Daily Trust (Abuja)

13 February 2013

Nigeria: Foolish French

opinion

Over the weekend, a friend's Facebook post attracted my attention. it turned out a French judge had sentenced two former executhieves of the French engineering company Technip S.A. to various imprisonment terms.

This friend is no stakeholder in the French judiciary, so I took a closer look. Sadly enough, the two convicts were sentenced; as we would say in this land, for their 'alleged' roles in the infamous $180 million (N27 billion) Halliburton bribery scandal.

Halliburton, which for several years now has missed the national awards for bravery and uncommon influence, is a shocking scandal in Europe and America. According to the lore, the company bribed its way into securing contracts. The heroes found a lucrative contract they believed their company could win. They knew that contracts get awarded only on the crispy notes of pounds, dollars and euro.

They took the pain to compile the list of potential beneficiaries, returned to their different countries to source for the funds, transferred it through several middlemen and safely laundered the cash into the escrow accounts over a span of ten years. The Naija officials, including three heads of states, the national oil conglomerate and several other big men got their pay, the company got its contract and until some wicked busybodies unravelled the deal, everything was going hunky-dory.

A judge who perhaps has never left the shores of Paris and knows nothing about starting a business has done his worst. He has joined his American judicial cousins, who earlier had sentenced Jeffrey Tesler, the lawyer through whose account a chunk of the money was wired to 21 months. Another American citizen is serving a 30-month jail term for complicity in the same scam. Even though American judiciary have no power over Naija, it did not stop them from pulling provisions of their federal corrupt practices act, and sending their own citizen to their own version of Kiri-kiri. I understand that nothing would make the convicted serve their terms anywhere else except the notorious walls of American jails. In Naija, they would have served their hard term in the amenity ward of a nearby hospital. The Americans as we all know are also fools. Go round the country and see boys who left Naija with neither skills nor education and returned home with several degrees, hummer jeeps and unparalleled wealth while professors who tried to copy them become taxi drivers in New Jersey.

I am shocked that neither the Americans nor the French asked the more important question of which Naija law these people breached? How many of the receivers of the bribe have been sentenced to jail terms? If the Americans or the French agree to pay me, i will give answers with copious examples. Suffice to say that all the local suspects of the Halliburton scandal have slithered off the net of justice with the ease of an eel. Some have won landslide victories in sham polls while others are kingmakers of the ruining party. Both the Americans and the French are crying more than the bereaved?

By travelling abroad to make deals, these people have helped reduce the hopelessness that characterizes unemployment in their home countries. They have contributed to winning the war on poverty by repatriating foreign exchange back home. These people are gallant soldiers of free enterprise, not the villains they are made to look like. In Naija, their communities would have hailed them as examples of uncommon success and worthy ambassadors. Parents would have been pointing at their success to spur on their children. Let's face it, the French and the Americans have lost it with these sentences.

But I blame the convicts for not predicting the outcome of their ordeal. They should have rushed to the nearest Naija consulate for a visa to return here. They would have found comfort with the beneficiaries of their monetary largesse who would have enlisted them into the roll of honour with national awards and recommended them for full citizenship. Naija universities would have bestowed on them the most prestigious honorary degrees and local chiefs would have given them inchoate titles.

Yes, the green passport may not be worth its ink, but it is better than jail, or is it? These heroes would have been living in relative opulence in gated houses powered by noiseless generating sets. They would have had access to the best clubs and be patrons to the most beautiful girls in the pantheon. If they know how to lobby sinators, they could have access to armed escorts, insulation from armed robbery, kidnapping and Boko Haram. Ritualists would not dare them. What more, as dual citizens, they could offer home-grown advice to other would-be investors from their other country. This is what is needed to survive the economic hurricane now sweeping across Europe and America. a foolish American judge threw all that potential to the wind and instead of learning from his mistake, another French judge has jumped into the same pit. Yes, the French too, are fools and there goes my visa!

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