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31 March 2005

N55M BRIBERY SCAM:

A New Dawn of Anti-Corruption Crusade or Another Round of Business As Usual?

 

On 22 March, 2005, President Olusegun Obasanjo in a surprise nationwide broadcast accused some top government officials of corruption. He specifically cited Senate President, Adolphus Wabara and Minister of Education, Prof. Fabian Osuji involvement in a N55m bribery. Others cited in connection with this alleged scam are senators Ibrahim Abdullaziz, Chris Adighije, John Azuta Mbata, Emmanuel Okpede and Badamasi Maccido, honourables Gabriel Suswan, the chairman of House of Representatives committee on appropriation, Shehu Matazu, the chairman of House committee on education, Osita Izunaso, Prof. Peter Okebukola, Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Jude Njoku, Vice Chancellor, Federal University of Technology, FUT Owerri. For a good measure, the president informed the nation that all the indicted persons will be prosecuted.

 

For record purposes, the National Assembly members since the inception of the current so-called civil rule in May 1999, have always wallowed in corruption. Their practices of extorting money before passing budgets, resolutions, giving approval to ministerial and ambassadorial nominees etc are a known routine fact to every informed member of the society. In the year 2003, the minister of Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Nasir el Rufai, disclosed that the Deputy Senate President, Mr. Ibrahim Mantu and certain other senators demanded from him a sum of N54 million before his nomination could be approved by the Senate. Due to the massive publicity generated by this scandal, both el Rufai and the Senate decided to reach an unholy pact. The senate on its part approved the nomination of el Rufai as the Minister of Federal Capital Territory while el Rufai on his part tended an apology to the Senate to the effect that his accusations were groundless.

 

Coming to the present case, the contradictory statements emanating from those involved in the current scam clearly show that their demands and show of anger against president Obasanjo’s disclosure is a bold face conduct of incorruptible crooks.

 

For us in the DSM, this disclosure by the president is an official confirmation of the chronic corruption that has been going on at the corridors of power in the past six years of Obasanjo led civil rule, notwithstanding the government’s so-called anti-corruption crusade. Following on from the military top’s example between 1983 and 1999 the National Assembly, the executive and the judiciary have sometimes, severally and collectively, been fingered in massive corruption and looting of public funds with nothing serious ever done to bring the affected officials to book. It should be stressed that this is what lay behind the false and pretentious cry of innocence coming from the exposed legislators and the National Assembly in general.

 

We therefore demand the immediate arrest and prosecutions of all those involved in this latest financial scam. If found guilty, they should be given maximum punishments and sentences as provided by law with a view to serve as a deterrence measure to all would be looters of public treasury.

 

ANOTHER MEDIA STUNT?

 

For a country that has been officially acclaimed as one of the most corrupt in the world, the latest move from the presidency ought to draw applause from all those opposed official corruption and the negative impacts which this has on the masses living standards.

 

However, the Obasanjo government’s antecedent and its self proclaimed anti-corruption crusade clearly underline the fact that the current exercise can be nothing more than a hoax, a big make-belief.

 

While making the national broadcast in issue, President Obasanjo amongst other things stated: "past leaders of the Senate and the House got away with near murder and are now living in obscene opulence. Such opulence is without foundation except abused privilege of being a leader in the National Assembly for a few years". For us in the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), and the vast majority of the Nigerian people who have been the victims of the massive corruption going on in the government, Obasanjo’s revelation constitutes an official confirmation of what fickle minded people may want to dismiss as mere speculation.

 

This revelation however raises two other related issues. One, as president and commander-in-chief of Nigeria, with powers over police, State Security Service (SSS), EFCC, ICPC and all other paraphernalia of institutions and agencies responsible for crimes investigations and prosecutions, what did president Obasanjo do to bring to book "past leaders of the Senate and the House" that "got away with near murder and are now living in awesome opulence". Are these leaders faceless and nameless? Are they Nigerians or foreigners? Why is it that nothing has been done to bring these people to book? Now that the president is claiming to be fighting corruption, we ask: when will these elements be charged to court? Two, the presidency and the Federal Executive Council between themselves control about 90% of all revenue and resources allocated to federal government. However, a critical analysis of president Obasanjo’s anti-corruption speeches were directed against the leadership and membership of the National Assembly thereby giving the false impression that all is well with the executive and judicial arms of the government. This attitude, it should be stressed, flatly contradicts the known realities and conducts of most Nigerian officials. For two consecutive years running Transparency International has named Nigeria the second and third most corrupt country of the world respectively.

 

Consequently, the current exercise based on the above stated facts can be no more than a smokescreen to divert attention from the monumental and unprecedented corruption going on in all arms of the government at the federal, state and local government levels, among the executive, judiciary and legislature.

