By Tabia Princewill

IN the United States, there is an entire movement based on the rehabilitation of prisoners (rather than their incarceration) as studies show two-thirds of prisoners reoffend within barely two years of leaving prison, often in a more violent way than whatever offence they were previously convicted of.

Nigeria does not have a long history of convicting those guilty of corruption, financial crimes or embezzlement, so I doubt there are many studies pointing to the attitude or behaviour of convicts once they re-integrate society. Have they learnt their lesson? Are they less likely to become repeat offenders? The answer seems to be no.

It is interesting that Bashir Yuguda, a former Minister of Finance, states that he disbursed part of the #ArmsGate funds to Bode George, a PDP chieftain, despite a previous conviction (which in other societies would have ended Bode George’s public career).

Can one imagine George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (the UK’s minister of finance) or anyone in his department disbursing government funds to buy David Cameron’s re-election?

Stigma of incarceration

Not only are party funds separate from government funds, Cameron or any of his associates would not touch a felon with a barge pole. The stigma of incarceration, especially for defrauding the state is so great in the Western world, that even without being told, such individuals know better than to attempt to participate in public decision making or campaigns out of respect for the citizenry they robbed.

Now, one must also ask how Okonjo-Iweala can claim to not have known about #ArmsGate if her own minister of state admitted to the EFCC that he did indeed play a part in distributing said funds.

Ibrahim Magu EFCC boss

But let us get back to the question of whether corrupt politicians, or those sentenced to jail for corrupt acts learn their lesson. If Yuguda’s allegation is true in regards to Bode George, then apparently, they do not.

Bode George was famously sentenced to a 30-month jail term for abuse of office, illegal awarding of contracts and other offences, a total of which the court initially sentenced him to jail for 28 years. However, certain charges were later amended to run simultaneously for six months, while others were reduced to two years. It is interesting that those guilty of such paltry offences as stealing mobile phones or food languish in jail awaiting trial for much longer than the entire sentence Bode George eventually served. He reportedly lived in a VIP section of the prison.

How can such a thing even exist? Prison is neither a party nor a private club, although at the rate we are going, a corruption charge seems almost like a badge of honour (especially if one escapes sentencing) that separates the “small boys” from the men.

He also according to reports at the time, wasn’t required to wear a prison uniform and allegedly had access to meals prepared and brought to him by his family, unlike any of the other inmates who were not shown this preferential treatment. The state of Nigerian prisons is one, which international human rights activists have bemoaned for decades.

Without toilets or access to water, inmates are stripped of their humanity. Yet, those guilty of underfunding government through their greed and selfishness, even when caught are treated with kid gloves, almost as if they were merely vacationing at a secluded hotel.

So the question is, in the Buhari era, what will happen to those the EFCC will find guilty of corruption? A new paradigm has emerged which some seem to be unforgivably comfortable with: “if-they-return-the money-let-them-go-free”.

This is insulting to the IDPs; it is insulting to the nearly court marshalled soldiers who were described as “cowardly” for refusing to fight without weapons, it is insulting to the idea of justice and it is most especially insulting to any Nigerian who has been denied the opportunity to progress up the ladder and to live a fruitful life due to the deficiencies of the system and the sheer evil at play.
Corruption is like murder. It is just as violent. The only way forward, in a society thathas sunk so far into decadence, waste and the public gratification of criminality, is to send strong signals that such behaviour will no longer be tolerated.

Public gratification of criminality

To accept such dangerous men and women within society, even once it has been proven that they are guilty, simply because they have returned all or part of the funds, as if this somehow absolves them or negates the harm they have done, sends the usual signal, that a slap on the wrist is all one will ever get, so why not try one’s luck and see if one can get away with stealing from the public purse?

Sentencing corrupt persons to jail (and not restful VIP getaways) is the therapy Nigeria urgently needs to get back on track. I call it shock treatment: let us be jolted back into remembering our values.

Wrong is wrong and right is right, the same way children are discouraged from taking what isn’t theirs, is the same way (and it’s really as simple as that no matter how the guilty try to frame it), wealth meant to empower the majority cannot be trapped in the hands of a minority, unless we believe that some are born more deserving of life and decent opportunities.

Human beings learn by example. Whatever is done once, twice, becomes a habit. Beyond the media circus, Nigerians await the trials of the people responsible for their own tests and ordeals. So let the games (I mean proceedings), begin.
Leo Okuweh Ogor

HE might not be a name many Nigerians are familiar with, but the Minority Leader of the House recently became very popular (for all the wrong reasons) on social media, when pictures were released of his aides distributing garri to his constituents in his name. Perhaps this was done upon the advice of Senator Ben Murray Bruce, another NASS member who mistakes populism for public policy. Truly, the garri distribution can’t even be labeled as populist, it’s simply disrespectful and lacking in purpose or real impact. Giving the people crumbs to distract them has been a monarchic strategy since before the French Revolution. Interestingly, our NASS’ mentality is still very much one of “let them eat cake”!

If one remembers what happened to Marie Antoinette who threw paltry offerings at her people, one would be inclined to ask those who take Nigerians for fools to review their stance. Once the garri soaks, what will these people have left? How will they improve themselves? Are our lawmakers truly aware of their duties to the people, beyond photo ops? This was an unfortunate, all too recurrent gesture (one remembers OlisaMetuh spending his birthday at an IDP camp; if he offered them cake, now that would have been the height of irony).
Shehu Sani

IF many of our senators and members of the house saw themselves as anything other than government opponents, our country would be better for it. Indeed, NASS’ primary function is to “check” the executive. But why does inspection in Nigeria become curbing progress and creativity rather than safeguarding it?

Like the legislators who claim (contrary to federal government statements) that some parts of Nigeria are still under Boko Haram’s thumb, the impression given to Nigerians is one of a flippant parliament, which is neither earnest in its pronouncements nor serious-minded. Senator Sani alleges that the Northern governors who went abroad seeking loans to rebuild the region did so without the input of the Ministry of Finance. Can there be no governance in Nigeria without baseless back and forth accusations? Is it even possible for governors to obtain any loan without the input of the Federal Ministry of Finance? That is simply not how bilateral relations work. The problem, really, in Nigeria, is that everyone wants to communicate and be on the pages of newspapers even when there isn’t much to say.

*Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.

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