Because Nigerians Have Not Said No/

And so, last week, Bukola Saraki, Nigeria’s Senate President, walked out of court a free man.  The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) acquitted him of the corruption charges for which he had been dragged around for two years. 

In the end, there were 18 charges against Saraki affirming that for eight years as governor of Kwara State, he ripped off the people and then manipulated his declaration of assets. 

CCT chairman Danladi Umar said a prima facie case was not established against Saraki, whose strategy all along, including up to the Supreme Court, had been to avoid a trial, not prove his innocence.  Mr. Umar agreed with the Senate President’s “no case” argument.

There was always very little hope Saraki would be convicted.  There is always very little hope in Nigeria that a Big Man will be found guilty of any offences; wealth almost implies sainthood.  Part of the reason why convictions of these saints is rare is that far too much money has for far too long passed into the hands of far too many people who have far too little need for it, for them to fall through the sewer that is Nigeria into hell. 

Every Nigerian knows the story: if you are rich, you can buy your vindication.  You can shop for your own judge or your own courtroom ahead of time. James Ibori, the world’s best-known governor-looter, arranged to be tried on his terms.  It was no surprise that at the end of the mockery, he was not convinced even on one of the 170 charges he faced.

Or you can buy THE judge.  If you have no control over who superintends the case, you can arrange to purchase whoever is presiding; recent stories confirm that there may not be many who lack a price tag, especially in hard currency.  Of course, you never openly say you are buying the judge, you simply make fat “donations” in cash or kind.

For your actual defence, of course, you seek the best lawyer money can buy.  Did I say lawyer?  You can have busloads of lawyers of that description, and they will line the route for you into the courtroom. 

And then of course there is the prosecution.  The interesting thing about lawyers in the modern Nigerian courtroom is that they have an equal opportunity presence, that is, the prosecuting lawyer may have a price tag of his own. 

This is why there is increasing concern in Nigeria given all the so-called anti-corruption cases the government has lost in the past year.  Nigerians who voted Muhammadu Buhari into power in 2015 on the strength of his anti-corruption rhetoric are wondering if his government just happens to be presenting one weak prosecution after another, or if these weak prosecutions are stage-managed. 

Some people blame the judiciary.  This is not unjustified, particularly after the events of the past couple of weeks in which the National Judicial Council cynically reinstated some judges being prosecuted for corruption.  Sadly, the Buhari government has made every loophole a negotiation, and every compromise an option.

But we must also recognize that honest people lack protection under the current system.  Such people—including prosecutors, judges and witnesses—may succumb to corruption arising from fear, as they and their families come under threat by ruthless thieves who have the money and means to inflict pain, injury and death.

I had no opportunity to vote for Buhari, but I endorsed him—a man I had never met—openly, convinced he was our last chance to take the hammer to the corruption monster.  While his government continues to say nice things about itself, it is clear the momentum is flagging and the defeats, mounting.

Sadly, the character of Buhari’s government and his methods is the same as Jonathan’s: there is no substantial difference in procedure or performance.  APC states are not being run with greater transparency or discipline than those of the PDP it has criticized so much.

And whether anyone likes it or not, in the end Jonathan’s failure may be easy to understand, given that power found him, and not he, power.  Buhari, on the other hand, would be impossible to forgive, given how hard and how long he fought to acquire it.

With Saraki’s “victory” at the CCT, Buhari’s anti-corruption journey effectively comes to a fork in the road.  The ailing Nigeria has not instituted a true war, where the rules are clear and apply to everyone; he clearly is no advocate of meritocracy, and is clearly aiming at corruption in a roundabout kind of way, rather than at the most corrupt.

As a result, we are back where we always were: a cul-de-sac where impunity reigns and our political, administrative and judicial processes remain in the hands of a small kleptocracy which determines public policy—including elections—influence appointments, and determine court decisions.  It is a crime scene where the powerful pen the verdicts.

This is why I am ambivalent about the idea of a United Nations-backed International Commission Against Corruption and Impunity which SERAP has proposed.  Obasanjo led the idea of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, and we got it, but it has not helped Nigeria.  Why?  Because everything still comes down to the political will of the national leadership. 

That is why this article is a memo to: Every Nigerian, Everywhere.  You receive a copy: Association of Market Women; Joint Action Force; National Association of Nigerian Students; Save Nigeria Group; Occupy Nigeria; Conference of Nigerian Political Parties; CACOL; SERAP; CSNAC; Association of Nigerian Professional Bodies; Women In Nigeria; Nigeria Labour Congress; MyMumuDonDo; Others.  I greet you all.

I have written to most of you openly in the past, urging you to take it upon yourselves to compel change, because Nigeria will not change on its own. 

To do this, you must take advantage of your own power: the streets.  You must abandon complacency and put on the government the same kind of pressure it saw in January 2012, by taking the streets in unison, repeatedly if need be, and screaming out your frustration. 

I neither advocate violence nor is this proposal aimed at any person or leader.  But the power to make corruption and poor governance unsafe political options is in contesting the streets with those who perpetuate the looting, poverty, unemployment, and violence.  You must organize, educate, mobilize and strategize.

You must demand accountability, especially on the part of legislators, proactively recall those who ignore their mandate, and change election-thinking.  You must demand new campaign finance laws that will permit an influx of people of good character into public office.

Don’t wait for the next elections simply to get a ‘new’ government: set new standards ahead of those elections through getting millions of people to demand change, and freedom from bondage.  You are armed with phones and Facebook and tweets and text messaging; use them to rouse and rally relatives, friends and neighbours to converse in the streets.

Why?  Because the real reason Nigeria is in the gutter is that Nigerians have yet to say, resoundingly: ‘NO!’