When a Billionaire Goes to Jail

By Bunmi Makinwa

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Former Governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu

Billionaires do go to jail but only rarely. In any country, a billionaire who pays for his crime with a jail term makes headline news. In Nigeria on December 4, 2019, wealthy, former Abia State Governor Orji Uzor Kalu was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. He wiped away tears, he asked or begged security officers not to be placed in handcuffs as he was being led out of court. “Please don’t handcuff me. I will follow you.”

Kalu, a senator and Chief Whip of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) political party, will most likely appeal the judgment. It took 12 years to prosecute the case to this point. For now, he sits in jail for committing fraud of over 7 billion naira of funds meant for Abia State which he ruled from 1999 to 2007. He will forfeit huge personal assets to the government.

In the public space, he has acquired an ignominious title of criminal, fraud and corrupt person.

In less than five years of APC’s rule by President Muhammadu Buhari, three other former state governors have been sentenced to prison, also for defrauding their states. They are: Jolly Nyame of Taraba State – 12 years; Joshua Dariye of Plateau State10 years; and Bala Ngilari of Adamawa State, whose conviction of 4 years imprisonment was later upturned by the Court of Appeal.

The rate of imprisonment of such all-powerful former governors is unprecedented.

The prosecution of cases of “grand corruption”, as it was labeled by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, appears to have sharp teeth. They bite deep and bloody. The injuries are being spread around in a way that makes people shudder, even if they are “insiders” – members of the APC and strong, well-connected political persons. The expectation that “Once you have joined APC, all your sins are forgiven” as famously stated in January 2019 by APC National Chairman Adams Oshiomole may be far from reality.

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A Federal High Court, Lagos sentenced former Abia State Governor, Orji Uzor Kalu to 12 years in prison

Kalu’s case is a model of a person who did all the “right” things to wash himself clear of his sins. He had abandoned his political party that took him to governorship position, and joined APC; he campaigned vigorously, visibly for APC and presidential candidate Buhari in 2019 elections; he fought his way through electoral and legal hurdles to become a senator in 2019, a usual guarantor of immunity from sanctions for crimes perpetrated as governor; and he purchased his way to Katsina the home state of Buhari to have himself turbaned as a Moslem leader, showing total disdain for his Christian roots and life-long religion. Yet, he ended up paying for his sins.

It may be too early to draw conclusions. But some questions are appropriate.

Is the government in its second term in office showing its new hands – no friends, no foes, and anyone who falls into the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) net can be convicted and will serve jail term and suffer punishment?

Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Shehu Malami said on December 19, 2019, that 22 ex-governors are under probe or on trial. This is in addition to many high-level officials and political heavyweights who are being investigated or facing criminal charges. Are the graft fighting arms of government, especially the EFCC, more proficient and more certain of their abilities to get convictions in courts hence they are emboldened? Will more billionaires go to jail?

The legal defence squad of billionaires who face criminal charges in Nigeria has demonstrated over the years its ability to stall the legal process, frustrate and ultimately overcome the prosecution in most situations. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act, a recent law, is credited by some legal analysts as having equipped prosecution with more capability to limit the technical manoeuvering that draws out cases sometimes for decades, defeating and making nonsense of trials. Will the use of the Act strengthen the administration of justice and encourage upright judges to determine cases within a reasonable time?

Are various arms of government, especially the executive and judiciary listening more attentively to the cries of the general public who are daily being scammed by their elected leaders?

And by confiscating the gains of crimes through forfeitures of large assets, is the judiciary waking up to the reality that political criminals even when convicted live a sumptuous, obscenely wealthy lifestyle after jail? That the fruits of a crime stay with the criminals rather than return to the people whose life is diminished by corruption?

We should also not forget to ask: Do we as a society contribute to creating many fraudulent and criminal billionaires? A system that makes it imperative to have many millions and even billions of Naira to run for election in any political position has created political commerce from which “investors” must recoup their capital and ensure quick returns whilst in office.

When billionaires go to jail, there is often dancing in the streets. The real joy, however, lies in people reaping fruits of democracy through a vast, noticeable improvement in the lives of ordinary people. A change of ways by governors and political leaders towards a life of service and commitment to reducing poverty in the land is a worthwhile goal.

Then, fewer billionaires will end up in jail.

Bunmi Makinwa is CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership.

Buhari and Sowore – The Road to Change

By Bunmi Makinwa

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Image via Daily News Gh

One is lean, slow, deliberate and often distant as he stares into space. The other is compact, quick, agitated and often preoccupied with his mobile phones. I am describing, respectively, my impressions of President Muhammadu Buhari and Mr Omoyele Sowore from watching them both up close physically.

They are two different people, as different as two people can be, including in their age and life experience. Yet, they are two very similar persons. In so many ways that this article will explain, their trajectories have been different, but their ways have been very similar.

