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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Fresh Momentum Against Corruption But Who Will Bell The Cat?



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From Frisky Larr


If there is any lesson to be learnt from President Jonathan’s latest Harakiri policy implementation on New Year’s Day, it’s just one. The government attempted to construct a long, windy by-pass road away from the fight against corruption in the oil sector. It sought to travel the easier way to solve a lingering problem hanging on the government’s neck like a consuming albatross. It sought to make the ordinary people bear the brunt of turning the nation’s economy around while the blood-sucking vampires were guaranteed their loot. The folks said no. Emphatically and massively too! They saw the policy as a manifestation of sheer wickedness, which the President should have foreseen and planned to curtail. He did not.

The Governor of the Central Bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi put it in blunt terms when he explained in a town-hall meeting to sell the government’s project to the people. He stated in clear terms that every attempt to have government invest on refineries and keep them running before the complete removal of subsidies will also go the way of every other “white elephant project” before it, namely FAIL. In his own views, the removal of subsidy will be pulling away the carpet from beneath the feet of corrupt individuals so that corruption can no longer thrive. In other words, acting to regain the losses suffered so far in the hands of such identifiable kleptomaniacs is not at all on the government’s agenda to say the least of prosecuting these identifiable individuals. It does not seem to matter that the volume of theft so far perpetrated on Nigeria and its people is in and of itself, a more than sufficient volume to give the nation the number of refineries that it requires, if only half of it was recovered.

Unfortunately however, this indirect admission of virtual incapacitation and (should I say) incompetence was not immediately recognized for the shameful attribute it contained because the speaker was smart and intelligent enough to clad the rhetoric in fine, academic eloquence. The message in the submission was nothing else but a clear indictment of government. A blatant dereliction of sovereign duty! Sanusi Lamido Sanusi implicitly acknowledged the presence of evil forces within the oil industry that are difficult, if not impossible to fight. It is in fact, a pathetic admission of government’s incapacity as it presently stands, to fight the oil cabal.

When President Jonathan brought back Nuhu Ribadu from exile with safety guarantees and speculated assurances that he would be given a role in the fight against corruption, there were high hopes of a new jolt that may take control of the highly vexed sector. Corrupt people were in fear. It was something that was badly needed in the aftermath of the lame-duck days of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. When the empowerment of Nuhu Ribadu failed to materialize however, the folks were full of understanding for the possible underlying reasoning. The President did not need to offer an explanation. People accepted that the need to avoid controversy and troubled waters in his own days of political infancy at the Presidency may have informed the decision. Such was the enormity of goodwill enjoyed by Goodluck Jonathan.

As if gifted with a special skill for timing crucial decisions wrongly however, the President gave the nation a first slap in the face in the year 2011. For no discernible reason and at the most inexpedient of times, the President fired Farida Waziri just when she was beginning to gather steam and learn her lessons in acquiring the necessary sting to keep corruption culprits in shock and awe. She had just indicted the former Speaker of the House of Representatives who was shown the way out of prominence in a spectacular electorate revolt. This was a Speaker who left office selling off several important government assets that were assigned to his office, to his private estate. He was a powerful figure. Farida Waziri’s house-cleaning exercise began with him and the process was gathering steam. Reports claim that she was beginning to beam her searchlight on the oil sector before the President pulled the emergency breaks and nipped the process in the bud. It is yet unclear who mounted pressure on the President to do what he did but pressure, we all know, was definitely mounted by powerful and potential victims of different sectors. The President has remained mute and refused to give a single word of explanation till the present day.

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He got away with it because Farida Waziri sowed the seed of bitterness from the very start by being too vocally critical of Ribadu’s methods which she ended up adopting after seeing no alternative method of effective deterrence. She was initially appointed as a child of the establishment to protect the favorite presidential sons of inordinate corruption under Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Farida was nobody’s darling and the President could get away with ditching her unceremoniously without public outcry in contrast to the removal of Nuhu Ribadu.

But just what is it that scares President Jonathan from fighting corruption? Under President Yar’Adua, the symbolic representation personified in James Ibori was clear for all to see. Olusegun Obasanjo granted a free hand in hunting down corrupt enemies and only a few corrupt friends! Jonathan however scuttles every move to kick-start the battle whenever there is a glimmer of hope. If today, President Jonathan devotes half the passion with which he sought to remove fuel subsidy to the fight against corruption in the oil sector, no doubt many will be trembling in the National Assembly as will many in the cabal of oil importers. The President will not put his entire political career on the line arresting and prosecuting corrupt members of the oil cabal. No. He would rather save that for the removal of subsidy without a care for the hardship that it brings. Lamorde was a credible name when Nuhu Ribadu held sway. Today he is a shadow of himself with impotent rhetorics. EFCC under Lamorde is presently a toothless bulldog that seems to launch corruption investigations only upon executive instructions as the current cosmetic drive against the oil cabal shows. Lamorde is simply not continuing the fight where Farida Waziri stopped it but time remains on his side to turn the table around.

