Nigerian Ex-Presidents As ‘Untouchables’ In Anti-Corruption War

In the past three decades, each of these former presidents had in one way or the other been alleged to be involved in corruption cases which run into trillions of naira.

Despite being named in several high profile corruption scandals that have rocked the country, former military dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida (retd.), General Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd.), Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, have not been fully probed by anti-graft agencies.

In the past three decades, each of these former presidents had in one way or the other been alleged to be involved in corruption cases which run into trillions of naira.

Notwithstanding, the situation of things in the country has undoubtedly proved that the former presidents enjoy some sort of “perpetual immunity” which enables them to avoid being probed even after they have left office.

Some people argue that corruption became fully entrenched in the country during Babangida’s regime which lasted from 1985 to 1993.

During this period, the administration of the 75-year-old former military president could not give account of the Gulf War windfall, estimated to be around $12.4bn.

The Gulf War, which took place between August 2, 1990 and February 28, 1991, was a war waged by coalition forces from 35 nations, led by the United States, against Iraq in response to the latter’s invasion and annexation of Kuwait, an oil-rich country.

In the course of the war, international oil prices rose to unprecedented high levels and Nigeria was said to have made over $12.4bn from oil export sales.

However, it was alleged that Babangida stole the money from the Nigerian treasury and laundered it.

There are also allegations that Babangida used various government privatisation initiatives to reward his friends and associates, which eventually gave rise to the class of “the new rich” in the country. From banking to oil and import licences, it was alleged that the ex-leader used these favours to raise cash for himself and his family, making him one of the richest past rulers of the country.

But in the face of all these allegations, succeeding governments have yet to successfully probe the Minna, Niger State-born former Head of State.

Meanwhile, in January 2015, the ex-leader said he was not corrupt as he was being painted, demanding that anyone who had facts that he was corrupt should make them public.

He said this in an interview he had with a team of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s press crew for the agency’s in-house magazine, Zero Tolerance.

The death of General Sani Abacha who ruled the country from 1993 to 1998 was said to reveal the global nature of graft.

Abacha’s handling of Nigeria’s treasury during his regime showed that he channeled up to $2.2bn from the Central Bank of Nigeria into his private accounts.

On March 8, 2016, Nigeria and Switzerland entered into an agreement, which would see the European nation return $321m funds stolen by the former military head of state to the country.

There are some who argue that if Abacha had been alive, he would probably have enjoyed the “generosity” of his successors, which would see him not being investigated, while enjoying his loot.

Although the administration of General Abubakar was short (June 1998 – May 1999) and mainly focused on transitioning the country to democracy, there are insinuations that quite a huge amount of wealth was acquired by him and his inner circle at the country’s expense during that short period.

Then, he and his successor, Obasanjo, were implicated in the renowned Halliburton bribery scandal, one of the high-profile international corruption cases that shook the world.

The scandal saw a consortium of foreign companies bribing Nigerian officials with over $180m between 1994 and 2004 to win contracts for the building of the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas plant in Bonny Island, Rivers State.

Several foreigners involved in the scandal have been prosecuted in their home countries, but the Federal Government has yet to do so for persons named in the matter.

In a 2010 report submitted to late President Musa Yar’Adua by the special investigation panel headed by a former Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mike Okiro, Obasanjo was said to have pocketed a sum of $74m between 2000 and 2001 with his then-Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, from the Halliburton slush funds.

Abacha was likewise said to have received $40m between 1994 and 1995 during his regime.

Curiously, seven years after the panel indicted Abacha (late), Obasanjo and Abdulsalami in the Halliburton scandal, there are concerns that none of these ex-leaders — especially Obasanjo and Abdulsalami who are still living — have yet to be thoroughly investigated for their alleged involvement.

The Coordinator of the Natural Resource Governance Institute, Mr. Dauda Garuba, said then that it was important for the Federal Government to follow in the footsteps of its foreign counterparts by probing ex-leaders named in the scandal.

The alleged spending of over $16bn in the power sector by the Obasanjo administration without any substantial result has also caused concerns in some quarters why the former president has yet to be probed.

The former president was also named after investigations revealed that a German telecommunications firm, Siemens, was said to have paid €10m between 2001 and 2004 to Nigeria’s public officials in order to secure contracts in the country.

