Obasanjo: The Injustice Of Justice


Chika Onyeani


Last Tuesday, March 22, Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo, galloped to his nation's television studios to announce a crackdown on corruption, and threatening brimstone at those who would not listen to his warnings, as well as proceeding to fire one of his cabinet ministers.   Obasanjo listed the reasons why corruption and those who practice corruption were detrimental to the interests of Nigeria.  Said he, "We have never made shy of our undiluted commitment to eliminating corruption from our national life because it compromises national development, contaminates collective morality and values, distorts national planning, corrodes integrity and discipline, and destroys the foundations of creativity, innovation, and democratic structure and development."   He went on to say that "our fight against corruption will be meaningless if it is concentrated within the Federal tier of government while the States and Local Governments wallow in corruption; neither would the battle against corruption be won if it is concentrated within the public sector while the private sector, the Fourth Estate of the realm, and civil society wallow in corruption."   But it sounded like the same statement that Obasanjo made when he took office in 1999, proclaiming corruption as "a cancer that had debilitated the Nigerian state and frustrated development efforts, despite the country's huge oil riches."  "It was, therefore, an enemy to be fought until it retreated," he said then.  He followed this up by sending to the National Assembly a bill for the creation of a new anti-graft body, the Independent Corruption Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).  The bill, which became law a year later, hardly seemed to have done much to alleviate the scorch of corruption in the country.    President Obasanjo, who also happens to be the Chair of the African Union, the continental-wide organization, representing the 54 countries in Africa has achieved the singular designation of being crowned one of the most corrupt countries in the world.  Obasanjo also ruled Nigeria from 1976-1979 under the military.     When Obasanjo came into power in 1999, Nigeria was No.28 on the index of most corrupt countries compiled by Transparency International, which incidentally Obasanjo happened to be one of its foundation members.  But from 2000, Nigeria sprang up to the No.2 position just a few points below perennial No. 1 winner dropped to No. 3 on the index, a position which Nigeria's wunderkind Finance Minister and former World Bank high official called unacceptable, given the amount of work the government had put in in combating corruption.  Whether this year's index will be more favorable to Nigeria is yet to be seen. Though .  But a closer examination would show that since his re-election in 2003, he seems to have re-imbued a birth of integrity.  In that year, three former ministers - Sunday Afolabi, Minister of Internal Affairs, his successor Mahmud Shata, and Labor Minister Husseini Akwanga were charged with 16 counts of bribery and corrupt enrichment.  Also charged was the then powerful former National Secretary of the ruling People's Democratic Party, Okwesilieze Nwodo, plus the permanent secretary in the ministry of internal affairs, Turrie Akerele.  

They were accused of having collected huge amounts of bribes from agents of SAGEM S.A., a French company that had been awarded a contract of $214 million  to execute the national identity card.  Sunday Afolabi died, but what happened to the rest is not yet known.   In that year too, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), created by Statute in 2002 from the office of the presidency became law, and was later amended and signed into law by Obasanjo as the new EFCC Act, 2004.  The commission has wide powers to investigate and prosecute economic and financial crimes.   After his reelection in 2003, Obasanjo proceeded to appoint some tough technocrats in his government, including Dr. (Mrs.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former vice president and secretary to the Board of the World Bank in Washington.   It came then as a major surprise to most Nigerians when they saw their President on national television, accusing his Minister of Education of having bribed members of the legislature with the sum of N55 million  or a little over $400,000, so that they could increase the amount of money allocated to his ministry.  Most Nigerians are agreed that the said minister, Prof. Fabian Osuji, had brought sanity to the peripatetic education sector in Nigeria, which had been marred by constant strikes by lecturers, their complaints being the insufficient funds allocated to the education ministry.

During Tuesday's broadcast, Obasanjo traced the history of what happened why Nigerians were seeing him on this crusade against corrupt officials and legislators.  He narrated the story as follows: "Sometime in the month of February 2005, intelligence report came to me that contrary to my firm instructions to Ministers and departments and parastatals under them that no body should bribe or give inducement to any individual or group in the National Assembly for approval or enhancement of the budget proposed by me, some Ministers have disregarded my instructions.   The intelligence report confirmed that some Ministers have violated the rule and actually paid bribe to Committees and individuals in the National Assembly.   I asked that the allegation be investigated and while I was away in Europe the 19th of March 2005 second book, "The Broederbond Conspiracy," will soon be published.