The government must do more beyond entertaining the public with ridiculous lists of looters
Apparently in response to the challenge by the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the federal government last week released lists of some alleged looters. But the statements by the Information and Culture Minister, Mr Lai Mohammed have simply reinforced a disservice to the anti-graft war. Restricted chiefly to members of the PDP, the lists were not only arbitrary but they represented a tacit endorsement of graft for members and appointees of the government in power. Indeed, many Nigerians see the whole drama of sensational release in the media of lists of alleged looters rather than charge suspects to court and secure conviction as perhaps one of the most embarrassing jokes of the year.
Not surprisingly, the PDP has ridiculed the federal government by publishing its own list of perceived or real plunderers, thus engendering accusations and counter accusations that Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi–Okogie, retired Lagos Archbishop of the Catholic Church, has described as “a show of shame.” The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has also dismissed the entire episode as capable of diminishing the expressed goal of transparent governance while helping “suspected perpetrators to escape justice, and ultimately, deny victims of corruption justice and effective remedies.”
That Nigerians are being entertained with some ridiculous lists at a period the authorities in South Korea and Brazil are securing court convictions against former leaders found to have abused public trust is indicative of how unserious the current administration is about fighting corruption in Nigeria. In fact, nobody has summed up the tragedy as aptly as Okogie: “Huge sums of money belonging to the people of Nigeria obviously got into wrong hands and for the wrong reasons. There are good reasons to suspect that the looting that took place cut across party lines. Nigerians deserve to know how, for example, the two leading parties financed their campaigns in 2015. But instead of honest answers, we are treated by the two big parties to a theatrical display of politically-motivated compilation of lists of looters.”
The battle against corruption could only be meaningful when it is transparent and not selective. Yet, to further trivialise the anti-graft war, many of the alleged looters have running cases in courts of competent jurisdiction. Under the rule of law, it is the sacred duty of the judiciary to safeguard the rights and liberty of the citizens. Respecting such rights forms the bedrock upon which the society lays claim to civilisation. That is why persons accused of any crime, including corruption, are expected to be charged to court if not for anything, at least to avoid a miscarriage of justice.
Incidentally, not a few officials in the present administration have been repeatedly fingered for acts of corruption without consequences. Similarly, some of the former leading lights of the PDP who happened to be the arrowheads of the Buhari ascendancy have been immune from the investigative searchlight of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other anti-corruption agencies. Only last week, the Attorney General and Justice Minister, Mr Malami was indicted by a National Assembly committee in the lingering case of the recall of former Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms, Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina. Even some former members of the PDP who were accused of abusing the public trust seemed to have been forgiven after crossing over to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). The treatment of these cases violates all known rules of due process and respect for basic public decency and accountability.
As we stated recently in this space, with such a hazy and distorted definition of target, the administration has repeatedly committed an unpardonable political hubris and travesty of natural justice in its declaration of war on corruption. Besides, the so-called looters’ list carried the same tendency of the ruling government to stand by its members, even when their wrongs are crying for attention. But as it stands, nobody is fooled. The government must therefore do more beyond entertaining the public with meaningless lists if they are to rekindle trust in a policy that is increasingly becoming laughable.
Not a few officials in the present administration have been repeatedly fingered for acts of corruption without consequences. Similarly, some of the former leading lights of the PDP who happened to be the arrowheads of the Buhari ascendancy have been immune from the investigative searchlight of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other anti-corruption agencies.