The administration of former President Jonathan (2010–2015) is also believed to be plagued by massive looting and the Otuoke-born leader has been named in some of the corruption cases.

In 2013, the Emir of Kano, then the Governor of Central Bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, had informed Jonathan that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, failed to remit $20bn in oil revenues.

Jonathan, however, dismissed the claim and replaced Sanusi for his mismanagement of the central bank’s budget.

Two years later, in January 2015, NNPC said its non-remitted revenue, was either missing or misappropriated.

Jonathan was also said to have benefited from massive corruption and kickbacks in the Ministry of Petroleum, the Malabu Oil International deal, and the $2.1bn arms deal, among others.

In an April 2017 report compiled by an international investigative firm, Global Witness, Jonathan alone was said to have received about $200m from the Malabu oil deal, paid as bribe by oil giants, Shell and Eni, for the acquisition of the OPL 245 oil field for $1.3bn.

The $2bn arms deal is an arms procurement deal that resulted in the embezzlement of the said funds through the office of a former National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki, who served under Jonathan.

Though several calls have been made by different groups and individuals to prosecute the former presidents for their alleged involvement in high-profile corruption cases, none of them has been probed.

Recently, a lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Wahab Shittu, tasked the EFCC to reopen investigations into allegations involving the country’s past leaders.

He said, “For instance, it (the EFCC) should uncover alleged atrocities during the Obasanjo era and the Jonathan years, like the allegation raised by Sanusi on the money that was not remitted to the Federation Account, the Halliburton scandal, the Siemens scandal and other scandals of that nature.

“[But] if we can conduct these investigations effectively and efficiently, investigators will need to be given considerable powers. I think what is important is for us to find out whether they are innocent or guilty.”

Also in 2016 when Obasanjo labelled members of the House of Representatives as corrupt, the Executive Chairman of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Mr. Debo Adeniran, said it was hypocritical for the former president to label any government, institution, agency or individual as corrupt in view of the unresolved and lingering suspected acts of corruption “perpetrated” by the former president.

There are a number of reasons why Nigeria’s ex-presidents seem to go away with crimes, according to a Lagos lawyer and policy analyst, Mr. Ibrahim Oladele.

He said, “First, our leaders hand over power to themselves and those proteges are forced to be loyal to their benefactors. Obasanjo, for instance, had a hand in the emergence of Yar’Adua, Jonathan and Buhari, so the likelihood of him being probed by any of them was/is small.

“Second, if a president wants to probe his predecessor, ethnic sentiments would arise. You would see kinsmen defending their own. Third, our culture of respect doesn’t sometimes allow such probes.”

On the culture of respect, the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, said recently that the idea of arresting Jonathan for corruption allegations and probing him was “sensitive” even when the former president no longer has immunity.

He said, “I’m a bit sentimental about it. Some countries are prepared to disgrace their former heads of state, but I feel a little bit reluctant. Rather, I would prefer something quietly done behind, where whatever might have been taken would be returned quietly without public embarrassment, if indeed anything was taken.

“I would be very uncomfortable when somebody who had been the embodiment of our statehood is standing in the dock. I feel a bit uncomfortable.”

But the Coordinator of the Nigeria Arise Group, Mr. Kingsley David, said since nobody is above the law, former presidents, “who are now private citizens,” should be made to face the wrath of the law if they had mismanaged public funds as a result of their position.

“We cannot develop as a country if a former president is untouchable even when the fellow had stolen us blind,” he said. “It is high time we looked at how other countries treat anyone, no matter who they are, accused or found to be involved in mismanagement of public funds.”

In July 2015, a former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, was convicted of bribing a senator in 2006 in an effort to topple the then central government.

In August 2016, the Brazilian Senate impeached Ms Dilma Rousseff, the country’s first female president, and removed her from office for the rest of her term on charges of manipulating the federal budget in an effort to conceal the nation’s mounting economic problems.

In March 2017, a former South Korean President, Park Geun-hye, was arrested and jailed over a high profile corruption scandal that saw her being ousted from office.

Park was the third former president to be jailed since South Korea became a democracy in 1988.

Also in March 2017, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was for the fourth time investigated over abuse of the powers of his office for personal and political gain.The first case against Netanyahu centred on expensive gifts that he and his wife got — and sometimes demanded — from rich businessmen.

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