Nigeria’s Recidivist Corruption, Government’s Looters’ List and the Foreign Policy Dimensions

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By Bola A. Akinterinwa

The relationship between Nigeria’s recidivist corruption, on the one hand, and Nigeria’s looters’ list is the critical question: what solution? Explained differently, corruption is not simply endemic and recidivist, but also institutional. For instance, in the advice given by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, to the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr.ustapha has suggested the need to devise ‘mechanisms for tracking institutional corruption at the conception stage.

As reported by Julianah Taiwo-Obalonye on April 7, 2018 in Saturday Sun, the SGF noted that ‘corruption in the country had become a hydra-headed monster because it had become pervasive and culturally entrenched.’ Consequently, in ‘dealing with a problem that had become a culture requires a lot of resolve on the part of the officials of the Commission (EFCC).’ It is probably in the context of a renewed determination to attack corruption more frontally that President Muhammadu Buhari’s government decided to compile the names of Nigerians that have looted the public treasury as a new tactic.

The goodness of the timing of the release of the list is also tainted by other public observations by the general public. For instance, the general public has been quite hostile to reported Government’s intention to grant repentant Boko Haram insurgents a general amnesty. The general public appears to be hostile to this, raising new questions as to why the Boko Haram should be treated differently.

In any case, if we admit that President Buhari has a renewed determination to fight corruption more frontally, how do we explain the allegations of fresh corruption under the Buhari administration? In explaining what transpired before the veteran General Theophilus Danjuma accused the Nigerian military of complicity in and aiding and abetting the killing of people in Benue state, Chief Bisi Akande, former National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress and former Governor of Osun State, has it that ‘before Danjuma made that statement, the military took, within six weeks, $2.1 billion from the Central Bank raw! And they shared it among themselves. When that is stopped, definitely you will have enemies. When you want to take stolen money from a thief, they will fight back. The military are fighting back, conniving with terrorists to kill innocent Nigerians. These military were supposed to be protecting us. They are doing so to discredit Buhari because he stopped corruption’ (in ibid., p.45).

Consequently, many issues are raised in the foregoing: are there people in the political governance of Nigeria that are consciously frustrating the anti-corruption war? Why would the Nigerian military collect raw cash and just share the money? Sharing of money is not an issue per se, but what the purpose of the sharing is for. Was the sharing for divisional heads for use in the war on corruption? Chief Bisi Akande did not say much on this but he believes that the sharing is simply meant to discredit the PMB administration because he stopped corruption. Which corruption has President Buhari been able to stop? At which level has the corruption been stopped?

Whatever is the answer, the looters’ list in Nigeria is about some Nigerians who have been accused and investigated, some of them have been tried, some are still awaiting trial and some are strongly believed to have embezzled public money. In order to put in place a more effective and new anti-corruption strategy, the Buhari government has adopted the technique of compiling the list of corrupt people and making the list known to the general public. Nigerians have also been reacting to it with mixed feelings. The compilation of the list of corrupt people is significant and interesting but not to the extent of that of its implications for foreign policy and in its international dimensions.

First, to be a looter, considered in an individual capacity, does not and cannot attract much attention as when it is considered in the context of a group. Even if the individual is popular and remains a notable figure, the points of attraction in the context of a group include the number of people involved in the group and the implication of the number for spread or scope of corruption. It is in this regard that the Looters’ List should be considered and understood. It is because of the number of people involved in corrupt activities that corruption became recidivist. It also explains why the root of corruption has spread beyond the level of an individual acting alone.

Consequently, the point of focus in this column is to suggest that in whichever way the looters’ list is looked at, it has the great potential for deterrence, generation of controversy, and development of good governance. It is also from this perspective that the implications for Nigeria’s foreign policy and relations should be explicated. First, the revelation of names of people on the list has warranted reactions, particularly at the level of those people listed. Some of them have contested the listing of their names. Some of them have adopted the policy of silence. Let us look at the Looters’ List and the politics of it, before the analysis of its implications for foreign policy.

The names of people on the Looters’ List are basically politicians and public servants, implying that the ordinary man on the street is not generally involved. It also shows that the very people required to govern and prevent misrule, corruption, and political instability are also the very people engaged in various acts of serious misconduct in Nigeria. The solution therefore has to go beyond the traditional approaches of court processes involvement in which court judges have also been found guilty of the same corruption.

