Perspective

Impunity: SA shows Nigeria the way

Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions -Former US President Barack Obama, Accra, Ghana 2009

Former US President, Barack Obama said these immortal words when he addressed the Ghanaian Parliament in 2009, during his trip to Africa in which he tacitly snubbed the continent’s most populous nation, Nigeria by not finding even a few minutes to stop over in Abuja as he made his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office the previous year. Of course, while our politicians were quick to downplay the clear snub, it was obvious that America’s first black president was not overly impressed with what was going on in the largest country in the West African sub-region.

But it was clear that what he told the 275-member Ghanaian parliament was meant to resonate across the continent renowned for having the exact opposite of what the 44th President of the United States said – strongmen and not strong institutions. And this is one of the main reasons for the backwardness and inequality that abounds across the continent of 54 countries and 1.34 billion people (according to 2020 projections) where the gulf between the ruling class and those they are meant to serve is growing wider by the day.

Although Nigeria may not have ‘sit tight’ rulers in the mould of Cameroon’s 88-yearold Paul Biya, who has been in power since November 2, 1982 or Yoweri Museveni, who has been Uganda’s President since 1986; the so-called ‘Giant of Africa’ is still buffeted by numerous problems of which what Obama espoused is high on the list. And it is because the nation does not have strong institutions that impunity is allowed to run riot across virtually all spheres of endeavour in the country with devastating consequences. While undoubtedly it is the impunity at the top echelons of society that naturally catches most of the attention; the honest truth is that we are virtually all guilty of the malaise.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, impunity means: “Freedom from punishment or from the unpleasant results of something that has been done.” So how many of us can beat our chests and with all sense of sincerity say we have never done something ‘naughty’ snug in the knowledge that we will not face punishment for it? But while acts of impunity from ‘small fries’ are often more of an irritant – for example like needing to pay a tip before being able to renew a driver’s license or traffic officers asking for bribes before letting the errant driver go – the truth is that it is when it takes places at higher places that it become more impactful on the wider society and nation as a whole.

This is why the amounts of monies now being ascribed as having been stolen or misappropriated by those in high places are truly mind boggling. Gone are the days when stolen millions dominated the headlines and news reels on radio and television; now it is the area of the billion naira heists. On Monday, the joint House of Representatives Committee on Finance, Banking and Currency said Nigeria lost about $30 billion from 2005 to 2019 annually from revenue leakages. Chairman of the committee and co-chairman of the joint committee, Hon. James Faleke, disclosed this in his remarks at the commencement of the investigative hearing on the allegations. Also on the same day, the Senate said it had uncovered about N84 billion mismanaged by the management of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) within four years, from 12 out of 50 queries investigated so far by the apex chamber. The Chairman, Senate Public Accounts Committee, Senator Mathew Urhoghide, who made this disclosure, said that the agency was a “cesspool of corruption”.

But then, we have been down this road before. Last July “off your mic” became the catchphrase after it was mentioned by the Chairman of the House Committee probing the NDDC and amazing revelations of National Assembly members being beneficiaries of contracts awarded by the Commission. By the way, despite the jaw dropping allegations at the hearing, the nation is still awaiting the outcome of the probe – one year later! And it is virtually the same scenario all over the country with people in high places getting away with blue murder because of impunity. Thus, monies meant to developed the nation to the benefit of all is syphoned by a few individuals who then rub it in by showing off their ill-gotten wealth by driving flashy cars and living in mansions – cosy in the knowledge that the people rather than take them up on how they became billionaires overnight will rather be hailing them hoping to be given some of the crumbs of their ill-gotten loot.

But this would not have been possible if the institutions had been strong as is the case of South Africa where the immediate past President Jacob Zuma has just been sentenced to 15 months in prison. The sentence comes after the Constitutional Court found him guilty of contempt for defying its order to appear at an inquiry into corruption while he was president. Zuma’s time in power, which ended in 2018, was dogged by graft allegations. Businessmen were accused of conspiring with politicians to influence the decision- making process – sounds familiar with what has often been reported here in Nigeria. However, unlike Nigeria, the strong institutions of the ‘Rainbow Nation’ ensured that there was no hiding place for their former number one citizen.

Zuma made one appearance at the inquiry into what has become known as “state capture” but then refused to appear subsequently. The inquiry – headed by Justice Raymond Zondo – asked the Constitutional Court to intervene. Acting Chief Justice Sisi Khampepe was damning in her Zuma ruling saying: “I am left with no option but to commit Mr Zuma to imprisonment, with the hope that doing so sends an unequivocal message… the rule of law and the administration of justice prevails.”

This can never happen in Nigeria under the present circumstances, which is another reason why we are losing out in attracting big business into the country as it is only natural that they will gravitate to a country where the institutions will protect their investments and not allow anything untoward because some ‘high ups’ are unhappy with them.

Thus in the space of a few months we have seen big businesses snubbing the larger population of Nigeria for the smaller but more disciplined nation of Ghana. Early this week Toyota coughed out $7 million to commission the second assembly plant in Ghana in less than a year after Volkswagen opened its own last August. Other household names including Twitter and Google have all equally set up their African operations in the former Gold Coast rather than Nigeria. And in view of what recently happened to the microblogging giant here, who can blame them? Sadly this is likely to continue until we are ready to imbibe Obama’s suggestion.

 

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