“I don’t think that the people, especially the civil society have shown enough outrage that one expects to consistently beam searchlight on the perpetrators (of corruption and looting of the treasury).
“People come and ask where are the convictions but I say where are the campaigns, we should be able to point out these persons so that they will not be able to spend these monies.”
These were the words of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo when he fielded questions from members of the civil society organisations under the aegis of the Civil Society Situation Room in Abuja on October 5.
Contemporary history is replete with instances of public admiration, adoration and celebration of public servants and other politically exposed people who have stolen from the public treasury. There has also been public indifference to controversial acquittals of people suspected or even convicted of corruption.
We recall how ex-Governor of Delta, James Ibori, convicted by a British court on money laundering charges, returned to a hero’s welcome in February. We also recall that current Delta Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, and Sheriff Oborevwori, Speaker of the State House of Assembly, and other elite in Delta, on Ibori’s 55th birthday in August, described the ex-convict as an impeccable leader who fought for resource control in the country!
As we observed in our Editorial of September 6, Nigerians across the country seethed and gnashed their teeth in anger as suspected looter after looter was discharged and acquitted in spite of seeming overwhelming evidence against them. We refer to the discharge and acquittal of Bala Ngilari, the first Nigerian Governor to be ever convicted of corruption; the unfreezing, on the orders of a court, of $5 million in the Skye Bank account of former First Lady Patience Jonathan and a ruling discharging and acquitting Godsday Orubebe, former Minister of the Niger Delta, in a N1.97 billion fraud case brought against him.
Here again, the point is that the private anger that greeted these developments did not translate into public outrage!
The mother of all acquittals was that of Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who had been standing trial for sundry assets declaration charges. Just a few days after Saraki’s acquittal, the National Judicial Council surprisingly re-installed the judges standing trial for various corruption charges. Was this meant to be a message to the Buhari Administration that the pro-corruption brigade was alive and well, and deeply entrenched in the system?
Again, the anger and frustration expressed in private conversations across the land NEVER translated into public outrage!
We were all wide awake when the National Assembly amended the Code of Conduct Tribunal law for self-serving reasons. The same legislature recently considered a bill effectively designed to protect looters.
The above and related developments were greeted with, well, public acquiescence, at best.
The questions to ask are: where is our collective anger in the face this pillaging of our common wealth? Can versions of NADECO emerge to mount nationwide campaigns against corruption?
Therefore, with all sense of responsibility, The Nigerian Expression calls on citizens’ groups, such as SERAP, to heed the Vice President’s call (“where are the campaigns?”, he asks) and organise sensitisation and social mobilisation campaigns against corruption.
For example, citizens groups, including workers and students should organise peaceful demonstrations on the streets and near the grounds of the National and State Assemblies demanding that work be expedited on the Executive-sponsored bill for the establishment of Special Courts to try corruption and other financial crimes. CSOs and journalists’ groups, among others, should organise activities, mount public sensitisation programmes to force the consideration of this bill, discourage the celebration of ‘pen robbery’ and Executive brigandage in our society, and STOP the general ‘mediocratisation’ of excellence in Nigeria.
This kind of “soft insurgency” is patriotic, not treasonable. In Kenya, in 2015, citizens’ action led to an explosion of national and international outrage against targeted politicians after journalists on the parliamentary beat published evidence that the Interior Cabinet Minister spent 3.4 billion shillings (about $300 million) at the end of one financial year (a common practice during past PDP Administrations).
Similarly, only recently, public anger shut down the Romanian government after it passed an emergency decree that critics feared marked an alarming retreat in the battle against corruption in that country.
Our call for civil and orderly “soft insurgency” is a noble and patriotic one. We invite our compatriots to heed this call.