Corruption: The Pakistani example
Mr. Ibrahim Magu, the apparently unflappable chairman (acting, how can I forget) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, does not need to take his cue from offshore developments to pursue, with uncommon diligence, the task of recovering the loot that some corrupt Nigerian leaders and business men have stashed away both at home and in foreign lands.
But look at this wonderful coincidence. Since the Panama Papers leak happened in April last year with a sizzling tabloid expose on prominent world leaders, business men and assorted artists and celebrities including the rich and famous Nigerians with offshore shell companies which they used as tax havens, not much has been heard of this scandal again. Nigerians, ever hungry for the news of the unusual, had their ears to the ground. This, especially because the EFCC, had taken interest in the scandal.
But early this week, when the scandal had claimed its second high profile victim, this time in Pakistan where Nawaz Sharif lost his job as prime minister, the EFCC was quoted by unofficial sources as having made a breakthrough in its one year investigation into the Panama Papers. According to the reports in The Nation on Sunday, the list of the indicted persons might be published soon. More than 110 Nigerians were mentioned in the report when it broke out last year, some of them currently holding exalted political positions and others, either retired from public service or are prominent business men who have never worked in the public sector.
Mossack Fonseca, the law firm whose data base the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists scooped the report, said that the mere mention of clients’ names in the report does not constitute an illegality. Possibly that is why David Cameron, the erstwhile British Prime Minister, whose father was mentioned in the papers, was left off the hook though he benefitted from his father’s offshore investment to the tune of 300,000 pounds. But his Iceland counterpart, David Gunnlaugsson, was not that lucky. In fact, he is on record as the first to go down, victim of the Panama Papers scandal. His country was among the more than 200 countries involved. They included Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Pakistan, Argentina and Britain where many Tory donors were named.
Pakistan has just taken its place on the queue. Its prime minister, the three times lucky prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, is equally three times unlucky when it comes to surviving the banana peels in government. He has been prime minister three times and on the three occasions, he never served out a full term in office. No Pakistani prime minister has ever done. He was first removed on corruption charges. He bounced back only to be toppled by Perez Musharraf, his Army chief who jailed him 14 years. He was later set free and he regained his political relevance when the army relinquished power and he was voted back to office as prime minister.
Known as the Lion of Punjab, Sharif, like a cat with nine lives, had always survived to fight another day. This time, the Supreme Court in a macabre judicial pronouncement, has finally put a nail in his political coffin. Because of the Panama Papers leak, he has been disqualified from holding any public office. The investigative panel linked his family with offshore accounts and three overseas property linked to three of his adult children. He is not even allowed to serve out his current and final term which is due to end next year. More amazing is the fact that the reports did not even directly indict him. His offence, apparently, is that he is father to five children who, in their own respective capacities, had been named and indicted in the report. A classic case of the sin of the children being visited on the father, you may say.
Come on, Pakistanis! Can’t these people learn one or two things from Nigerians? Have they never heard of immunity and its twin brother, impunity? In Nigeria you cannot be tried for any offence, criminal or civil, if you are in such an exalted political office. Because you agreed to serve the people in that capacity, that office has cloaked you with dubious immunity. You can go wild, you can kill if you so mind. You can trample on fundamental rights of those who put you in that office with their votes. You can even plunder and loot the treasury with unbridled impunity. This is one of the dividends of democracy. Even your superiors can’t tell you to take it easy, to moderate your arrogance. Are they not feeding from your palms?
In this business, at the risk of blasphemy, they have equated themselves with God because they can do and undo and they seem to believe indeed that even God cannot, or is unwilling to intervene. You see that there is no limit to the audacity of their impunity, aided and abetted by immunity.
I say brother ride on. Those waiting for you at the end of your tenure – when you might have been stripped of your immunity – to grab you and put you on trial must be insane to think that in four years you have not covered your tracts sufficiently to leave no evidence behind and in fact, turn the hunter into the hunted.
It is either that the Pakistani law is truly an ass or the ousted Nawaz Sharif must be crazy – three times in that office, a truly tested and rugged veteran of many titanic political battles, all that this Sharif could have done to stave off opposition and prosecution was to do a Robert Mugabe.
From the comfort of his private home out of power and in the cold, Sharif, I am sure, would be keen to see how the same legal battle would be fought over the Panama Papers in Nigeria between the EFCC and those it has fingered, the famous and the rich.
The EFCC sources said some of those who have been fingered so far are the brains behind the anti-Magu campaign. They include two serving governors, some ex-governors and some senators. It promises to be another battle royal. Investigations that spanned one year and some odd months promise to be watertight. In the event, therefore, that anybody is arraigned at all, we hope, earnestly, that it would not turn out to be an anti-climax occasioned by deliberately shoddy prosecution leading to a trial, the type Ray Ekpu, in his famous Newswatch column, had once described as hollow ritual.