In taking a stand against the establishment, Sowore has lived a life of protests. He was a relentless advocate for civil and political rights as a student union leader at the University of Lagos. Later on, he founded Sahara Reporters, one of the early online alternative media that champions agitation against all governments of Nigeria since 2006.

Buhari as a professional military officer might be perceived as conformist and obedient to military tradition. A closer look, however, reveals something different. His most visible form of protest has been that within and outside his military career, he has demonstrated a non-conformist mien. He has been described as austere, withdrawn and often aloof. In his political roles in military uniform, he has not been given to the physical and social excesses that characterized several of his contemporaries who assumed political roles.

Just as Buhari has held several political appointments and worked within the political structures, Sowore has been around and within politics, including engaging institutions of government to criticize them, and sometimes to collaborate with them as sources of his investigations. Buhari and Sowore came to the same conclusion. Neither was happy with the government and the regular politicians.

Both men sooner than later, in their typical day, are apt to show their angry demeanours in social and political discourse. President Buhari and Omoyele Sowore in many ways have led lives that reflected their dissatisfaction, even anger, about Nigeria’s political leadership and parties.

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Buhari as a military officer has been one of the leaders of several coups d’etat against military and civilian governments. For example, in December 1983, he was one of the military leaders that overthrew President Shehu Shagari. Buhari and his deputy Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon ruled Nigeria for some two years, a regime that was characterized by their “War Against Indiscipline”. They jailed many people,
punished many others and made draconian laws. Buhari has not led a quiet life of conforming to the established order.

Similarly, Sowore has never been short of negative words to describe what goes on in Nigeria. His lifelong pursuit of activism against the government has been loud. He has been intolerant of corruption, misrule, abuse of office and exploitative social norms.

President Buhari, after his military career, found his voice within a new political party, the All Nigeria People’s Party, and later in the Congress for Progressive Change. He ran three times unsuccessfully to become president. He won only at his fourth election campaign using the All Progressives Congress party platform. He has fulfilled his desire to rule Nigeria.

Sowore, who had established a powerful, successful media platform, Sahara Reporters, to destabilize the political space, also found a political party, the African Action Congress, in 2018. The party lost resoundingly at Sowore’s first attempt to use the electoral system to become president.

When President Buhari lost his earlier elections, he did not keep quiet. He spat fire. His frustration with the electoral process was heard loudly. For example, Buhari claimed that the 2011 elections were rigged. He angrily stated that “if what happened in 2011 should again happen in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood”.

Sowore after his electoral loss did not keep quiet. Moreover, he concluded that open agitation to upend the system was perhaps more effective. He spoke angrily too.
In their characteristic ways, neither of the two men accepted their losses nor did they settle down to parley with the winners. They did not go quietly into the night.
Sowore, reacting against the electoral process of 2015, called out other instruments of persuasion. He brandished a new slogan of “Revolution Now” and led street campaigns.

Unfortunately, for seeking new avenues to change the political discourse, he became the enemy that must be stopped by the forces of law and order.

It is written and said by many people that Sowore was the nemesis of President Jonathan’s government and that Sahara Reporters was a most potent media that charted the way for the end of Jonathan’s government and the entry of President Buhari into office in 2015.

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Sowore, especially through Sahara Reporters, has campaigned in the public arena consistently against the ills of every government from 2006 to date. Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Musa Yar’Adua, and Goodluck Jonathan were not spared, nor were their ministers, appointees and other political associates.

Some of these leaders have had their wives painted in undignified portraits in the online media, especially for corrupt activities.

How did Sowore who acted in support of, advocated for Buhari, and his political party’s “change” agenda, become the “enemy” of Buhari and his government?

Buhari was fed up with poor governance, he campaigned in support of a new order and fought hard to get into power. Both Buhari and Sowore swear that Nigeria must change.

Sowore’s impatience with slow or lack of change leads him to seek possible pressure points to accelerate change. What differentiates the two in the new sphere is that whilst Buhari is bound by the fences of government house and its dictates, Sowore chooses to try the paths not taken, using mostly words.

Nigeria is ripe for change. The road to change is already littered with promises not kept, accidents caused deliberately by agents of the status quo, and obstacles that hinder progress for the largest segment of the population. Sooner than later it may become a stark reality to decide which path can truly lead to change – within the existing order, or its overturn to give way to drastic shifts. Patience may have an expiration date.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership.

What Is Next for Yahya Jammeh – Even a billion years will end.

By Bunmi Makinwa

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Gambia’s President Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junjung Jammeh

Had he accepted defeat in the election of December 2016, Gambia’s President Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh, 51, would have been one of the few African presidents or heads of state who, having been in power for more than ten years or have had more than two terms of office, decided voluntarily to have a peaceful transition of power.

