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Corruption roulette and geo-political games (I)

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Cartelopia By Aisha Yolah

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Is it possible that the era of 'meaningless probes' of public officials and lack of capacity to be outraged by 'staggering revelations of old, well-established criminal enterprise' is over? Is it possible? The fact that a man who won an election not once but twice, to govern one of Nigeria's richest states, was actually a convicted shoplifter may have finally shamed most Nigerians into  acknowledging the depths to which they have fallen - and resolving to do something about it.
Celebrating gangsterism
Ideally one would have wished that James Ibori's latest conviction this month to 13 years in prison after pleading guilty in a British court to stealing from the coffers of Delta state, would also serve as a lesson in international politics. We all know that he is not the only or even, the worst thief. In fact the well-publicised and documented prosecution of two other former Nigerian governors by British authorities (Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and Joshua Dariye) even led to the repatriation of £12million pounds  under a process known as civil asset recovery in 2007). Yet neither of these men nor even Ibori for that matter, are really considered thieves by their own people today are they? 
If indeed Nigerians as a people have  cast away their cynicism and self-immolating tolerance of 'wealth' however terribly acquired, it would be nothing less than revolutionary - earth shaking - in fact. It would be: about time! And we would then have joined the rest of the world- including scores of much poorer, fellow African and other developing countries. There is corruption in all human societies but in very few is it so tolerated and even celebrated! Great, big good-natured but bumbling 'Nigeria' has become at best, cause for worried puzzlement or at the very worst, for withering derision and outright disrespect.
And yet because of our size and resources, such as 60% percent of proven oil reserves in the Gulf of Guinea.... Even after deporting us 'maliciously' they always come back apologising... We wait anxiously for example, to see how the altercation with foreign airlines who charge Nigerians more than all other human beings for the same service, will pan out. Perhaps after that, our Parliamentarians can be better placed to empathise with the routine exploitation and unnoticed 'extortion' of all Nigerians, rich and poor, by certain powerful brands in the telecoms and other service sectors within Africa's biggest consumer market of 160 million strong.
The butt of jokes, endless lamentation
Most Nigerians who have travelled to other countries will have some dreadful story on this our legendary world status. Over the years, we have simply used such experiences to add more useless detail to our constant national lamentation - endless meaningless and ineffectual complaint. And what happens when foreigners in our midst criticise us?  Usually such criticism is done 'diplomatically' as they agree indulgently with Nigerians that there are problems and paste smiles on their faces, affecting encouragement. Veiled condescension, perhaps? We posit here that the developed world, in between smiles and smirks, has in fact helped sustain our current state.
It is like this. Nigeria is a country of vast wealth and opportunity. With skill, talent and a little (or rather a lot of hard work) one can make a living of sorts. If perchance or by good luck(!) one is endowed with contacts or networks that give undue advantage in a system where such 'memberships' are paramount, then untold advantages (money, immunity from prosecution) can also be acquired. This works the same way for Non-Nigerians who have also set up their own networks and interconnections with Nigerians.
Not-for-profit but for...?
Most surprising of all is the possibility that this 'club' mentality - to take what can be got as a group-  is reflected by those who come here ostensibly to 'help' us: the so-called not-for -profit development industry. This page is not the place to indulge in the discussion of the political economy of such 'aid' relationships but suffice it to say that most such friends however well-meaning, usually get very, very well paid to do so. Often they have lifestyles, while in Nigeria, that in naira terms would be difficult to replicate in their home countries. Could such 'advantages' be more than sufficient trade-off for continuing to smile affably at heads of parastatals, ministries and departments who they know to be little more than criminals? At the individual level, bearing in mind plush villas, SUV's, and jet set club-hopping - very likely.
But why should a government which professes to uphold the highest standards of good governance knowingly interact with hundreds of corrupt officials? National interest. Theirs. Which brings us to the fact that most of the money stolen by Nigerians or from Nigeria (over $400billion since independence is it not?) is actually housed very comfortably in foreign (mostly European) banks! Global Witness, a United Kingdom based watchdog puts it like this: 'Without access to the international financial system it would be much harder for corrupt politicians from the developing world to loot their national treasuries'. Plain, uncomfortable logic.
Geo-politics of stolen money and oil
In the context of current world politics it should be quite clear that geo-politics (such as vast oil and gas reserves) shapes our relationships with donor governments and powerful (broke) world institutions much more than the shady character of military despots, convicted shoplifters or incontinent drunkards (or is it drinkards?) Real politick means that at country level, the smiles (and hidden smirks) may not really be because they like our president or his activities. Similarly Nigeria's  rapidly multiplying Binational commissions  and positive Presidential report cards written by foreigners even as our own Nigerian lives become more unbearable, should cause some to stop and think. It appears that 21st century Nigerians unlike our compatriots of old, of the analogue 60's and 70's, rarely think geo-politics exists.
One is inclined to wonder why James Ibori was made such an example of - he was really not that unique in his behaviour which in truth bought him exceptional power and prestige, even in Britain, until recently. Clearly the fact that he was not part of the current ruling elite club or network (not a Jonathan fan) has contributed to his well-deserved predicament. If perchance or by good luck, he had been part of today's elite club would this prosecution have ended as it did? Like Russian roulette, prosecution after criminal behaviour- stealing huge amounts of public  money- is in Nigeria or even as a rich Nigerian abroad, still a matter of luck. That single bullet in the barrel may get you, if ....
It all depends on your degree of bad luck , relative to geo-political clout, that is.
The politics of 'not knowing'
As we listen to the enormity of corruption in our fuel subsidy regime - just one part of this pivotal and very opaque petroleum sector - let us remember a few preceding signposts. Like the fact that the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala publically deposed at the National Assembly that she did not know on whose authority the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) routinely deducted its own 'payments' at source. If even she, backed by decades of World Bank 'clout' and best practices, had no idea nor it seems sought to know, in all her many years in this same ministerial post, why the NNPC behaves like a state within a state, then we should know  we  are on our own.

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