One of the highlights and focal point of the recently concluded U.S-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC was the charge by the United States of America (USA), on African Leaders to holistically tackle the challenges of corruption and ensure accountability and transparency in order to ensure continued investment from America and other parts of the West. We all would agree with the fact that the issue of bad leadership and corruption has been the root causes of all the underdevelopment, instability and insecurity evident in most African countries, especially in Nigeria that is adjudged the “Giant of Africa” in size and economic strength. Now that the US has reiterated this fact, by charging our African Leaders to change their misguided ways if they want to maintain the foreign investments that comes from America, we hope that the message will sink in the hearts of political leaders in Nigeria.
The US charge came from the country’s Secretary of State, John Kerry, during the concluded US-Africa Leaders Summit, when he noted that though business investments and exchanges have grown 300 per cent in the last 14 years of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) programme, African countries will have to tackle corruption headlong in order to ensure more investments come into the continent. In the words of John Kerry: “For 14 years, AGOA has been one of the primary tools to push forward greater trade and investment in Africa. And guess what? It is working. We have seen imports from AGOA nations grow by 300 per cent. Whether it is Cocoa and Cashews from Ghana or Textile from Mauritius or petrochemical products from Angola, AGOA has served as a catalyst for greater trade and prosperity, and it’s helped to promote greater protections for the African workforce.”
“And yes, we do have some of our own interests on the line here too, and I say it upfront. For instance, AGOA has made it possible for Ford Motor Company to export engines duty-free from South Africa, where Ford has invested over $300 million so they can supply engines worldwide. And the efficiencies of that operation have allowed Ford to create 800 new jobs at their Kansas City plant as part of the global production line. This is how it works, and this is what Africa’s witnessing now with this. I think something like 10 of the 15 fastest-growing counties in the world are in Africa”, he said. Kerry then noted that with economic cooperation between Africa and the US, prosperity can replace poverty, and cooperation can triumph over conflict. “I will say to you, fighting corruption is a definitive, critical part of that process. To do so will take courage and yes, it sometimes means assuming risks. But fighting corruption lifts more of a country’s balance sheet. Transparency and accountability attract greater investments. Transparency and accountability create a more competitive marketplace, one where ideas and products are judged by the market and by their merits, and not by a backroom deal or bribe. The market always works better with transparency, with the sunshine of accountability. That is an environment where innovators and entrepreneurs can flourish, and I guarantee you it is an environment where capital makes a decision to move according to its sense of security and its sense of risk”, he added. He also stated the importance of investing in education now as the population of youths increase, stating that Africa will produce more workforce than India and China by 2040.
However, for Africa to attain this lofty height by 2040 as predicted by the US Secretary of State, the investment in education and addressing the issues of corruption and accountability surely needs to be given the sincere attention. It is really sad that corruption and unaccountability in government circles have been the bane for Africa’s development, especially in Nigeria. Sometime in 2005, it was reported by the Department for International Development that Forty-six countries in the world are listed as politically “fragile”, and 23 of them are in sub-Saharan Africa. That accounts for nearly half the countries of the region. It noted that in the last forty years, more wars have been fought in this corner of the world than anywhere else. This is the scale of the crisis of governance in Africa, which former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair’s Commission on Africa had to consider. The Democratic Republic of Congo has been in the grip of a bloody civil war, and Zimbabwe’s economy spectacularly collapsed in recent years, bringing starvation to a country which was once one of the continent’s agricultural success stories. The report noted that one of the hardest challenges lies in Nigeria, where enormous oil and gas wealth have failed to alleviate chronic poverty. Political instability, endemic corruption and high levels of violence and insecurity have crippled Nigeria’s economy, leaving one of the biggest (over 170 million), and fastest growing populations in Africa trapped in poverty.
