British lawyer Jeffrey Tesler was the epitome of contrition in pleading guilty to corruption charges in an American court. The plea was for his role in the two-decade old saga that has come to be known as the Nigerian Halliburton Bribery Scandal. “There is no day when I do not regret my weakness of character,” he confessed in a Houston courtroom, “I allowed myself to accept standards of behaviour in a business culture which can never be justified. I accepted the system of corruption that existed in Nigeria. I turned a blind eye to what was happening, and I am guilty of the offences as charged.”
It would appear that the Halliburton affair was the globalization of Nigerian corruption through the hapless activities of an ordinary North London Lawyer whose weakness of character made him a pliable instrument in the hands of the corrupt Nigerian government and business elite. The reportage of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that has followed the Halliburton and other similar corruption cases around the world shows that Mr. Tesler was far from being a lily-livered victim who turned a blind eye to a system of corruption.
Shortly after Halliburton, the exposure of rampant corruption in the corporate world of the United States and Europe spread across some of the prestigious companies that had become synonymous with the corporate culture of the West. The domino effect that saw companies like Enron, WorldCom, Parmalat, Arthur Anderson and the Rover Group exposing their corrupt underbellies stunned the world. Some of the highly respected captains of commerce and industry in the West were cast down from their high pedestals with ignominy. Some of the leaders of the Third World who had been somewhat apologetic about their corruption garb and meek in acquiescence to the lectures of the holier than thou Western governments and media could come bouncing back. They let their accusers in the West know that when you point out one finger, the other four are pointing back at you.
Did Halliburton, Enron and the rest of that gang finally through their exposed antics let the world know that the time had come to ditch all pretences to morality, ethics and niceties and let all know the real iniquities under which individuals and groups acquired stupendous wealth in the world? Does great wealth really have to ride on the back of a great crime as some sceptics will have us believe?
Some two decade after Halliburton, Nigeria has given the world another shocker in the wake of the Boko Haram war. Aptly named after the erstwhile national security adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan, Sambo Dasuki, Dasuki-gate seems to be coming up with a never-ending stream of shocking revelations. Stories abound of how funds that were supposed to be equipping troops fighting the brutal insurgent force of Boko Haram were turned into a slush fund for the country’s political and military elite. In the meantime, ill-equipped young soldiers were sent out only to be cut down on the battlefield by the superior fire power of the ruthless enemy.
The revelations and their devastating effects on the polity and its people are equally jaw-dropping when you look at the second and third tiers of government, namely state and local governments. In some of the states where the incoming administrations have had the courage or foolhardiness to initiate probes of their predecessors, the tales range from the chief executives aka governors turning the state resources into their private fiefs to utilize and dispense with between them and their cronies as they deemed fit, to stashing bundles of cash in various currencies in vaults and lofts in their mansions. There are even tales of some of the paper money decomposing under pressure and humidity in the tropical vaults. And the civil servants whose signature and visas move the funds from the state treasuries to the private coffers of their political bosses are like Mr. Tesler, just ordinary functionaries whose weakness of character makes them not just hapless victims of corrupt power but active drivers of same.
Corruption, whether it takes the grand form where the development paths of whole nations are subverted and frustrated, or the petty form where small time officials at the most basic level of government or business victimise the small and helpless, always does harm in ways that can never be fully calculated. Often, because of its pervasive and apparently powerful nature, it leaves the ordinary person bewildered as to where he or she can even make a move against such a juggernaut.
In Nigeria, a phenomenon where looters are promoted to higher echelons of power where they can further insulate themselves from ever being held accountable for their economic and financial crimes has been in the process of taking root. Governors that looted the states that they governed blind have by hook or crook found themselves in the senate of the Federal Republic and strive to hold on with everything at their disposal. When the Nigerian President spoke about the anti-corruption war being a fight for the soul of the nation, he was stating a fundamental truth that every sincere Nigerian knows and feels.
The majority of Nigerians are caught between grand corruption that has reduced them to a state where they barely eke out a living in their well-endowed but truncated land; and petty corruption that has steadily eroded the fidelity and integrity of the resilient human spirit to the state of callous indifference.
When Major-General James “Spider” Marks stated bluntly that “Black West Africa” is not America’s priority no matter how barbaric and horrific its antics in the face of America’s capability to end it, there was a loud outcry. In fact some “patriotic “ Nigerians would have wanted to strangle the blunt-speaking general if they could get their black hands around his white neck. Funny. I have heard fellow Nigerians use more derogatory and dismissive language of other nationalities in the polity and references to “My people” and “your people” where the exclusivity is clearly embedded and sometimes an inferior status automatically ascribed to the “your people”.
For all the “My people” and “your people” whose consciences are not yet totally seared into oblivion and even the scars turned to callouses, the blunt-talking Spider’s comments should get us hot under the collar in a different way. We are not their priority. Is it at all possible for us in Black West Africa to be the priority to one another and to our communities and countries that we should be striving to build rather than destroy?
Africa Link recognizes that the battle for Nigeria’s soul is not to be fought by one seventy-something-year-old retired general with the powers of Executive President and the partisan machinery of his own cronies no matter how formidable his antecedents and fiat. He has called us, the silent majority of the abused, degraded and dispossessed to take up the arms of the mind and spirit for this war. Let us all answer “Here!” voice and bearing, showing neither shame nor fear. We should not like Tesler continue to turn a blind eye to iniquity.