More important, corruption in Nigeria is systemic in origin, especially in conception and accommodation. Corruption ought to be defined, using every act of dishonesty in the management and conduct of public affairs as the basic criterion. What is seriously frowned at in more developed societies is not considered a big deal in Nigeria. If the style of politics playing in Nigeria is to first deny any accusation and then threaten to go to court, and perhaps to also seek the prolongation of the court process; if merit award winners, Officers of the Federal Republic, Members of the National Institute, etc, aid and abet corruption, if traditional rulers give chieftaincy titles to people whose sources of wealth are questionable, and if President Buhari himself impose people who have been indicted by courts in public positions, who will want to believe the seriousness of purpose of any list of looters of public treasury? Who will not easily believe that the list is not for the 2019 electoral purposes?

The Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, sees the act of publishing names of alleged looters as irresponsible while the allegation is still under court determination. As he put it, ‘this is an irresponsible Federal Government that has no respect for the rule of law. They have become the judge, the prosecutor in cases before courts. All they want to do is tie the hands of judges to ensure all those standing trial are convicted at all costs.’

From the perspective of Governor Wike, the Federal Government is irresponsible because of its lack of respect for the rule of law. He is actually pointing accusing fingers to the Federal Government for seeking to influence the court processes. Additionally the way Governor Wike interprets the inclusion of his name on the Looters’ List is political. He said his investigations on the matter ‘reveals that the Federal Government is planning to use her security agencies to set (him) up anytime (he is) travelling outside the country. They plan to organise security to storm the hotel (he is) staying and say they found xyz cash in (his) possession; after which they would say (he) was arrested for currency trafficking or whatever offences outside the country.’

Perhaps more interestingly, ‘they will then precipitate crisis in my state and other parts of Nigeria. They will plan demonstrations to demonise (him) and claim (he has) gone outside to embarrass the country. The public odium is meant to smear (him) before (his) people and other Nigerians. It is unfortunate, wicked and unfair.’ And perhaps most significantly, Governor Wike also declared: ‘what they plan is similar to what was once done to the late Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha. They are planning what they call the “the Alams treatment” for (him). But by the Grace of Almighty God, they will fail.’

The perception of the National Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Uche Secondus, is equally interesting and noteworthy. He sees the putting of his name on the Looters’ List as defamation of his character and has, therefore, threatened to prosecute the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed. Uche Secondus is vehemently denying having looted the nation’s treasury. He has asked for the payment of N1.5 billion damages and public apology within 48 hours. In a letter reported to have been sent to the Honourable Minister, Mr. Secondus said in the event of failure to meet the demands, he would ‘within 72 hours from today (April 4), proceed to a court of competent jurisdiction to ventilate (his) right under the law and shall further seek the protection of the court against (the Minister).’

And true enough, on Friday, April 6, Secondus filed a suit, number PHC/1013/2018, at the Port Harcourt High Court, protesting against the humiliation, castigation, vilification attack on his person and integrity as a result of the listing of his name as a looter of the public treasury (vide the report of Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Saturday ThisDay of April 7). Apart from asking for damages for the listing of his name on Looters List, Secondus has asked the court for a perpetual injunction restraining the Government from further publishing defamatory materials against him.

In the same vein, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi, Chairman of Daar Communication, has not only, on April 4, requested for an apology and the payment of N500 million by the Honourable Minister, as well as publication of the apology in four national dailies: The Punch, ThisDay, The Nation, and The Sun Newspapers.

One important observation from the foregoing is the non-clarity in and the extent of truth of the claims of the Federal Government that the accused had actually looted the public treasury. Accusations and allegations may not be enough to conclude with the affirmation of guilt. This is why it is generally agreed that an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. On the basis of government’s allegations and contestations by the accused, how is foreign policy affected? Is the Looters’ List helpful to the Government of the Federation? Does it have the potential to undermine national security, and especially the making of the 2019 general election?

