The Unpardonable, By Jibrin Ibrahim

Jibrin Ibrahim

Good Governance is about the effective, transparent and accountable use of public resources to provide public goods for citizens. Our Constitution is clear that the purpose of government is the pursuit of the welfare of Nigerians.

The art of governance itself entails the maintainance of a public bureaucracy that records the operations of government to ensure continuity and coherence of governmental action so that all actions undertaken can be shown to be in consonance with the purpose of government. This is important for the monitoring and evaluation of action.

As citizens, we have fought for and won the Freedom of Information Act with the core argument that government is not accountable to itself alone but above all to citizens and that therefore citizens need the information to enable them effectively monitor what is happening or not happening. In this context, it is not acceptable that government would engage in controversial acts such as pardoning criminals without engaging citizens at any level.

It is unpardonable that Government would pardon Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua as the “beneficiary” had already been pardoned post humously by General Abdulsalami Abubakar on 30th September 1998.

Is the point being made that the trumped up charges against him were so grievous that two pardons are necessary. Or is it the case that no one bothered to process the current pardon through the bureaucracy where any cursory reference to his file in the Council Secretariat, which services both the Federal Executive Council and the National Council of State, would have revealed the act had already been done.

It is unpardonable to pardon a former Governor who had been convicted for corruption and who in addition has had the opportunity to open the door to power to the current President.

The pardon sends the message that doing a good turn to a powerful man is solid ground for wiping out crimes against the Nigerian state and people. It is an act that undermines belief in the stated anti-corruption stance of the Administration. It is a decision that erodes confidence in the rule of law by showing some criminals with connections are more equal than other criminals.

It is unpardonable that the in spite of numerous revelations about mega corruption in the current regime of President Jonathan, the prosecutorial machine of the administration of justice has grinded to a halt. Over the past year, it has been revealed that over two trillion has been spent on fuel subsidy but most of the money was simply stolen by government cronies.

And yet, no sanctions have been taken against those responsible. If the wheels of justice turn slowly in our country, it is unpardonable that no sanctions have been taken against political appointees and public sector officials that superintended this mega looting of our national resources. The result is that mega corruption appears to have official sanction so the rape of our resources through fuel subsidy scams continues.

It is unpardonable that we are the one country in the world that has expended enormous amounts of money for the procurement of electric power and we have nothing to show for it except promises.

In 1999, the late Bola Ige promised us sufficient power within six months, it did not happen. President Obasanjo, we discovered through the House of Representatives probe, had squandered $16 billion with the promise of 6,000 megawatts of electricity by December 2007 and it did not happen.

Subsequently, President Umaru Yar’Adua in February 2008 launched the Committee on the Accelerated Expansion of Power. He promised Nigeria that 18-months from that date that is by July 2009, Nigeria would be producing at least 6,000 MW of power and it did not happen.

It is unpardonable that we have paid for 6,000 MW of power at least three times in eight years and we do not have it for the simple reason that those who stole the monies earlier appropriated are enjoying their loot so those currently in charge have rich lessons to learn from.

It is unpardonable that no Nigerian official implicated in the $180 million (N27 billion) Halliburton bribery scam has been convicted. Two former executives of French engineering and construction company Technip have been jailed to giving bribes to Nigerian officials.

Meanwhile, the series of Nigerian officials who were receiving the bribes over a ten-year period to secure the construction contract worth $6 billion (N900 billion) have been quietly enjoying their loot. It will be recalled that the company admitted paying $132 million (N9.8 billion) to a Gibraltar corporation controlled by London-based lawyer, Jeffrey Tesler, and $51 million (N7.65 billion) to Marubeni of Japan.

The money was paid as bribes to Nigerian government officials. The bribe givers – Jeffery Tesler, the main go-between for the consortium, is serving a 21-month sentence in a United States prison while Jack Stanley, former Chief Executive Officer, is serving 30 months. Using the Federal Corrupt Practices Act, FCPA, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Security and Exchange Commission has made the companies and individuals that paid the bribe to pay more than $1.7 billion in penalties.

Halliburton had in January 2009, paid a $559 million (N84 billion) fine to the U.S government after the company was found guilty of bribing Nigerian officials. Meanwhile, no Nigerian bribe recipient has been convicted or jailed. What is clear is that those in charge of the Nigerian state are abusing their powers to ensure that those who steal massive amounts of money must never be punished.

It is unpardonable that in Nigerian prisons today, there are thousands of people who are in jail because they have stolen a chicken or a goat. They are jail because they have committed a crime against the state. Their theft was petty and they must suffer the punishment they deserve is the message.

Those who steal in billions however are always protected by the same state. No wonder Nigerians believe we do not have the same justice for everybody. We cannot begin to fix the Nigerian problem until we have the same justice for everyone. Today, the confidence of Nigerians in the judiciary is at its lowest ebb and this does not augur well for our democracy. Indeed, it does not augur well for this nation of ours where the impact of public policy is the increase in the number of the poor and the astronomical wealth of the tiny cabal that are looting the resources of the nation.

The future of Nigeria depends largely on our capacity to fight endemic corruption. Levels of corruption are so high and its presence so pervasive that development and the provision of public goods for the welfare of the people have collapsed.

The Nigerian Government has consistently shown its determination not to not to try those who oil the wheels of corruption such as Julius Berger, Siemens Plc., Saipem, Technip and Halliburton Inc. The Attorney- General of the Federation, Mr. Adoke SAN has argued in all the cases that they will simply be fined so that they can continue their business in Nigeria.

This was the same position taken by his predecessor, Mr. Aondoakaa that the corrupt should be allowed to continue their business.

It is unpardonable that Section 15(5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which stipulates that “the State shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power” has been rendered non-operational, as people in power continue to sap the nation’s economic strength through corrupt acts.

Yes indeed, it is unpardonable that we have been denied our right to good governance.

Dr. Ibrahim is one of Africa’s leading authorities on electoral culture, institutions, and party systems. He is currently Executive Director at the Centre of Democracy and Development [CDD] in Abuja, and also serves as the President of the West Africa Civil Society Forum [WACSOF]. He writes a syndicated column for Premium Times.


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