In April 2009, Nigeria's government announced the creation of a panel charged with investigating the Halliburton corruption scandal and identifying those Nigerians who received some of the $180 million the company paid to Nigerian officials in bribes. Given Nigeria's serious 'punishment problem', many wondered whether the panel, given a 8 week limit, would accomplish its goal. The time limit is technically up and not only is there little word on the panel's report, but media reports indicate that the Yar'Adua administration is pointing the blame for possible failure at the United States.
WHAT THE PANEL DID
While the panel, led by Mike Okiro, investigated the Halliburton scandal, various individuals were arrested, others were questioned, and INTERPOL was put on alert to prevent certain suspects that would seek to flee the country. It was also revealed in May that the previous president, Olusegun Obasanjo, would be interviewed by the panel. However, it is unclear whether any quizzing of Obasanjo actually took place. Like other corruption scandals of the past, Nigerians watched the many news reports related to the panel's investigation with interest and expectations.
BLAME EVERYONE ELSE
When the panel was announced on April 21st, the most glaring limitation was its time limit. The panel was initially granted a 6 week time limit, (later extended to 8 weeks). Although the 8 week time limit for the panel has technically ended, no report has been released to the public, nor has there been any indication that the report has been completed. Instead, it appears that the Yar'Adua administration and the Okiro panel has chosen to lay the blame for the lack of obvious results on the United States. A report in Nigeria's Vanguard newspaper indicated that sources close to the panel believe the U.S. frustrated the panel's purpose. The sources alleged that the U.S. is interested in protecting certain implicated parties - particularly "two former heads of state and a former Vice President ... from being exposed." The Daily Independent also reported on June 13th that the U.S. "denied the presidential panel ... access to [the] true identity [of Nigerians involved in the corruption scandal]." The paper quoted a source who said,
"What the panel desires is mere confirmation of confessions made by the suspects that have been interrogated in Nigeria here, to see if they actually tally with what the Americans have in their records ... Other sources will be relied upon to get the job done."As a result, the panel is now looking to gain information from European countries.
LETTING YOU DOWN SOFTLY
The Halliburton corruption scandal is not a new one. Nigerians clamored for a long time to get the current administration, which holds the 'rule of law' as its mantra, to investigate it and reveal those involved. It was public pressure that forced Yar'Adua to create the panel and this writer questioned the time limit ,
"Th[e] ... time limit appears unrealistic and might be an indication that this Committee and indeed this administration has little intention of adequately addressing the Halliburton scandal."Additionally, the credibility of many of the panel's members was also an issue. Consequently, it is not hard to assume that as was the case with many other corruption scandals of the past, these "blame the U.S." whispers are simply a typical tactic to do nothing. This talk about the U.S. trying to protect certain Nigerians or the FBI delaying is inconsequential. Firstly, the Nigerian government set its own time limit without consulting with the U.S. which is dealing with issues of its own and cannot be expected to drop everything to address the concerns of a questionable administration's panel. Secondly, as noted by the Daily Independent's source, the panel was only seeking "confirmation of confessions made by the suspects that have been interrogated in Nigeria". If that is truly the case, then the panel already has the information it needs and can release the names of those who have 'confessed' to their crimes. Nigeria is an independent nation and does not need to wait for information from other countries to investigate domestic corruption if it truly wants to. Any and all explanations to the contrary are a stalling tactic and a way to prepare the nation for the panel and this administration's failure. Thirdly, as more time is wasted delaying the release of those tied to this scandal, the more there will be criticism of this administration and questioning of its ability and/or willingness to tackle the difficult issues Nigeria faces. As this administration pushes to 're-brand' the nation's image and re-orientate the psyche of citizens, it should be cautious that its very actions do not hamper its grand objectives.
Hopefully, the hopes of Nigerians who demand that this administration fully commit to anti-corruption efforts by looking directly at the nation's political elite, will not be for naught. There is still time for this administration and the Okiro panel to release the names of Nigerians that benefited from Halliburton's 'slush fund'. The administration must also not forget the individuals already implicated in the Siemens corruption scandal as they should return the bribes they received and face justice in a court of law. Although it is never too late to do the right thing, Nigerians cannot afford for their government to delay on doing what is obviously the right and proper thing to stamp out the scourge of corruption which has benefited a few but left the rest of Nigerians wanting.
Related Articles of Interest:
- Arrests Made In Halliburton Scandal
- Nigeria's Punishment Problem
- Halliburton & Nigeria - Corruption Inc. Pt 2
- Siemens & Nigeria - Corruption Inc.
- Crime & Punishment: The Nigerian Edition