14 Feb 2011

Nigeria Means Business, Mr Dick Cheney!

Yesterday the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Nigerian anti-corruption agency, filed bribery charges against former US Vice-President, Mr Dick Cheney. This is not the first attempt of the EFCC to go after Mr Cheney. An arrest warrant was issued earlier this year on his name in relation to the same fishy oil business he was conducting in the Niger Delta through a subsidiary of his firm. Read more about this story here.

It is definitely not the first bold statement made by the EFCC. Without going too much into Nigerian politics, Mr Goodluck Jonathan, acting Nigerian President since February 2010, seems to have brought along a higher tolerance to prosecution of corruption. It was after his official appointment as President that Mr Ibori – governor of the Niger Delta – was arrested, also for corruption, giving greater hope to democracy and rule of law activists in Nigeria and abroad. And they did not stop there. The Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja), two former state governors, four Siemens representatives, five representatives of a natural resources exploitation company and a senator are the highlights of the charges filed by the EPCC in the past 2 months alone. The EU praised the efficiency of the EFCC and assured more support for the activity of the agency. Beyond facts, we draw three important lessons from all this.

Lesson #1. Things work better when the word of the ruler is the rule of law. Mr Jonathan might just be on his way to giving leaders of African presidential regimes the most important lesson they could possibly receive. Instead of debating on the rightfulness of good governance aid conditionalities or the anthropological significance of the “good governance” concept, fundamentally different in Africa from any other place on earth, they might try cleaning up their countries. The implementation of Nigerian anti-corruption strategy began 2000. Since then serious efforts were made to make the collection of revenues from the extractive industry more transparent.1 According to the country report provided by the Revenue Watch Institute (RWI), the revenue transparency policy initiated by President Obasanjo in 2003/4 encouraged the development of an effective institutional setup for curbing corruption. Since 2006, the EFCC has recovered more than 5bil USD. These small advancements could be the positive sign that aid donors were waiting for, while the obvious political efforts to make Nigeria cleaner could build enough capital for its leaders to set their aid investment priorities, and in another 10 years maybe they will ask USAID for their own MIT, as India did a while ago.

Lesson #2
. This goes to Mr Filat, still in office Moldovan PM (and to clarify why an African corruption story is posted on a webpage targeting Eastern European civil society projects). Mr Filat took another approach than Mr Jonathan: after his appointment he did almost nothing to depoliticize his administration or his judiciary, and consequently prosecute those who had unrightfully jailed and battered the protesters who brought his alliance to power. This is not a judgment of Mr Filat’s or his Cabinet’s intentions. However, it could be an explanation for the price he had to pay in the November elections. After next year’s Nigerian presidential elections we will find out whether Mr Jonathan’s credit balance with his voters is negative or positive.

Lesson #3. Nigeria filing corruption charges against a former US high rank official draws attention on both North – South power relations, as on the accountability links that the current global governance system makes available to national integrity agencies or anti-corruption prosecution institutions. This question goes to the core of the debate on responsibility towards the use of public goods. Nigeria got to be Africa’s biggest oil and natural gas producer because 25% of the continent’s resources are on its legally recognized territory. Under these circumstances, should the right to use belong to its citizens alone? Consequently, if these rights are breached on integrity grounds, should regular courts have the legitimacy to judge them? If allegations against Mr Cheney are backed up by enough evidence, then to which court should he respond to and by which rules should he be trialed? What is the responsibility that regional organizations should play in the administration of national public goods of regional or global relevance, if any? Should the corrupt administration of global public goods be addressed in special courts? We leave the answer to these questions open for debate.

1Revenues collected by the Nigerian government from the extractive industry account from 85% of total revenues. According to World Bank data (2008), the extractive industry is the most productive sector of the Nigerian economy (52% of GDP).

Author: Sinziana – Elena Poiana


*Disclaimer: This article presents the views of the author and it is not the official position of the institutions supporting this project.