The said report noted that large scale international aid, debt relief and investments are a distant hope for such countries as long as the international community is skeptical that its money will be well spent. But the recommendations of the Commission for Africa, took on the task of identifying what may be the first steps in turning the corner. Rather than putting the blame solely on African governments, which has been the common tendency of some Western governments, like the US Secretary has done, the commission had made a significant shift in the other direction. It moved towards accepting that a share of the responsibility for the political instability and war on the African continent lies in the developed world, where the money is laundered, huge sums are hidden in secret bank accounts, and the arms deals are done. “It is not enough to say Africans are corrupt, you have to ask who is corrupting them? It’s not enough to say Africans are stealing money, you have to ask who is banking that money for them?” one of the commission members, Anna Tibaijuka, said at a press conference back then.
Although the report urges African countries to develop more transparent public financial management and African civil society to play a big role in holding their governments to be accountable, it also makes a series of concrete proposals for the developed world to clean up its own act. It particularly recognizes the relationship between plentiful natural resources, such as oil and diamonds, and how, historically, their presence in Africa has facilitated wars while much of the wealth they generate has ended up in western bank accounts. It picks out the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and urges more financial and political support for this self-regulation scheme for transparency in payments to governments by corporations operating in African countries with resources. In one of its toughest passages, the report calls on all G8 countries to repatriate illicitly acquired funds and assets held in their countries and dependent territories, to make “specific commitments”, and to report back on “concrete progress, including sums repatriated”.
In as much as we agree with the fact that the Western developed nations have their own share of blame in addressing the level of corruption in the African continent, the fact still remains that it is us Africans that has allowed and encouraged this ugly trend and practice to remain. We are the ones and the architect of our deplorable status. The West never forced us to steal from our people and repatriate same to them. So, the onus still lies on us to turn things around by being more accountable, transparent and sincere in the management of the enormous wealth in the continent. Nigeria, presumed to be the ‘big-brother’ of Africa, should even be in front by being an example for others to emulate.
The Nigerian Government seriously needs to turn a new leaf in its fight against corruption by being more accountable and transparent in handling public funds. This was how we were left speechless and in absolute shock when it was reported that the Federal Government on June 18, 2014, dropped a nine-count charge against Mohammed Abacha, son of the late Head of State Gen. Sani Abacha, over alleged complicity in the theft of N446.3 billion during his father’s administration. What we find most appalling about the said Federal Government’s withdrawal of the suit against Mohammed, was that there was concrete explanations given to justify the suit withdrawal, other than what they described as “fresh facts” that emerged. But the citizens of Nigeria, whose public funds is what is at stake here, were not told what these “fresh facts” are. What can we call this? How would the international community look at us a nation that claims to be fighting corruption, when such celebrated cases like the one against Mohammed Abacha, are practically swept under the carpet with legal technicalities and jargons? We find it really sad that this is allowed to happen in this present administration and nobody is raising their eyebrows or ask questions.
Looking carefully at the whole thing regarding the corruption case brought against the son of the dreadful former Head of State, late Sani Abacha, one cannot help but to conclude that all is not well. Something is obviously ‘fishy’ with the country’s so called fight against corruption. Firstly, the Federal Government needs to explain to Nigerians exactly what were the so called “fresh facts” that came up to have warranted the government’s withdrawal of the suit against Mohammed Abacha? If there are ‘fresh facts’ that indicated Mohammed did not steal/launder the country’s funds during his fathers tenure, then the government should have allowed the court to come to that decision of acquitting him of the charges brought against him; and not the Federal Government going up front to withdraw the charges. If there are ‘fresh fact’ that suggest that Mohammed Abacha is innocent of the charges brought against him, don’t they think that Nigerians and the world at large deserve to know exactly what those ‘fresh facts’ are?
The said N446Billion in question belongs to the Federal Republic of Nigeria as an entity and Nigerians, as citizens of the country; deserve to know what exactly happened to the said funds. How would the whole world take us seriously as one who claims to be fighting corruption, when such high-profile and well-celebrated corruption case against the Abacha family are never given the adequate attention or allowed to experience the full wrath of the law? What legacy is this present administration trying to leave behind when such high-profile corruption cases are handled with kid gloves?
