The scenario is dramatically enticing. The PDP had wanted to say to Nigerians that it had sinned in the past and come short of their glory. It paid the ultimate price by losing the presidency it controlled for 16 years to a rainbow coalition that was only two years old in the trenches. The PDP thought that, if it apologised for its trespasses, we would simply give it a slap on the wrist or just a pinch on its cheeks or pull its ears gently and tell it to go and sin no more. In the manner of the prodigal son that had asked for forgiveness, it thought we would forgive it. This was not really an act of true penitence or a sincere quest for forgiveness, or a self-purification endeavour. It came after the murmurings in the country and the offensive by some heavyweights against both the PDP and APC as far as the 2019 battle is concerned. The PDP thought, if it apologised and asked for forgiveness, that act of mortification might brighten its chances in 2019. It wasn’t a mistake to apologise because, in truth, we lived in horrid times for most of those 16 years. And the horrid times have not abated since we had new masters in May 2015. In fact, the times have become more horrid, our lives have become more devalued and we are looking lost like a nation that is sleep-walking.
The PDP made the mistake of calling on the APC government, which had harped interminably on the alleged looting Olympics of the PDP government, to name the looters in the PDP. In quick succession, the Minister of Information, who is a lawyer and also the uncrowned sultan of spin, Mr. Lai Mohammed, shot two black lists into the public space. These, he claimed, were the looters. Since I have no money set aside for a defamation battle I will refrain from calling them looters or even mentioning them by name. From my little experience in these matters and judging from the fact that our legal system considers every accused person innocent until convicted, these fellows are simply accused persons. Mr. Lai Mohammed has no business calling accused persons looters because no court has pronounced them as such, except he has decided to invest himself with the portfolios of accuser, prosecutor and judge. The only other persons, apart from the convicted, who can be categorised as looters are those who have benefited from self-conviction by willingly surrendering what they had grabbed. Even those whose cases have been investigated by the EFCC still deserve to have their day in court. I am a supporter, a staunch supporter, of the anti-corruption campaign of the Federal Government. At the same time, we must support the rights of accused persons to be treated as innocent until a court of competent jurisdiction convicts them.
The EFCC also has a right, I believe, to release information to the media on verified cases of alleged looters but it must be made known that those persons are not convicts by any stretch of the word. Corruption must be fought both with proper information management and legal adjudication. Some of those whose names have been bandied around in the press as looters feel tried and convicted by the media before they appear in court. In a democracy, it would be wrong for the press to shy away from reporting issues of public interest to the people. Such issues as corruption, an endemic disease in our country, eminently deserve the attention they are getting from the media. The cases are not decided on the pages of newspapers but in the courtrooms, where the lawyers on both sides do their duties and the man or woman in the middle takes the decision according to the law. No judge decides a case based on what the newspapers write, so the charge of trial by the media is hereby dismissed.
The word “looters” is a glittering generality that is emotionally charged. The PDP may have felt hurt by it even though the Lai Mohammed list was quite stale since we had seen those names and faces in the media long before now. Apparently, the PDP felt that it could not sit by while a pot calls a kettle black. A former spokesman for President Goodluck Jonathan, Mr. Reno Omokri, came up with his own encyclopaedia of alleged looters in a tit-for-tat game. In the ’70s this sort of game was called if-you-Tarka-me-I-will-Daboh-you, a reference to the corruption battle between Mr. Joseph Tarka, a minister in Yakubu Gowon’s government, and Mr. Godwin Daboh, a self-styled anti-corruption crusader.
