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1 August 2007

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YAR'ADUA ADMINISTRATION

The Dawn Of Zero Tolerance For Corruption?

(By Demola Yaya)

The former Bayelsa State Governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseiagha, was sentenced to two-year jail term on July 26, 2007 after pleading guilty of stealing public wealth entrusted in him. In addition, as of the last count, five ex-governors are being prosecuted by the EFCC over serious allegation of stealing public funds. As we go to press, three of them: Jolly Nyame, Taraba State; Orji Kalu, Abia State and Saminu Turaki of Jigawa state have been granted bail. Most likely others will receive similar privilege only exclusive to the treasury looters.

The punishment meted to Alamieyeseiagha who indeed became infamous globally for escaping from the British Police is a far cry from the magnitude of the offence. He may not even serve the term in the four walls of prison (Tafa Balogun as a case study). In fact, as we go to press, the Guardian Newspaper of July28, reported that Alamieyeseiagha has become a free man less than 24hours he was sentenced! Notwithstanding, the fact that a governor for the first time has been "successfully" tried and sentenced to prison would undoubtedly receive wide applause from the public as a rare feat achieved by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

While inaugurating his cabinet, incidentally the same day Alamaishga was sentenced, President Umar Musa Yar'Adua boasted that his government had zero tolerance for corruption. However, Alamaisagha's light punishment, having entered plea-bargain deal with the government, compared to the volume of wealth stolen at the expense of the development of his state and well-being of the people, has only shown that, on the contrary, Yar'Adua administration treats corruption at high places with the kid glove. A common criminal would have been made to rot in jail, if not sent to Golgotha, for similar offence. This has not however portrayed Yar'Adua as worse than Obasanjo in the fight against corruption. In reality, he is only following Obasanjo's example. In the last dispensation, fight against corruption was used more as public relation stunts. Of all the celebrated cases of arrest of corrupt public office holders including top-ranking ministers, only Tafa Balogun, the former Inspector General of Police, was successfully prosecuted, others have been swept under the carpet. Even Tafa only faced what could be best described as a mock trial. He was arraigned for stealing N17bn and illegal acquisition of choice properties but was only sentenced to six months in prison; a term he even spent at the luxury of National Hospital.

After the initial shilly-shally, the EFCC arrested and arraigned first Joshua Dariye (Plateau State) followed by Saminu Turaki (Jigawa) and Orji Uzor Kalu (Abia). The EFCC later added Rev. Jolly Nyame of Taraba State and Chimaroke Nnamani of Enugu State. But before the last general elections, Nuhu Ribadu, the EFCC Chairman had informed the nation from the floor of the Senate that at least 31 state governors had primitively helped themselves with public funds. Therefore, beyond the grandstanding of the EFCC, this has raised a cogent question: when would the other former Governors have their day in the courts or are the present five the only guilty ones after a secret, out of court trials by the EFCC? The reality is that those presently arraigned are just the disposables that could be used to gain some political points. Indeed, from the trend of the events, some of them could be left of the hook if they are found useful for post presidential election settlement with aggrieved sections of the ruling elite.

One does not need to check the books before drawing the conclusion that government at all levels is simply corruption-ridden. Huge allocations were shared during the last dispensation among the tiers of government even above the appropriated budgets under the guise of excess crude oil revenue. Yet, there is nothing to show for this in term of infrastructural development and provision of social services.

The biggest questions however is that when will the big masquerade be brought into the market square?

During the reign of Olusegun Obasanjo, many efforts were made to assure Nigerians that he was not corrupt. But what happened to the huge revenues at the disposal of his administration? Billions of Naira was spent on roads, refineries and power sectors, yet they became worse than he met them. What were the resources freed up from cuts in social spending like education, health care, fuel subsidy etc spent on?

All this is besides the avalanche of accusations and allegations against Obasanjo. This includes the PTDF scandal, the controversial 200 million shares in Transcorp, hasty disposition of state assets and properties to friends and cronies, last minute award of bogus contracts, the unending story of the financing of the presidential library and the failed 3rd Term agenda (at least three of the five ex governors arrested mentioned their generous donations to the two Obasanjo projects as the reason for looting their states' treasuries), the use of public funds to qualitatively transform the Obasanjo Farms from carcass, amongst many others. The presidential library project is one of Obasanjo's clever ways of looting nation's treasury while putting on the garbs of anti-corruption crusader. Under the pretext of launching presidential library, in one day he received a whopping sum N8.5bn from his cronies whom he had sold the choice public assets at give away price and the governors who donated from their states' monthly allocations.

We therefore call for special panel that will include democratic representatives of labour, pro-masses organisations, Nigeria Bar Association, etc to conduct a public enquiry to truly probe the revenues and expenditure of the government and agencies at levels in the last 8 years. This will reveal the real depth of corruption in high places.

The apparent failure of the EFCC to have acted swiftly and justly in bringing these ex-governors and Obasanjo to book shows that it cannot act above the capitalist system which is nothing but an unending cycle of endemic corruption. Thus, the EFCC itself should not be seen as a saint in the anti-corruption crusade. Nigerians never have been told how much it has cost the commission in its celebrated fight against corruption. It is only the democratic public control and management of the economy that can guarantee a corruption free system.