In his memoirs, “My Transition Hours”, former President Goodluck Jonathan debunked reports that he sent emissaries to President Muhammadu Buhari not to probe his administration. He also suggested ways corruption can be tackled, writes Vincent Ikuomola.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan has said that he has no reason to send people to beg President Muhammadu Buhari on his behalf over allegation of corruption.
Jonathan said if there was any need to speak with the President, he would do so himself.
Jonathan, who stated this in his book, “My Transition Hours,” in response to the report that he sent the Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah’s National Peace Committee to plead on his behalf. “The dust of handing over to my successor had barely settled when the political smear campaigns began against members of my family, former appointees and aides. The goal was to destroy everything we did and consign our legacy to the bin. The attacks were so intense that Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah asked the government and the ruling party to spare some thoughts for my graciousness in conceding defeat without taking the country through bloodshed as we had witnessed before in many African countries.
“I remember that after Bishop Kukah and members of the Peace Committee met with President Buhari, propagandists had gone to town with the fable that I had sent the National Peace Committee to the President to plead on my behalf. Let me categorically state that such stories are false. Why would I need anyone to plead on my behalf? What wrong have I committed that I cannot speak to President Buhari myself? I have a conscience that is devoid of bitterness towards any man.
“Specifically, to those who accused me of sending Bishop Kukah to plead on my behalf in respect of corruption, I have the following response. The premier global agency universally recognised to gauge corruption perception index stated that the last time Nigeria made progress was in 2014 while I was President. The country had moved eight places forward from 144 to 136. “
He said corruption is as old as independent Nigeria. According to him, that is why all military takeovers of government since January 15 1966 coup had always been justified on the basis of ridding the country of corruption, insisting that every successive administration has fought corruption one way or the other but the surge still remains.
Besides, he posited that corruption fight cannot be effectively fought and won by the executive arm alone, as it requires the involvement of other arms of government. Throwing light into the phrase attributed to him that “stealing is not corruption”, Jonathan said it was not true. He noted that he never said stealing is good; rather he said since corruption encompasses many things, a thief should be called by his proper name and not the blanket word like corruption.
On how he went about it, the former President said his administration deployed the use of technology, knowing that it was endemic. He also noted that his government supported the institutional development of secure systems and mechanisms to curb corruption in public places. He cited the Treasury Single Account (TSA), the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) and the Bank Verification Number (BVN).
Jonathan further posited that the effective implementation of the various
“Before I go deeper into this, let me address a false narrative my detractors have used to besmirch my name. They claim that I once said that ‘stealing is not corruption.’ This is not true. Following the constant stigmatisation of Nigerians as corrupt, I invited the leadership of the legislature and judiciary to a meeting.
“In attendance were the Senate President and his Deputy, Speaker of the House of Representatives and his Deputy; the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), the President of the Court of Appeal, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and six States’ Chief Judges from each of the six geopolitical zones. Also invited were heads of the two anti-corruption agencies viz, the Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other related Offences Commission (ICPC). I presided over the meeting with the Vice President.
“My thinking was that the executive arm of government alone could not effectively eradicate the scourge of corruption, hence the need for that meeting. I personally appealed to them and argued that only an all-inclusive approach could bring about tangible successes in the anti-corruption fight. The judiciary, the legislative and the executive arms of government needed to join forces if we were to end the theft of public resources and stop corruption. I went on to methodically present my case and propose that we work together to curb corruption. When matters of corruption are presented to the courts, there would be no effective results if they were not treated in a painstaking and timely manner. The parliament needs to play a fundamental role in passing strong and effective laws. When laws are weak, the judiciary would not be able to do much.
“The then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Dahiru Musdapher, in his contributions acknowledged that he was of the same opinion. He added that because of the perception of corruption in Nigeria, he had to isolate all the case files before the Supreme Court having to do with corruption charges. He said that after reading through those files, he discovered that more than 70% were not corruption cases, per se, but crimes of stealing. The individuals involved were however not charged to court for stealing but rather in preparing the case files, the prosecutors used the term ‘corruption.’
“It was on the strength of his submission that I expounded to say that we should stop calling a spade an agricultural implement. Corruption does not fully capture the act of stealing. A person can indeed be corrupt without stealing a dime. Those who are incapable of comprehending this elevated thought and the mischievous crowd, go about claiming till date, that I said ‘stealing is not corruption.’ They never bothered to even check the context in which I spoke. If you ask many of those clinging to that falsehood and mouthing the malicious misrepresentation, to quote where I said it, they will tell you ‘they only heard.’
“Let me categorically state that I have never said stealing is good and that people should steal; neither did the CJN. Stealing is stealing and instead of calling it corruption, let us call the thief by his proper name and not use a blanket word like corruption. Corruption encompasses many things. According to Transparency International, corruption is defined as the ‘abuse of entrusted power for private gain’. The Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines stealing as ‘to take without permission or legal right and without intending to return.’ If a government minister upon a cabinet dissolution takes a vehicle that he is not entitled to and converts it to personal use, then that is stealing.
“We must not lump everything together and say stealing is corruption. We must isolate stealing and make it as plain as day because Nigerians hate thieves. I abhor jungle justice, but we have witnessed Nigerians show their hatred for suspected thieves by burning them alive. It is important also to note how we supported the institutional development of secure systems and mechanisms to curb corruption in public service and plug revenue leakages. My administration spearheaded the development of the Treasury Single Account (TSA), the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) and the Bank Verification Number (BVN).
