DASUKIGATE: Jail the Looters! Seize their ill-gotten Wealth!!
DASUKIGATE: Jail the Looters! Seize their ill-gotten Wealth!!
â€¦ But Corruption Will Only End Through System Change
By H.T. Soweto
Revelation of the mindless looting carried out by officials of the immediate-past Jonathan government and key figures in his party has elicited justified outrage across the country. But this comes as no great surprise to very many Nigerians; it confirms the ruling elite’s “take the money and run” approach. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Department of State Security (DSS) have made some high-profile arrest and the prosecution of some of these elements has started. Under prosecution at the moment are many members of the ruling elite like the former National Security Adviser (NSA) Sambo Dasuki, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) spokesperson Olisa Metuh and Chair of DAAR Communications – owners of Africa Independent Television (AIT) Raymond Dokpesi. This is aside many service chiefs and politicians under investigation.
Now the government has revealed that investigations into the activities of the former Minister of petroleum, Diezani Alison-Madueke and former finance minister and coordinating minister of the economy, Okonjo Iweala would soon commence. Both were key figures in the Jonathan administration. While Okonjo Iweala was responsible for neo-liberal and anti-poor policies of privatization and deregulation, Diezani Alison-Madueke presided over the corrupt fuel subsidy regime and an opaque NNPC once described by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) as a corporation with a blank cheque to spend any amount from proceeds of crude oil sale without any oversight whatever. As much as $20 billion dollars of proceed from crude oil sale was alleged by former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Lamido Sanusi, to have developed wings under her. This is aside the several billions of dollars siphoned under the guise of petrol and kerosene subsidy. Their trial, if it ever happens, could open up a can of worms.
VAGABONDS IN POWER
With the revelations so far, no one now can deny that Jonathan led a government of rogues. Despite hypocritical propaganda from the PDP, the evidence is overwhelming. The truth is that for 16 years, 10 of which Nigeria enjoyed a boom in crude oil sale, politicians around the then ruling PDP simply devised all kind of means to loot the country dry. Now with crude price falling to as low as $30 per barrel leading to a revenue shortfall, many Nigerians are outraged at how much all of these looted funds could have done in terms of overhauling collapsing public infrastructures if they were judiciously utilized.
Aside from the sordid corruption scandal surrounding the petroleum industry and the Nigeria National Petroleum Commission (NNPC), the war against Boko Haram provided a slush fund from which Jonathan and his goons gorged themselves. As the horrendous human calamity in the North east was going on with about 20 thousand killed and over 2.5 million made homeless, Jonathan, his generals and party leaders were smiling to the bank.
The amount looted is not the only shocker but the brazenness of it all. In a dramatic heist, $2.1 billion meant to procure arms to equip the military in the fight against Boko Haram was diverted to finance Jonathan’s failed second term bid while soldiers were dying on the battle field. Poorly armed and unmotivated; yet they could not even disobey any order including one that could potentially lead to their annihilation. All these while army chiefs in the high command who did not have to endure the hardship of battle were lining their pockets. In its raids on service chiefs and military tops under the last administration, the EFCC has unearthed evidence of choice properties and mansions allegedly belonging to military chiefs whose legitimate earnings would not even buy the land upon which these properties are sited.
“PADDY-PADDY” ANTI-CORRUPTION WAR
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) joins working people enraged by this mindless looting to demand a speedy trial and the stiffest punishment for anybody found guilty of corruption. No one should be left off the hook or lightly punished just because they gave up part of their loot. Unlike the attempt by the PDP and its apologists to raise a pity-party for Olisa Metuh when he appeared in court in handcuffs, the DSM and genuine working class activists have no pity or sympathy for any member of the corrupt ruling elite. As far as we are concerned, corruption is a crime against workers and poor Nigerians. For every kobo stolen, it is a school, a hospital or a road that would benefit society that is automatically stolen. Therefore, anyone found culpable must be made to face the full consequence of their actions. If the Buhari government is sincere, it must be prepared to ensure the full recovery of all looted funds and the seizure of properties whether within the country or abroad.
However, the preparedness of the Buhari government to go the whole way in ensuring all looters are tried is beginning to come under question. The method the government has adopted in the pursuit of the anti-corruption war appear not too different from the plea-bargaining method employed under the Obasanjo administration where treasury looters are forgiven or lightly sentenced once they agree to part with a portion of their loot. Already a few of those accused of benefitting from the $2.1 billion have allegedly paid back a portion of their loot. Even though the government still claims they would be prosecuted, nobody knows how or when. There is every possibility that their cases could be swept under the carpet. For instance, one of those that have returned the loot is Lawal Jafaru Isa, a close ally and stalwart of the APC, who has been apparently told to go home and sin no more after a few days at EFCC detention. It appears that the only reason the duo of Olisa Metuh and Raymond Dokpesi are being vigorously prosecuted is, apart from their being key figures in the opposition PDP, because unlike others they refused to cooperate and pay back their loot. In a society where the prisons are filled with ordinary people accused of stealing mobile phones, match boxes, for committing other petty crimes and some of them imprisoned for not committing any crime; this sort of preferential treatment of corrupt politicians and treasury looters is hypocritical and unacceptable. This only goes to reinforce the fact that in a class society, one law operates for the rich and another for the poor. As ordinary Nigerians often say: “the bigger your theft, the more likely it is that you would be able to get off the hook without much consequence”.
