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Esprit De Corruption: Nigerian Generals Are Never Corrupt

The spirit of esprit de corps has thus been turned on its head to read “Esprit De Corruption”.

There is the matter among the military forces called esprit the corps, that is, the feeling and sharing of loyalty and support within the group.

This comradeship translates to the prebendalism that has been at the root of Nigeria’s many troubles. Ever since the Nigerian military took power in 1966 only three fullblown civilians, namely Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan have had the chance of ruling the country for a cumulative number of 10 years.

The lame-duck interim interregnum of Chief Ernest Shonekan should never detain us here because it was neither military rule nor democracy, and in any case it lasted only for a very brief useless moment. The point really is that soldiers have always run the Nigerian nation, and they are hardly ever tried for corruption even as it is generally agreed that Nigeria is hopelessly corrupt.

Looking to see a poor retired army general in Nigeria is like looking for a virgin in a whorehouse. The military brass-hats are the chairmen of bluechip companies, the directors of elite agencies and the owners of privilege in the good old country. In short, they are allowed to return after retirement as so-called democratic leaders.

It is their good fortune that these their mates who end up as democratic leaders of the country cannot ever try them for corruption. The spirit of esprit de corps has thus been turned on its head to read “Esprit De Corruption”.

The Nigerian civilians are on a hiding to nothing. When the Second Republic was birthed in 1979, after 13 years of military dictatorship, President Shagari had to reach an understanding not to put the past military leaders to trial.

The Twelve-Two-Third controversy that followed the presidential contest between Shagari and Chief Obafemi Awolowo, many critics aver, had to be perfunctorily resolved because the military did not trust Awo with power. Shagari was of course overthrown by the military barely four years after, three months into winning re-election, ostensibly because of corruption.

Major-General Muhammadu Buhari who took over sentenced many politicians to uncountable years of imprisonment on account of corruption until he too was overthrown for priding the show trials of corruption over governance.

In General Ibrahim Babangida who supplanted Buhari the military class comprehensively proved to the civilians that the starched khaki of corruption was far superior to the elementary stealing into the folds of agbada by the civilian politicians. The coming of General Sani Abacha removed all doubts whatsoever that civilian politicians could ever match their military masters in crooked looting.

When eventually the military decided to bring back civil rule after having sufficiently shamed themselves, the generals were wise enough to give power to one of their type, General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd). Only the safely dead General Abacha who had jailed Obasanjo was the only military man traced to corruption. Obasanjo asked astounded Nigerians to produce any evidence of corruption against Babangida as he could not discover any by himself.

The Okigbo Report on the Gulf Oil windfall was thus turned into fiction. The generals such as Buhari and Babangida stoutly refused to attend the Oputa Panel. They were clearly above the law of the land. In due course, Obasanjo felt that only a retired general like his old self can be the president of the country eternally, whence his campaign for a third term in office.

Obasanjo’s tenure elongation plan riled his fellow military bigwigs such as General TY Danjuma who lamented that they did not fight the Biafra war for only one man. Obasanjo had to perforce handpick a dying civilian, Alhaji Yar’Adua, as the man to succeed him, and equally chose Dr Jonathan as the deputy. The rest, as they say, is history, as Nigeria has now been brought back to worse than square one of fighting corruption by the selfsame Buhari. Things can only change and remain the same in Nigeria.

This glorified fight against corruption reminds me of the short story “Clean Sweep Ignatius” by the British popular writer and politician Jeffrey Archer. The short story is one of the 12 stories in Archer’s 1988 collection entitled A Twist in the Tale.

In the story “Clean Sweep Ignatius”, a brand new Finance Minister named Ignatius Agarbi is appointed in Nigeria, and the no-nonsense man promptly sweeps away corruption with utmost singlemindedness. He is seen as being so honest as to even pay with his own money for family vacations instead of having the government he serves pay for him.

Then the President asks him to go to Switzerland to find out Nigeria’s money stashed away in Swiss banks. Ignatius takes his briefcase to Switzerland and confronts the Swiss bank officer, asking to know of the Nigerian money in his secret vaults. The tough Ignatius even brings out a gun and points it menacingly at the head of the Swiss bank officer who defiantly refuses to break the code of secrecy.

Now knowing that not even the threat of death can move the Swiss banker, Ignatius opens his briefcase containing $5 million and asks the trusted Swiss bank officer to bank the money for him. In fact the very corrupt Ignatius Agarbi had actually only been trying to make sure that the Swiss banker can on no account reveal the identity of an account holder.

After safely banking his loot in the Swiss bank, Finance Minister Ignatius Agarbi returned to Nigeria to continue his fight against corruption! If as Nigerians we are serious about fighting corruption, we should copy the example of Argentina that undertook the celebrated Trial of the Juntas, to wit, the judicial trial of the members of the four military governments that ruled Argentina during the dictatorship of the Proceso de Reorganización Nacional which lasted from 1976 to 1983.

The following erstwhile untouchables were put on trial, namely: Jorge Rafael Videla, Emilio Eduardo Massera, Roberto Eduardo Viola, Armando Lambruschini, Orlando Ramón Agosti, Omar Graffigna, Leopoldo Galtieri, Jorge Anaya and Basilio Lami Dozo. The formal trial started on April 22, 1985 under President Raúl Alfonsín who took power after the return of democracy to Argentina in 1983. The prosecution was undertaken by Julio César Strassera, assisted by Luis Moreno Ocampo.

The military dictators had while returning power to the civilians enacted a Self-Amnesty Law on April 18, 1983, as well as a secret decree that ordered the destruction of records and other evidence of their past crimes. The Chief Prosecutor Strassera closed the trial with the ringing words: “I wish to waive any claim to originality in closing this indictment. I wish to use a phrase that is not my own, because it already belongs to all the Argentine people. Your Honours: ‘Never again!’” Without fear or favour, General Jorge Videla and Admiral Emilio Massera were sentenced to life imprisonment. General Roberto Viola was given a 17year jail sentence.

Admiral Armando Lambruschini got eight years while General Orlando Agosti earned a fourand-a-half-year jail sentence. Until this kind of trial is undertaken in Nigeria, we shall remain shackled within the military legerdemain of Esprit De Corruption.


– UZOR MAXIM UZOATU                                      e-mail: maxim.uzoatu@theunion.com.ng 

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