Friday, December 3, 2010

There was a period of time when many believed that Nigeria was indeed on an anti-corruption crusade. Popular and well known figures soon faced fraud charges. Individuals like Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and James Ibori were exposed for looting state government coffers. But the hope that Nigeria would tackle it's corruption challenge soon began to fade as scandal after scandal hit the press with little evidence of success. As of today those who stole government money and used their positions inappropriately, drive the streets in their imported luxury vehicles. And instead of dealing with that reality, Nigeria's main anti-corruption body, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) announced plans to charge Dick Cheney with corruption.

Dick Cheney graphic by göttlich - Pentagon Questions Halliburton On $1.8 Billion of Work in Iraq NEIL KING JR. / Wall Street Journal 11aug04
The former US vice president is one of America's most polarizing figures. And, up until Sarah Palin came along, he was probably the most despised Republican. Cheney acted as Halliburton CEO from 1995 to 2000, and during that time there is evidence that the company participated in corrupt and fraudulent activity in Nigeria. In fact, revelations of a $180 million slush fund came out as early as 2003. The money was used by a Halliburton division, KBR, from which Halliburton has since separated. The money was used by Halliburton executives to bribe their way to lucrative natural gas contracts in Nigeria. And by 2009, the company agreed to pay $492 million in fines to the US government for violating that country's Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Nigeria's investigation into the matter has been sluggish but ramped up in the last few days. On November 25th, the EFCC raided Halliburton's Lagos office and left with several documents. The Commission said the raid and arrests were a result of new evidence related to the Halliburton scandal. Ten others were also arrested across the country in relation to the scandal. Halliburton has criticized the raid and arrests of it's employees stressing that it no longer owns KBR which committed the bribes in question.

I can understand that the EFCC would want to go after Halliburton and other foreign companies that have contributed to Nigeria's corruption plague by bribing officials. However, the very obvious must be stated. There is no sense in the EFCC charging and investigation foreign citizens and corporate entities when it is yet to successfully do the same to Nigerian citizens accused of the same crimes. How can the Commission say that it plans to charge Dick Cheney when it failed to make charges stick against notoriously corrupt James Ibori? And, in an embarrassing turn of events, Dubai and the British courts are doing what the Nigerian system failed to do, bring him to justice for fraud.

The only recent success the EFCC can claim is that it sent Cecilia Ibru to jail for stealing from her bank and it's customers. While she was required to forfeit at least N150 billion in cash and assets, Ibru only received a 6 month jail term. With that track record, how exactly does the EFCC plan to go against Dick Cheney? It must also be pointed out that when the US government charged Halliburton for bribing Nigerian officials, Dick Cheney was not charged personally. That is not to say that he had no responsibility, as much as it reflects the fact that good lawyers only place charges in cases they have a high percentage of winning. In this case, it is highly doubtful that the EFCC has enough concrete evidence to adequately prove that Cheney is directly involved in the bribes.

So that begs the question of why the EFCC made this announcement regarding Cheney. One highly possible reason is that the proposed charges are tied to upcoming elections. It may be that the ramped up activity in Halliburton case is a way to embarrass one or more politicians, particularly those running for the office of the presidency. Which politician(s) that could be is up to speculation. But, the possibility that the EFCC is being used as a political pawn is disappointing as doing so in this situation weakens the commission. And, given the international attention this announcement has garnered, makes Nigeria look unserious, once again.

The EFCC should have instead attempted to target those top Nigerians already disclosed as having received bribes in the Halliburton scandal. Several names have emerged as being tied to the scandal, and they include: former dictator Ibrahim Babangida (who recently said he will no longer run for office in 2011), late former dictator Sani Abacha (who robbed the country of at least $500 million), Rilwanu Lukman, Don Etiebet, Orji Kalu, Aliyu Gusau (who wants to be president in 2011) and many other familiar names. Even former president Olusegun Obasanjo is reported to be one who received bribes from the company. If the EFCC plans to ever be considered credible, it must focus on these and other Nigerian citizens and not throw around the names of foreign individuals that it has little or no access to.

Doing that will go a long way to convince Nigerians and the world that it is serious about dealing with corruption. That way, the next time the EFCC makes an announcement involving a high profile individual, people might actually take the Commission seriously.

UPDATE (12/7/2010): Nigeria's EFCC has filed 16 charges against Mr Cheney, Halliburton Chief Executive David Lesar, and two other executives.

Related Articles of Interest:
- Nigeria's Punishment Problem 
- Arrests Made In Halliburton Scandal
- Corruption Inc.: The Halliburton List
- Halliburton & Nigeria - Corruption Inc. Pt 2
- Siemens & Nigeria - Corruption Inc. 
- Crime & Punishment: The Nigerian Edition

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