Corruption: How Not to Fight the War
Source: THIS DAY

The Federal Government is initiating a new offensive on corruption directed at multinationals and their home countries linked with various bribery scandals in Nigeria. However, Davidson Iriekpen wonders if the move is not another jamboree and, way to tell Nigerians that the country is too weak to confront corruption?

How committed is the President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua Administration to the fight against corruption? This could possibly be the question on the lips of many Nigerians as they watch helplessly the Federal Government embark on another frivolous trip towards wasting the country's hard earned resources. Last week, indications emerged that the government is set to launch a new offensive directed at multinational corporations and their home countries linked with various bribery scandals in the country. The offensive, according to competent sources is initiated to curb corruption in the country. The offensive which is being handled by the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, is believed to be to designed to stem the tide of losses Nigeria suffers from such contract scams and to curb corruption in the country.

According to THISDAY investigation, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa (SAN) had put forward the argument that the country has suffered losses on three fronts: perception/humiliation, discrimination in the world of business, and colossal economic and financial losses. The action of the government may not be unconnected with a plethora of scandals involving multinationals such as Halliburton, Willbross and Shell. The firms are at the centre of various alleged bribery scams in Nigeria's telecommunications, oil and gas sectors. They are accused of paying over $300 million to some government officials, to secure various contracts in the country.

For instance, a German telecommunications giant, Siemens was alleged to have paid more than $100 million in bribes to officials in Nigeria, Russia and Libya. On October 4, 2007, a German court indicted the company for large-scale bribery to win multi-billion dollar contracts in Nigeria and it was fined $14million for the offence. The court named four former Nigerian communications ministers, a senator, and some bureaucrats as beneficiaries of the inducement involving about 10 million euros in bribe money.

Two of the company's officials, Seidel and Gilbert, allegedly paid 500,000 euros bribe to a minister in 2002. The minister was alleged to have collected another 70,000 euros in May 2004. His colleague got 550,000 euros and 150,000 euros on July 8, 2002 and August 28, 2003, respectively. A senator named in the scandal is said to be a member of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The senator and some bureaucrats were alleged to have got 185,000 euros as bribes. The German court listed Major General Tajudeen Olanrewaju (rtd), Dr. Bello Haliru Mohamed, Chief Cornelius Adebayo and the late Alhaji Haruna Elewi, as well as Senator Jibril Aminu among the alleged bribe recipients.

Amid public outcry for the prosecution of those named in the scandal, the Yar'Adua government instead of ordering their arrest and prosecution, turned around to blacklist Siemens. Now, there indications that the government may have long quietly reversed itself by removing Siemens from the blacklist and re-listing the firm among the country's contractors.

Last year, Halliburton sacked its executive, Albert Stanley, for bribing senior Nigerian government officials over US$180million to win contracts under the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) project in the late 1990s. The bribe was, allegedly, paid to enable Halliburton win a $6billion contract. The scandal came to light in October 2003, after a French court launched an investigation into allegations of unwholesome conduct by officials of the company. At first, Halliburton said it was innocent of the allegation, since the alleged bribe occurred before its acquisition of Kellog Brown & Root (KBR). The company was also said to have instructed its representatives in the country to submit the names of the Nigerians allegedly involved in the scam to government.

Following this revelation, the House of Representatives Committee on Public Petitions that investigated the matter in August 2004, recommended that all companies linked with TSKJ and Halliburton in Nigeria should be excluded from new contracts until its investigation was completed. It later allegedly admitted in a regulatory filing with Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of United States of America that improper payments were made to Nigerian government officials in connection with the NLNG contract. The company was also alleged to have admitted in an earlier internal probe that members of the TSKJ consortium, which it leads, might have bribed government officials.

But indications, however, emerged recently that Halliburton had agreed to pay $559 million to settle federal charges for its employees' bribing of officials in Nigeria. The settlement, still awaiting formal approval from the U.S. Department of Justice, would be the biggest fine by a US company in a bribery case, topping the $44 million that Baker Hughes Inc., paid last year in relation to charges that it paid bribes in Kazakhstan. The Anglo-Dutch giant, Shell, was also implicated in the bribery scandal. Officials of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) were alleged to have benefited from the alleged $6million bribe said to have been distributed by Willbross Group to secure contract for the Eastern Gas Gathering System (EGGS) in Nigeria. Some officials of Shell were reported to have promised to help Willbross Group secure and retain the plum contract. A former General Manager of Willbross International, Mr. Jason Edward Steph, is currently facing prosecution under the Foreign Corrupt Act in the United States for distributing $6 million to senior officials of the Federal Government, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS) and SPDC.