Foreign Policy Implications

Vie internationale believes that the publication of the names of looters of the national treasury has the great potential to deter future engagement in sharp practices in Nigeria. There was the time in the early 1970s when convicted armed robbers were killed in their communities. The killing sent strong messages of shame to their communities. The communities were not happy about the development and therefore took some measures to enlighten their people. With the measures, people became more cautious about societal indiscipline and the need to combat armed robberies.

In the same vein, the publication of a Looters’ List cannot but send similar messages of guilt, shame and indecency to their people, particularly their nuclear and extended family. Such messages imply that their community has to do something about the engagement of their indigenes in corruption and other societal crimes. Apart from the taint on their persons, which also has the potential of inviting discrimination against them, the likelihood of engagement of the tainted people in international and inter-personal relations is remote. In the more advanced countries, any act of corruption is always seriously sanctioned. In Nigeria, it is not. But with the existence of a Looters’ List, diplomatic missions will be better guided in the issuance of visas to such accused person, even when court prosecutions are still ongoing.

Accused persons cannot qualify to be personae gratae in diplomatic representations. Also speaking grosso modo, any person listed on the Looters’ List, if eventually proved, cannot but be considered anti society, anti societal civilisation, anti-development, and of course, anti-Nigeria, in particular.

From the perspective of political governance, if, as Chief Akande has noted, corruption is fighting back or because President Buhari is fighting corruption and the military want to discredit him, how is the international community likely to interpret this observation. First, it is possible that the international community may want to take advantage of it in order to further weaken Nigeria. None of the big powers likes a very strong Nigeria that will be capable of challenging it in international relations. The cases of Arab Spring, the imbroglio between the United States and North Korea, as well as the many cases of attempt to undermine the development of the poorer countries clearly illustrate the deliberate quest for a long gap between the rich and the poor in international relations. Consequently, the sermon of equality of nations is only good on paper. It does not exist in practice. In other words, arguments of equality of sovereignty is, at best, politics.

In light of this, if it is true that the military are sharing public money, especially to discredit the Buhari administration, what prevents foreign governments from capitalising on the arguments of discredit to indirectly seek the removal of the Nigerian president when it is in their interest to do so? Is the international community interested in the renewal of electoral mandate of President Buhari in 2019?

The observation and how Governor Wike interprets the listing of his name is particularly noteworthy. He narrated how the Government of Nigeria can organise in order to incriminate innocent people. This observation is not good for the international image of Nigeria. Did governor Wike speak from experience apart from the case of ‘Alams treatment’? The courts in Nigeria have discharged and acquitted some Nigerians, and yet the same people have been re-tried and found guilty in overseas courts. In light of this, there is no way questions will not be raised as to the mania of political governance, manner of dispensation of justice and protection of fundamental rights of the innocent people in Nigeria.

As regards the aspect of international economic relations, and especially the factor of new foreign direct investments, the international economic stakeholders are likely to consider the Looters’ List as an expression of renewed determination to nip in the bud corruption in Nigeria. It is truism to say that corruption and indiscipline was first identified as far back as 1967 when the report of the Professor J.S. Cookey-led Political Bureau drew public attention to the endemic character of corruption in Nigeria.

However, in spite of the reported cases of governmental efforts to address the problem, corruption has been waxing stronger and stronger. Currently, with the Looters’ List, and in the eyes of many foreign investors, President Buhari is seen as a serious, unrelenting warrior on corruption, and therefore, resolution of foreign investors to assist him in evolving a friendlier investment environment in Nigeria.

And more interestingly at the domestic level, the publication of a Looters’ List, and with the promise by the Government to still come up with more names of other looters of public treasury in Nigeria, the Buhari administration is much likely to be given general public support because the people of Nigeria now appear to have been fed up with corruption as an unending irritant.

Additionally, at the same domestic level, if the President is given public support on the basis of his anti-corruption struggle, there is no way it will not also positively affect his second term struggle, especially if greater emphasis is placed on the struggle in between now and the time of the 2019 election. In fact, he can be re-elected on the basis of this single factor alone.

In this regard, other areas of alleged nepotism, official remissness, etc, cannot but be set aside. The truth of the matter is that, with the established list of looters in Nigeria, every Nigerian now has to be more cautious in all official transactions. Government should therefore, more expeditiously, come out with the list of other looters of the national treasury.