Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Dariye, Hiding Behind Constitutionality

In Jos, Plateau state, Joshua Dariye, governor and fugitive of the British law has been under investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for a couple of years now. He has been engaged in a tussle to hang on to power (and therefore guaranteed immunity from prosecution) through all sorts of underhanded tactics including bribery and intimidation of all 24 members of the Plateau state legislative assembly. 16 of these legislators have been indicted in their own separate acts of graft (many in complicity with the governor) and are currently incarcerated for these by the EFCC, leaving the Plateau state house with only 8 sitting members.

Over the past few weeks, this 8 member house has been trying to constitute a panel to hear the allegations of graft leveled against Dariye, and institute impeachment proceedings as a fall out, if the governor is found wanton. 2 of the 8 legislators have declined participation in the proceedings, raising the question of the constitutionality of the panel since the Plateau state constitution requires that such a panel be constituted by at least one-third of the 24 legislative members, and not the one-fourth that the current 6 member panel constitutes. This segues into the issue of whether the 16 Plateau state legislative house members in EFCC net should not automatically lose their positions as legislators and therefore be replaced by newly elected ones in freshly held run-off elections.

Expensive as it may be, replacing these compromised 16 legislators by new ones will afford the constitution of a panel to hear the case against the governor from a full house of 24 members. That way, not only will the issue of constitutionality not arise, it will also mitigate any bias or malafide intentions that may exist between the governor and the 8 legislator who are not in complicity with the governor in his indictment. Also, it will remove any suspicion that those 6 legislators that make up the current controversial panel are a tool of the EFCC. In addition, it will restore the loss of representation at the state assembly for the constituencies from which the incarcerated legislators hail.

The case against Dariye appears very strong. It will be a shame to bungle it up and let the man go scot-free on the basis of unconstitutionality.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Kalu, Bakassi Boys or EFCC Justice?

The Nigerian media in the past week has been rife with the unfolding impeachment proceedings in Ekiti and Plateau states, as well as hostage takings in the Niger Delta and the Atiku battle against the EFCC report. One more brewing story which I found pretty interesting was the indictment of Mrs. Eunice Kalu, mother of the Abia state governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, along with eighteen others and the fracas that ensued in an attempt to take her into custody. Kalu was one of the youngest governors elected in the 1999 elections at the age of 39. He seemed to want to project an image of a new breed progressive, who was self assured and legitimate.

He is alleged by his paid supporters to have achieved so much at such a young age, having succeeded exceedingly well in business, academia and politics, they boast. Indeed, he is referred to as one of the youngest Nigerian millionaires ever, industrialist, investor, holder of doctorate degrees etc. With such a sleek and coruscating profile, I became more curious. "All that glitters," my third grade teacher often retorted, "is not gold." I took some time to do some research on this fellow, Kalu. My first stop was his website: - http://www.orjikalu.com/biography.php . The immediate impression the discerning mind would have from viewing the website is that this is a fellow hungry for self-aggrandizement. The layout and verbiage reveal someone trying very hard to appear erudite and sophisticated. The unnecessary verbosity and grammatical inappropriateness and errors that leap out from the web pages give away the crass essence of the promoter.

It is alleged that Kalu was a student at the University of Maiduguri in the early 1980s but did not graduate because he could not meet the academic requirements. While a student at Maiduguri, it is rumoured, Kalu was a "dan dauda" (male prostitute) and pimp to a number of influential northern Nigerian alhajis and military men, and that this was his break into business, acting as a front for these influential northerners in the beginning, then later becoming a conduit through whom many were said to have laundered their ill-acquired monies. This preoccupation, it is alleged, had Kalu kicked out of the University of Maiduguri as he was unable to satisfy his academic requirements.

Kalu attempted to use his newly acquired wealth to buy some respectability. He procured for himself a BSc degree from the Abia state University, where no one can recall ever seeing him attending any classes. He also wheedled his way on the board, as chairman, of the badly run and now defunct Cooperative and Commerce Bank Plc. Hungry for limelight, and self promotion, Kalu continued to cavort around with these influential alhajis and military men, seizing all photo opportunities at their private and public functions, to which he was often self-invited. He flashed pictures of himself and these men to whosoever would care, and adorned his residence and office with same to give credence to his supposed close association with them. Having built this aura of "connectectedness" to the powers that be, Kalu wilily extracted favors and contracts from unsuspecting associates with the promise of connecting them to his influential friends. Sometimes, it is alleged, he would outrightly claim to be representing one or more of his powerful military friends as he demanded favors from government officials, who obliged him because they were scared out of their wits and careful not to offend these powers that be, and the pecking order that prevailed during the military dictatorships of the 1980s to 1990s.

