By Okey Ndibe
Last week, the US government was so miffed by President Goodluck Jonathan’s pardon of several big-name Nigerian convicts – among them former Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha – that its embassy in Nigeria issued a sharp rebuke. In a tweet, US diplomats in Abuja said they were “deeply disappointed” by Mr. Jonathan’s action. The tweet continued: “We see this as a setback in the fight against corruption.”
The reaction was a rather startling, if refreshing, breach of diplomatic convention. But its premise was also fundamentally misconceived.
Forget about “deep disappointment.” Nobody who has observed the Jonathan administration from the moment of its conception should even be disappointed, period. The government acted altogether in character in pardoning Mr. Alamieyeseigha. It can be said, in fact, that President Jonathan did the job he was “elected” to do – pure and simple.
For me, the truly baffling thing about the US tweet was the presupposition that Mr. Jonathan was ever engaged in a “fight against corruption.” Flowing from that profound misperception was the claim that the granting of official clemency to Mr. Alamieyeseigha represented “a setback” in that ostensible fight. The US government got it wrong – dead wrong.
Let’s be clear. Mr. Jonathan’s administration has never been in the business of fighting corruption. Yes, it often invokes the rhetoric of combating corruption. But truly fighting? No! Does Corruption dabble in the business of fighting Corruption? There’s no real moral or ethical difference between Mr. Alamieyeseigha and those who presumed to forgive him for pocketing millions of dollars of public funds. The two parties here, forgiver and forgiven, belong within the same conclave of iniquity.
The Jonathan administration reeks of corruption. Since occupying the throne in Aso Rock, this particular government has accumulated a dossier of scandals – from questionable, smelly deals in the oil sector to the hiring of political operatives notorious for their stinky pasts.
The Nigerian president has been characterized in some quarters as confused and clueless. It’s an unfair – and patently false – charge. Mr. Jonathan is as clear-eyed about his mission as any of his predecessors. And one thing he understands clearly is that he was not put in Aso Rock to fight corruption.
He was put in there to pretend that there’s a “fight.” That fight, he understands, can be waged only with speeches, whilst maintaining a conspicuous respect for the rights and privileges of Nigeria’s who’s who in the corruption industry.
Former Governor James Onanefe Ibori of Delta must be regretting the day he fled to Dubai as Jonathan’s security agents hounded him in the creeks of the Niger Delta. Discovered in his Dubai hideout by the ever-alert Interpol, Mr. Ibori was extradited to the UK where he stood trial for money laundering and received a 13-year jail sentence.
The British were able to strike the fear of the law in an Ibori who, in Nigeria, swaggered his way to acquittal on more than 100 counts of corruption and money laundering! In the UK where it’s harder to buy judges, Mr. Ibori ate the humble pie, pleading guilty to avert a more damaging trial.
Had he given thought to the matter, Mr. Ibori would have stayed back in Nigeria. Indeed, he should have handed himself to officers of Mr. Jonathan’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. The worst prospect would have been his arraignment. He would then have been able to send a delegation of “elders” and “royal fathers” to go and see Mr. Jonathan on his behalf.
The peace-building missionaries would have assured the president of ex-Governor Ibori’s “total loyalty” and implored him to regard the errant governor as his “political son.” That would have been the end of the matter! Or, not quite: Mr. Ibori might have landed a choice contract or two – or some juicy appointment, to use a favorite Nigerian adjective.
President Jonathan has a senior special adviser on ethics on his payroll. Yet, anybody who longs to take a measure of the president’s ethical funds has only to look at the shining star of Tony Anenih in the Jonathan firmament. In the last three months, the Presidency appointed Mr. Anenih to chair the board of the Nigerian Ports Authority and then elevated the selfsame Anenih to the post of chairman of the ruling party’s Board of Trustees.
That Mr. Jonathan saw fit to bestow the two posts on Mr. Anenih speaks volumes – about the two men. It says that Mr. Jonathan “knows” what he’s doing, and in particular that he knows how to prepare for and win the 2015 presidential (s)election. In Nigeria’s political circles, Mr. Anenih is called the “Leader” and “Mr. Fix-it.” Yet, the man was a woeful failure at his most prominent past assignment as Nigeria’s Works Minister. Under his watch, Nigerian roads remained dismal, even though N300 billion had been budgeted for his ministry.
Mr. Anenih’s accolades credit the man’s foxiness, especially his expertise in turning sure losers into certain winners (or vice versa). During the Obasanjo days, Mr. Anenih was the first to announce to the world that there was no vacancy in Aso Rock – before the PDP ran away with wangled landslides. Summoned to Mr. Jonathan’s side as the 2015 polls draw closer, Nigerians must now take seriously a recent warning from Kema Chikwe that Mr. Jonathan was already virtually re-(s)elected.
A friend of mine jokingly derided Mr. Anenih as “chairman of the PDP’s board of the tired.” But the matter is too serious to be consigned to a joke. At bottom, the Jonathan-Anenih coziness reveals something about the president’s vision of where Nigeria is – and where it should be headed. It is a terrifying vision and prospect. It’s also consistent with the president’s temperament, outlook and unimpressive record.
Not since former President Olusegun Obasanjo personally oversaw the petroleum industry has there been more apprehension about corruption – the absence of transparency – in the sector. Yet, Mr. Jonathan’s body language betrays a man at peace with monumental corruption. For sure, he has never contemplated acting to address the documentation of sleaze in the oil sector.
Mr. Jonathan has not disappointed me precisely because he has lived up – or down – to my expectations of his presidency. The forces that conspired to enthrone him were not looking for a sure-footed, determined and nimble crusader against corruption. They wanted a certified protector of the interests of the corrupt, in fact a veritable fertilizer of corruption. He has fit the billing and served the mission.
Former EFCC chairman Nuhu Ribadu was quoted in the New York Times as deploring the pardon granted Mr. Alamieyeseigha. And then he said, “Corruption is our main problem in Nigeria. We don’t need this kind of negative signal. This is a tragedy.” Well, President Jonathan would disagree.
For him, corruption is not Nigeria’s main problem: it is Nigeria’s main opportunity. And the clemency to the Alamieyeseighas, seen by Mr. Ribadu as a negative sign and tragedy, may well be Mr. Jonathan’s assurance to the “selectors” of Nigeria’s president that he is ever dead set against rocking the boat.
Memo to the US government: Mr. Jonathan is doing his job. A central requirement of that job is to NOT fight corruption.
Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe
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