Lopsided anti-corruption war in Nigeria

Harande Balarabe Habibu

Since 1999, it appears that the successive governments are merely interested in going after and recovering the much-talked about Abacha loot. In fact, since the Obasanjo administration initiated the anti-corruption crusade, all the international efforts towards loot recovery are concentrated on the monies allegedly stolen by the Abachas. Does that mean the billions of dollars being stolen by other Nigerian public office holders are not significant enough for the Nigerian government to recover them from foreign banks?

Billions after billions of dollars are still being stolen by public office holders and kept abroad, but every administration since Obasanjo, concentrated loot recovery efforts on the monies stolen by the late General SaniAbacha. Corruption by Abacha or by anybody else is not acceptable or justifiable. However, no country can sincerely fight corruption with double standard or discrimination.

The former Obasanjo administration shamelessly withdrew corruption charges against a former permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, Mr. Joseph Makanjuola, who is his cousin. The then Attorney-General and Minister of Justice entered a nolleprosequi to formally withdraw interest in continuing with his trial. That scandal was the first early sign that the government wasn’t sincere about fighting corruption.

Keen to recover the Abacha loot, the former Obasanjo administration arrested Mohammed Abacha and signed a deal with him for the release of the monies allegedly stolen by his late father in return for his freedom. Mohammed Abacha cooperated fully with the government, a cooperation which led to Nigeria recovering $700 million (Seven hundred million dollars) from the Abachas. If all corrupt Nigerians could extend this level of cooperation to surrender looted funds, our anti-corruption war could have achieved more significant results.

Surprisingly, despite the fact that more and more billions continue to be stolen and stashed away abroad by other corrupt Nigerian public office holders, the Abachas have become the softest and most frequent targets of loot recovery efforts. Finance Minister, Dr. NgoziOkonjo-Iweala, has always told Nigerians how much the government has recovered from the Abachas, but not once did she inform Nigerians how much the government recovered from other corrupt public office holders who have kept billions of stolen dollars abroad.

What has been recovered from the Abachas is a chicken feed compared to the billions of dollars being stolen from the country since 1999. Using the Abachas as guineas pigs to prove the government’s commitment to fight corruption won’t impress anybody as long as it doesn’t seem to demonstrate the courage to go after other looters who are fleecing Nigeria on humongous scale.
Harassing Mohammed Abacha to impress Nigerians is counter-productive because it may only remind Nigerians of the government’s seeming timidity to go after bigger thieves. Recently, the trial of an oil subsidy thief was frustrated following the abscondment of the principal suspect abroad to escape justice. The EFFCC lawyers were left looking silly with the escape of the accused. How can a country confronted with billions of stolen dollars by well-connected thieves look at its conscience for continually punishing the family of a dead man who has extended incredible cooperation in the loot recovery efforts?

Are we really serious about fighting corruption when the government creates the impression that corruption began and ended with the late General SaniAbacha, despite the fact that billions are still being stolen and kept abroad?  To imagine that the concentration of loot recovery efforts on the Abachas and the harassment of Mohammed Abacha is what anti-corruption crusade entails is to create a further impression of double standard on part of the government. Fighting corruption demands even-handed justice, and we can’t achieve that when the government appears more keen about recovering looted funds from one man!

Habibu wrote from No. 39, Katsina Road, Kaduna. Email: [email protected]

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