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Is Okonjo-Iweala An Anti-Graft Crusader?

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The irony that bedevils Nigeria in contemporary times is that there is an ongoing contest among evil practitioners on how to out-do each other in the execution of one sophisticated crime or the other thereby exposing the precious lives of millions of innocent persons to unmitigated danger given the ominous but tragic reality that the operatives charged constitutionally with the task of law enforcement are grossly deficient in professional skills and efficiency. It is as if the devil in person has relocated to Nigeria.

But organize crime got to its crescendo last year in Nigeria when the 84 -year old mother of the serving minister of Finance and the coordinating minister of the economy Mrs. (Dr.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was kidnapped and was not released from captivity for nearly one month in what is regarded as a revenge mission by members of the discredited cabal in the petroleum sub-sector who have been indicted by a presidential investigative panel for alleged theft of nearly a trillion Naira from public coffers in the guise of payments from the subsidy fund even when they never supplied any petroleum products.

Prior to the sensational and widely celebrated abduction of this old woman from her home in Delta State by these hoodlums, the office of the minister of Finance raised an alarm that alleged petroleum subsidy thieves have severally threatened to deal decisively with her for daring to expose these monumental corruption and heist of several billions of tax payers money.

In saner climes when such alarm is raised, the proactive security apparatus and mechanism are activated to prevent any untoward criminal act from happening to the person raising the alarm including the immediate family members. Nigeria is howvere a different kettle of fish because security operatives are good at adopting fire brigade approach to anti-crime fight.

Even in the security quarters, the kidnap of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala's mother in December last year was linked to the anti-corruption stance of the Finance minister but very little was done to stop these evil practitioners from successfully carrying out their threat.

But in what analysts see as official confirmation of suspected reason for the dastardly criminal act, the Federal ministry of Finance through the media office said it was possible that those behind the kidnap were the same people who have made threats against her in the recent past.

In the statement, signed by her spokesperson, Paul Nwabuikwu, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said it was also possible that “other elements with hostile motives” were behind the kidnap.

“No possibility can be ruled out at this time,” the minister said.

The minister's mother was kidnapped at about 1: 30 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon by eight gunmen who invaded her husband's palace at Ogbe-Ofu quarters in Ogwahi-Uku, Delta State, whisking her away.

Although the abducted mother of the minister of Finance was later released unharm, the symbolism of the entire scenario is that fighting the enthrenched forces of corruption and economic crime is a serious business with life threatening risk.

If you doubt how dangerous it is to battle the scourge of corruption in Nigeria, then ask Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the former Executive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) who had to go into exile because of threats to his life allegedly by corrupt forces who also successfully convinced the then president, late Umaru Musa Yar'adua, to unceremoniously sack him from office in very controversial circumstances.

Duncan Clarke in his book “Crude continent: the struggle for Africa's oil prize”, clearly noted that corruption is larger than life in Nigeria's oil industry.

He wrote thus; “Corruption in Nigeria has acquired legendary and deserved status. It revolves within the state apparatus (2 million apparatchiks strong), especially around government interfaces with oil”.

In the thinking of this profoundly brilliant writer, the Nigerian Federal Government is unwilling to uproot the well enthrenched and oiled forces of corruption.

His words: “Nigeria stands high on all indices of corruption…the government is inclined to alienate neither the military nor the political elites, and so little has been achieved…”

But last year January, millions of Nigerians trooped out to the streets of major cities and towns across the country to denounce Government's unwillingness to tackle the monumental corruption in the Petroleum industry and clearly demanded that action be effectively adopted to bring petrol subsidy thieve to trial.

These protesters were angered by government's decision to hike the pump price of petroleum products in Nigeria which obviously inflicted pains on the living condition of millions of people.

Nuhu Ribadu was quoted by the British Broadcasting corporation's website as describing last year January's mass protest as legendary.

