To put it bluntly yet honestly, and in the name of economic recovery and accountability; respect for nation, tool for sanity and nation building. You can’t protect corruption, the cancer causing Nigeria’s and other African nations’ gradual demise, while claiming to be fighting same. Because precedent and policy matters therefore, the wrong/bad precedent laid by former Pres. Olusegun Obasanjo and his administration, leadership and corruption-wise. It’s become obvious to the world the epidemic status corruption in the country has reached.
There has been (and still is) gross power abuse and lawlessness, including kidnapping, outright official stealing of public funds and other crimes and menace not limited to insecurity, insurgency hence highest death toll recorded since the Civil War. Such unimaginable dimension of corruption has been conspicuous during Obasanjo’s regime, but particularly the deepest under Goodluck Jonathan’s.
Consequently, writing off what happened under past regimes including Jonathan’s, when thugs sponsored by elected government officials and politicians, family members ran the streets and terrorized every nook and cranny of society and Niger delta oil money including other wealth of nation stolen like they didn't matter, will become the worst designed counterfeit check ever written.
The danger of not prosecuting these corrupt Nigerian politicians and seize wealth built with public money will be dire. They will use stolen money to fight current government, cause destructive opposition, even insurgency/militancy to stay protected and relevant.This will be catastrophic and in contravention of the trust and good faith granted by voters who became alarmed and reposed confidence in the new government.
What actions President Muhammadu Buhari and Yemi Osinbajo-led government takes will become the precedent laid to either multiply and protect or fight and reduce if not kill corruption in Nigeria and bring discipline. Such precedent may also impact other African nations. Therefore, while it’s worthy of note that, one administration, the Buhari-Osinbajo-led government in this circumstance can’t fight and eliminate corruption rather an honest, open and collaborative, serious and continual strategy should work.
It will be ideal to strengthen existing corruption fighting institutions including the judiciary to be competent and credible hence independent by restructuring these institutions using credible and knowledgeable personnel such as investigators and prosecutors, not witch-hunters, nor should the Federal government interfere as did previous administrations. The restructured task-force/team should be reviewing, investigating complaints, looking into the status and wealth of past presidents, governors, ministers and their family. Other politicians, including local government chairpersons, government officials, business associates of politicians, and institutions of higher learning, hospitals, etc. should be reviewed.
Those living beyond their legal means (salary and salary-based investments, because sitting officials can’t award contracts to themselves or family members, friends) thus found wanting and probable cause exist during regimes between 1999 and 2015 May 28 should be indicted and prosecuted. This should be the most honest and result-driven, nation-recovery and building's strategy to pursue alongside other critically thought-through and pragmatic measures aimed at bringing sustainable development to the country. It will be difficult when considering that these corrupt politicians are in PDP and APC, but possible, if the government and Nigerians are honest and serious about the depth of decay and destruction caused by these politicians to their future. Fighting and defeating corruption in Nigeria, other African nations and anywhere in the world demands collective consciousness and work.
It will be an abomination to claim you’re fighting corruption while protecting same by only concentrating on the menace under the new Buhari's government and pardoning previous regimes as the president-elect's agreement with politicians seems to have been. Previous regimes have stolen the nation, people blind and also terrorized, destroyed them. Their crimes are obvious and known to them. As alluded there is no doubt that fighting and reducing or killing corruption especially in Nigeria isn’t, and can’t be an easy task. Some may argue that fighting corruption by looking into the activities of past governments might be daunting and distractive both in terms of government focus and resources; time and will consume funds meant for human capacity investments. On the contrary, what’s needed for the recovery of dying economies such as Nigeria's, and nation-building is hard, difficult and discomforting decisions. This is if the corrupt status quo and threats inherent in not taking hard and far-reaching decisions and actions will not remain and destroy a country that is already on the verge of collapse.
Except there is a constitutional limitation status, and if Buhari is serious, honest and fair thus will not be accused of discriminating against the Jonathan’s regime, going back to 1999 should be reasonable if real impact will be made in reducing or killing corruption. Fighting corruption with such long and hard hammer can only be a distraction to an administration, leadership that isn’t good at multitasking so unserious and lacks competence; a government which can’t make hard choices and make discomforting decisions therefore lacks needed organizational skills. It will be distractive to a government which institutions are corrupt and lacks investigative, prosecutorial and implementation instinct hence judiciary can’t independently do its work without government influence and interference of so-called powerful politicians.
Meanwhile, since reconciliation is part of nation building, the alternative deal to prosecution, imprisonment if convicted should be the seizure of all wealth including cash within and outside the country amassed illegally then ban these politicians/people from holding public offices. All such money seized must be reinvested into the economy to aid recovery; properties confiscated should be used for community projects such as schools and hospitals, counseling and recreation centers; low income housing among many people-based and empowerment projects.
If the Ogun State High Court judge, A. A. Akinyemi, can sentence a female employee (Oluremi Olayinka) to 266 years jail for stealing N8 million (Naira) from her employer, as reported in the media; a case brought by EFCC. How many years should politicians stealing hundreds of millions or billions of dollars and Naira get in jail?
Buhari, Osinbajo and their team have a duty to respect and protect the confidence reposed in them hence the sweeping victory into power. That confidence is that Buhari fought corruption as a Military Head of State alongside late Tunde Idiagbon, and will do it again as a civilian president by not sparing anyone stealing public money and wealth irrespective of status. If war against corruption as with indiscipline will succeed, policies or laws protecting or granting immunity to corrupt officials or politicians in government can also be discussed and revoked alongside measures outlined herein to sending a strong signal and warning to those with criminal intents. Unconstitutional backdoor deals to the detriment of citizens and nation shall be counterproductive and will put this government out of favor, even power sooner.
If scammers or 419ers and other petty criminals can be jailed for many years for their craft, and many also unlawfully arrested, tried and wrongfully convicted. How fair and what level of corruption would this or any government be fighting and taming if officials/politicians, so-called leaders who should live by example are set free and protected to jubilate in their loots so as to continue stealing, terrorizing and killing poor and helpless citizens and country?
Are these politicians/leaders not those whose indecent and immoral action fueled such offenses and crimes caused by hardship in many cases; hardship caused by same heartless and selfish politicians whose responsibilities and duties were to lead, guide and create conducive environment to train, employ and empower citizens, rather looted public funds for personal/family use and happiness? Imagine the wrong message that will be sent if the search-light and strong arm of the law isn’t taken back to find and hold past and immediate past regimes accountable; corruption will multiply and deepen enough to destroy the nation.
Ben Ikari can be reached at [email protected] He's an international human rights and environmental justice advocate; expert on Ken Saro-Wiwa.