So much has been said over the years about corruption being my country’s middle name that it takes will power to bare one’s chest in condemnation of what many people have come to accept as our way of life. But I am convinced as the Austrian writer Karl Kraus was, that “Corruption is worse than prostitution. The latter might endanger the morals of an individual; the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire country”.
Nigeria is in mortal danger of being shredded beyond repair by the transparent thievery of its ruling elite; ‘transparent’ because they no longer bother to cover their tracks. They do it in your face. They know they will get away with it either through the novel fraud called ‘plea bargain’ or through an understanding with the prosecutors which ensures that the case is eventually thrown out for lack of diligent prosecution. Add to this the no-longer-muffled allegations of corruption in the judiciary and you can see that Nigeria is the haven of the corrupt.
Remember the Halliburton scandal? In different parts of the world some former officials of that company are counting beans seeds in various jails but in Nigeria various stratagems are being put in place to destroy the case via technicalities. After the case was struck out by Justice Abubakar Umar, the government reportedly said it would appeal. The scheme was so blatant that Femi Falana, one of the more respectable attorneys plying their trade in the land, had to cry out. Smelling a rat, Falana warned, “The reported plan of the government to file an appeal against the high court order which struck out the case is a provocative design to pull wool over the eyes of Nigerians. There is no basis for an appeal when the case can be re-filed so that it can commence once the witnesses are instructed to attend the trial court and give evidence for the prosecution.”
If the government did not want to re-file the case, Falana suggested an alternative: “The Nigerian Bar Association should be asked to assemble a team of experienced prosecutors to take over the prosecution of the case….” He added, “Whereas some of the suspects had made confessional statements and refunded huge sums of money, the prosecution suddenly developed cold feet. The seven prosecution witnesses (four SSS operatives, two NIA officials and one EFCC investigator) repeatedly failed to turn up in court since the trial was programmed to fail ab initio. Such brazen manipulation of the criminal justice system at the highest level of the State should not be allowed to go without a serious challenge.”
Indeed, Falana is quite right. When criminal behaviour goes unpunished, perpetrating evil becomes attractive.
Former Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Oceanic Bank PLC, Mrs Cecilia Ibru was convicted of fraud, money laundering and mismanagement of depositors’ funds. She was sentenced to six months imprisonment with a forfeiture of N150 billion. Ex-Governor James Ibori was apparently more adroit at the game. He played hide-and-seek with the judicial system here only to meet his waterloo in the UK. The same set of allegations and evidence were deployed. Apparently what is regarded as a crime in the UK is the requisite qualification for lionization in Nigeria.
Ibori is not alone in the club of redoubtable judicial acrobats. His colleague, Lucky Igbinedion, former governor of Edo State is luckier. Igbinedion was discharged by the Federal High Court sitting in Benin in the 66-count charge of money laundering and corruption brought against him and others by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). He had reportedly arranged a plea bargain with the EFCC in which he would pay back a slice of his loot and forfeit some of his properties to government in return for freedom. Today, Igbinedion strut the streets like a conqueror.
Critics say plea bargain largely amounts to a miscarriage of justice, going by the Nigerian experience so far because it tends to give undue advantage to defendants. They cite such cases that involved a former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun and some prominent politicians. The clear message being sent to Nigerians is that it is okay to loot the treasury as long as you are prepared to return some of the loot to the state and share some of the rest with the relevant officials prosecuting the case. Chief Justice Dahiru Musdapher describes the plea-bargain system as “a novel concept of dubious origin,” insisting that “it was invented to provide soft landing to high profile criminals who loot the treasury entrusted to them.” Damn right, CJN!
Recently Erastus Akingbola, former Chief Executive of Intercontinental Bank, was discharged by the courts for want of diligent prosecution by the EFCC. Juxtapose that with the thousands of cases of Awaiting Trial Inmates of our prisons most of whom are victims of lack of diligent prosecution and you would understand the game. No judge has bothered to throw out the cases against the wretched of our earth on account of lack of diligent prosecution. It is a benefit accessible to only the rich.
Reviewing the trend recently, Denja Yaqub, Assistant General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress, said “the recent discharge of Erastus Akingbola, Tony Elumelu, and Dimeji Bankole, exposes the rottenness of the corruption-filled judicial system in Nigeria. If the judiciary can’t stand on credible standards in any society, the society is doomed and that explains why Nigeria has remained rickety and obviously crumbling”.
Nigeria is believed to have lost more than $400 billion as a result of corruption between 1960 and 1999. One of the latest numbing revelations of looting is the celebrated N32.8 billion police pension fund scam. A few individuals conspired to rob pensioners of the fruit of their labour. This is Armageddon, nothing short. What rankles more than anything else is the thought that the guilty will walk away free at the end of all the stage-managed hoopla. What are we doing to this much pilloried country?
Famous German political foundation, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), recently expressed surprise over how Ibori, managed to escape justice on the multibillion naira fraud charge slammed on him. Indeed, most Nigerians believe that the third arm of government, like the executive and the legislature, is now dominated by individuals of low moral fibre. Who was it that said “Corruption is authority plus monopoly minus transparency”?
How do Nigerians feel about all these? The word on the streets is that our dear country has been hijacked by bandits and that nothing short of a people’s revolution can stem the haemorrhaging of our national coffers. One commentator said: “We are all wasting our time. Nigeria is so bad that nothing will happen to any of the thieves being prosecuted. Ibori made a mistake travelling out; he should have stayed here to arrange his freedom as other ex-governors who looted the treasury are doing. The important thing is to steal enough so that you will have enough to bargain with.”
As if that view was not dismal enough, one blog site commentator, apparently an Akingbola acolyte, lampooned the EFCC and argued that the anti-corruption body ought to apologise to the ex-banker for arraigning him and “trying to spoil his good name”. He also demanded that Intercontinental Bank be returned to Akingbola and his position as chief executive restored!
At times you don’t know whether to laugh or cry!
Wole Olaoye Monday