First Ladies of Corruption
Dele Sobowale (Sunday, August 5, 2007)
Sir, your wife, under the pretence of keeping a...house, is a receiver of stolen goods -- Dr Samuel Johnson, 1709-1784
On April 1, 1999, which as everybody knows is Fools Day, a gubernatorial candidate of a political party had to his name only an old Peugeot 505; a small house in the middle class section of the state capital, and less than N50,000 in his personal bank account. A month after the governors were sworn into office, and he was one of them, the fellow miraculously had acquired four Mercedes Benz 500, S-Class; two Lexus Jeeps; two BMW 7-series; and purchased two houses in the GRA section of town which were within two months to be transformed into palaces. His wife went shopping in Europe and returned with clothes, shoes and jewellery worth several million naira. Yet the official salary and emoluments of a governor for one month could not, and can still not, buy a Mercedes Benz, S-Class.
He was not alone, “First Ladies” all over Nigeria, were keeping the cash registers of boutiques in Europe ringing perpetually. To add insult to injury, some established bogus NGOs into which state government money was allegedly diverted and established illegal offices funded by government right under our eyes. Unless we are morons, as one of our readers pronounced, we have a right to demand for full account of the money that went into those NGOs. Some of the NGOs on the face of it were for worthwhile purposes, e.g. abolition of prostitution or human trafficking.
But, we need to ask ourselves: which is the greater vice? The prostitution engaged in by one individual (for reasons best known to themselves) or the pillaging of state treasury by the governor and his wife leading to poor social welfare services, including education, health, and job creation, which produce more prostitutes. The first ladies who eagerly accepted the stolen loot from their husbands are at least guilty of moral decadence (which is not punishable in law) and at worst of receiving stolen goods; and the latter is certainly actionable. Unless we call the “First Ladies” to account for the funds diverted their way, we would not have pursued the war on corruption to its logical conclusion. That is the goal; the next thing is: how do we reach it?
At first this article was to be titled Ananias and Sapphira or EFCC: Don’t forget the first ladies. The first after a great deal of thought was rejected because non-Christian readers of Vanguard might not know about the story of the Biblical couple who colluded to deceive God. The second was dropped because the EFCC is now so over-stretched, it might not have time to handle the cases that should arise from these acts of corruption which will be discussed here. The Nigeria Police can however redeem themselves if they will take up the assignment and investigate without fear or favour corrupt practices involving the First Ladies in the last eight years. Fortunately, they are not covered by immunity and their self-imposed office is not even recognized by the constitution.
Surprisingly, this escalation of “First Ladyism” since 1999 was a phenomenon which was not experienced under the military. With the exceptions of Mariam Babangida and Maryam Abacha, first ladies under the military and even during Shagari’s administration, were seldom seen and less frequently heard from. Granted, the advanced world has elevated the position to a more public one. But, the funding for their activities is very low and rarely comes from the public purse. Governor’s wives were certainly in the background most of the time. Now, they have become so intrusive, and because they lack any mandate, are unaccountable to the public from whose purse they draw their funds. The laws of Nigeria, however, make no exceptions for governors’ wives receiving stolen money. So, unless they can convince various courts of law that they are either too stupid not to know that the large pools of funds they were getting were from illegitimate sources or that they received nothing, then they must be made to face the music as well.
If, as it is often said, “behind every successful man there stands a woman, it stands to reason that behind every great embezzler of public funds there must be a shameless and conscienceless “first lady” and several concubines who either have no moral courage to oppose the official or were too willing to help relieve him of the loot. And not just “First Ladies”; even “first sons and daughters into whose bank accounts millions must have passed, must also be made to explain the sources of those funds. The son of the former governor, who stood proxy for all the others, six months after he arrived on his university campus with a brand new Mercedes 320; while his younger sister got a Honda Accord to cruise around the campus. Meanwhile civil servants salaries were delayed – because the governor “met an empty treasury”.
Again the law makes no exception for off-springs of first ladies, over eighteen, who receive stolen goods. Let’s face it. Corruption is terrorism by other means. And Adolf Hitler, 1889-1945, was partly right when he proclaimed that: “You can’t fight terror with appeasement; you fight terror with terror.” Let the wives and children of corrupt public officials share in the pains as they partook in the gains and let’s see if corruption will not recede.
EFCC: Arrest legislators also
I come; I saw; I broke in and looted—Fraudulent governor of Nigerian State
TO that should be added “with the active support of the state House of Assembly." For every governor facing prosecution, the EFCC should complete the job and arrest virtually all the members of the State’s House of Assembly, especially the Speakers, who served with him. The reasons are not too hard to discover. But, two will do for now. First, under the presidential system of government, the president proposes but the legislators dispose. Indeed the legislature owns the purse and the governor is only allowed to take out of it whatever the lawmakers allow. Furthermore, legislators are expected to approve the budget for capital and recurrent expenditure for specific projects. Thus if the governor proposes a new hospital, he must provide the full details of the size, location and cost, etc, of establishing that hospital and convince the lawmakers about the need and the cost.
The Assembly either approves or disapproves. But, in most states the governors don’t even undertake the ritual of consulting with the Assembly. They spend at will with complete assurance that there will be no questions asked. Secondly, even after giving approval for the project, the legislators must ensure that the project is fully executed if the total amount is drawn down. In short the lawmakers must ensure that contractors don’t abscond after collecting mobilization fee or abandon the project half-way after collecting the full amount. This vital function has above all been abandoned. Many of our lawmakers have become people collecting money under false pretenses. Unfortunately, the 36 Houses of Assembly, without exception have allowed the “tail to wag the dog”. They have surrendered their rights to the governors usually for a mess of potage. Invariably, the governor proposes and disposes thereby destroying the principle of checks and balances as a result of which our state governments have become mini-dictatorships.
It usually starts when the new state governor “donates” luxury cars to all the Assembly members. That in my opinion is a bribe because the legislators can budget for their own cars instead of receiving the “Greek gift” from the governors. Then legislative quarters are either built or generous furniture allowances are granted to the lawmakers - which they gladly accept. It has never occurred to most of them that the transaction is akin to a guy walking up to you; reaching into your pocket and after removing your wallet gives you a small change and walks away with the rest. And you are foolish enough to say thank you. The truth is, no governor, even the greatest kleptomaniac, can steal a kobo unless the Speaker and the state Assembly allow him. That is why they should also be in the dock.