President Goodluck Jonathan is showing unprecedented courage to battle corruption. On July 24, 2012, Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), arraigned several firms and individuals for conspiracy, obtaining money under false pretences (419), forgery and falsification of documents.
The charge sheet is against over 140 individuals and companies alleged to have defrauded the Petroleum Support Fund (PSF). EFCC describes it as an “extensive and massive” criminal investigation that seeks to prosecute business persons, companies, external auditors and government officials.
This is uncommon, primarily because two of the indicted persons are sons of the ruling party’s chieftains – Mahmud Tukur and Abubakar Ali are, respectively, the sons of the current and past chairman of PDP. President Jonathan is finally showing that he gives a damn about corruption.
Nigerians’ patience has been sorely tested. Nigeria, socially, politically and economically, is tethered to graft. Corruption is a millstone that is sinking this country.
Corruption has not been given the benefit of Nigerian law; our constitution is thick with laws against corruption. President Jonathan should not cut them now in the name of political expediency. It will be presumptuous to think that cronyism and ‘contractocracy’ will prevail when the political wind of change, which is blowing already, becomes a gale.
Corruption in Nigeria is legendary; it is monstrous, has been lately described as the country’s fastest growing industry, and belies Nigeria’s democratic pretensions. Even more, the near-absolute lack of effort to slay this dragon has spawned a web of shamelessness and impunity.
Nigeria’s battle against corruption has been, at best, schizophrenic. Which is why this singular action to try well-oiled and politically-connected individuals is unprecedented. It should provide the fresh air Nigeria pines for. Resorting to the rule of law to bring these companies and people to book has genuinely transformational consequences. It must not be underestimated.
This is a chance to deter people from corrupt practices and curb their indifference to taking or asking for bribe. Forgery and theft are patent violations of Nigeria’s criminal code; apprehending and punishing perpetrators and recovering the stolen funds is the least Nigerians expect.
Corruption is bleeding Nigeria. For instance, Seatac, one of the indicted companies, is said to be based in the Virgin Islands, a place notorious for hiding money. Its secrecy jurisdiction allows individuals and companies to hide their wealth, stolen or otherwise.
Since 1970, Nigeria’s elite are said to have secretly stashed $233.9 billion offshore, according to Tax Justice Network. The amount comes to $306.2 billion, if investment stock is added, and equivalent to 40 times Nigeria’s external debt.
We call on the judiciary to neither dally nor succumb to pressure; probity is a word rarely associated with Nigeria. The right thing to do is to bring the trial to closure, justly, fairly and quickly. Justice must be seen to be done – here in Nigeria and not abroad.
What is at stake is a chance to break the cycle of impunity, signalling to Nigerians, and the world, that 419 does not pay, that fraudulence isn’t our way of life. This, hopefully, will disabuse the perception that 419 is a metonymy for Nigeria.
Furthermore, we urge the president not to discard the other recommendations of the Presidential Committee on Verification and Reconciliation of Fuel Subsidy Payments. We also call on the National Assembly, once it reconvenes in September, not to tarry on the Petroleum Industry Bill. A transparent and competitive oil and gas industry will reduce rent-seeking.