Notable presidents who stayed in power for a long time, yet organized or supported peaceful transition are Senegal’s Leopold Sedar Senghor who left office in 1980 after 20 years, Cameroon’s Ahmadou Ahidjo who left office in 1982 after 22 years due to ill health, and Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere who quit voluntarily in 1985 after 21 years. Others are Zambia’s  Kenneth Kaunda who left in 1991 after 27 years when he lost election, and Benin’s Mathieu Kerekou who also left in 1991 when he was defeated as military leader after 19 years. They were all the first presidents of the countries after independence.

In several African countries, the governments suspend the constitutional limits to presidential terms of office, and enable the leaders to stay in power perpetually or for a long time. From such strong positions, the incumbent presidents generally win elections using any means.

Jammeh, as a 29 year old army lieutenant took over power in a coup d’etat in 1994 and was elected president in 1996. Subsequently, he has been re-elected four times. Under Jammeh, Gambia changed its constitution and removed term limits for the president.

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A young Yahya Jammeh

ECOWAS dropped its plan for mandatory two terms for heads of state in West African countries when Gambia and Togo refused. Jammeh is reported to have said in 2011:  “I will deliver to the Gambian people and if I have to rule this country for one billion years, I will, if Allah says so.” It was clear that he did not see himself leaving office at any time in the foreseeable future. It was not an unusual scenario among his peers.

In 2015, the outcomes of presidential elections were predictably “favorable” to all long-term leaders in Africa.  In April that year President Omar Al Bashir of Sudan won by 94 percent in a poll that was largely boycotted by opposition parties. He had ruled Sudan for 26 years. In Togo in the same month, President Faure Eyadema, 50, won a hotly contested election for a third term after being in power for 10 years, a successor to his father’s 38 years as president. Togo has no term limit for the president.

During 2016, all presidents who have been in office for at least ten years or more than two terms won the elections or were declared winners of contested elections.  The list includes leaders of Chad, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) and Uganda.

The scheduled elections for the Democratic Republic of Congo in November 2016 could not hold due to serious civil disturbances as opposition parties and protesters demanded that President Joseph Kabila could not be a candidate. He was pressured to abide by the constitution adopted in 2006 and leave office as required after his second mandate expired in December 2016. Kabila, who came to office in 2001 following the assassination of President Laurent Kabila, his father, was first elected in 2006 as president. In a compromise on 23 December, an agreement, yet to be formally adopted, was proposed by the main opposition group and government under which the president would not alter the constitution and he must leave office before the end of 2017. 

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Congolese voters queue outside a polling station during presidential elections in Brazzaville, on March 20, 2016. (IBT)

Despite the numerous sit-tight leaders, there have been smooth transitions, and changes of ruling political parties and presidents in many African countries. In 2015, election results were accepted by all parties involved in Cote d’Ivoire, Lesotho, Nigeria, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia.  In 2016, Benin and Ghana witnessed superbly smooth transition of power.

Whilst Gambia’s Jammeh has acted true to character by rejecting the results of the election that he had accepted initially, the mood within Gambia and internationally suggests low tolerance of his stalling tactics. Whether Jammeh’s swagger and belligerence can outshine the resolve of internal critics and combined pressure of regional leaders and the international community will be clearer in the near future.

In 2014, Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore tried to force through a constitutional amendment to have a fifth term in office, but his 27-year regime was forced out by a combination of popular mass actions and military disenchantment with the government.

He had won elections four times previously under circumstances that were often similar to those of Jammeh.

The Gambia, as it is known, is the smallest country on mainland Africa. It has a population of about 1.8 million and economy largely dependent on tourism. Fishing and farming are also important.  The country is almost entirely surrounded by Senegal, and its western part opens to the Atlantic Ocean. Its military strength is generally characterized as small with no major exposure to combat. The president is minister of defence and head of the military forces.

There is no documented information of any former African president who accepted unfavourable election results only to reject them later. The question is whether Jammeh can willfully discredit the electoral system which his government had established and which results he had used in three previous elections to confirm his re-election. If he gets away with it, he will become the first African leader to say “yes” and “no” to the same election result.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership. Formerly, he was Africa Regional Director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

Will Mugabe Replace Mugabe?

Any doubt about who really rules Zimbabwe was erased by the outcome of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party congress held in November. President Robert Mugabe is still nominally in charge. First Lady Grace Mugabe has emerged as the power that shapes the throne.

Over the years, President Mugabe has rendered the once strong rival opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) completely ineffective as the opposition lost popular support and splintered into factions. Its former leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, once beloved by some powerful foreign governments and many people at home, no longer holds sway over even his peers. Tsvangirai, who in the 2008 presidential elections led the party to a first round win over ZANU-PF, was co-opted into a unity government as prime minister by Mugabe and then jettisoned once the old man regained full control.

Before the party congress the only thing that stood between Mugabe and life presidency was a decision of his own party. The congress removed any such obstacle, if it ever existed, and added more powers to Mugabe’s authority. As things stand, the president has made sure that even if the natural order of old age renders him mentally incapable of making decisions, Grace Mugabe, 49, will help him carry on.

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