President Jonathan Says No But What Do People Say?

It was a happy occasion. A small party in a home. A motley group of Nigerians in the diaspora. Some were self employed, some worked in international organizations and others worked in multinational and national corporations. There were a few non-Nigerians too. Everyone in the small group had something to say about how Nigeria could be better.

At the centre of the discussion was a former Minister from Nigeria. He thought that some of the ideas expressed were not doable “in the Nigerian context”. He spoke endlessly of the things that he tried to do whilst he was in government often to no avail because of entrenched interests.

He generated the most interest and attention of the group, for obvious reasons. He has “been there”. He spoke on how many people at the helm of government in Nigeria were misunderstood. Himself included. For all the time that he served Nigeria, he said, he was never corrupt. Indeed, he continued, throughout his ministerial appointment he never abused public funds nor received bribes nor gave them either.

After his statement, the room was silent. Everyone looked everywhere else, except at the former Minister. The mood of the party changed. The loud voices abated. People started to drift away.

Clearly the only person who believed the ex-Minister was the ex-Minister. Why?

When on October 9 President Goodluck Jonathan refuted the information that he was sixth richest President in Africa with estimated net worth of 100 million US dollars there was loud silence. Why?

The believability index of President Jonathan needs a scrub.

Corruption is a major problem in Nigeria. It is not the most corrupt country in the world, but it has consistently ranked among the worst group in the Transparency International Corruption  Perceptions Index. Back in 2003, government disputed its rating as second most corrupt country amongst 133 rated, for the second year in a row. Note that the argument was not about Nigeria being corrupt, it was about the rating. Recently, Nigeria ranked 143 amongst 177 rated by Transparency International in 2011 and 144 among 177 in 2013.

Some analysts say that bad as they are AIDS and Ebola combined kill less people than corruption in the country.  It is difficult to draw conclusions on the comparison without having the data. However, corruption is responsible for the poor state of the nation in many ways and at many levels.

President Jonathan and Chairman of the ICPC (Independent Corrupt Practices Commission) Ekpo Nta had made a distinction earlier on between stealing and corruption. Such a separation comes across as mere technicalities. Corruption as dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power or authority often involves bribery and illicit uses of funds. In its manifestations, stealing of public funds or creating avenues for others to steal, abuse, misuse of public funds is an integral part of it.

Parents bribe teachers. Police collect monies from drivers on the road. Civil servants pocket “dashes”. Public officials embezzle funds. Judges adjourn cases indefinitely after collecting illegal payments. .Contractors grease palms of accountants and payers. Bank officers receive gifts to approve loans for clients. Military officers protect bunkerers of petroleum and share loots. Elected officers, leaders in government and members of the legislature look the other way after taking “incentives”.

There are many reasons to attempt to justify this state of affairs. None of it is a good one. There are no good arguments or rationale to justify corruption.

The end result of corruption is a poorer life for large majority of the population. There may be good life for a few. But on average the country is worse off . No wonder the quality of life for both the rich and poor is one of the lowest even by African standards. In 2010, Nigeria was placed 142 out of 169, and in 2011, it went further down to 156 among 187 countries in the UN Quality of Life Index. Dignity, integrity and pride of human worth goes down ceaselessly.

With little to show, there are a host of official anti-corruption organizations. The country is signatory to many anti-corruption treaties and conventions. There is no lack of strategies, legislation and laws against corrupt practices. However, we are still in the woods. Political leaders do not get a pass mark. Politics is seen as an entry door to corruption. People queue up to lead, awaiting turns to be corrupt – it is the way to go. Follow the leader.

The clear and unacceptable imputation of the claim that President Jonathan is now worth about $100 Million is that the President has corruptly enriched himself while in office which is certainly not the case, the President said in his statement.

Unequivocally, President Jonathan said that he was not corrupt.

Perhaps not many people can prove that the Ex-Minister mentioned above did take public funds, gave bribes or solicited and received same. Yet most people are inclined to believe that he did. There is a serious lack of trust between the ruled and the rulers. The burden of leadership compels the rulers to show clean hands and justify their honesty, if indeed it exists.

President Jonathan may in fact not at all be anywhere near being the sixth wealthiest African leader. Presidential Spokesperson Reuben Abati stated that there was “no factual basis”  for the ranking. Afterall, Abati explained, “President Jonathan has never been a businessman or entrepreneur, but a life-long public servant” who “held public office since 1999… has had no personal income since 1999 other than his official remuneration as deputy governor, governor, vice president, acting president and president which are matters of public record.”

But this is only a beginning not the end of the story.

One statement cannot correct past history. The statement by the President is weighted against his attitude towards corruption, ways that past allegations of corruption against members of his cabinet were handled, many cases of what appeared as abuse, misuse and mishandling of public wealth and funds during his administration; lifestyles and obvious indicators of excessive wealth, among others. The public view would seem like “we merely look the other way because we cannot do anything anyway”. People do not have a basis to accept such a statement. Most of the cadre of leaders, past and present, have not merited such unquestionable  acceptance.

President Jonathan can and should do more. His statement is an opening salvo. He should follow it up with more actions. I suggest that for a start he makes his stated assets and wealth public and state their sources; he challenges the media to carry out  investigations and confirm or deny the information;  he takes the sources of publications of his wealth ranking to a court of law to determine what penalties should be inflicted for falsehood and bringing the name of President Jonathan and Nigeria to disrepute; he orders his close officials to resist temptation for corruption by making their assets public before taking and after office; he renders the various anti-corruption agencies active and effective by giving their heads performance goals to meet in combating, prosecuting corruption and in making corruption unattractive.

The public also has a duty to ask of its elected and appointed leaders to reduce and stop corruption by doing all the recommendations above. Governors and state government officials have a responsibility  to bear.

Corruption did not start with President Jonathan’s government. It most certainly will not end in his era. History will ask what he contributed towards reducing or increasing it.

Makinwa is a communication for leadership entrepreneur based in South Africa and Nigeria. Twitter: @bunmimakinwa

The article was published on October 21, 2014 by Sahara Reporters

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