Nigerians love drama; and successive Nigerian governments have never failed to provide them with enough dramas to compensate for the abysmal governance they receive. It has become easy therefore for governments to turn to anti-corruption agencies to entertain Nigerians in order to distract them, shore up the governments’ anti-corruption credentials and approval ratings. What better way to do that than through media trials: publicising arrests, parading suspects before the media, making all sorts of allegations against those arrested? These provide the people all the drama they need and burnish the popularity and anti-corruption credentials of the government. Thereafter, the cases are abandoned, or shoddily prosecuted such that the courts end up throwing them out or dismissing them altogether for lack of evidence or diligent prosecution. That has been the story of anti-corruption wars in Nigeria since 1999 with few exceptions.
Nigerians can recall how, on March 22, 2005, former president Obasanjo commandeered all radio and television stations in the country to make a prime-time broadcast, accusing then Senate President, Adolphus Wabara, six other lawmakers, the minister of education, Fabian Osuji, the permanent secretary and five other directors in the ministry of demanding and giving a bribe of N55 million naira in order to increase the ministry’s budget. He promptly fired Osuji, suspended the civil servants and referred all of them to the Economic and Financials Crime Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related commission for onward prosecution.
The publicity and praise for the ‘anti-corruption war’ of the former President was unprecedented. Nigerians and foreigners alike praised Obasanjo to high heavens and condemned the corrupt officials. The Nigerian media, for weeks, analysed the matter with most passing the ‘guilty’ verdict on the accused. Very few, if any, bothered to question the motive of the president and why he had to be the prosecutor and judge on the same case.
Interestingly, the allegations have not been proved till this day. When the civil servants were investigated by the Federal Civil Service Commission prior to their being disciplined and sent for trial, they were found innocent. None of them was charged to court for the alleged offence and they all returned to their duty posts. For the six lawmakers charged to court, none of them was convicted. The cases were all thrown out of courts for lack of evidence.
One thing most Nigerians missed at the time however was that the broadcast coincided with Obasanjo’s meeting with officials of the World Bank and IMF over the debt relief Nigeria was seeking at the time. What better way to convince them that he was the no nonsense anti-corruption Czar they yearned to see in Nigeria? Besides, later events were to prove that the whole drama was part of Obasanjo’s grand scheme for self perpetuation in office. He was building a solid case for wanting to stay in office beyond 2007 and what better way to do that than show the world that Nigeria was a very corrupt country and only he could successfully fight the scourge?
Similarly, in May 2010, after it appears that the then National Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Vincent Ogbulafor, was not in support of President Jonathan running for the presidency and wanted the party to honour its zoning arrangement that zoned the presidency to the north in 2011, he was promptly arraigned at an Abuja High Court on a 17 count criminal charge of N107 million fraud he was alleged to have committed in 2001 as a Minister. Of course, he promptly resigned (which was the real intent anyway). In 2014, he was discharged and acquitted.
Fast forward to 2015 and candidate Buhari ran his campaign almost entirely on his resolve to fight and defeat corruption. Remember his “if we do not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria” war cry?
But one year into his regime, absolutely nothing was achieved in the anti-corruption crusade and he risked losing credibility. It was only a matter of time before desperation sets in. Indiscriminate arrests and arraignment in courts began. To show his seriousness, even judges’ houses were burgled and some of them were arraigned in courts for corruption.
But a fortnight or so ago, the courts have began to expose the ruse and drama all passing as anti-corruption war. In the case of Godsday Orubebe, the so-much vilified Jonathan supporter and former Minister of the Niger Delta who created a scene during the announcement of result for the presidential election, he was accused of diverting about N2 billion from the ministry. But alas, the courts threw out the case because the said money was still intact in government account. Many careful watchers of events were dumbfounded that the government could arraign someone in court without any form of investigation. This is perhaps, the clearest indication that his arrest and trial was all part of the drama and entertainment. And boy, Nigerians fell for it! They vilified Orubebe to no end and linked his actions (obstructing announcement of results) to the alleged fraud.
What about Justice Adeniyi Ademola, his wife, Olabowale and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Joe Agi? In a country where lawyers of those being tried for corruption employ all sorts of delay tactics to prolong the cases in court, Justice Ademola applied and got the leave of the court for accelerated hearing of his case. After the prosecution has finished its case, the courts did not even deem it necessary to call the accused to begin their defence as it held that the federal government failed to prove any of the allegations it levelled against the embattled Judge, his wife and Joe Agi. Consequently, the trial judge, Jude Okeke, terminated further hearing on the criminal case and discharged and acquitted all the defendants in the case.
But the venerable judge had been denigrated, tried and convicted in the media already. Uninformed Nigerians have also labelled him corrupt and a disgrace to the Bench. His wife had also lost her job as the Head of Service in Lagos state. Although the government is threatening to appeal the ruling, it is clear it has no case but just trying to save face.
But the government does not care. Rather, it has continued to provide Nigerians further entertainment with stories of orphaned monies here and there. But now that the orphaned monies are being linked with government agencies and or personnel, it has become a security issue and no information can be provided to the public.
It’s a shame how we continue to make mockery of our institutions. Like I argued before, our fight against corruption is akin to what Harvard’s Ricardo Hausmann terms ‘isomorphic mimicry’ – the creation of institutions that act in ways to make themselves “look like institutions in other places that are perceived as legitimate,” but which in reality are not. Nigeria’s anti-corruption war thus far consists of using the media to demonise, to persecute, to destroy people’s integrity and providing entertainment to a pliant public.