By Patrick Momoh
Nigeria is not quite the most corrupt country on earth. But events that keep unfolding in the country in recent times have proved that the government still has a long way to go in its quest to root-out corruption that has permeated every facet of its endeavours and become a constant source of exasperation for the long-suffering population.
The present administration has not also shied away from waging an endless war on individuals who stole from the nation’s common patrimony. Unfortunately, the government has not prosecuted the war against corruption without leaving some Nigerians in doubt of its earnestness. Even with such misgivings, hundreds of billions of naira have already been recovered from well-fortified vaults in private homes, soak-away pits, shrines, and other unholy places.
However, the recent display of a heap of naira notes totaling N111 million at the Police Headquarters, Abuja, has reignited my belief that only spiritual warfare can reset the minds of many Nigerians to detest corruption and its alluring manifestations.
The origin of the N111 million, which many rank and file of the police at the Louis Edet House for their gratuities on that fateful day, is a straightforward story. According to the panel constituted by the Police High Command to investigate activities surrounding the controversial December 10, 2016 parliamentary rerun elections in Rivers State, the colossal sum was “bribe money” allegedly recovered from 23 Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials that participated in the elections.
The 15-man panel, headed by Damien Okoro, a deputy commissioner of police, alleged that three senior electoral officers collected N20 million bribe each while the remaining officers received N15 million each.
While I’m not in a position to really establish the culpability of the indicted INEC officials at the moment since the Rivers State government is challenging the veracity of the bribery report in court, it beats my imagination that officials of the electoral umpire could even be mentioned in such dirty deals at time the present INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, openly exhibits his hatred of any manner of corruption.
Prof. Yakubu, through deeds and words had made it clear to the world, that the era when some bad eggs in the commission will collect money from politicians to do their bidding was over. Hence, I am not surprised that the leadership of the commission played a major role in cooperating with the police to ensure that the lid on the issue of the bribe money was blown opened.
Until now, I was not really a fan of Prof. Yakubu, but for fully cooperating with the police on the investigation of the affected electoral officials in a land where most heads of public organisations are known for doing anything possible to cover up dirty deals and corrupt activities of their staff members in order to dodge public scrutiny, and to avoid embarrassment, I think he deserves to be commended.
Though, this is not the first time that some unscrupulous INEC officials are being indicted for electoral malpractices, it is the first time the head of the commission has openly lived up to his promise to ensure that any staff member of the commission who violates the provisions of the an electoral process for selfish gains is not only made to face the music but also made to dance “naked in the village square,’ to send a message to others that may likely tread such treacherous and shameful path.
Before the recent police panel report, Prof. Yakubu had disclosed that the electoral umpire secured 61 successful prosecutions since 2015, and received 120 case files on different electoral offences from the police. This is a sign that it is no longer business as usual, as a new Sheriff is in town.
The police panel report has also shown the level political actors can go to have their way in an election and the consequence for INEC personnel who allow themselves to be bribed in an attempt to truncate the will of the people for financial and other selfish gains. Yes, N111 million is not even up to a quarter of the hard currencies recently recovered by an anti-graft agency from a private home in Kaduna, but an African proverb says that although the needle is tiny, it is not for the hen to swallow.
It may just find out that eating a needle is not as easy as eating corn, especially when it involves the present leadership in INEC that has not hidden its stance on fighting corruption to enthrone a culture of credible elections in Nigeria.
Momoh writes from Lagos.