Aside the messianic illusion that some still share that Buhari means well and is personally above corruption, nothing about the anti-corruption war of the Buhari administration is fundamentally different from the way and manner previous governments have conducted campaigns against corruption. For the capitalist ruling elite, anti-corruption war often serve two purposes. One to deal with political opponents and assert political authority and control over state power. Two, a smokescreen to direct the blame for economic hardship away from neo-liberal policies being implemented. The only minor difference this time around is that Nigeria today is so seriously weakened economically that stealing by politicians on the same scale as in the past has to be curtailed in order to avoid an economic peril that could threaten the capitalist system itself. Sometimes, the representatives of capitalism as a whole take action against the most outrageous exploiters whose actions threaten to provoke mass anger and/or threaten the general interests of the ruling class. This is aside from the fact that sizeable recovery of looted funds would be needed to fund the huge deficit hole in the 2016 budget.
Up till now, the government is still not willing to reveal how much has been recovered and what purposes the recovered funds would be used for. Under Obasanjo, Yar’ Adua and Jonathan regimes, so-called Abacha loots which refer to monies stolen by the late dictator, General Sani Abacha, were recovered. But till today, not one single project can be pointed out to as evidence of how the recovered funds were utilized. In some cases, these recovered looted funds were in turn re-looted by officials of the regimes in power.
In his inauguration speech, Buhari vowed to leave no stone unturned in the war against corruption. Yet despite that former President Jonathan has been named by Dasuki as well as by other key figures under investigation and trial to have approved the diversion of the funds, it does not appear that the Buhari regime is prepared or willing to place him on trial. The reality is that $2.1 billion could not possibly disappear without the approval of the president. These and other shortcoming raises the danger that the Buhari anti-corruption war might go the way of similar efforts by previous regimes.
HOW ABOUT THE OTHER THIEVES?
Even if the PDP is being hypocritical for describing the anti-corruption war as selective and targeted at the opposition, the reality is that the way and manner the government is going about it leaves much to be desired. In any case, it would amount to naivety to assume that for the past 16 years, only politicians around the ruling PDP were involved in the looting of Nigeria’s wealth. An examination of the state of infrastructures in the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) would reveal just how little has changed over the last 16 years compared to the huge resources available to state governors and local government officials to transform society.
In many states of the federation including those ruled by other political parties, the same mismanagement and looting of the treasury that the Jonathan administration is accused of also took place and is still happening. In fact, if a serious probe of the finances of the past and present state governors is carried out, several mini-Dasukis would be discovered who also diverted resources for both personal use and to finance the 2015 general elections including in support of Buhari presidential bid. In many states, both monthly allocations from the federation account and share from the excess crude account were routinely mismanaged and looted. So much was the wastage and mismanagement that by the time the oil price shock came, only very few states could pay workers and pensioners as at when due. In Osun, Oyo, Kogi and many other states ruled by both the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressive Congress (APC) governors, government wasted public funds on white elephant projects in order to get money out for the boys. For instance whilst Osun and Ekiti have no need for an airport from the point of priority, the state governments have commenced the process of building one.
The essential point therefore is that if the motivation for probing the past administration is the fact that not much improvement came to the ordinary people despite the huge resources at their command, this means all the past 36 state governors and the FCT also should be in dock going by the reality that not much improvement has come to the lives of ordinary people in their domain. For instance, Babatunde Raji Fasola has since been accused of spending N139 million to drill two boreholes at the Lagos House, Ikeja while in office as Governor of Lagos state. This did not stop Buhari from appointing him as a minister and up till now nothing has been heard from the EFCC in relation to that.
The reality is that despite its anti-corruption drive, Buhari government is not in short supply of corrupt treasury looters and conniving politicians who have stolen and are still stealing so much public funds that they actually should be standing in the same dock as Olisa Metuh, Sambo Dasuki, Raymond Dokpesi and other looters. Buhari’s refusal to extend the anti-corruption war to the thieves in his own government and party will continue to reinforce the impression that despite the hue and cry, Buhari’s anti-corruption war is only targeted at political opponents.
CORRUPTION FIGHTING CORRUPTION
He who comes to equity, they say, must come with clean hands. Unfortunately despite all the make-belief, the Buhari government is not above board. Whilst trying to fight corruption, the Buhari government is itself neck-deep in corruption. As a Yoruba adage goes “A lie may endure for 20 years, but it takes the truth just one day to catch up with it”. In this case however, it does not appear that the make-belief of an incorruptible government that the APC has been promoting will endure for that long. Right from its first budget proposal, the rotten and corrupt underbelly of the Buhari government is already out in the open.
