EVEN as the media beamed TV signals worldwide during the obsequies in honour of the late South African president, Nelson Mandela, in 2013, the international networks could not resist flashing the images of the expansive, palatial country mansion of South Africa’s current president, Jacob Zuma. The imposing edifice, which had just been upgraded with public funds, had become a subject of public controversy.
The controversy recently came to a head when the South African Supreme Court ruled that President Zuma had unduly benefitted from the use of public funds and had failed to “uphold, defend and respect” the constitution of the country by refusing to pay some of the money that was ostensibly spent on “security upgrades” in his personal home in Nkandla, KwaZulu Natal. The project, which cost the country $27 million, included poultry equipment, a cattle enclosure, an amphitheatre and a swimming pool.
Zuma, who had rebuffed all accusations of wrongdoing before the Supreme Court ruling, has now apologised to his country on national television and promised to pay back $16 million in 45 days as ordered by the court.
We commend the South African Constitutional Court for its courage in docking and indicting Zuma. After two years of using every obstructionist tactic known in law to frustrate the courts, and utilizing African National Congress’s (ANC) majority in Parliament to filibuster the issues relating to the case, President Zuma’s apology smacks of an afterthought. His public show of contrition is, indeed, a late effort at crisis management.
We commend the opposition parties in South Africa for keeping the ruling ANC on its toes by insisting on accountability. This, it did in Zuma’s case, with unassailable facts and logic, and less hyperbole and name-calling, which led to his conviction.
The Zuma case boldly underscores the need for Nigerians to also hold their leaders accountable when it is necessary to do so. The existence of “security votes”, which the executive arm of government is neither required to document or account for, and the numerous billion naira estates built by public officials with stolen public funds all over the country, call for a closer interrogation of our civil servants and political office holders. Many of these public office holders own huge mansions and estates, yet no one asks questions about the sources of the money used to build those monuments.
We also commend the South African National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) which had enough independence to proceed against an incumbent president. Nigeria has no equivalent of the NPA, and our leaders are by design practically protected from prosecution, creating intractable obstacles to getting a fair trial for graft and corruption. Indeed, reading the highly critical opinion of Nigeria’s legal experts on the Supreme Court’s decision on the jurisdiction of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, it would seem that the CCT was set up as a window dressing or a show boat bereft of enforcement powers of any kind. It is no wonder that Nigeria is seemingly a haven for corrupt politicians, which has made Nigeria one of the most looted countries in the world.
The time has come for all Nigerians to do all that is necessary to change this narrative by strengthening our institutions and our resolve against corruption. Nigeria should learn a lesson from this good example from South Africa.