“No administration can either be entirely bad or perfect. Good governance is a process. Rather than media hype or arresting and parading suspected offenders on television, my strategy was to strengthen our public institutions and law enforcement agencies to prevent people from defrauding the system ab initio.
“Let me explain how we went about doing this, using the corruption in the fertilizer sector as an example. My experience as Deputy Governor, and Governor of Bayelsa State, as well as Vice-President and President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria had exposed me to the challenges in the fertilizer sector. We did extensive research and finally were able to establish how the States and Federal Government were spending billions of naira on the fertilizer regime, but only about 11% or less of the fertilizer subsidy benefitted the end users, Nigerian farmers.’
“It became more apparent that the remaining 90% were either being stolen or siphoned out of the country through clever schemes. It was not easy, but we came in, took action and cleaned it up. Coincidentally, my Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwurni Adesina, did his PhD research work on fertilizer distribution in West Africa. His knowledge of the field came in handy in our quest to curb the fraud. We developed what we called the Electronic Wallet. This was a policy that cut out the middle man and got millions of farmers to register for the e-wallet using their cell phones from which they received text alerts directly from the ministry, telling them where to pick up their fertilizer, and how much to pay.
“According to Velocity Capital, a Dutch private equity firm, in its independent assessment, showed that the electronic wallet initiative of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development under the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GESS), had saved the Federal Government of Nigeria over $192 million by 2012, the first year in which it was introduced.
“My administration developed and implemented the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS), which was initiated by the Obasanjo Administration towards the end of his tenure. Through this technology, we arranged for federal, civil and public servants to register their biometrics as a condition for receiving their salaries and as a result we weeded out over fifty thousand ghost workers and saved N15 billion every month which was then equivalent to $100 million.
“In December 2014, attempts were made to divert monies meant for salaries and emoluments to some other government expenditure. When that happened, the software which had its own defence mechanism shut the system down. Consequently, thousands of workers in some Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) could not get their December salaries paid early. They were eventually paid as soon as the anomaly was rectified. I apologised to those families who suffered but I believed that to fight corruption we had to take necessary measures to establish and strengthen our institutions by adopting the best available technology. This is the only way to systematically and successfully fight corruption.
“The effective implementation of these policies in 2014 brought positive results as Nigeria made its best improvement ever in Transparency International’s (TI) Corruption Perception Index. Nigeria was ranked the 136th out of 175 nations surveyed; an improvement from the nation’s previous position of 144th in 2013, 139th in 2012 and 143rd in 2011. It is important to note that despite the many sensational stories, dramatic arrests, seizures and accusations, many of them false, since I left office, the fact remains that Nigeria has not made any improvement on TI Corruption Perception Index since 2014.
“In fact, the 2017 corruption perception index released in 2018 by TI placed Nigeria as number 148, a retrogression in which the nation went 12 places backward. In other words, Nigeria is more corrupt in 2017 than it was when I handed over to the Buhari administration in 2015. Some people may be misled with smoke and mirrors but the TI Corruption Perception Index relies on unsentimental facts and figures.
“Interestingly, just as I was about to end my work on this book, the Tribune, a newspaper founded by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, one of the founding fathers of independent Nigeria, of blessed memory, on the third year Democracy Day Anniversary of my successor, wrote a very interesting editorial. The newspaper, while coming down hard on all past leaders of Nigeria under the democratic dispensation, including me, said this about its Perception of the anti-corruption fight and gave a verdict that corruption has worsened; ….Nineteen years on, not only is the polity still afflicted by worsening cases of poverty and corruption, the country’s democratic credentials are virtually in tatters. Indeed, it is doubtful that democracy is being practiced in the country let alone being entrenched…”
“One of the affirmations that my administration fought corruption also came from an unlikely source, Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate (SAN) and one of my unrelenting critics. While speaking on TV, he affirmed that I fought corruption in my own way: ‘Even President Goodluck Jonathan fought corruption in his own way. You will be surprised how he got results. For instance, last year, when the government had to withdraw the charges against Mr. Mohammed Abacha after 14 years, between year 2000 and 2014 that the case travelled between the FCT High Court to the Supreme Court. And when the government was now going to withdraw the charges at the High Court, because the Supreme Court said go back and have your trial, the Office of the Attorney General issued a statement to the effect that the withdrawal was occasioned by the fact that $970M from the Abacha loot has been recovered by the Jonathan’s government. Under that Government, $458M was also forfeited by the United States Government which has not been repatriated yet; the United States government, the Obama regime simply decided not to. This was from the Abacha loot alone. And from the Halliburton, from Siemen’s scandal and some of them, through some Plea bargain, the government made about $120M. That was the Jonathan government! So, every government in Nigeria investigates the past, usually the previous regime but for the past 16 years, the PDP government and the Abdulsalami Abubakar junta recovered about $3.2B from the Abacha loot.
“It is the most successful loot recovery in the world. And it has not ended yet; the government’s not done yet with the Abacha loot alone. Again, to be fair to President Jonathan, he sacked three Ministers one of them on them on the ground of conflict of interest for corruption…”
“The accusation was made that my body language did not suggest I was willing to fight corruption. What some people wanted me to do was to go around the world announcing that Nigerians are corrupt. I believe that is not what a President should do. A President should fight corruption without stigmatising its citizens. Yes, there are corrupt Nigerians but there are also many credible Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora. This is the case all over the world, albeit in varying degrees.
“There are two options before us as a nation. We can continue to strengthen our institutions and plug the loopholes like my administration did and come up with reforms as I had earlier enumerated, or we keep parading a few individuals in handcuffs to feed the appetites of those who have entertained negative expectations while leaving intact the architecture of corruption.”