In all the cases, the Nigerian officials named in the scams were never prosecuted despite assurances that the matters had been handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Many have expressed fear that Nigeria might have set out to achieve in the legal battles against foreign firms have been lost when it failed to prosecute its own citizens implicated in the cases.

The questions many are therefore asking are: shouldn't charity begin at home, as the saying goes? Why waste funds to prosecute these companies abroad when the Nigerians involved have not been prosecuted here in the country to serve as a deterrent? Is the Yar'Adua Administration saying that it is too weak to confront corruption?

One way to show that the country is always shying away from dealing with policies decisively can be illustrated in what happened in China recently. For instance, last February, a Chinese court sentenced three men to death and others to various terms of imprisonment for their roles in the country's deadly contaminated infant formula and milk products scandal which killed at least six children and rendered nearly 300,000 others ill.

For the same offence, if not much more, considering the number of babies that died was committed in Nigeria last year. It was only after much outcry that the suspects were charged to court recently. The story is that late last year, over 58 children were killed and thousands others were taken to hospital for diarrhea and vomiting after taking My Pikin, a teething syrup for babies contaminated with diethylene glycol, a toxic substance normally used in engine coolant. The manufacturers were alleged to have used these chemicals than was normal.

In the same China in 2007, a top official of the State Food and Drug Administration, Mr. Zheng Xiaoyu, was executed for peddling in hard drugs. He was sentenced to death in May 2007 and finally executed for approving drugs that were substandard. He was accused of taking bribes and the drugs he approved were said to have caused the death of some innocent Chinese. Were it to be in Nigeria, Xheng's crimes would be considered as petty and treated with kid gloves.

Also on July 8, 2008, Mr. Yusuf Hakeem Ajibola, an Ibadan socialite based in London, was arrested at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport Lagos (MMIA) by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) with 2.2 kilogrammes of cocaine concealed in his inner wear. He was charged before a Federal High Court in Lagos, where he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eleven months imprisonment with an option of N350, 000 as fine. Yusuf soon after the court's verdict paid the fine immediately and walked home a free man.

While in other countries of the world, a minimum of 17 years to life imprisonment or even death penalty are imposed on drug trafficking to discourage traffickers, in Nigeria, there is nothing like deterrence. Last week, an Appeal Court in France fined former Minister of Petroleum, Chief Dan Etete, €8 million (about $10.5 million), over money laundering charges. He had, in 2007, been convicted in absentia, fined a total of €250 million and sentenced to three years imprisonment for using €15 million “in funds obtained fraudulently” to purchase properties in 1999 and 2000. Etete's associate, French businessman Richard Granier-Defferre was also convicted of complicity and sentenced to 12 months in jail and a fine of €150,000. Had the trial taken place in Nigeria, nothing would have been achieved. At worst, the former minister would have been given a slap on the wrist.

Many analysts have argued that the inability of the nation's law enforcement agencies and the justice system to deal decisively with offenders of the laws is the reason for the much lawlessness witnessed in the country today.

As the Minister of Information and Communications, Professor Dora Akunyili is currently championing a project aimed at rebranding the country, many analysts have argued that the project will be enlivened globally by a show of enthusiasm and commitment to the fight against corruption, which has done more harm than good to the Nigeria's image internationally.

One way this could be achieved they reasoned, is to prosecute indicted Nigerians in the same way Germany and other countries have jailed and convicted the erring officials of the companies involved. They further argued that the country would only be heading toward a wider image crisis if it proceeds with the prosecution of the foreigners while turning a blind eye to the malfeasance of Nigerian officials and allow them to continue to enjoy their ill-gotten wealth.

For example, a legal practitioner, Mr. Jacob Adeyemi put the blame squarely at the door step of the government and law enforcement agencies. He did not only accuse them of inefficiency, he also called for a stiffer penalty for offenders of the laws, adding that prosecutors of these offences should always charge offenders under relevant laws.

Another legal practitioner, Mr. Osahon Oriafo said it was only in Nigeria abnormalities such as these would happen.

According to him, “it is only in Nigeria things like these will happen. It cannot happen elsewhere. Tell me in which part of the world will you ever hear that government will leave its officials involved in bribery and contract scam and go to foreign countries to prosecute the companies. Who will even bear the cost? This is fraud on its own. Tell me, how do we make the outside world to believe that we are a serious people.”

For public affairs analyst, Mr. Osundu Agokei, one major challenge in the operation of the country's nascent democracy is that the government does not often listen to the views of the people, or seek their views when it intends to embark on policies. He said for over five years now, all Nigerians have been telling the government to do is to deal with corruption decisively, but all they hear are things to the contrary.