Between corrupt leaders and Turaki’s tears

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 22 Jul 2007

A leader is always a good raw material for critics, comedians and cartoonists. Last week, some friends forwarded a mischievous email circulating among Nigerians to me. The message goes thus: ‘The Chief Security Officer of Ogun State Zoo wishes to thank all those who helped in capturing and returning the over 70-year-old Gorilla of Otta farm back to the zoo after its escape eight years ago. We are sorry for all the damages it caused in the land. It will never happen again. Thanks for your tolerance and resilience.’

The butt of this joke is apparent to most Nigerians. Out of frustration, perhaps, some people have chosen to weave comic relief around some actions or misdeeds of our rulers. In this practice, however, Nigerians are not alone.

For instance, Alistair Campbell recently released a 757-page memoir called The Blair Years. In the book, Campbell, who was Tony Blair’s spin doctor, jokes about how the former British prime minister, sometimes, worked in the nude. He also cites how an African leader at an international summit pinched the bum of Blair’s wife, Cherie. And just before the erstwhile Labour leader was elected, Campbell notes, a Japanese businessman had told him, “The whole of Japan is rooking forward to your erection.”

These jokes notwithstanding, serious inquests usually trail the conduct of leaders in most civilised societies. In his dying days in office, for instance, the cash for honours enquiries haunted Blair. Four people he nominated for honours were allegedly found to have made substantial donations to the Labour Party. In December 2006 and January 2007, the police questioned him as part of a criminal investigation.

This, maybe, explains why the new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, does not want to touch any penny from Mr Owen Oyston. A former chairman of Blackpool Football Club, Oyston was jailed for six years for raping a 16-year-old would-be model at Lancashire in 1996. The man was at a Labour Party’s fund-raiser held penultimate week at the Wembley Stadium. He reportedly paid £10,000 for a table at the event. Brown, who was said to be unaware of Oyston’s presence in advance, instructed that the party should not accept any donation from him.

The seriousness with which most countries view betrayal of trust by leaders was exemplified in China recently. For taking 6.5m yuan (about $850,000) in bribes, the country’s head of State Food and Drug Administration, Zheng Xiaoyu, was convicted and executed. The bribes made him close his eyes to the sub-standard medicines and tainted goods that caused many deaths in China.

In Nigeria, we had treated corruption with kid gloves. If you are a government official and you have not stolen from government coffers, your people will likely see you as an idiot. It was not until the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission came on board that we started seeing some semblance of war against corruption. Among the first major casualties of the war are the former Inspector General of Police, Mr Tafa Balogun and the former Bayelsa State Governor, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.

Now, the current has moved against some of our immediate past governors. So far, the EFCC has interrogated, arrested and prosecuted some of them. Former governor Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia State purportedly laundered about N3bn together with his mother and one Emeka Abone. Plateau State former Governor, Chief Joshua Dariye, had earlier been charged for laundering about N1.2 billion, $110,000 and £20,000. Saminu Turaki of Jigawa State allegedly looted N17bn from the state’s treasury in one day. The sum is said to be part of the N33bn and another $20m he allegedly misappropriated within a year. At some point in the court last week, Turaki shed some tears. He cleaned them with a white handkerchief.

As for the erstwhile ebeano governor, Chimaroke Nnamani, it is not yet time to wipe tears. He will begin to respond to the 39-count charge against him when he recovers from his illness. He suddenly took ill a few days ago and was admitted at the National Hospital, Abuja. There were speculations about the nature of his sickness. But some media reports have it that the admission was ostensibly for hypertension and lack of sleep or insomnia. One report even mentioned small malaria. Could there have been plenty of mosquitoes in Government House Enugu? Or at the legislative quarters in Abuja?

Whatever, these ex-governors are still innocent until the courts find them guilty. That is when Nigerians expect the EFCC to inflict them and other past and present government robbers with hypertension and insomnia. The Niger Delta region is restive today partly because some former governors there pocketed the resources meant for its development. None of those governors has been arrested yet.

Now that some leaders are declaring their assets, it will be interesting to know how they came about such wealth. Former Zamfara State Governor, Ahmed Sanni, declared over N1 billion the other day. And last week, Otunba Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State declared N4.46bn assets. The worth of the governor’s assets on assumption of office in May 2003 was put at N5.96bn. This represents 25 per cent loss. This Daniel must be a saint. Ironically, he was among those the EFCC earlier said it was investigating. Nigerians will want to know what has come of such investigations.

Life is brutish in Nigeria today because of the corrupt tendencies of some of our leaders. For many families, hunger is the highest cause of their own insomnia. Recently, a non governmental organisation, Action Aid, organised a protest march in Abuja. It was to sensitise Nigerians about this widespread hunger in the land. The police dispersed the protesters for allegedly littering the streets with discarded polythene bags.

I pity the police. Most times, they are asked to do what they may not believe in. This hunger is dealing with most of them. But they have to obey orders. Last week, I got a mail from an Assistant Superintendent of Police. He complained of having enjoyed only one promotion throughout his 13-year-career as a police officer. This is notwithstanding his clean records and a master’s degree certificate. He has got UK’s work permit and may soon relocate to London. He is even lucky. Some of his colleagues are victims of militant activities in the Niger Delta.

This is the situation in a country blessed with enormous resources; a country with many oil wells and four refineries but crippled by fuel price hikes and fuel scarcities; a country where a ruler may assume power with N2m and leave with N20bn. How then do you blame the gorilla and zoo story tellers?

One day, it will be time for reckoning. Then, the only thing that will come handy to every corrupt ruler is Turaki’s hanky.

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