Many proposals in the 2016 budget for ministries, department and agencies were found to have been “padded” i.e. inflated. For instance, the minister of health was reported to have disowned the budget for his ministry claiming that the budget was not the same prepared and approved by the ministry. Similarly, the proposal for education was found to have been inflated by as much as N10 billion. The same goes for other ministries and agencies. In a manner reminiscent of the drama surrounding the “oil subsidy cabal” under the Jonathan administration, a so-called “Budget Mafia” is now being touted to be responsible for padding the budget and inflating figures.
But apart from the areas in the budget that were allegedly padded, what about other areas whose figures are not being contested? Despite an ongoing economic crisis, huge sums of money are being proposed in the budget as allocations to support the luxurious lifestyle of the political establishment. For instance, a sum of N6.74 billion is being proposed for “consultancy services, liability and construction of Senate president’s residence”. Similarly, the Presidency proposed to spend the outrageous sum of N3.87 billion on capital projects at the State House medical Centre a medical facility to care for less than 1000 people including the president, vice president, their families and other officials of the state house. This amount is N787 million more than the cumulative capital allocation to all the 16 teaching hospitals in the country! Also the sum of N89.1 million is to be spent on kitchen equipments at the State House. This is aside the trillions of Naira the political office holders cost the nation monthly in terms of salary and allowances. According to statistics, a little over 17, 474 political office holders in Nigeria cost the nation nothing less than N1.2 trillion annually. If this is not corruption, then what is it?
IT IS CAPITALISM THAT BREEDS CORRUPTION
The reality is that corruption is a symptom of a far larger and fundamental ailment afflicting the country. Capitalism, a system that allows the concentration of 80 percent of Nigeria’s vast wealth in the hands of a tiny 1 percent of the population, is the fundamental reason behind the brazen treasury looting as well as outrageous privileges that has come to define politicians and public officials in Nigeria.
Unlike in developed capitalist countries where a large portion of the capitalist class accumulates wealth by extracting surplus value through the exploitation of the labour of workers (something that is as open to corruption as treasury looting as seen with many examples of corporate frauds in advanced capitalist economies), the capitalist class in Nigeria just like its counterparts in many other neo-colonial countries is weak and dependent because of its late arrival on the stage of history. Because of this, it is not able to mobilize adequate capital to invest in industry and produce commodities for trade in a world market already dominated by big multinational companies. The few capitalists like Aliko Dangote who invest in the market are cautious to invest in the food, energy and extractive industry like cement, noodles, oil and gas and other areas where they can enjoy government supportive trade policies and a certain monopoly of the local and regional markets. An attempt to do beyond this like for instance production of electronics, cars or mobile phones would result in competition with more established competitors with better economies of scale. This is why the ruling elite in Nigeria see access to the state power as the only opportunity to accumulate wealth and this in turn is why corruption in Nigeria and other neo-colonial countries acquires such brazen characteristics.
Without ending capitalism, corruption will continue to thrive for as long as possible. However let us assume for a moment that political office holders suddenly stop being corrupt, as welcomed as this would be yet it would not fundamentally make available enough resources to transform society. The greatest corruption of all is the fact that 80 percent of Nigeria’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of a tiny few. Without altering this situation in a revolutionary way, mass poverty in the midst of abundance will continue to be our lot.
Therefore the only realistic way to put an end to corruption is for the labour movement to build a mass movement of workers, youth and poor masses to overthrow the inequitable system of capitalism, take the wealth off the 1 percent and enthrone a democratic socialist society where the commanding heights of the economy would be publicly owned and democratically managed. Such a society would do away with immunity for public officials, make all public officials recallable and place all public officials on the same wage as the skilled worker.
Unfortunately, instead of pursuing the above-outlined approach, the leaders of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) have taken a position of cheer leaders of Buhari’s anti-corruption war. We must warn that such barren and class-collaborationist approach can only prove disastrous for the working class as a whole on the long run. Not only is any belief that Buhari’s anti-corruption war will fundamentally reduce or end corruption unrealistic, the danger is that it can allow the government an opportunity to use the excuse of fighting corruption to drive through anti-worker and anti-poor policies. Notwithstanding the popularity that Buhari has enjoyed, Labour must at no time forget that the Buhari government is a capitalist government and needs to continuously explain that the interests of this government and that of the working masses and poor are and will continue to be antagonistic.
Instead of declaring uncritical support for Buhari’s anti-corruption war, labour can make general demands on the government with respect to opening the books of all ministries, publicly funded bodies and companies with government contracts so that independent committees of workers and financial experts can publically investigate what has happened. Also labour can call for speedy prosecution and trial of all those accused of corruption, recovery of funds and seizure of properties, removal of immunity and reduction in salaries and allowances of public office holders. All these demands however can only be meaningful from the point of view of the working class if linked with a programme of action of labour to build a mass movement to defend energetically the interests of the working and poor masses and also to fight for the enthronement of a workers and poor people’s government that can permanently rid society of corruption and capitalism so that the country’s vast resources can be used judiciously in the interests of the masses and not the ruling class.