Hall of shame for Nigerian villains

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published Sunday, 25 November

Randy Cunningham will ever live to regret his greed. When he was a member of the US House Defence Appropriations Subcommittee, he brokered contracts for defence companies in exchange for bribes. Two years ago, Cunningham resigned as a member of the US’ House of Representatives. In March last year, he bagged eight years and four months prison sentence. He was also ordered to pay $1.8m in restitution.

Cunningham is among other prominent US leaders a public interest organisation inducted in its Ethics Hall of Shame. The organisation, Public Citizen, established a website called “Clean Up Washington” to rid the US capital of what it calls “entrenched special interest influence-peddling.” Simply put, the idea is to fight corruption and prevent abuses of the public trust. To merit a place in the hall of shame, a candidate, Public Citizen says, “must have committed illegal acts or engaged in conduct that is highly abusive of the public trust in the service of special interests.”

Human Rights Watch also does a similar thing. In May 2006, for instance, the organisation inducted former President Olusegun Obasanjo into its hall of shame for, in its words, “playing politics with human rights.” This induction followed a bill Obasanjo’s regime brought to the National Assembly in January 2006. The bill, “the Prohibition of Relationship Between Persons of the Same Sex, Celebration of Marriage by them, and for Other Matters Connected Therewith”, was a pre-emptive measure against gay marriage in Nigeria.

This idea, perhaps, influenced the recent decision of the Anambra State Association in the United States of America. Late last month, the organisation gave hints of its plan to establish its own hall of shame for evildoers who have made Anambra a failed state. At the end of its sixth annual convention held in Miami Florida, ASA-USA reportedly said the initial medium for this exercise would be the Internet. Later on, the list of the villains will be published in other media.

This idea is worth replicating throughout the nation. This is because corruption and other evils have continued to taint the image of this country. Just when you think we are winning the war against sleaze, another scandal will break out to shame our collective integrity. For instance, the Willbros bribery scandal had hardly died down when the Siemens scam surfaced. Siemens AG, a German telecommunications firm, allegedly paid bribes to some former Nigerian government officials to secure contracts in the country. Recent media reports named four ex-ministers and some other prominent Nigerians as accomplices in the 10m-euro scam. The former ministers are Chief Cornelius Adebayo, Dr Mohammed Bello, Maj.-Gen. Tajudeen Olanrewaju, and the late Alhaji Haruna Elewi. Senator Jubril Aminu was also mentioned. These individuals, though, have denied the allegations.

Since the Federal Government has ordered a probe of the incident, and since the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission is investigating it, let’s give the suspects the benefit of the doubt. If after investigations, they are found culpable, their names must be prominent in this proposed hall of shame. This is besides any other punishment that will come their way.

Other Nigerians that should occupy this hall are past leaders already convicted of corrupt practices. The late Gen. Sani Abacha should be top on the list. This man alone, in the estimation of the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Mr Antonio Maria Costa, stole the equivalent of two to three per cent of the country’s GDP for every year that he was Head of State. Collectively, Nigeria reportedly lost close to $400bn to graft between 1960 and 1999. During the regime of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, Nigeria also lost substantial part of its revenue to corruption. Until date, nobody has properly accounted for the $12.4bn Gulf War oil windfall of that era. At a point, the Pius Okigbo panel report that allegedly indicted some principal officers of that regime was declared missing. Today, some of the people at the centre of that mess still strut around our political turf. The natural place for such people is the hall of shame.

At the state level, most ex-governors milked the treasuries of their states. So far, only chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha has been convicted. The rest are still playing hide and seek games with the law. Any time the courts finally convict them, they should occupy special positions in the hall of shame. From Tafa Balogun to Salisu Buhari and from Dan Etete to other convicted villains in our midst, this hall of shame is imperative. Even those who may not have been convicted of stealing but have caused trouble and untold hardship for citizens should be inducted in this hall. The troublemakers in Oyo and Anambra States must be on the list.

This exercise will serve as a constant reminder to people to continue to isolate the inductees. The problem of our short memory would have been solved if, at election time, we tell a dubious politician, “Go, your name is in the hall of shame.” Most people cherish their reputation. They love to maintain their good names. Which is why Adebayo, in his defence against the Siemens allegation, said he had a reputation for integrity. He expressed confidence that at the completion of the process, “this unjustified and unjustifiable stain will be removed from my hard-earned name.”

Hall of shame draws its concept from hall of fame. When people do something good and get commendation, they will have the motivation to do more. Earlier in the month, 23 women leaders were inducted into the Nigerian Women Hall of Fame. Among the women were the first female governor in Nigeria, Virgy Etiaba; the first female head of service, Ebele Okeke and the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives, Patricia Etteh. These women received this honour for distinguishing themselves in their various fields. It appeared the major criterion of the organisers was being first female this or that. There is no problem with this. But they should also establish a hall of shame for all those debasing womanhood. Etteh, for instance, presided over a rancorous House for about two months. Recently, she was forced to resign over a N628m house renovation scandal.

We must be serious about fighting corruption. The anti-graft agencies may prosecute offenders. They may recover their loot and harass them thoroughly. But if there is no collective action against corrupt officials; if we (like some Bayelsa people who held reception for Alamieyeseigha after his return from prison) continue to indulge fraudsters in our midst, the fight will never be won. Cunningham and his ilk did not just face the courts. They faced the civil society who disgraced them and put them in their hall of shame. Our nation needs something like this in this period of sleaze. It may not totally cure the malady. But it will go a long way. Civil society groups should take note.

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