 

A MOMENTARY SENSATION

 

Looking at the substance and the manner with which the current corruption allegation was made by president Obasanjo, it should be clear to all discerning minds that the current so-called anti-corruption crusade can be no more than a momentary sensation.

 

In his usual "media trial" style, the president has accused these officers of corruption. In consequence of this alleged offence, the president relieved Prof. Osuji of his post as a Minister of Education. Going by the antecedents of this government, this may be the end of the current corruption saga.

 

In his first term in office, the president just one day came up with revelation that certain officials of Ministry of Defence including its Permanent Secretary, Mr. Julius Makanjuola, embezzled a sum of N450m. Just like in the current case, Mr. Makanjuola and others involved were promptly relieved of their posts and were also charged to court. A few months later, those charges were withdrawn. Today, Makanjuola and his partners in crime walk the nation streets freely with nobody saying anything about this sordid episode. In late 2003, at the period Nigeria was hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, this same President Obasanjo told the whole nation and indeed the world of how his Minister of Labour and Productivity, Hussain Akwanga, his former Minister of Internal Affairs, Sunday Afolabi, a former secretary of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Nwodo and some other top government officials had embezzled a total sum of $242m meant for the procurement of ID cards for all Nigerian citizens. Just like now, the affected minister was dismissed and charged to court along with his partners in crime. Shortly after, one of those involved in this financial scam, Chief Sunday Afolabi died. Since then, nothing concrete is being done to complete the trials of those involved.

 

Early this year, the former Inspector General of Police, Mr. Tafa Balogun, was forced to resign as a result of a financial scam involving a sum of N7.5 billion found in one of the accounts being operated by Mr. Tafa Balogun. Just like now, this sordid event generated lots of media attention but up till today nothing concrete has been done to bring the former IG to book.

 

Also, sometimes in year 2003, the president informed the nation that he had released the sum of $700 million for the turn around maintenance of the nation’s refineries, but today the refineries are not only non-functional but also their conditions have become worse. Yet, nobody has been brought to book by the president. There was also the million dollar contract scam in Aladja Steel, the COJA sleaze, to mention but a few.

 

Before the president’s disclosure, the House of Representatives has conducted investigations showing massive corruption, running into hundreds of billion naira, within the following bodies and individuals, all belonging to the executive arm of government. These are:

  • Bureau of public enterprise/NITEL/Pentascope

  • The Case of missing Ship (MV African Pride)

  • Ajaokuta Steel Co. Ltd/SOLGAS

  • Military Pension Board

  • National Housing Fund

  • Privatisation Share Purchase Loan Scheme Fund

  • National Identity Card Corruption Scam

  • The Halliburton Case

  • The Former IGP Tafa Balogun Corruption Saga.

 

As usual, the Obasanjo government has failed to do anything about the damaging corrupt practices disclosed by the findings of the House of Representatives committees. This is not an isolated instance. At the early inception of Obasanjo civilian presidency, the government set-up a panel headed by Mr. Christopher Kolade, to look into contracts awarded by his predecessors in office. The panel eventually submitted a report which showed that several top government officials were involved in corrupt practices. Sadly however, the Obasanjo regime has failed to publish Christopher Kolade’s report let alone bringing those indicted to book.

 

Under the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, public officers like the Presidents, Governors, etc are not supposed to engage in private businesses lest they use the privileged positions to feather their own nests. But this precisely is what the president, the governors and all other top government officials have been doing! In November last year, President Obasanjo boasted of making a profit of N30 million a month from his private businesses! While killing education, health care and other social needs with systematic under-funding, the president and his vice, Abubakar Atiku have awarded licenses to operate private universities to themselves and others like General Babangida, the former military dictator.

 

It should also be stressed that corruption amongst capitalist politicians across the parties and across the country is not something limited to money alone. All capitalist politicians in the three ruling parties (PDP, ANPP and AD) indulged in massive riggings and manipulations of the electoral processes to emerge "winners" of the 2003 general elections. In other words, these elements stole their mandates so as to be in vantage positions to loot the country’s treasury and resources not to serve the masses as they often falsely claimed.

 

Against this background, the current exercise can be no more than a momentary sensation meant to deceive the public and particularly to impress Transparency International that Nigeria has commenced the war against corruption.

 

In any event, even if those currently fingered in the N55m scam are eventually prosecuted and if found guilty, convicted, this will merely represent an infinitesimal proportion of the corrupt politicians and their contractors ruling and ruining the country. In the past six years, over N10 trillion of revenue has accrued to Nigeria and shared by governments across the country.