Both Mohammed’s and Omokri’s lists contain the names of former governors, former and serving senators, serving and former ministers, former security bigwigs and politically-exposed persons of varying ranks. Since Omokri’s list surfaced, Mohammed’s tongue, which is as restless as that of a talk show host, has gone on vacation. I expect the minister of information to collate the names from the three lists and submit it to the appropriate authorities so that the public will be convinced that there is a holistic, non-discriminatory pursuit of alleged looters. Providing a level playing field for all alleged pilferers from our public purse, having neither friends nor foes, is the only way to gain and retain public confidence in the anti-corruption fight. To give the impression that the corrupt are only in the PDP and there are none in the APC would be self-deception by the ruling party. Also, the ruling party seems to be eager to provide a sanctuary for some PDP members who may not pass the purity test. If that becomes the modus operandi of the APC, it will not smell as saintly as it would want us to believe.
But it does appear that everything done now by either of the two parties is geared towards milking some favour from the public in 2019. The APC says it will not stop talking about the PDP’s alleged looting of the treasury. Talk is cheap but Nigerians want action, they want results, they want alleged looters prosecuted speedily and convicted. We are already in the third year of this government and of all the big names paraded as looters there is none convicted today. Its investigation has been said by lawyers to be shoddy. The prosecution of some of the cases has been said to be substandard, which leads to loss of cases that look good on paper. Others have said that the Federal Government is not investing much in the pursuit of the anti-corruption campaign while the accused persons are hiring the best lawyers that money can buy.
The EFCC has been announcing the recoveries it has made so far but it does not come close to the $150 billion that President Muhammadu Buhari said was squirreled out of the country. It is important to keep our eyes on the ball and pursue the alleged looters on a non-partisan basis. That is what will invest the campaign with credibility and prevent people from yawning when spokesmen of the government talk about corruption. Corruption is difficult to fight ordinarily because it is often conceived and executed in strict secrecy. However, in a democracy, it is more difficult because the money that brings any government to power in Nigeria always comes from sources known and unknown, clean and unclean. But both clean and dirty money have the same colour, no difference. And as elections are close by, the picture gets more complicated. People have to fund election campaigns. Parties have to build a sizable war chest. Time seems to be in short supply for the achievement of tangible results on the anti-corruption front by the government.
There are various areas which can be designated from our experience as the headquarters of corruption. Past probes and investigations have shown that, if any government is passionate about curbing corruption, such institutions must be on its fixed radar. There have been records of pension scams, oil theft, payroll inflation, subsidy scam and all kinds of mago mago in the NNPC over the years. So, it would be nice to know how much attention the anti-graft agencies are paying to these places that have been known bastions of corruption in the past.
But the government cannot fight corruption alone. It has to be an integrated fight that involves the anti-graft agencies, lawyers, judges, civil society groups, the media and the public. The most important achievement that the APC government has chalked up in the anti-corruption fight is the establishment of the whistleblower policy. Nigerians have responded with gusto whether as an act of patriotism or as a means of getting an awoof payment. It does not matter what the reason may be but the response it has elicited from the public is heart-warming. The only thing to say here is that, to get the full benefits of the policy, whistleblowers must be paid promptly as soon as their claims have been verified.
The other important factor in the anti-corruption crusade is the judiciary. It is regrettable that, in fighting corruption in the judiciary, government failed to remember that the institution must be treated as a reliable partner. With the crude way that the security agencies were harassing some judges at unholy hours of the night in the name of conducting a search, it gave the impression that their role in the campaign itself was unappreciated. What was done could easily have been done in a sane and sober manner at a sane and sober period of the day without any feeling on the part of the judges that the dignity of their offices was violated. This rough, gestapo approach, I learnt, caused a lot of disharmony between the judges, even those not harassed, and the government. I hope that some fence-mending has been embarked upon because, come to think of it, a good thing was done in a bad manner.
From the three alleged corruption lists that have tumbled into the public domain it is evident that there is no party that is a community of saints and the other a commune of sinners. So, tentatively, we can say that both the APC and PDP have some alleged sinners who must be allowed to have their day in court. It is after that day of reckoning, when the lawyers would have made their closing arguments and the judge his considered judgement, that we can truthfully and sincerely separate the wheat from the chaff.