One gets the impression today that Jonathan rules over the Poor and the Weak while the Rich and Powerful perpetrators of corruption rule over the government of President Jonathan. An illegal government governing the people’s government, so to speak, while the people’s government turns against the people to checkmate the forces that it fears!

In a democracy, government sets the agenda not entrepreneurs. If government’s involvement in the building of refineries proves economically unfeasible, government sets the conditions for issuing licenses and for withdrawing same. How effectively has government taken on this responsibility?

It is on this note that President Jonathan should ask himself who would have shed tears over a possible regime change during the fuel subsidy uprising after this gross declaration of moral bankruptcy. A government that openly admits its own incapacitation in fighting a section of society that is dragging the entire society down and pulling back the hands of the clock is of course, the loudest advocate of regime change. When a smart and intelligent person like Sanusi Lamido Sanusi comes out to admit openly that government is limited in its capacity to implement certain policies (building refineries) because past governments had failed in the process, he seems to have forgotten that overhauling government to root out such inefficiencies is also a credible if not the most fundamental prerequisite to solving the persisting problem. Insistence on just one solution option that squeezes the last juice out of the Poor and the Weak “for a short period” as Diezani Allison-Madueke puts it, simply forces one to ask the question what vested interest there is in this one and only solution option. Moreover, no one says what he or she understands by “short period” to say the least of the capacity of the Poor and the Weak to cushion these pains for the so-called “short period”. These are the parameters that are beating the drums of regime change unconsciously. Neighboring Ghana got where it is today through a cleansing regime change that the people holding sway did not bargain for. It was borne out of the recognition of government’s incapability, which the Nigerian government now seems to be admitting to openly.

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In the end, we as Nigerians are happy today that the mass uprising in condemnation of Jonathan’s unnecessary subsidy obstinacy and arrogance has sent a clear message to root out corruption from the oil sector and from all arms of government first before the killing of the regime of importation. The message must be understood that there is no alternative or short-cut by-pass to fighting corruption in government and elsewhere hands-down. Every attempt to sideline this evil and circumvent the process to the detriment of the Poor will end up in sheer wickedness and pretended posturing no matter the amount of stubbornness and political stake backing it up.

Taking the message home from the people’s protest, the government has now launched an assault on corruption in the oil sector and gradually facts are beginning to emerge of some treasury self-service at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in the disbursement of oil subsidy. Will President Jonathan claim not to have known all these? Will he claim not to have known the people involved? It took Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to unearth the gruesome fact while testifying before a Senate committee, that government has not known till today, who authorized the withdrawal of subsidy money by the NNPC. The self-service and non-transparent practice has grown over time and was inherited by a government, which failed to ask questions and yet pretends to strike a major note of difference. There is indeed, hardly any hope that this new drive to purge the oil sector will be anything but window-dressing cosmetics.

In spite of all her mistakes in the oil subsidy debacle by sticking her neck too far out of the window, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala remains the ostensibly most credible character in President Jonathan’s government. No doubt, reasonable people will be ready to forgive her mistakes because she is not a seasoned politician with a mastery of the art of mass deception. Denying the influence of IMF’s handwriting in the fuel subsidy Harakiri, telling the world that the President had not yet made up his mind are all lies that shouldn’t have been told. It does not matter that the President made her look like a liar by changing his mind without informing her. The President bears the blame towards her while she bears the blame to the people for being the voice of the President. I, like many other well-wishers hold the firm belief that Ngozi alone will be able to wipe out the influence of the oil cabal from the government’s treasury if Jonathan does not intervene. That is the unfortunate impression many of us get outside the government. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will bell the cat but who will follow suit? Diezani Allison-Madueke presently gripped by the fear of losing her job may follow diligently but how many trees do we need to make a forest? A very bright and intelligent technocrat that we have in Sanusi Lamido Sanusi is making his limited impact on the banking sector after tarnishing his image with an unnecessarily sectional and populist appeasement of a religious and geographical constituency by stubbornly sticking to the divisive label “Islamic Banking”. He has all it takes to have known and done better than he actually did.
Jonathan’s government is not short of intelligent people but his government is characterized by very many goofy decisions especially in the signaled lack of intent to fight corruption head-on! With eyes wide open and seeing, no one allows a flying stone to run into the open eyes. Jonathan knows this and cannot say that he has not been warned a thousand times because a word, they say, is enough for the wise.

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