The Senate probe into the management or mismanagement of the Nigerian Electric Power Sector (NEPS) is a long awaited and welcome undertaking. However, it is an undertaking that will trigger and sustain a lot of skepticism about its potential success in the minds of innumerable observers of various persuasions, both foreign and local. What will come of it?
If recent history serves us well, many post-1999 anti-corruption probes have been undertaken primarily under the watch of President Musa Yar’Adua. The results have been mostly unspectacular and inconclusive. There has been the probe of Sir Emeka Offor and Chrome Energy (his flagship company) for his failure to effectively execute the $800 million Turn-Around-Maintenance (TAM) contract awarded to him regardless of generous mobilisation funds allegedly received.
There has also been the probe of the Nigerian banking industry which did yield some impressive results and shocked the nation with the hitherto unthinkable conviction of Mrs Stella Ibru of Oceanic Bank for banking crimes, wife of billionaire patriarch, Michael Ibru. The conventional wisdom of “if you want to rob a bank stress-free, just own it” came to mind all over the entire banking industry which surprisingly to many believers in “free markets” was a classic case of private or real sector corruption.
However, there were costs for any successful investigations. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s (EFCC) Head of Forensics Unit, Abdullahi Muazu, was assassinated in September 2010. Others at EFCC and other investigative bodies have been assassinated too for finding evidence that will convict culprits. That is one topic the anti-corruption majors in government, past or present, do not want to talk about. Who is going to risk their lives to save Nigeria is the biggest and most important question I can imagine on the subject. And for what? Besides, because of the non-existence of forensic policing in Nigeria there are no credible records of Nigerian investigators on people who die of poisoning.
The Houses of Representatives and Senate probe of NEPS in the shape of the NIPP (National Integrated Power Projects) full of promise in the fight against wanton corruption that had brazenly underdeveloped NEPS at a time it should have grown and consolidated significantly was a spectacular failure. Treachery, self-interest, blackmail, bribery etc. saw the Representatives (especially) and Senate committees on Energy members and as well as non-committee doing evil to each other in a tussle to uncover or suppress incriminating information of corruption. The forces of suppression won.
It would be difficult with regards to the NEPS / NIPP scandal to prosecute and convict the “too big to prosecute” culprits at the time which included; former heads of state, current governors, serving and former ministers, a governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, a contractor blacklisted by the World Bank even though we had e senior World Bank executives running the economy then. And there were other too big to prosecute characters involved. Are the big fish sincerely nettable?
The “guilty-accuser syndrome” emerged which is a case where the persons in charge of the investigation only gets that position because their hands are dirtied by previous instances of corruption. Hon Ndudi Elumelu, chairman of the House of Reps committee for energy, was shown to be heavily implicated in a $42 Rural Electric Power Development fraud only and only because he had credible information of fraud and graft on the $16 billion NEPS / NIPP scandal. The speaker of the House then Hon Dimeji Bankole withdrew his pseudopodia in leading the investigation when allegations against his own fraud and corruption were made public.
The guilty-accuser strategy for corruption is a highly sophisticated one. Its logic is simple “do me, I do you; look the other way for me, I look the other way for you.” However, it is a perverse “quid pro quo” logic that fuels corruption to ever greater heights, depths and breadths. One perverse implication is that the more corrupt you are the more likely you are to hold a strategic position with powers to call for audits, investigations and probes. This creates an externality of impunity and as such squeaky clean men and women are vehemently rejected for such jobs.
Another implication of the guilty-accuser strategy is that detection and prosecution becomes very difficult. When those who hold the power to investigate are forced to suppress incriminating information in a corruption scandal or expose because of their own past, present or even intended future corruption, all such activities die the day they begin. Is it any surprise that wantonly corrupt individuals fill the legislative houses in Nigeria?
Faith in legislators to investigate NEPS corruption, fairly or unfairly, is very low. The legislators are most effective as “rackis guys”. The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has to make the investigations of corruption an executive prerogative though a weak judiciary in place has to be relied upon to do justice unless drastically reformed. The President therefore has to become the “prod” of anti-corruption and prosecution activities. One hopes that President Muhammadu Buhari’s long delay in appointing ministers can only be the result of his understanding of and weeding out of “guilty-accusers” from his potential National Executive Council.