The recent media spotlight on the trial and travails of the immediate past governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, generated a lot of discussions in the blogosphere. Some of the major issues raised include: the inability of the Nigerian Judicial system to successfully prosecute and jail Chief Ibori and other corrupt politicians like him; the propensity of Nigerian voters to elect, forgive, and re-elect politicians with proven character flaws; the widespread belief that Chief Ibori’s travails resulted not from stealing, but because he offended the system that created him.
A contributor to one of the social media forums argued, “The lesson here (of Ibori’s travail) is really not for us (the public). It is more for those who will attempt to step out of line after benefitting so much from the system.” This echoes the view of a number of the contributors who felt that the selective manner of prosecuting corrupt politicians in our polity only drives home this point and distorts the perception of our people. “How come people like Gov. Peter Odili (who has obtained an absurd perpetual injunction restraining the EFCC from going after him) and Gov. Bola Tinubu (the Western region political king-maker who recently returned from an overseas trip in a chartered plane) are walking free and living large?,” another contributor wondered. There’s some truth to this.
Many still remember the drama at Ibori’s EFCC trial in Kaduna. Many people, including women, from Delta State were said to have besieged the High Court premises where the trial was held. They were there to give moral (actually immoral) support to their “victimized” former governor. The capital city of Yenagoa was said to have erupted in celebrations when Gov. Alams “reappeared” after his “frame up” in the United Kingdom. A newspaper interviewed one of the sympathizers at this occasion, who when asked if he thought that Gov. Alams should be prosecuted. His reply? “Even if him steal money, no be our money? Na una money? Watin una don do other people wey steal money? My broda leave matter!” What about the now famous high profile Church thanksgiving service and celebrations for Chief Bode George at the occasion of his release from prison? Who would bet against the point that there would be a massive celebration for Chief Ibori when he regains his freedom? Do these people, who are victims of the politicians’ corruption, truly believe that these guys were really framed-up and victimized by the powers that be? Why do we celebrate these crooks and honor them with awards and chieftaincy titles? Shouldn’t we be pelting them with stones instead? Does it make it right if the thief is our brother?
The Wikileaks revelations shed some light into how the late President Yar’Adua illegally authorized some money to be transferred from the NNPC account as gifts to some members of the Judiciary (some of whom are still active) and some military top brass to help make the knotty electoral related Court cases go away. Ibori’s close relationship with the late president partly stems from his ability to game the judicial process. Big parts of what corrupts our system are the various compromises made in trying to hold on to, or gain, power. One can only imagine the nature of the discussions at the horridly arranged closed door meeting between former Gov. Tinubu and acting President Jonathan just before the last presidential elections. Evil guarantees of immunity would most likely have been given in exchange for electoral manipulations. Similar machinations earned former Gov. Peter Odili his injunction against the EFCC. It’s no coincidence that the governors mentioned here, while not the only corrupters of the system, are some of its most influential. The reason is not far-fetched: they governed some the nation’s wealthiest States. Given the corrupting influence of access to large sums of unearned money in a system dominated by visionless, rent-seeking and mediocre politicians, this becomes understandable but unacceptable.
Given all these, what should we then make of Chief Ibori’s travails? He is only one man, many other corrupters that are still out there living large, wielding great influences, and deciding the destiny of many. Some argue that his travail would only serve as a deterrence for would-be deserters from the system, and help make them bond closer than ever in their evil schemes. They argue, “It’s the system, stupid!! Not the man.” True. But even systems are changed one man at a time. Nigeria is changing for good; it’s the speed with which this happens that should concern us. The successors of some of these governors (Fashola and Amaechi) are doing fairly well. This travail of Ibori’s helps destroy the air of invincibility that hangs around men like him; which is vital for recruiting many Ibori wanabes into the system. You will be surprised at the number of people who want to go into politics for no other reason than that they want to become another Ibori – game the system, wield power, etc. His travails also establish the fact that the ethnicity or tribal card has its limits in National politics. I can only hope that this serves as a challenge to the operators of our judicial system who should rise up to the occasion. For how long would we depend on our former colonial masters and others to help clean our mess? Also, every thief jailed is one thief less among thieves.
We, the people, also form part of the larger society and so should be alive to our responsibility to voice out our frustrations and dismay with the system and make our expectations known. Let us look for, and recognize, men of admirable character and trumpet them as role models. We should also become more politically active. This does not necessarily mean contesting for political offices, it can just be participating more in issues that affect you or your immediate environment. We can also individually learn to organize ourselves into small single-issue advocacy groups – research about these issues and make your findings known to others. We can then learn how to push these issues via the legislative process available to all, but hardly employed. The people’s engagement is a requisite for development and entrenchment of a healthy democratic culture.
As Johann Von Goethe rightly said, “knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.”