HOLDING LEADERS TO ACCOUNT

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There is need for discreet and painstaking investigations of public officials

Recently, in Brazil, something happened that ought to invigorate our country’s half-hearted efforts to root out corruption. Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, commonly known as Lula, was sentenced to nine and half years in prison following conviction in corruption charges involving the state-run oil giant, Petrobras. The amount involved was a “measly” $190,000. But the judge froze the bank accounts of the ex-president and barred him from using three apartments, a piece of land and two cars, assets linked with the sleaze until the final ruling in the case. Much earlier, in 2016, Israel demonstrated that it operates a government of laws by sending to jail, 70-year-old Ehud Olmert, former prime minister, after a bribery charge was upheld by the country’s Supreme Court.

However, in Nigeria, even though corruption is rife among top government officials and corporate leaders, there are hardly consequences. Most of the overpaid politicians and public officials have continued to fleece the very people they are supposed to protect and yet walk the streets free. There are thousands of cases bordering on graft that dot the entire landscape and more are committed daily. Yet these are issues that do not only impact negatively on citizens but also on national economic development.

Perhaps no scandal better illustrates the impunity with which Nigerian public officials act than that of Halliburton. Some top officials of the federal government and their cronies in the private sector reportedly collected $182 million in bribes in exchange for $6 billion in engineering and construction work for an international consortium of companies to build the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas plant. While the foreign companies and many of their top executives in Europe and America have long been indicted and convicted, Nigeria is yet to take any action against those involved in the scandal. Successive governments till date have shirked their responsibility to hold to account individuals and groups who undermined the system and abused public trust.

Meanwhile, a combination of weak and compromised institutions – cutting across the executive, the legislature and the judiciary – have allowed the culture of corruption to thrive, a culture which has badly damaged the country’s reputation. Even South Africa’s apex court was bold enough to rule last year that the sitting President, Jacob Zuma, had contravened the constitution by failing to refund some money he spent on “security upgrades” at his personal home in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal. If for nothing else, Zuma publicly apologised to his nation.

Here in Nigeria, looters walk the streets with arrogance, and nobody raises an eyebrow. Last week, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) presented a report titled “Impact of Corruption on Nigeria’s Economy” to Acting President Yemi Osinbajo. According to Mr. Uyi Akpata, who led the PwC team, “the results of the study show that corruption in Nigeria could cost up to 37% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2030 if it’s not dealt with immediately. This cost is equated to around $1,000 per person in 2014 and nearly $2,000 per person by 2030. The boost in average income that we estimate, given the current per capita income, can significantly improve the lives of many in Nigeria”.

However, there are some grounds to hope that things may change. But that depends on the readiness of the anti-corruption agencies to learn from their more professional counterparts abroad and indeed catch up with the rest of the civilised world. Last week, the United States filed an assets forfeiture case against the former Petroleum Resources Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke. The investigations were discreet and from the information on display, very painstaking and thorough. We demand more and better scrutiny of our public officials. That is the only way the unscrupulous ones among them can be held to account.