Daily Trust (Abuja)

4 February 2013

Nigeria: State Protection for the Looters of Nigeria

opinion

In her Convocation Lecture to the University of Nigeria ten days ago, former Minister for Education, Oby Ezekwesili pointed out that "the more we earned from oil, the larger the population of poor citizens: 17.1 million in 1980, 34.5 million in 1985, 39.2 million in 1992, 67.1 million in 1996, 68.7 million in 2004 and 112.47 million in 2010!" Her core argument was that we are multiplying the percentage of the poor in our society because resources are being looted and are not invested in productive sectors of the economy, including higher education.

Nigerian governments are displaying an incredibly high level of profligacy. To illustrate the second point, she drew attention to some interesting numbers such as "the squandering of the significant sum of $45 Billion in foreign reserve account and another $22 Billion in the Excess Crude Account being direct savings from increased earnings from oil that the Obasanjo administration handed over to the successor government in 2007. Six years after the administration I served handed over such humongous national wealth to another one; most Nigerians but especially the poor continue to suffer the effects of failing public health and education systems as well as decrepit infrastructure and battered institutions. One cannot but ask, what exactly does Nigeria seek to symbolize and convey with this level of brazen misappropriation of public resources?" This statement has earned her fury from the Jonathan Administration who appears to believe that Nigerians who had been previously in government have no right to speak truth to power. I do hope that Madam "Due Process" does not get intimidated and shuts up. I follow her tweets "Public Policy 101" where she campaigns for the importance of transparency and accountability as well as the importance of investments in the productive sectors of the economy. She has useful lessons to our nation and her right to speak should be protected.

Many countries that were in a similar position to Nigeria forty years ago are today economically advanced precisely because they have been able to invest surpluses that are generated in their societies and train the population through an emphasis on higher education. Any society that allows massive looting of the economy and in addition does not channel the surpluses generated to productive use can never develop. This week, it took massive protests from civil society and the bar to compel the Ministry of Justice to charge Honourable Farouk Lawan to court after the very open episode of offering and receiving bribery. Mr Otedola, the person who offered the bribe is yet to be charged in court. What this tells us that the administration of justice is wired to protect rather than sanction those who loot the national treasury.

Additional evidence for this view was also provided this week by the shocking and scandalous judgment delivered by Justice Abubakar Talba on Monday 28thJanuary, 2013 when he sentenced a former Director of Police Pension Board Mr John Yakubu Yusuf to a two-year sentence on each of the three-count charge with an option of paying a paltry fine N750, 000, a sum promptly paid by the convict to regain his freedom. The development was sequel to the guilty plea entered into by Yusuf in admitting that he stole N23 billion from the police pension funds. For ruining the lives of tens of thousands of elderly Nigerians who have served the nation for decades and are dying from hunger and infirmity as their pension money has been looted, Mr Yusuf gets to keep 95% of the public money he has looted. Our judiciary might well be right in saying looters should not be punished and they should keep their loot because we have rewired our administration of justice to serve the interests of a ruling class composed of treasury looters from top to bottom.

Of course for us ordinary citizens, we consider this judgment to be appalling, regrettable, scandalous and irresponsible because that is precisely what it is. It is an elementary principle that a thief cannot be allowed to gain from his theft once he is caught. In addition to losing the loot, a thief must also be sanctioned. In China, someone who does this would suffer three sanctions. The money will be seized and invested for public good. The person will be short in the head and killed with a single bullet. Finally, his family will be asked to refund the cost of the bullet to the Chinese state for producing such an economic saboteur to lives of the Chinese people. I am a firm believer in human rights and will not recommend that we follow the Chinese example. I believe however that we must rewire our judicial system to break the complicity of the supposedly venerable institution in perpetuating corruption in the nation. We must try and regain the sanctity of the judiciary and the integrity of our judges. This however is no easy matter and the evidence we see is that things are going in the same direction.

We have gone through the shameful episode in which our judicial system was unable to successfully prosecute the former Delta State Governor, James Ibori who was convicted in the UK for the same offences for which he was acquitted by a Nigerian court. We have seen our judicial system accept that the former governor of Rivers State Dr. Peter Odili cannot be prosecuted for corruption just because a judge has said so. In any other system, a judge that says someone cannot be prosecuted for his crimes would himself be dealt with.

It is on record that no Nigerian official implicated in the $180 million (N27 billion) Halliburton bribery scam has been convicted. Two former executives of French engineering and construction company Technip have been jailed to giving bribes to Nigerian officials. Meanwhile, the series of Nigerian officials who were receiving the bribes over a ten-year period to secure the construction contract worth $6 billion (N900 billion) have been quietly enjoying their loot. It will be recalled that the company admitted paying $132 million (N9.8 billion) to a Gibraltar corporation controlled by London-based lawyer, Jeffrey Tesler, and $51 million (N7.65 billion) to Marubeni of Japan. The money was paid as bribes to Nigerian government officials. The bribe givers - Jeffery Tesler, the main go-between for the consortium, is serving a 21-month sentence in a United States prison while Jack Stanley, former Chief Executive Officer, is serving 30 months. Using the Federal Corrupt Practices Act, FCPA, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Security and Exchange Commission has made the companies and individuals that paid the bribe to pay more than $1.7 billion in penalties and disgorgement.

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