With the advent of democracy in 1999, Kalu took advantage of all the chaos and flux that existed, used all sorts of underhanded tactics and thuggery to quell all legitimate opponents and hijacked the governorship of Abia state. Having at his disposal, the state's press machinery, Kalu continued his loud and arrogant self-promotion, bleating his half-baked rhetoric while at the same time helping himself to the state's coffers along with members of his immediate family, including his mother. Under the pretext of fighting crime, Kalu took advantage of the fact that the Nigerian Police found it difficult to meet the demands of crime fighting as a result of years of systematic emasculation by the successive military dictatorships of the 1980s and 1990s. With the Nigerian Police so depleted and demonized, Kalu introduced a vigilante group, "The Bakassi Boys," who were in essence, Kalu's personal army.

The Bakassi Boys, a rowdy band of misanthropic (often drugged) murderers, committed perhaps the worst human rights abuses ever in Nigeria. Under the pretext of routing out criminal elements, this vigilante group was involved in extortion, torture, extra judiciary killings and various other atrocities. They were the accusers, investigators, prosecutors, judge, jury and executioners. All crimes were punishable by death, delivered (literally) by way of a thousand cuts, amputations and decapitation. Sometimes, this pervertion of justice was extended to hapless family members of the criminal so fingered. The Bakassi Boys took no prisoners, hence there was no imprisonment, just gulags of the condemned awaiting execution. All that needed to happen was for one to be accused as a suspected criminal, and as swiftly as the accusation, the "criminal" was condemned and promptly executed, regardless of the veracity of the accusation, or the nature of the crime. It is alleged that the Bakassi Boys were also used by Kalu to settle personal scores, subjugate his opponents and strike fear into the indigenes of the state in the manner of his military dictator friends in the 1980s and 1990s.

To clean up Nigeria's image, as regards human rights abuses, in the international community, the Obasanjo government demanded that the vigilante group be disbanded, there began Kalu's loathing of Obasanjo. This became a full blown "front-page" smear attack when the Bakassi Boys were declared an illegal group and banned by the Federal Government of Nigeria. Kalu's vitriol increased, casting aspersions and making spurious accusations and loudmouth claims, touting his supposed influence and roiling in a characteristic classless, indecorous and self-righteous manner.

There has been an EFCC probe for a while now on how Kalu has been systematically looting the Abia state coffers, but he has been hiding behind the immunity provision in the constitution. It is alleged that members of his immediate family are involved in the systematic fraud and so they have also been under scrutiny. Last week's indictment of his mother and eighteen others is a fall out of this. Rather than respect the law, Kalu is shielding his mother from interrogation by the EFCC. This of course is typical and expected of the opportunistic conniver that is Kalu. It is alleged that plans are underway to smuggle his mother out of the country through Cameroun, while he has filed an injunction against the indictment in a court in Umuahia.

Here is a man who brought in a vigilante group to wreck mayhem on petty criminals and innocents alike, now seeking redress from the court denied the many souls, guilty and innocent alike, who were brutally murdered by the Bakassi Boys without a prayer. Kalu, would you rather the Bakassi Boys be let loose on you and your mother, or face the EFCC indictment? If you, your mother and cohort have your noses clean, the honorable thing to do (not that you are being accused of being honorable) is to let the law take its course.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Nigerian States' Government Houses - Cesspools of Corruption

It must be a tough job for the operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). In the past couple of years under the leadership of Nuhu Ribadu, the commission has built a reputation of efficacy and irreproachability. They have gone after big wig fraudsters including the notorious $245 million Brazilian bank scam, governors indicted in acts of embezzlement, an Inspector General of Police and now the Vice President. The stature of the perpetrators the commission has gone after tells of its sterling quality and professionalism.

In the dark ages of IBB and Abacha, the existence of such a commission would have been just to subjugate the common folk and perceived enemies of the dictatorships, especially since the dictators themselves were steeped in institutional corruption, systematically and deliberately looting the coffers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Indeed, these dark ages of Nigerian history saw entrenched a culture of corruption and blatant disregard of law and order such that it was expected of a government or private official in all institutions across the land to extort, embezzle and commit frank acts of fraud for self-enrichment at the detriment of the populace who they serve. In fact, one popular refrain during these dictatorships was - "use what you have to get what you want." This culture spilled over to the first term of the Obasanjo presidency, when we saw various government officials continuing to illicitly enrich themselves through acts of graft.

