By Yakubu Mohammed
The last one week has witnessed some strange but certainly more innovative, even though impracticable, suggestions to get Nigeria off the hook. And win the war against the twin evil of corruption and recession.
Even President Muhammadu Buhari has come to believe seriously that the current affliction calls for suggestions out of the box – a well thought-out innovative solution, fertile and unorthodox, the kind you get from the radicalised egg heads in the academia.
Apparently responding to the presidential gauntlet, two distinguished senators, the irrepressible Senator Dino Melaye representing the good people of Kogi State, and his colleague, the more temperate retired General Jeremiah Useni, the darling Jerry Boy of the media during the maximum rule of the military, have at various times last week volunteered their views. And their views, I’m afraid, are as interesting as they’re impracticable.
Let’s hear from the Kogi senator. This enfant terrible of the National Assembly, who has made his mark with his abrasive take-no-prisoner approach to parliamentary decorum and relationships, took time off from his busy schedules to volunteer some priceless advice to the president. After a careful introspection, like the holy man of God just coming out of spiritual seclusion, our dear Dino, the unrepentant anticorruption crusader, has asked the president to grant a presidential pardon and amnesty to those who have looted the nation’s treasury. He advised that those who have helped themselves to the public till should be given six months to return their loot. Failing to do so voluntarily, said the senator, then they should be made to face the rigours of the law.
He says: “This, I believe, will encourage the voluntary return of looted funds, empower the government financially to immediately commence the implementation of projects and programmes that will stimulate the economy, raise the peoples’ standard of living and save the judiciary and law enforcement agencies the agony of fruitlessly pursuing looters in and out of courtrooms. In the long run, this would be a win-win situation for both the government and the people of Nigeria.”
Senator Melaye’s prescription is akin to a plea bargain except that his own does not, abinitio, involve the judiciary. Whatever the merits and the demerits of this suggestion, the senator is in the good company of General Park Chung Hee. When his country, South Korea, was wracked by unremitting poverty, corruption and political terrorism and the citizens were virtually surviving on roots and barks in the bush while beggars loitered the streets and pavements, this man of destiny marched into Seoul on May 16, 1961 and seized power to save his people from their woes and misery.
Immediately he took power, this graduate of Japanese Military Academy, arrested corrupt business leaders and set them free only after they had agreed to turn over some of their assets to the government. His victims became his allies in his determination to create a new country. Given a new orientation, he changed the psyche of the people to wean them off those traditional practices that were obstacles to modern development. With the collaboration of the business men who had trained in some of the best institutions abroad, he set about the diversification of the economy and turned the country into a large industrial community manufacturing garments, plywood and electronics for export. It was a classic case of a marriage between the victor, a visionary dictator and the victims, made up mainly of maverick industrialists and technocrats. The offspring of this wedlock was the modern Korea that grew up to be a leading and influential member of the Asian Tigers industrialised club.
But Buhari has long ceased to be a dictator and may therefore be allergic to the methods of the Korean general. Which is why I feel that the suggestion of his erstwhile colleague and fellow general now turned senator would be more amusing than efficacious. In the year 2016, clearly when dictatorship of the imperial kind, with jackboot and all, which was once the lot of the people but which has now dissolved into oblivion, the senator from the Plateau, the aforementioned General Jeremiah Useni, was reported last week as having advised that the only antidote to the epidemic of corruption and its pernicious effects on Nigeria was the Jerry Rawlings treatment, patented and manufactured in Ghana. In Nigeria today, I bet with my recession ravaged kobo, that NAFDAC would not approve of this potent but highly injurious medication.
For the benefit of those born after 1981 and who have been unreasonably left out of the benefits of history by our educational planners mangers, Jerry J Rawlings, popularly called J J, was head of state of Ghana in 1979 and again from 1981 to 2001 as civilian president. His tenure was credited with political stability and a sound economy. He came after the country had suffered atrocious misrule and gross maladministration, especially under General Ignatius Acheampong of the Union Government infamy. Ghana was visited with acute economic misery that sent many of its proud citizens as immigrants to other countries, mainly Nigeria, Togo and the Republic of Benin.
What was Rawlings magic? Simple. He arrested the leaders before him like General Akkufo, his predecessor, General Acheampong and those who were in comfortable retirement like General Afrifa. He lined them up and got them shot. Ghana and the rest of Africa took their cue from there and informed themselves of the need to behave well. The fear of Rawlings became the beginning of wisdom, not only in Ghana but all over the continent. Ghana and the Rawlings medication became a dreadful horror fit only for a corrupt political system gone awry. Progressives and radicals alike swore by the name of JJ, also known as Junior Jesus, no blasphemy intended.
Democracy has taken root in Africa but the fear of Rawlings treatment took a long time to fade away from the continent’s political firmament. It is with nostalgia, if not extreme frustration, that the newly converted democrats like Jerry Useni are compelled to invoke the name of JJ Rawlings and recommend his treatment as the final solution to our peculiar corruption cases that threaten to live with us till eternity as a way of life.
In their various prescriptions, I believe that Dino Melaye and Jerry Boy mean well. Like many other committed patriots, Dino and Co are beginning to worry that in this corruption fight, Buhari, no matter his valour, his determination and the passion he has invested in it, seems to be alone and doing a lonely yeoman job. He has said time and time again, that the judiciary is his biggest headache.
Even if the top echelon of the judiciary is determined to fight corruption and becomes a faithful ally of the executive, the most senior lawyers who know the dark alleys of the judiciary and are sworn to walk down these alleys for purely pecuniary reasons, will stop at nothing to frustrate prosecution with all manner of antics. A case that should not last more than six months can be stretched beyond all reasonable limit of elasticity to years without end, for ever and ever.
If you’re in doubt, check the latest statement by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. It said, with pain and regret, that at least 43 high profile corruption cases which it filed between 2007 and 2015 are still pending in courts. The case involves those of 16 former governors. Other cases mentioned in the statement are those related to oil subsidy scandal, money laundering and violation of public procurement act. These cases are high-profile, not only because they involve big men but because they involve big money, real big money. Add this statement to the revelation also this week that at least 5,000 cases from the Appeal Court are piling up at the Supreme Court and you will, no doubt, reach the conclusion that, at the rate we are going, these cases may remain there until the second coming of Jesus Christ.
With this development, the question that has become necessary is this. Does our energetic and committed president actually believe that corruption will die a disgraceful death during his tenure, even if he has a third term in office, with the current method, with the unnecessary adjournment of cases some almost indefinitely, and with some obviously bad and rotten eggs sitting comfortably on the bench?
Is the president aware of the fast spreading mantra that if you must be corrupt, you have to be so from head to toe, courageously, gallantly and completely and build up an awesome war chest to fight your case at the judiciary with the best lawyers money can hire? Meaning, you’ve got to steal big!
While at it, I recommend the services of Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra State, to the president. There is a lot this country can profit from his experience in terms of financial prudence, good governance, probity and accountability. As for the fight against corruption we need a radically different method and new weapons.