It is rather unfortunate that despite the high level of corruption evident in government circles across the federation and the regular cry out by the Federal Government and anti-graft agencies regarding their pose to fight corruption headlong in the country, Nigerians are yet to witness an appropriate prosecution and adequate prison sentencing of ex-government and serving government officials or top government functionaries, particularly former state governors and their cronies. It is either they are given just few months to remain in custody while their corruption cases are dilly-dallied, after which they are allowed to go scot free, to go and continue enjoying their ill-go then wealth, or their trials are delayed, outrageously struck out and swept under the carpet. This has made many to have lost faith and trust in the anti-graft agencies and the Nigerian Judiciary, considered to be the last hope of the common man in getting social justice and equity.
Why is it so hard for corruption cases involving high profile officials and top elites, to be dealt with the full wrath of the law like we see in other developed countries? Why can’t the current Nigerian government and its anti-graft agencies seriously frown at and abhor fraudulent practices in government circles like we see happening in other countries like USA and UK?
In Nigeria’s social – political index, corruption probably ranks highest. This has continued to be a major trauma for government and other stakeholders in the business of enthroning ‘accountability’ and ‘good governance’. More worrisome is that corruption has reached a cancerous state. And the culture of impunity has practically rendered useless, whatever fight being mustered against corruption. Another reason why it is difficult to adequately fight corruption in Nigeria is that our system of justice, even at the best of time, is protracted, it is delayed. We have a system that has not been able to deliver justice, even in civil matters, not to talk of complex fraud cases. The issue of granting inappropriate court injunctions to restrain or prevent anti-graft agencies from prosecuting/arresting corrupt public or private officials, have adversely affected the fight against corruption. Also, the issue of prolonged and delayed adjudication of appropriate justice concerning corruption cases has made Nigerian’s and indeed, the international community to loose faith in the country’s judicial system’s ability and capacity to adequately fight corruption.
Nigerians will not forget in a hurry, when some months back, a High Court in the Federal Capital Territory sentenced a former Assistant Director in the Police Pensions Office, Mr. John Yakubu Yusuf, to two years imprisonment with an option of fine N750, 000.00, after he admitted that he connived with others to steal N23 billion that should have been used to pay retirement benefits. The judgment had attracted a series of comments/complaints from Nigerians who feel that the punishment was too insignificant when compared to the weight of the crime committed. Nigerians including us were outraged by the verdict given to. Mr. Yakubu Yusuf, one of the eight civil servants accused of stealing N40 billion from the Nigeria Police Pension Fund. He had pleaded guilty to stealing N23 billion, and the judge, Abubakar Talba, sentenced him to two years imprisonment with an option of paying just N750, 000. That was the reason for the national outrage. But in the din of the uproar, a lot of us missed the profound message Mr. Yakubu Yusuf was sending the nation!
He glaringly told Nigerians, “I only stole N23 billion. The Government has already seized my 32 properties!” In other words, he stole “only N23 billion” when he could have stolen more! It was out of patriotism you might say, that he decided to limit himself to N23 billion; chicken change, you must agree. After all, the money was there to be stolen and he stole only N23 billion. And “my 32 property” seized (wrongfully) by government were proceeds of the “only N23 billion” he stole. So, why should he be crucified? Why the hullabaloo? This is the exact picture Mr. Yusuf was painting to Nigerians by making such outrageous statement. Perhaps, Mr. Yusuf is of the impression that if Nigerians had made more noise over his exposed theft, he could refer us to the series of scandals that went on in the National Assembly and challenge us to show him one person that has been convicted. He could even remind us of the rot in the NNPC. He could point to the trillions of Naira budgeted annually that gets us nothing in return. He could even recall the Permanent Secretary who, in the early months of Obasanjo’s administration, stole “only N400 million and got away with just nolle prosequi.
What else could give Mr. Yusuf the audacity to express that he only stole N25 billion, of money that was readily available and waiting to be stolen, and the nation is outraged? We believe the said judge appreciated the generosity of Mr. Yusuf and reciprocated his ‘goodwill’ with a handshake instead of a handcuff. Have we ever stopped to wonder why it is possible in Nigeria for someone to steal N1 million of public fund, and he/she is not found out? He or she goes on to steal N10million, and then N200million and so on, and yet the system does not find out? Obviously, there is something fundamentally wrong with our country that the Yusufs of this world are pointing out to us; Nigeria, as presently structured under the present administration, can only sustain corruption!