When the EFCC first came on the scene, many of these grafters thought it was going to be business as usual. They thought their stupendous illicitly acquired wealth would render them untouchable, and those who were governors, were banking on the immunity clause in the May 1999 constitution to protect them from prosecution. How wrong they were. The top echelon of the EFCC has proved to be irreproachable. Refusing to be sullied by bribery, blackmail or intimidation, they have gone after the biggest fish in the land. This has sent many of the governors running scared, particularly those who would be completing their maximum of two terms in May 2007 and who have been indicted in acts of graft.

Knowing that they have a date with the law, many are trying all sorts of blackmail tactics ranging from slander smears in the press to claims of selective indictments and other sorts of diabolical intrigues. The truth is if these governors are honorable, they would waive their immunity protection and subject themselves to the EFCC probes to prove their noses are clean. Clinton did this in the Monica Lewinski debacle when he was accused of perjury because he denied having sexual relations with the intern, enough to warrant impeachment proceedings against him.

Many Nigerians who hold public positions, as we know, are not honorable and as such it will be unlikely that any of the indicted governors will submit to a probe. To make matters worse many of the state assemblies are in complicity with the governors in perpetrating the acts of graft, rendering it virtually impossible that they would institute impeachment proceedings against their governors. Plateau state is a perfect example of this, with many of the legislators themselves arrested for their own acts of graft separate from the governor's. It will be interesting to see how all this pans out come May 29, 2007, after which the immunity protection of these indicted governors would no longer hold.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Crude Oil, the Bane of Nigeria

Pundits have severally proclaimed that the bane of Nigeria's sociopolitical and economic malaise is crude oil. The tussle to control the vast wealth that spews from beneath the mangroves of the Niger Delta and surrounding territorial waters has been central to all the conflicts that have befallen the country. From the days of Isaac Boro to the Nigerian Civil war, the Babangida and Abacha illegal usurpation of power and the recent onslaught by MOSOP, MEND and the ilk all have been impelled in some form by the hydrocarbon deposits beneath the Niger-Delta.

Add this to the incompetent and avaricious leadership, and a helpless populace and the result is chaos, exactly what we have today in Nigeria. Past and present leaders in Nigeria have abused their positions to engage in blatant acts of fraud and embezzlement, helping themselves to billions of dollars of the proceeds from the sale of the Niger-Delta crude oil. The late Abacha is reputed to have looted $3 billion, and his predecessor, Babangida, about $5 billion as alleged in the popular press. And these are just two out of several hundreds, perhaps thousands, of embezzlers.

Contemporary events in the news indicate that this culture of nauseating corruption is ever more so rife. With the indictment of several high-ranking government officials including incumbent governors, directors, an Inspector General of Police, businessmen and recently, the Vice President, there cannot be a more apt testament to the degree of debasement that the Nigerian polity has fallen to. In this cesspool of corruption, it is not out of place to have the kind of chaos expressed in the form of piracy, kidnapping, extortion, arson and sabotage that we have in the Niger-Delta. Using the pretext of governmental neglect (which is a truism) these criminals in the Niger-Delta wreak mayhem as they maim, murder and kidnap innocent civilians in exchange for ransoms. They couch their criminality in spurious social activism and time and again oil operators and the government fall for this and seek to pacify them by paying their ransom demands.

The solution to all this is simple. First, the Federal government should hunt these criminals down with the utmost force at its disposal, treating the crises strictly as the criminal acts that they are. Then the federal government should divest its interests in the oil sector and squarely concentrate on its role as a regulatory and monitoring body. If the NNPC were dissolved and the Nigerian government seeks its revenues purely through taxation and excise fees and duties then it would be more likely that we have government officials who are more accountable to the populace. It would force the state governments to be more creative about revenue generation rather than be the bottomless pits that they are into which the FGN keeps throwing away monies that are wont to be embezzled by the various state government officials.

Since a very high percentage of Nigerian businesses and individuals avoid or evade taxes, the general attitude is one of apathy towards acts of embezzlement and fraud. Perhaps if all Nigerian individuals and businesses paid their appropriate tax dues they would be more intolerant of gross acts of corruption and criminality perpetrated by various government officials and private citizens across the country, including those miscreants in the Niger-Delta and other hot spots in Nigeria.