By Josef Omorotionmwan
WERE the law of comparative advantage to be fully operational, Nigeria would have benefited tremendously from an arrangement where its criminal cases would have been firmed out to Britain and America.
There could be no better way of resolving all those high profile cases of assassination, murder, kidnapping, treasury looting and the white-collar crimes that have been lying in our courts. There would also have been no better way for President Muhammadu Buhari to give some biting teeth to his avowed war on corruption.
As currently structured, Nigeria’s criminal justice system is ponderously frustrating; and totally skewed against the state, which appears pathetically powerless against its own laws, no thanks to the cynical manipulation of the elite.
In simple truth, Nigeria is fast becoming the safest haven for high profile crimes and big-time criminals as it readily provides the best investment climate for crooks.
And incidentally, most good things go together. So innocently had Diezani Alison-Madueke, Nigeria’s immediate past Petroleum Resources Minister, travelled to Britain to
access that country’s superior health-care for her alleged cancer case; when that same country’s superior justice system picked her up on bribery and money laundering allegations. The sharp-witted ex-Minister did not also forget to ask Nigerians to do for her, that which they do best – pray for her by fire and thunder! That’s one area where we enjoy some comparative advantage.
Madam’s experience is reminiscent of a rather disturbing trend that is fast developing in Nigeria: despite recurring anti-corruption storm, foreign capitals have always provided the opening of the corruption theatre of war. Why is it that people are innocent in Nigeria but guilty abroad?
We remember James Ononefe Ibori – convicted former Governor of Delta State, who got his judicial reward in London for proven sleaze after a Nigerian court under Justice Marcel Awokulehin had cleared him of all charges.
The case of Diepreye Alamiesiegha followed that same trajectory. His travail started in London, where the Metropolitan Police arrested him, even as a sitting Governor of Bayelsa State in 2005 from where he reportedly jumped bail and returned to Nigeria, where a sham impeachment process hallmarked his trial and conviction. Before his death last week, the British authorities were asking for his extradition back to Britain to resume his trial.
The ongoing saga of Buruji Kashamu, who is currently a Senator from Ogun State, also started in the United States of America.
As they say in the colloquial, “Niger Delta no dey carry last”. The funds in contention in the proven sleaze involving Ibori, Alamiesiegha and the alleged one involving Alison-Madueke are all Nigerian money. The salient question is: why do we show less enthusiasm than foreign countries in the recovery of our own stolen money and in punishing the offenders?
We are not in a hurry to forget that on 23 February 2012, Albert Stanley, then 69, the former head of the US Contracting Firm of KBR, was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment over bribes offered to Nigerian officials for the award of contracts. Between 2001 and 2004, the US Firm paid $180 million to Nigerian officials to secure $6 billion contracts for Bonny Island Liquefied Natural Gas, LNG, Project.
Apart from the term of imprisonment, Albert Stanley was also required to pay $10.8 million in restitution under the judgment, which was handed down in Houston Federal Court. Stanley pleaded guilty to violations of the Foreign Corruption Practices Act and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. KBR and its parent body, Halliburton, also agreed to pay $579 million fine after pleading guilty to corruption charges in Nigeria.
What is most confounding is that years after the bribe givers have been languishing in jail back home, the bribe takers in Nigeria are moving about in full freedom, accumulating national merit awards and chieftaincy titles of all description.
Enter the German Firm of Siemens, AG: In 2008, Siemens agreed to pay a penalty of $1.3 billion to the US and German Authorities who accused the Firm and three subsidiaries of paying bribe money to Nigerian officials. The Germans came to Nigeria, bribed Nigerians and they are being punished in their country for doing so. Nigerians who took the bribes are here in Nigeria being rewarded. What an irony of fate!
All we are getting from the EFCC is, “We will get to the root of the scandal and prosecute whoever is found to have soiled his hands”. After all these years, we are still trying to get to the roots while the foreign governments have since uprooted the entire tree and they have burnt the tree and its roots to fire their criminal justice system. And their engine of social justice is moving very smoothly.
The anti-graft war faces a serious paradox: Nigerians hate stealing but you dare not punish their sons and daughters engaged in it, thus lending credence to the ugly aphorism that one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. Things get further worse when we milk ethnic emotions to justify sleaze and threaten thunder and brimstone should an accused be rightly punished.
The war against corruption is on. Failure is not an option. There is no escaping the inevitable conclusion that a situation in which the West is leading the crusade to recover Nigeria’s stolen assets, while Nigeria watches hopelessly from the sidelines, is nauseating. Our judiciary cannot exculpate itself from the ensuing confusion and any accusation of weakness.
Still more deleterious is that situation where we are unable to account for repatriated loots. See how shamelessly the recovered Abacha loot has been re-looted over and over again? Is it not more comforting and cost-effective to leave the loot where it is rather than transferring them to bigger thieves?
We must be resolute without any regard to the perceived status of whoever is accused or the tantrums of his misguided people, including some community and religious leaders. All told, Nigeria has no choice but to totally reform its people and its criminal justice system.