 

Sadly however, there are very little positive things that the masses have benefited in the same period. In the 70s, when government was realizing huge sum of money from oil sales as it has been the case in the past six years, massive resources were expended on expansion of education and health sectors, new roads and government housing estates were constructed by federal and state governments across the country. Great strides were also made to expand electricity and telecommunication services. To a large extent, all these contributed to the relative growth of the industry and agriculture. Suffice to stress much more could have been achieved in this period but for the usual corrupt practices of capitalist government officials inflating contracts and their outright stealing of public money. Today, however, president Obasanjo operates an open, pro-imperialist, pro-rich, anti-poor, neo-liberal capitalist agenda. The central thrust of this agenda insists that government should spend little or no money on education and health services, housing, social infrastructures such as electricity, water, transportation, telecommunication, etc.

 

YOU CAN’T HAVE CAPITALISM WITHOUT BIG TIME CORRUPTION

 

On the basis of this anti-development and anti-poor philosophy, huge revenues that are being annually earned are just being looted by top government officials and their dubious local and international contractors. This is not all.

 

Under the guise of privatisation and trade liberalisation, public properties and facilities acquired and built from the collective toil and resources of Nigerians are being assigned to capitalist individuals and corporations at give away prices where they bother to collect money at all. This, should be stressed, is the mother of all corruption!

 

Suffice to stress, this process will only deepen the agonies and mass poverty of the working masses in the face of limitless abundance. Already, president Obasanjo’s pro-rich economic agenda has produced an unprecedented social inequality of any country of the world. According to a World Bank report, under Obasanjo’s tenure, only 1% of Nigerians consume 80% of the nation’s income. To therefore tackle corruption head long, this monumental inequality has to be righted.

 

The nation’s resources and wealth that are currently cornered and monopolized by just 1% of the populace will have to be rescued and used to benefit the lots of everybody. But to bring about this desirable situation, the current self-serving capitalist parties and politicians in and outside government will have to be relieved of their political and economic control of the country. But as we in the DSM often state, only a government of workers and poor peasants based on the socialist agenda, can run an economic and political agenda primarily tailored to serve the interests of everybody and not just a few.

 

Under a genuine workers and poor peasants’ government, all officials whether in the army, police, civil service, parastatals and companies shall be elected by their rank and file members and subject to recall by their electors whenever they are discovered not to be representing the general interest of their members. In addition, all officials shall only earn the average wage of those they are representing plus only genuine incidental expenses. Presently, the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Iweala earns a whooping sum of $247,000 (not paid in naira!) per annum. On top of this, her accommodation, feeding, transportation, telephone, education and health care expenses of herself and family are completely borne by the government. This in a country where the minimum wage is N5,500 and where tens of millions are jobless and without any social security payment!

 

Governed by elements like this, corruption will remain a permanent feature of the society as many others seeking to overcome poverty like Iweala will be ready to do or manipulate everything to have plenty money, the only god which capitalists worship in earnest.

 

LABOUR RESPONSE

 

Against this background, the NLC leadership commendation of president Obasanjo’s so-called "courageous" anti-corruption crusade is nothing short of a tragedy, especially when he is simultaneously trying to legally cripple Labour with his new Trade Union law. This commendation is tragic because the labour leadership closes its eyes to the fact that president Obasanjo has waged several sensational anti-corruption crusades like this in the past without any tangible result. In the early days of president Obasanjo first term, the NLC led a peaceful protest to the National Assembly, condemning the outrageous demand of the National Assembly members for a sum of N4.5m and N3.5m respectively as furniture allowance for the Senator and House of Reps members. As a result of this protest, which itself was partly instigated by president Obasanjo outcry against the said request, members of National assembly told the whole world that the amount will be slashed by N1m each. But after having presented himself to the public as a prudent president, president Obasanjo quietly behind the scene went ahead to approve higher sums as furniture allowances for members of National Assembly than those which were originally proposed. The truth must be bluntly stated that the ruling elite have no confidence to even try to build a strong capitalist Nigeria as they realize that imperialism’s domination of the world market makes that almost impossible and so, in the context of Nigeria’s oil wealth, the individual members of the elite concentrate on fighting to get into position to loot the income from oil and now gas exports.

 

On the basis of the prevailing unjust capitalist system, anti-corruption crusade by president Obasanjo or any other president can be nothing but a sham. This is because by nature and its mode of doing business and governance, capitalism is inherently unjust and corrupt. Therefore, instead of lending credence to the fraudulent and hollow anti-corruption crusade allegedly being waged by president Obasanjo, the NLC leaders together with all other pro-labour, pro-masses organisations and individuals should stop all forms of collaboration with the operators of this incurably corrupt system. Instead, all their efforts and strategies should be directed towards the building of a political platform of the working masses with a view to remove from power all the corrupt capitalist politicians alongside with their unjust capitalist system.

 

 

Segun Sango

General Secretary, DSM