By Jibrin Ibrahim
Over the past five days, my good friend, Bishop Mathew Kukah has been subjected to widespread criticisms and attacks for allegedly calling on President Buhari to focus on governance rather than the pursuit of the Jonathan regime for corruption. I have been unable to find exactly what Bishop Kukah said but I would be surprised that he would request President Buhari not to prosecute corrupt public officials for their misdeeds and crimes against the people.
Bishop Kukah has a long track record as an advocate for good governance and I have difficulties associating him with what is being said about him. I have sent him a message seeking clarification of exactly what he said; meanwhile there is in my view absolutely no choice to make between the anti-corruption crusade and the pursuit of good governance. The reason so many people were upset with Bishop Kukah is that for most Nigerians, the strong support they have for the Buhari Administration is based on the desire they have to see him reverse our long history of impunity for corruption. It’s very obvious that the main reason why corruption has grown steadily worse over the past thirty years, since Buhari’s first passage in power, has been the lack of punishment for successive groups of public officers who have looted the public treasury with impunity. As long as impunity continues, there is no reason for corruption to reduce.
There was therefore widespread excitement when President Muhammadu Buhari announced that the Government would soon start dealing with corrupt public officials who are currently being investigated. His re-assurance that looted Nigerian funds would be recovered and returned to the treasury has been pleasing to patriotic Nigerians who believe rightly that the country has no business being in the difficult financial situation in finds itself while so much of our national resources are in the private accounts of mega thieves who betrayed their offices and stole public resources that were supposed to have been used for the public good.
We have been told for example by the the National Economic Council (NEC), that our major cash cow, the NNPC, earned N8.1 trillion from crude oil sales from 2012 to 2015, withheld N3.8 trillion and paid only N4.3 trillion to the national treasury. Key members of the Jonathan Administration stole most of the money retained and Nigerians would be justifiably upset with anyone who suggests such destructive looting should go unpunished.
I think Nigerians are also angry at the arrogant way the Jonathan team flaunted their malgovernance. An example was the N1.6 billion allegedly spent by former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, to maintain private aircraft and charter flights. The seventh National Assembly promised to investigate the matter fully but were either bribed out of it or got frightened of the powers that be at the time. Even more seriously, under the stewardship of the competent World Bank trained expert Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, it turned out that billions of dollars had been secretly obtained from the country’s excess crude account and diverted to private pockets.
I believe that Bishop Mathew Kukah will be very pleased that over the weekend, Pope Francis of the Catholic Church delivered a fiery sermon against corruption, quoting a passage from the Bible in which Jesus said some sinners deserve to have their heads tied to a rock and thrown into the sea. In one of his strongest-worded homilies since his election in March, the Pope castigated Christians, we can add all “religious” public officials, who lead “a double life” by giving money to the Church while stealing from the state and are therefore sinners who deserve to be punished.
The Pope was quoted in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph as saying the people engaged in corruption were “whitewashed tombs”, explaining that “they appear beautiful from the outside, but inside they are full of dead bones and putrefaction.” A life based on corruption is “varnished putrefaction”, the Pope concluded. In Nigeria, so many of our religious leaders have become experts in whitewashing corrupt public officials and declaring them to be men and women of God. I think part of what irritated Nigerians about the visit of the Peace Council to President Muhammadu Buhari was the image of certain alleged men of God who were known to be key supporters of and prayer warriors for the mega looting that took place under the Jonathan Administration.
During Jonathan’s Administration, two Nigerians and an Israeli were arrested at the Lanseria International Airport Johannesburg, South Africa, last year with $9.3 million cash stashed in three suitcases in a private jet that flew in from Nigeria. The private jet belonged to one of the religious leaders who was a known prayer warrior for the Jonathan Administration. The Government later explained that the money was for the purchase of arms. A few months later, another group of Nigerians were caught with yet another $5.7m cash belonging to Nigeria for another arms purchase. President Goodluck Jonathan set aside procurement rules and was directing cash transfers to all sorts of characters for various deals. In the process, a significant amount of our national income during his presidency ended up in private pockets. The culprits must be made to account for their lawlessness.
President Buhari has established a panel of experts to advice him on the war against corruption. Our focus at this point is to help the committee obtain as much verifiable information as possible on the major actors in the corruption game and secondly, to engage with the Committee and with the Government on the best way of successfully prosecuting corrupt public officials and returning the looted funds. For most of us Nigerians, the point of departure for good governance is the punishment of the numerous mega thieves in the land and the return of looted resources. We can only wish the President the best of luck and our support on this agenda.