
Standing above all this is the circumstance that Obasanjo was the father of the PDP (albeit self-proclaimed), its leader for life and, on the cessation of his tenure as President, the Chairman of the Party’s Board of Trustees (BOT), with power to direct the PDP State Governors. It was he who chose Yar’Adua as the Party’s presidential candidate in the 2007 election, with Jonathan as his running mate, and foisted the two of them on the Party and the country. Thus, there was simply no way Jonathan (and Yar’Adua too) could have probed the Obasanjo Administration.
Yet, the existence of factors precluding Jonathan from probing the Obasanjo Administration does not remove the compelling need for such a probe.
For the PDP, as a ruling Party for 16 years (1999 – 2015), was a government characterised by so much evil, including corrupt practices and impunity, which reached their zenith during the eight years of Obasanjo’s rule.
The country yearned for deliverance, for a change from PDP rule to rule by another Party. The deliverance, the change, came with the March 2015 presidential election that flushed out the PDP, replacing it with APC as the ruling Party. (The personal characteristics of the man heading the APC Government, President Buhari, as well as those of former President Jonathan, raise an altogether different issue, which makes choosing between them a perplexing matter.)
Taking over from the PDP Government, the new APC Government is, to use the language of the argument above, “back-to-back” with the PDP Government and, by the logic of that same argument, owes it as a duty, not only to itself, but also to the Constitution and the Nigerian people to probe the corrupt practices that took place during the rule of the PDP Administration from which it took over.
It is a duty it can only shirk at the peril of disappointing the passionate expectations and aspirations of the people and thereby losing credibility in their eyes.
As to how far it should go in probing past Administrations, the limit is set by the facts on the ground, and by the magnitude and enormity of corrupt practices during each of the successive Administrations that is within common knowledge.
The Gowon Administration (1967 – 1975) has been investigated by the Mohammed/Obasanjo regime, the Shagari Administration (1979 – 1983) by the Buhari/Idiagbon regime; the Abacha Administration (1994 – 1998) by successor regimes.
That leaves the Babangida (1985 – 1993)and Abdulsalami Abubakar (1998 – 1999) regimes as the past regimes that need to be investigated, in addition of course to Obasanjo’s Administration (1999 – 2007).
(ii) Selective probe is unfair, and unjust. It is contrary to the Constitution of Nigeria which ordains in section 17(1) that “the state social order is founded on the ideals of Freedom, Equality and Justice”.
This is the principle that must inform all actions of government. It offends against Justice to probe the Jonathan Administration, and not other past Administrations equally or nearly as corrupt as, or perhaps even more corrupt than, his.
(iii)Probing the Jonathan Administration alone is not justified by the reason that there is massive and readily available evidence of corruption committed during that Administration.
No evidence of corruption is more visible and concrete than palatial houses built by past rulers, multi-billion projects like a university, a library, a mechanized farm etc. A probe will ferret out hidden evidence, which is available in various places.
(iv) Probing other past Administrations beside Jonathan’s is not a distraction, as the Presidency says. A distraction from what, one may ask?
Apart from the destructive and devastating crisis arising from the Religious Divide, nothing else is more important for the survival and development of the country, and creates more imperative necessity for change, than the eradication of corruption, as to make probing of past Administrations a distraction.
The second reason why a probe is necessary and demanded is that eradication of corruption will enable Nigeria to make a New Beginning, which is an imperative necessity if the slide to state failure is to be halted. Nigeria needs a New Beginning, a clean slate unsmeared by the prevailing rottenness due to rampant corruption.
A New Beginning requires or implies a Social and Ethical Revolution. This is a vital part of the change desired by Nigerians, and which the new APC Government under President Muhammadu Buhari is supposed to usher in. It is a duty it owes to Nigerians.
A New Beginning cannot be launched, nor can corruption be eradicated by probing just the Jonathan administration. It requires more radical action. Jerry Rawlings launched Ghana on a new beginning by the public execution of some past rulers perceived to have perpetrated corrupt practices of enormous proportions.