Speaking of the fight against corruption, the Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, Alhaji Waziri Tambuwal had some few months back deployed President Jonathan’s failure to act promptly to prosecute fraudulent cases diligently exposed by the National Assembly, as the bane of the blossoming corruption in the country is shameful, ‘kleptocratic governance’. Worst still, Tambuwal said the anti-corruption agencies read the body language of the president and prosecute cases selectively. Otherwise, cases like the $6.8Billion fuel subsidy probe result, the Security and Exchange Commission probe, the clandestine and shady oil bloc deals in the Petroleum Sector and so many others.
It is really sad to note that in all of this, all that the present administration has been known to do is to set up committees to either probe or look into them, but at the end of the day, nothing concrete comes out of such exercises. In fact, all that the Presidency could respond to the statements made by the Speaker, through President Jonathan’s Special Adviser, Dr, Rueben Abati, was that “the Jonathan administration is not going to fight corruption on the basis of mere speculations.” In other words, what the present administration is telling Nigerians is that everything we have heard and observe about the fuel subsidy scam, the pension scam etc, are ‘mere speculations’ as far as this administration is concerned. Abati also said that “the Presidency will not condone any act of proven corruption”. We are then forced to ask, what happened to all the high profile corruption cases where compelling evidences were provided, like the video and tape recorded proofs provided on the $620,000 bribery allegation against Hon. Farouk Lawal and Otedola? Has all that been swept under the carpet? God help us in this nation.
We have no other country we can call our own other than this one. No foreigner will come to help us address this canker worm called ‘corruption’ if we cannot do it ourselves. The present administration must be seen to demonstrate the ‘political will’ and doggedness in the fight against corruption in both low and high places, irrespective of who is what in involved. Posterity will not forgive us as a people if we continue on this ‘destructive self-centered path’. Worthy to note is the fact that things never used to be this bad some several years back. But over the years, the level of corrupt practices, visionless leadership exhibited by Nigerian political leaders and those in different government circles with impunity, combined with their misguided practices to capture political power at all cost, have contributed greatly to the current state of insecurity in the country. And that is how it is with most African countries.
With the gale of retirements in the government and private sectors, long closure of schools and government establishments during strike actions, unemployment, retrenchment, increase in fuel price, rising population and of course, ‘general poverty’ and diseases in the land, one should expect the devil to provide ‘devious options for the countless idle-hands in the continent. With these prevalent situations, there will always be the tendency to do things that are ‘unusual’ and criminal in nature. So, unless most of these socio-economic issues are addressed, we will continue to live with rising insecurity and the issue of sustainable Peace will continue to elude us as a people.
Africa is replete with leaders in different political levels of government who do not understand what it actually means to lead. To deny oneself of certain ephemeral pleasures and self-centredness that is rooted in ethnicity and religious sentiments, in order to put others first. Many do not have the sacrificial will, charisma, zeal, passion and, being an exemplary figure with their conducts for younger generations to emulate. The leadership principles of integrity, accountability, responsibility and transparency are only used in papers and oratory by African leaders but scarcely practicalized. Few Nigerian leaders can be singled out as leaders that have left indelible marks in the lives of their people and in the threshold of history. The scarcity of selfless, untribalistic and unbiased leaders in Africa can be regarded as the major factor that is responsible for the backwardness and underdevelopment status evident in the Black continent, especially when we consider nations like Nigeria that is regarded as the “giant of Africa” and the world’s most populous black nation. Nigeria may be known for its vast natural resources in global economy, but its inept leadership history has not been able to translate this enormous material wealth to reflect in the lives of its citizenry. In other words, the mineral wealth has been made a curse rather than a blessing by our leaders.
The political leaders in Africa, especially those in Nigeria-regarded, must realize that not until the deplorable and pathetic life conditions being experienced by its various citizenry, are addressed holistically with all sincerity of purpose, then the issue of disunity and insecurity will continue to plague us. If concrete efforts are not made by the custodians of the numerous human and material resources evident in the continent, to close the increasing gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, the rich and the poor, the government and the governed; then the goal of addressing the level of poverty in Africa will continue to be a day dream.

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