Tackling Graft: US Shows Nigeria the Way

2010-02-09
VANGUARD Newspaper-Davidson Iriekpen


Last week, an America District Judge, Sim Lake showed Nigerian officials the path to follow if the country is to achieve success in its fight against corruption. The judge sentenced two former executives of Willbros International, Jim Bob Brown and Jason Edward Steph to prison for bribing Nigerian government officials with $6 million in order to win a gas pipeline contract. The former executives got the sanction after both of them pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
While Brown, 48, was fined $17,500 and sentenced to one year and a day in prison, Steph, 40, was fined $2,000 and received a 15 months sentence. Reports indicated that although Brown accepted full responsibility for his actions, his lawyer asked the judge to consider that he had been kidnapped, shot at, beaten and threatened while in Nigeria. But the judge said evidence showed that Brown had also bribed government officials in Ecuador. Steph on the other hand told the judge that he was only doing what he was told to do by his supervisors but also accepted full responsibility for his actions.

The US government asked the judge for consideration but insisted that the two should be sent to prison because their crimes hinder free markets and hurt the citizens of foreign countries where government officials are compromised. The judge also said he wanted to use the prison sentences to send a message to the business community. He however noted that one of the Nigerian government officials that received the bribes in this case is now running for office and so he doesn't think that the U.S Foreign Corrupt Practices Act has helped in cleaning up “the cesspool that was in Nigeria at this time.”
From around 2003 to 2005, Willbros International, a Willbros Group subsidiary, was bidding on a $387 million natural gas pipeline project in the Niger Delta known as the Eastern Gas Gathering System. To make sure Willbros got the contract, Brown and Steph helped dole out money to Nigerian officials.

Since the conviction, many analysts have been asking about the fate of the Nigerian officials who received the bribe. They have called on the federal government to emulate the US if the fight against corruption is to be effective. Those who spoke to THISDAY argued that if the Willbros officials could be sanctioned for giving bribe, what about the Nigerian officials who received the bribe? In Nigeria, giving bribe is common place. Though these are offences against the laws of the land, very few people have been brought to book. This, perhaps, is why many believe that if the Americans were Nigerians, nothing would have happened to them let alone being arrested or prosecuted. Many also feel that even if they were arrested, nothing would have come out of the case because of the countless injunctions and adjournments that would have been given in their favour in the country’s courts.

Also in the same America, a billionaire, Bernard Madoff, was sentenced to 150 years in prison last year for securities fraud, investment advisor fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, false statements, perjury, making false filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and theft from employee benefit fund. In Nigeria, these offences are commonplace.
Shortly before Madoff’s arrest and conviction in the US, some popular businessmen in Nigeria were accused of manipulating the stocks of a company quoted on the country’s stock exchange. While the manipulation lasted, investors were said to have lost several billions of naira. This included other cases of insider abuse, market manipulations and illegal sale of investors’ shares by unscrupulous stockbrokers. In all of these cases, no punitive measure was taken against anybody.

Recently, a German telecommunications giant, Siemens, was alleged to have paid more than $100million 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.
While two of the company's officials, Seidel and Gilbert, who allegedly paid the bribes to the ministers in 2002 were arrested and charged to court, nothing was done to the Nigerian officials who received the bribe.

Almost simultaneously, Halliburton sacked its executive, Albert Stanley, for bribing senior Nigerian government officials with over US$180 million 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 $6 billion 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 and till date nobody has been brought to book.

Last year, 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 and 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 he received a fine of €150,000. Many believe that if his trial had taken place in Nigeria, nothing would have been achieved.
THISDAY investigations showed that the inefficiency of the nation’s security and law enforcement agencies as well as the inability of the justice system to decisively deal with those who contravene the laws are obvious reasons for the lawlessness being witnessed in the country today.

Since the campaign against corruption kicked off some years back, it is only the former Deputy National Chairman (South) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George and five former members of the management board of Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) that have, in the true sense, been convicted for corruption. Analysts have often argued that the lack of efficiency and effectiveness in the Nigerian justice system to deal with corruption is why the malaise has persisted in the country.
One way this could be achieved, they reason, is to prosecute indicted Nigerians in the same way America, Germany and France have prosecuted, convicted and jailed the erring officials involved in corrupt practices. They further argue 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.

One way to show that the country is always shying away from dealing with policies decisively can be illustrated in what happened in China when a 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 permanently incapacitated.
A more grievous offence was committed in Nigeria when over 58 children were killed and thousands of others hospitalised for diarrhoea 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 over and above normal levels.
It was not until six months later and a lot of public outcry that the National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) finally arraigned officials of the company that made the contaminated drug before a court. Today, they are back to their houses to enjoy their wealth courtesy of a faulty justice process.

In the same China in 2007, a top official of the State Food and Drug Administration, Mr. Zheng Xiaoyu, was executed for peddling hard drugs. He was sentenced to death in May 2007 and finally executed for approving drugs that were substandard. He was also accused of taking bribes and approving drugs which caused the death of some innocent Chinese citizens. Many believe that were these Chinese in Nigeria, their crimes would have been considered petty and treated with kid gloves.
A legal practitioner, Mr. Jacob Adeyemi put the blame squarely at the door step of 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.

Speaking with THISDAY, another legal practitioner, Mr. Osahon Oriafo said it was only in Nigeria that such abnormalities would happen. According to him, "It is only in Nigeria that things like these would 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 or contract scam. Tell me, how do we make the outside world 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. “For five years now, all Nigerians have been telling the government to do is to deal with corruption decisively, but all we hear are things to the contrary.”

Another public affairs analyst, Mr. Adegboroye Shoaga said if Brown and Steph were Nigerians, nobody would have dared to arrest or question them because of the country’s weak and corrupt institutions. “Today, we live in a society that gives respect to individuals with the wherewithal for financial welfare, regardless of the source of their wealth. Look around you; instances of this grim scenario will stare you in the face,” he said.

The conviction of the Willbros duo has however shown Nigeria the way; deal with corruption if you want economic and social development. In the first place, it has been established that the Americans bribed Nigerian officials. The US has dealt appropriately with its citizens, now it is left to Nigeria to take a cue by dealing with the takers of the bribe and all other corrupt officials.

 

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