I do not approve of his method but the Ghanaian example does suggest that the matter requires very radical action. Until very radical and drastic action is taken to stop corruption, Nigeria cannot make a new beginning. Probing the Jonathan administration alone cannot stop corruption or even have effective impact on it and cannot therefore start Nigeria on a New Beginning.
Probing buccaneering or piratical corrupt practices otherwise called stealing or theft
Stealing or theft of crude oil or of money taken straight from the coffers of the state is a corrupt practice of a buccaneering or piratical type that cries loudly for probing, no matter under which Administration it occurred. It began with the coming of oil as the predominant source of national revenue.
Since then corruption is no longer confined to the rake-off on land, business, supplies and so on purchased on behalf of government at grossly inflated prices or licences issued or other patronages dispensed, or to the percentage on contracts awarded, or to the form which it originally took, i.e. bribery – the taking of money or other valuable thing as a condition or inducement for the performance of an official act in favour of a person or for forbearing action. But its charactisation as stealing or theft does not make it any the less a corrupt practice deserving to be probed and eradicated. Its operations straddle various past Administrations.
The Niche newspaper in its issue of Sunday 26 July, 2015 describes it as a business involving “an international syndicate of politicians, top military officials, businessmen, warlords, who use others to cover their tracks. ‘You may have to peel off four or five layers of men to get to the bottom of their operations’. The crime also involves officials of the Villa, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigeria Maritime Administration and safety Agency (NIMASA), local chiefs, militants, and petty thieves.”
At the valedictory meeting of his Federal Executive Council on 27 May, 2015 President Jonathan himself alluded to malpractices in the allocation of “our oil wells, oil fields and marginal wells” – we might add oil blocks – and asked : “Do we follow our laws when we make these allocations”.
Allocation of oil blocs
He said that a probe of these malpractices should not be confined to his Administration only but should be extended to other past Administrations as well. It is a fact well-known to many people in the country that most Nigerian billionaires and multi-millionaires acquired their wealth through the corrupt allocation of oil blocks, oil wells, oil fields and marginal wells. These corrupt allocations should be probed no matter in which Administration, Jonathan’s or some other past Administration, they occurred.
In the same valedictory speech, President Jonathan said : “The Attorney-General is aware of massive judgment debts; if we aggregate all of them it is almost US$1 billion. But how did we come to this kind of huge judgment debts? These issues should be probed”.
He obviously implied that they arose from corrupt practices going beyond his Administration. He cannot have been accusing his own Administration. But perhaps more despicable and more utterly subversive of the national interest, and which therefore calls more desperately for a probe, is the theft of money recovered from the thieves, by the very persons entrusted by statute with the duty of catching them – the EFCC and its officials. Here is a case of the authorised thief-catchers joining the thieves!! This may sound like a fable, but it is a fact of by no means infrequent occurrence, and it involves billions of naira. Only one of the many cases will suffice to illustrate this horrible phenomenon in the management of public money in Nigeria.
The case is concerned with the sale of properties found to have been corruptly acquired by former Inspector-General of Police, Tafa Balogun, and former Governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, and which, after their conviction for corruption, were forfeited to the Federal Government.
A probe of the sale revealed, according to report of its findings published in Saturday Independent of May 15, 2010, that the sale was irregularly conducted, as no proper valuation of the properties was carried out and as other requirements of due process under the law were not followed; that of the nine buyers of the Tafa Balogun properties, six, whose names were stated as limited liability companies, were in fact non-existent, as they were not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission; that the proceeds of the sale were paid into an unauthorized account, instead of into the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation as required by section 31(2) of the EFCC Act 2004; that the receipts of the lodgment of the proceeds were not deposited with the Auditor-General of the Federation in accordance with the Financial Regulation 2520; that some cheques and bank drafts received in payment of part of the proceeds of the sales were left in the vaults of the EFCC where they remained and became stale.
Above all, figures as to exactly how much was realised from the sales are conflicting, as no proper records of the sales were kept. About N12 billion, according to the probe report, was said to have been realised. The findings of the probe were thus a serious indictment of the EFCC and its officials in charge of the sales, especially its Chairman at the time, Nuhu Ribad.
Plea bargaining arrangement
Is a veil to be drawn on such buccaneering corrupt practices and other such practices perpetrated by the EFCC merely because they occurred before the Jonathan era?
