FEATURE ARTICLE

E O EkeFriday, October 2, 2015
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SARAKI, A SYMPTOM OF A CHRONIC NIGERIA DISEASE, THAT HAS A CURE

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hen I heard about the order to produce Saraki in court, I thought here Nigeria goes again. Another corrupt politician, who has fallen out of favour with the President receiving the usual treatment. It was the same with, Aleyemeisagha, under Obasanjo Sylvia under Jonathan and many others, who obviously corrupt, were harassed because they fell out of favour with the power that be. The tactics is the same. Charge, arrest harass and then release, if the accused plays ball. I have seen the charade many times to be neither surprised nor hopeful.

It is not difficult to find reasons why Buhari may be after Saraki. Especially, after the way he emerged as the Senate President. It is known that they are not friends. Buhari has not met with Saraki, officially, since he became President, in spite of several attempts Saraki has made to meet with him. Those of us who have followed Buhari know that he remembers his enemies and does not know that one thing worse than a lie, is truth pursued with intention to destroy.

His first shot after becoming President was fired at Sambo Dasuki, no saint. He was the army major who arrested Buhari after he was overthrown. Sambo Dasuki was ADC to Ibrahim Babangida. It is sad that doing the right thing to serve a selfish interest seems to have become the norm in Nigerian politics.

Saraki is being arraigned for alleged inconsistencies in his declaration of assets form or so. Meanwhile, the other serious allegations of misappropriation when he was governor of Kwara state and unlawful dealing with SG Bank, remain in the cooler. This is the Nigerian way of fighting corruption. The government goes after the speck and leaves the beam and agencies perform only the functions the President asks them, irrespective of the statutory provisions. It would seem to me that as long as one is in the good book of the President, the law does not apply to him. The misuse of executive power to protect law breakers is another serious problem which Nigeria must address, to advance.

Recently, Guatemala showed the world how to deal with corrupt politicians. A Guatemalan businessman, Salvador Estuardo Gonzalez accused of participating in a custom fraud told a court that half the bribes in the scam were paid to the former leader and his ex vice President. He told the court he acted as an accountant in the scam known as "La Linea" that sparked the arrest of ex-President Otto Perez, a retired general and his former deputy Roxana Baldetti, both of whom are now in prison awaiting trial.

Gonzalez, was arrested in June 2015, the first of the suspects in the case to corroborate accusations made by Guatemala's attorney general against Perez, who has denied involvement in the multimillion dollar scandal.

Can any one imagine a Nigerian attorney general indicting a Nigerian President? According to investigators' findings, The President and his vice profited from a scheme in which importers paid bribes to avoid customs duties, allegations which Gonzalez backed up. This is a regular occurrence in Nigeria and it is called obtaining import duty weaver. In Guatemala, the President and his vice are now being prosecuted following his resignation as a result of protest against corruption in his government.

The Guatemala President has no multi million dollar farm, owns no, mansion on a hill. Does not own an elite secondary school and university. He did not buy up half of all government owned privatised companies. He does not have houses all over the country and abroad and does not have millions in foreign bank accounts. Yet, once he was implicated in a scam, the people took to the street and he realised that he has lost the confidence of his people and resigned to clear his name. He has my respect, even though I believe the law must be prevail, if he is found guilty. He is a democrat who recognises that the will of the people is supreme.?

In Nigeria, a President or governor who has stolen several time more than what the Guatemala's ex- President was alleged to be entitled in the scam, gets court injunction to prevent his prosecution and police protection, attends national executive meetings and flies around the world in private jet.

Nevertheless, I want to believe that the arraigning of Saraki, is a sign that Buhari is serious about fighting corruption. However, he must do more to persuade the cynic in me. How can I convince myself that the same thing that has failed many times would suddenly succeed because the person doing it has changed?

