The Halliburton case has indeed refused to die. As with everything Nigerian, this case, in which highly placed Nigerians perpetrated an unimaginable heist running into millions of Dollars has proved or is rather, proving to be wished away into the bowels of history. It has resonated and the more they thought they had buried the corpse, the more the hand protrudes for all to see. I think it was America’s Gulf war hero and former Secretary of State General Collin Powel who uttered a seemingly harmless statement about corruption in Nigeria, which has remained indelible in our psyche. When his opinion about Nigeria was sought, Powel simply retorted that, "it is a country of marvellous scammers."

This uppercut must have passed as the most undiplomatic comment ever openly made by a serving United States top diplomat against another country. Of course, the gaffe caused a diplomatic row w between the US and Nigerian. Nigerians were nonetheless unimpressed as many of them concur with the General’s sweeping classification of Nigerians as scammers. Although the U.S Government denied that this was its official position many people believed Powel couldn’t have voiced it out the way he did if it was not his country’s position. In the end and as usual, a sacrificial lamb was found. The media – was blamed for taking Powell’s words out of context.

Coincidentally, at the time Collins’ statement was made, Nigerian officials at the highest level of government were enmeshed in a scandalous financial deal in which the nation was ripped-off of hundreds of millions of dollars. Ironically the main accomplices in the crime were US citizens. Today this monumental scam is officially known as the Halliburton scandal. It concerns the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project and can be traced back to 1994 when bids were submitted to build Africa’s first liquefied natural gas plant in Bonny, Rivers State at the cost of $6 billion.

A joint venture company, TSKJ, formed in equal partnership between a French engineering company, Technip, an Italian engineering company, Snamprogetti, a US engineering company, KBR, of the Halliburton group; and the Japanese engineering and construction company, JGC, amplified corruption in Nigeria to unprecedented levels. Soon after TSKJ was formed, it registered three companies in Madeira, Portugal, to recruit two "consulting companies," Tri-Star Investment Ltd, and Marubeni Inc with the mandate to bribe Nigerian "officials of the executive branch of government, NNPC and NLNG officials, and political party leaders", according to a sealed indictment filed at the United States District Court in Houston, Texas. Three early decisions taken by TSKJ were: hiring a British lawyer, Jeffery Tesle to coordinate the affairs of TriStar; signing up Wojciech Chodan, an American deal maker resident in the UK to assist him and contract Messrs Matsuda, Endo, and Lida to run Marubeni.

According to the court deposition of Mr.Tesler, in a clinical application of the principles of division of labour, TSKJ mandated the Tri-Star team, which it disingenuously called "cultural advisors," to focus only on bribing the "senior level officials", while the Marubeni team was instructed to restrict itself to bribing the "low cadre Nigerian officials."

Thus while Tri-Star was incorporated in Gibraltar and had a budget of $130 million; Marubeni, incorporated in Japan, had a budget of $50 million. There is no denying the fact that this unpatriotic collaboration at the highest level of government is an indication that what we have in the country as leaders are a band of common criminals and thieves who make no bones out of stooping low to sell their conscience.

What can be more despicable?

The personalities include three former presidents; - as well as a motley of who’s who of Nigeria’s political and business elite. They were all alleged to have received millions of dollars in bribes from American and European contractors.

Also enmeshed in this high tech bribery scandal is a long line of ministers, bureaucrats, top politicians, state and local officials and former oil minister Dan Etete. This is the character and mindset of the type of leaders that have forced themselves on us and because they lack a proper mandate to govern, their conscience neither pricks nor assaults them. This cast, charged with running the affairs of 150 million people in the heart of Africa just sold out receiving stashes of dollars in briefcases and bullion vans.

In all, these eminent Nigerians accepted at least N27 billion.

American authorities have pursued and secured convictions of their own citizens and corporations, notably the oil services company Halliburton, in connection with the scandal and agreed to pay $579 million in fines. Many of its agents are billed to face long jail terms. All through the scandal and his stay in office, the former Attorney General, Michael Aondoakaa, made so much noise but in reality did little to pursue the indicted. He employed all tricks in the book to give cover to the Ali Baba’s of our time that have swindled Nigeria mindlessly for a crime that attracts long jail terms in saner climes.

The government did their utmost to hush up the monumental stealing. Their action was quite understandable. Given the circumstances in which the Yar’Adua government came to power, nobody expected it to pursue corruption with any commitment. President Olusegun Obasanjo who is alleged to be deeply involved in the sharing of the loot was the same person who said during the campaign to install Yar’Adua that the 2007 election was for him "a of do or die affair."

As understandable as the action or inaction of the Yar’Adua government to catch the scammers was, it reveals us as a nation that fully justifies its reputation as one of the world’s leading cesspits of unrestrained graft.

Now that Acting President Goodluck Jonathan has travelled all the way to America to assure the international community that Nigeria is serious about fighting corruption, we hope he will look into the Halliburton scandal, find its culprits and do the right thing just like the United State of America

Monguno wrote this piece from Abuja and can be reach on 0705 767 9999 or e-mail: [email protected]

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