18 June 2012

Nigeria: N2.6 Trillion Heist - Does the President Know it's an Impeachable Offence?


Last week's scandal involving Hon. Farouk Lawan and Femi Otedola made several people sick. I cannot remember the number of calls I received, especially from many friends who live in faraway Lagos and who wonder the kind of life people in Abuja live.

Many were depressed and only called so that I could tell them the whole story was not true. I disappointed all of them because I didn't have such powers. I got a hint of the story several days before it got public. I was not sad, not disappointed and didn't lose sleep.

I have been in Abuja long before 1999 when Obasanjo started "fighting" corruption by sharing bribes in the National Assembly. I also know how he shared bribes in the National Assembly in order to procure a third term. So I understand exactly how Abuja works, especially since the coming of PDP governments in 1999.

My only surprise is that Farouk would be so naive in this very high-profile probe. I wonder why he would not be aware that the Jonathan government, which had become very desperate in its bid to discredit the very good job that his committee had done in unravelling one of the biggest heists in this country's history, would do everything to entrap him.

It is even more annoying because some of his closest friends had intimated him that such schemes were afoot. He even assured such friends that there was no need to worry as he would not fall so cheaply. But he did, and even much more cheaply than his friends, including this writer, had envisaged.

Farouk, who had built a career in politics anchored on integrity (remember he is the leader of The Integrity Group), may have shot himself beyond recovery; but the main issue still remains the theft of N2.6 trillion, which, like the GSM revolution, would have changed this country forever.

In the last 10 years since the GSM revolution started, the four GSM companies have invested slightly more than N1 trillion in the Nigerian economy, less than a half of the money that has been stolen. So you can begin to imagine the damage that these thieves have done to Nigeria.

But this discussion would now have to shift from those who stole the money to President Jonathan under whose watch the offence was committed. If the amount that was appropriated for subsidy payments in 2011 was N245 billion and Jonathan ended up paying N2.6 trillion, which amounts to 900 per cent more, does he know that he can be removed as president for this violation?

Indeed, does the president even know that this is a grievous offence? And, for that matter, a grave felony against the Federal Republic of Nigeria? From the way the president has treated the matter so far, he doesn't appear to know. In a democracy, even a president cannot be above the law. Democracy is built on the grundnorm of the rule of law.

The Nigerian constitution envisages that, even for crimes smaller than the theft of a humongous N2.6trillion, a president can be removed from office. So far, nobody has said that the president himself stole the money but if he is trying to protect thieves, then, he could be guilty of being an accessory during or after the fact, and this should not happen to the president of a democratic country.

The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria envisages that a governor or president can be impeached on being found guilty of a misdemeanour, but the theft of N2.6trillion is much more than a misdemeanour. It is a felony.

Indeed, is the National Assembly, comprising both the Senate and the House of Representatives, aware that the burden is clearly on it to ask the president why he has allowed such sharing of money, far above what was approved for him for subsidy payments in the 2011 budget? Or, were they part of the sharing?

Unless both the Senate president and the speaker of the House of Representatives were beneficiaries of the loot, there would be no reason why the president should not be asked to explain why he countenanced the theft of such a huge amount that would have made a difference in the lives of Nigerians.

Someone said the president is too soft and too kind and that is why he has not been able to deal with the thieves. Well, such kindness is impeachable. Any type of kindness that would condone the stealing of N2.6 trillion of the people's money should be "impeached" immediately before permanent damage is done to the country.

In the year 2011 that the amount was stolen, the police received less than 10 per cent of their appropriated budget. Ditto for all other security agencies. Should we then be surprised that that was the year terrorism, armed robbery and kidnapping flourished in the country? This is only one damage that was done.

That same year also, no single medicine was bought in the nation's public hospitals and nothing happened in the agriculture and education ministries. In fact, as I write this piece, the federal government is finding it difficult to pay salaries and meet several of its obligations.

Is it not obvious that all of us quickly need to save this country from the level of theft of public funds that is currently going on?

Those who say that the president is involved in a grand cover-up of the felons do have a point. Is it not curious that Hon. Farouk who was set up by the Jonathan government in a bribery scandal of less than N100 million would be arrested and detained but not a single person involved in the N2.6 trillion heist has even been invited by the security agencies? Who is fooling whom?

If President Obasanjo had been impeached, he would not have had the opportunity to inflict the kind of damage he did on the country, which we are yet to recover from. And if Atiku Abubakar, who would have taken over from him, had also been impeached on account of his implication in the PTDF mess, say, our democracy would have stabilised by now.

Indeed, if Obasanjo had been impeached, he would not have been in a position to impose a terminally-ill president on the nation. And if section 144 of the constitution had been invoked when former President Yar'Adua was sick and incapacitated and no one knew where in the world he was, President Jonathan would not, today, be so comfortable after his government had criminally shared N2.6 trillion to assorted thieves in one year alone. If nothing happens to anyone after this looting madness, then, only God can tell what will befall our democracy.

If President Jonathan does not proceed to prosecute those who stole the nation's N2.6 trillion, it would be in order to commence impeachment proceedings against him, and it would be in accordance with the spirit of the Nigerian constitution.

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