I ask, where has code of conduct bureau been in the last 16 years, when many politicians actually declare to own what they planned to steal, when they rig themselves into offices? How many more politician did what Saraki is alleged to have done and why are they not being arraigned? Where was the code of conduct bureau, when Ibori, Saraki, Sylvia, T A Orji and many others, were looting their states? Where were the code of conduct Bureau when Obasanjo who is sad to have only twenty-five thousand Naira in his accounts left office a billionaire? Why has the investigation of corruption in Nigeria been limited to Jonathan's administration? Why is Buhari not investigating ex generals who looted Nigeria?

Corruption is alive and kicking in Nigeria. There are no institutional reforms to address an ingrained culture of graft, which is exploited by civil servants, immigration officials, police men and members of custom. The men and women who exploit their positions to extract bribes from members of the public before discharging the functions they are employed to do, are still there and going strong. No one in Nigeria takes a real driving test before obtaining a driving licence and insurance companies in Nigeria do not pay claims, yet they collect premium. These are the type of corruption that must change to give Nigeria a future.

In the last few months, I have come face to face with the monster of corruption in Nigeria at the airport and building planning office. These encounters have reminded me how pervasive and entrenched the culture of corruption remains in Nigeria and exposed me to the boldness and arrogance of the perpetrators. It has also shown me that corruption is not inevitable and that it can be defeated, if the people have the will.

In Aba, Abia state, I was told that I needed to bring Four hundred thousand Naira for the approval of a building plan. When I pressed the gentle man demanding this amount he said two hundred thousand belongs to the government and the rest is for environmental assessment. He said, if I do not want to pay, I can pay the official fee and undertake my own environmental impact assessment and he would then consider the application.

I knew that what would happen after I pay the correct fee, is that my file will disappear and will only be found after I pay a bribe. He told me that they have only one person who does the environmental impact assessment. This is the man in charge of planning. He is the king and if you do not pay, he will not approve your plan, period. He will never appear in any court. He will amass huge wealth and retire rich and then has the audacity to complain about corruption in Nigeria.

Then I asked the town planning officer, if he was a Christian and he said he answered in the affirmative. His church preaches against corruption. Then I asked, if the environmental impact assessment is actually done and he hesitated and said yes. This is a man who has stopped serving the nation and forgotten that he is employed to serve the public.

Corruption in Nigeria is another evidence that going to church or mosque does not make dishonest people honest or the corrupt, less corrupt. Saraki and Buhari attended Mosque together and sat beside each other praying to the same Allah, could not talk to each other.

Obasanjo and Jonathan attends church and Babangida attends mosque. I wonder what Allah was thinking, when the prayer of Saraki and Buhari reached Him on the day they sat beside each other on the praying ground, sitting so close, but very far apart.

Attending church, kneeling before religious entrepreneurs and charlatans, who masquerade as men of God and building churches and mosques, has not and will never make Nigeria a better country. I suppose, it is time to stop praying and start acting. Just decide not to give or ask for bribe and expose anybody who demands for bribe.

Corruption in Nigeria runs deep and goes beyond the Sarakis. Yes, they are the big fishes that must be caught, if the shenanigans of the small fishes would be stopped. Corruption is alive and well in Nigerian universities, with teachers giving marks to students who are ready to pay either in cash or in kind and, in the airports, courts and police stations, where immigrations officers, court clerks and police men demand bribe openly.

Corruption is a systemic disease in Nigeria and cannot be addressed by selective prosecution of the Presidents political opponents. A detailed evidence based strategy, which respects due process and the rights of the accused, is needed.

First, the law must be reviewed with the view to ending the immunity from prosecution enjoyed by those in power. Second, statutory institutions must be made to serve the nation and not the President. For instance, the President should not have any right to order the arrest or release of any suspect or accused. This should be made very clear in the constitution.

Third, the executive power of patronage must be curtailed. Fourth, Nigerians pupils and student should be taught about corruption, how it destroys the country and what they cam do, if they suspect someone is corrupt. This should be started in the nursery school and nursery rhymes about the evils of corruption should be commissioned.

We just cannot allow corruption to win. I will support the devil, if he will get rid of corruption in Nigeria. We must build institutions that can hold leaders to account and begin to have attorney generals that can indict the President. There is no other way. Nigerian leaders should be very ashamed of what they have made and, continue to make of Nigeria.

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