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Of probes and looting the looters?

Willy Bee
24/08/2008

I have always been persuaded, wrongly or rightly, that probes, from time immemorial, have always ended up in the dustbins of our national history, especially those instigated by political considerations by successor regimes to hunt down perceived political opponents.

It was so in the beginning under the First Republic polities when the terrain was dominated by the flamboyant politicians as Zik and Awo of NCNC and Action Group fame.

The idea of probing former politicians consolidated when the military adventurers rolled out their armoured cars during their early morning martial music heralding the dawn coups to oust civilian regimes on the guise and trumped up charges of corruption and embezzlement of public funds.

One could recall with glee, the trials of politicians in the former Western Region accused of corruption where politicians were known to have signed for where politicians were known to have signed for monies with their toes. Or could one easily forget the sensational trials of Zik of Africa during the Foster Sutton tribunals when the Owelle was accused, instigated by the colonial officers, of collecting monies from the regions till when he was premier of the Eastern Region?

The charge was that the used the monies to set up the African Continental bank (ACB) which helped many businessmen in the East to set up companies. At the end of all these trials, nothing came out of them and our own Zik later became the President of Nigeria, even though it was more ceremonial.

The second rash of probes came after the first military coup in 1966 (January 15), ostensibly, inspired by Col. Ifeajuna but executed by Kaduna Nzeogwu from Okpanam in former Mid-West region but now Delta State. And one of the reasons to justify the coup was that the politicians were accused of taking 10 per cent on contracts as bribe, and electoral malfeasance.

Some of the key leaders lost their lives under those dragon-ridden days coming in the wake of the Wetie phenomenon in the Western Region crisis between the former premier Awolowo and the S.L. Akintola, over rigged elections and all that. Houses were set on fire with the debris of human carcasses littering most parts of the region in the 1965 elections. After the coup of 1966, the floodgates for more coups came tumbling in, as if the nation was set on edge for a final plunge into the abyss of self-destruction.

A counter-coup came which displaced General Julius Thomas Umunnakve Aguiyi-Ironsi as it was thought to be partial against Igbos and Colonel Yakubu Gowon, a christian and northerner, succeeded him.

It was clearly an Hausa/Fulani-inspired revenge coup. After the 30 months civil war to save Nigeria from Biafran seccession, many more coups came and with every coup, politicians were sent packing, after they had been probed and often times, dispossessed of their loot.

The most pronounced and ferocious military duo in Idiagbon and Buhari appeared more devastating for politicians, most of whom were sentenced to over 120 years jail terms and forfeiture of houses and cars and monies in banks.

They irony of these military interventionists sweeps to cleanse the filthy system of alleged corruption charges seemed to have been overtaken by the new rulers who will open all the jail houses and return whatever was thought to be looted funds and properties.

These were and are still the baffling contradictions in the Nigerian polity where trumpetedly alleged rogues or looters of the common patrimony of yesterday turn out, with the passage of time, to be heroes of today and even tomorrow, becoming ministers, governors and even vying for presidential slots, depending on the clime and time.

Could it be that corruption or shades of it have become so ingrained in us that it no longer means much to us? Or has corruption become the Maggie cube recipe for preparing political diets and delicacies so much so that where ever two or three Nigerians are seated together, corruption becomes the fourth partner, unseen but overwhelming in its intensity and conversion of more clients. Its appeal is irresistible. It has become an opium for all times and for all ages, not just in politics but also in all spheres of human endeavour.

Corruption has been so democratized that, it is now the norm and not the exception. We call this genre of corruption – democratic chop chop. The scenario in the past eight years under President Obasanjo seemed to have thrown up several trials of past rulers, senators and governors, when the former Czar of the EFCC, Nuhu Ribadu, went to town proclaiming to roof tops and high heavens that many former governors had overreached themselves and perhaps, ‘privatized’ the funds in their care. Recent reports reaching the media seem to indicate that the former Czar has appeared in court over the alleged purchase of a palatial building in far away Dubai for some 3.5 million dollars.

He denies the charges. If the charges were true, how did he raise the monies for the purchase of a house in Dubai? People are already suggesting that he may have also helped himself with some of the so-called looted funds from those he had been haranguing and accused of corrupt practices.

They also ask what is the salary of a Commissioner of Police or an AIG? That is the tragic, permeating power of sludge funds and all those who hunt after people presumed to have looted; often times end up looting the looters. It seems fair though, but hunters must develop the courage to say they also partook in the looting the so-called looters. Fair is fair, if you ask me. If it has become customary to loot those accused of looting, ‘de-coining’ others so that they could be left off the hook, we have all vicariously become joint heirs to the collective loot.

That is, if the anti-graft Czars, actually and or constructively, looted, as is alleged. The recent revelations in the National Assembly (NASS) where senators and members of the House of Representatives seemed to allow making of laws take a back seat and setting up of probes of ministries and federal parastatals have become the main dish, certain accusations have been made regarding the passing of some N100 million (or was it dollars) into the seemingly itchy palms of some members of the Godwin Ndudi Elumelu-led Power and Energy Committee, leading to the delay in coming out with their report. Here again, Nigerians are saddled with the vicious circle (or do we call it virtuous circle)?

Has corruption become a national badge to be worn with pride without prejudice, growing infectiously across the land, and giving the truism in the saying that everybody has a price? If anti-corruption agencies are not insured against the filth around their operational bases and members of the National Assembly in their holier-than-thou posturing, have suddenly worked themselves into a state of frenzy, may well be smeared with the stench of thievery with style as Dimeji Bankole, that fearless and eloquently forthright Speaker has promised to set a probe into the N100 million bribery charge against members of the Power and Energy Committee.

Talking about probes, tribunals and looting the looters is not new. Even today, many election petition tribunal judges have been accused of receiving what amounts to gratification in the delivery of judgments in favour of candidates that may have paid out some handsome sums.

But it is tricky in the sense that we are also aware that when a ruling party candidate wins and he is returned as duly elected, the opposition will cry foul that the judiciary then ceases to be the last hope of the common man. But when the judgment favours a minority party and not the PDP (as in our Nigerian case), it becomes judicial perversion, induced by the power of big-time bribes.

My final take on this issue of probes and looting the looters is that in the general situation where there is acute shortage of jobs and where unemployment sweeps across the country, lack of industries to absorb the jobless masses and grinding poverty in the land in the midst of the boom of oil and gas money, there is the shameful tendency for one to beatify certain vices, as if it was the right path to follow.

In an era of zero tolerance under the Yar’Adua Presidency, the seven-point agenda, accountability and transparency, it will be seen as an act of condemnable national sabotage for one to openly endorse loo9ting the looters during probes or to sanctimoniously eulogise proven cases of big-time thievery in our clime.

Nigerians must be honest to also acknowledge the fact that angels no longer live in our shores. They left long, long ago, with the first coup. All the atmospherics about probes and subsequent looting of the looters has become an end time game, where everybody is a winner.

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