According to Nuhu Ribadu, “the biggest single victory Nigerians scored (during the protests) was to put the question of corruption squarely back on the top of our national policy agenda”.

Officials of the Federal ministry of Finance also confirmed that the mass protests last year motivated and reinvigorated the anti-corruption posture of the serving minister of Finance-Mrs. (Dr.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

A position paper obtained from the Federal ministry of Finance recently confirmed that the January 2012 mass protest was a major turning point to expose corrupt persons and companies who have stolen from the petrol subsidy Fund.

According to this position paper; “The ministry of Finance played a critical role in realizing what is possibly the most important response against corruption by the administration. The establishment of the Mr. Aig-Imoukhuede committee to investigate fuel subsidy payments. The committee was a direct fall out of the nationwide protests that followed the removal of subsidies on January 1st 2012….”

It was to the credit of the enormous forensic investigative activities of this committee set up by the Finance ministry and elevated to a presidential panel by President Jonathan, that over 25 big petroleum companies owned by some close associates of the people in power, were indicted for heist of public fund in false subsidy claims.

The Finance Minister nevertheless thinks that fighting corruption is a big business that is fraught with life threatening risks.

In her latest book titled; “Reforming the unreformable: lessons from Nigeria”, the Finance minister Dr. (Mrs.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala acknowledged that waging battle against systemic corruption in Nigeria is a risky business.

Her words: “It was clear to the Economic Team working on the reforms that fighting corruption successfully would require four crucial and inseparable ingredients”.

According to her the four basic requirements for successfully waging war against corruption in Nigeria are political will and commitment from the top; secondly, identifying and focusing on the most damaging forms of corruption; thirdly, was to develop measurable indicators of success or other means of demonstrating success; and lastly, ability to withstand personal intimidation or threats and to forge on with the fight.

The finance minister has spoken well but to a lot of Nigerians, the current administration needs to do more to show the World that it means serious business in the fight against corruption.

There is the serious need for the current administration to sanction officials of the various strategic ministries who are frustrating whistle- blowers and the organized civil society community in Nigeria by refusing to comply with numerous freedom of information requests to avail Nigerians with basic information on how government expenditures are made given the fact that public procurement processes are some of the worst forms of corruption and economic crime.

President Jonathan's government should keep corrupt persons in prisons where they belong and stop romancing with them because it makes no sense that some of the key persons indicted in the fuel subsidy theft are seen romancing publicly with the presidency even as some of them recently bagged presidential national awards.

The National Assembly is also harbouring some of the worst corrupt persons who publicly admitted receiving bribes to shield fuel subsidy thieves.

These persons who still parade around as legislators must be prosecuted and sanctioned to show that the law is bigger than any person no matter the status. The corruption in the judiciary is disturbing. Corrupt judges must be exposed, prosecuted and punished to serve as effective deterrent.

Another area whereby we need to close the yawning gap in the anti-graft fight is to strengthen the institutions that fight corruption and to legally outlaw all possible areas of political interferences in their work even as the court system needs to be reformed to effectively adjudicate anti-graft matters so that the huge public fund diverted into private pockets of public officials are retrieved and returned to public treasury to serve only the public good.

I agree entirely with the British Broadcasting Corporation [BBC] when it concluded in a recent report published online that “corruption undermines economic growth, creates institutional mismanagement and hurts society by holding back economic development at all levels”.

It is therefore imperative that anti-corruption crusaders such as Mrs. (Dr.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala are supported to achieve the national target of using the mechanism of due legal process to sanction corrupt persons and to enthrone a regime of transparency, accountability and zero-tolerance to corruption.

It is either we are serious to fight and defeat the hydraheaded monster of corruption or corruption will completely strangulate Nigeria and Nigerians. Let us chose wisely and the time is now.

**Emmanuel Onwubiko; Head, Human Rights Writers' Association of Nigeria [email protected]**

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Emmanuel Onwubiko and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by Emmanuel Onwubiko