Buccaneering corrupt practices or stealing also take place under the cover of plea bargaining, which, as will be explained presently, is an arrangement dictated by necessity. But it serves as a ready instrument used by the authorised thief-catchers to steal huge amounts of the stolen money they are mandated to recover.
There have been reports of culprits complaining that the amounts stated in the plea bargaining documents are much less than what they surrendered to government under the plea bargaining arrangement. The difference is taken by the authorized thief-catchers for themselves.
This is what makes plea bargaining suspect to the public, who are unable to understand the whole idea of the arrangement, and why a thief of public money, after an admission of, or conviction for, the theft, should be allowed to keep part of the money.
The arrangement is resorted to because in most of the cases of stolen money, the money is in bank accounts in foreign countries whose laws do not permit withdrawals or other dealings in the bank accounts concerned without the authorisation of the account owner, which makes the cooperation of the latter a condition for the Nigerian government getting access to the money or any part of it.
Hence the necessity for plea bargaining. There seems to be pretty little that can be done to stop this type of stealing, but it should nevertheless be probed.
Constraints on President Buhari probing other past Administrations beside Jonathan’s.
President Buhari probing other past Administrations in addition to Jonathan’s is constrained by two main factors. One, with perhaps more constraining force, is the existence of a group known as “the invisible government of Nigeria”, whose existence and activities with respect to governance in Nigeria are not known to many people, because it operates stealthily. Hence it is called “the invisible government”.
They, together with other reactionary oligarchic elements opposed to democratic rule, manipulate governmental affairs, unseen, from behind the scene.
Nigeria must be one of the few democracies in the world, outside Africa, where retired military officers, with oligarchic outlook and interest, wield such great influence in government as well as in the political process after transition to democratic rule.
This clearly augurs ill for democracy in the country. The country deserves to be left alone to pursue its experimentation with constitutional democracy free from the retarding influence of retired military men.
This group, whose most notable members are former Military President Ibrahim Babangida and Gen Abdulsalam Abubakar, both of whom were former Heads of the Federal Military Government, had declared support for Gen. Buhari in the March 2015 presidential election, as reported in the Vanguard Newspaper of Tuesday 20 January, 2015.
Their rank and influence have been augmented by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, self-proclaimed father of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the progenitor of god-fatherism in Nigeria, who has now left the party after declaring and vowing that it will rule the country in perpetuity. The constraint on President Buhari in probing the Administrations of these three past rulers is near insurmountable, but it is better to admit it openly than to call such a probe a distraction or to hide under some other argument based on expediency or convenience.
The other factor comes from a group of die-hard Islamists determined to impose Islamic (Sharia) system of government on Nigeria – a theocracy, such as the Caliphate and Sultanate systems and other dictatorial forms – and to whom a New Beginning for Nigeria and the Liberal Democracy it implies is anathema.
We will wait and see how President Buhari can overcome these constraints on his powers, and betray the sponsors of his election to the presidency.
Constraints on his power
Now about the law on corrupt practices, their adequacy or otherwise, and how unswervingly or resolutely they have been enforced or implemented by successive past Administrations with a view to the accomplishment of their set objective, i.e. the eradication of corruption. This dictates an investigation across the board.
The laws on corrupt practices and their enforcement or implementation
(i) Adequacy of the laws on corrupt practices
The laws on corrupt practices are quite adequate. They come from three different sources, viz the common law, the Constitution and the statute law.
As regards the common law, it is a well-established principle of our law, laid down in decided cases, that an employer, public or private, has a right to the money or property acquired by his employee by means of corruption or abuse of office.
This is not strictly forfeiture, as the term is commonly understood as connoting a penalty for crime. The right of the employer at common law, though often referred to as forfeiture, is intended, not to punish (i.e. penalty), but to provide a method of recovering the money easier and quicker than the process of forfeiture as penalty for crime under the statute law.
Of the various anti-corruption laws, the Constitution is the most far-reaching in the generality of public servants covered and the amplitude of its provisions on the matter. By section 172 (section 209 in the case of a State) “a person in the public service of the Federation shall observe and conform to the Code of Conduct.”