Nigeria's foreign minister, Ojo Madueke, travelled 8,484 kilometers from Nigeria to New York last month to address the 68th United Nations General Assembly on behalf of President Yar'Adua. It goes without saying that Madueke's mode of transportation to the United States would either have been a federal government jet or the first class compartment of a commercial airliner. As is befitting of a foreign minister of, perhaps, Africa's most profligate and financially undisciplined country that is going to, through a combination of wishful thinking and mantra-like repetition, miraculously leap-frog more serious and frugal nations to become a leading economy by 2020, his New York sojourn would invariably have been spent in a luxurious suite at a top Manhattan hotel. Why do all of these details matter? I will explain. When the minister's moment of glory at the General Assembly came, he spoke about the need for an international instrument (or agreement) to criminalize oil bunkering in the same way that blood diamonds were criminalized by the UN in December 2000. His illuminating justification was that "they both generate blood money." Madueke told his audience that oil bunkering fuels conflicts in Africa through the proliferation of small arms and light weaponry which he referred to as Africa's "weapons of mass destruction." The Yar'Adua administration is pressing for an aggressive global coalition against oil bunkering to be led by, yep, you guessed it, Nigeria. Not only is there nothing new about the Nigerian government connecting oil bunkering to militant activity in the Niger Delta, there is everything hypocritical and morally repugnant about the call for oil bunkering to be criminalized while the unabashed criminality being perpetrated on Nigeria's treasury - directly or indirectly - on a daily basis by Nigeria's rogues gallery of rapacious politicians is conveniently airbrushed out of the picture. In a country where there is enough concrete and circumstantial evidence of corruption against many of our past and present leaders to lock them up for multiple life sentences, Madueke's utterances at the UN simply beggar belief! He would have been better off staying in Nigeria and finding something else to do with his time instead of leading a multimillion naira caravan of Nigerian officials to New York to announce to the whole world that the Nigerian government is undergoing an acute crisis of ideas fuelled by a deficit of morality. At the risk of sounding facetious, it would not be amiss for the long-promised National Emergency in the Power Sector to be preceded by a National Emergency on Good Governance. Millions of Nigerians are literally being made to donate their blood as the country's rulers milk the economy to the point where the donors are hemorrhaging. I have chosen to go outside our shores to emphasize my point and in an attempt to trace the blood lines of Nigeria's powers-that-be. Gabon's 72 year old President, Omar Bongo, is the perfect case study as a number of Nigerian politicians appear to take him as their role model and inspiration. Monarchs apart, Bongo recently became the world's longest serving ruler having been President of Gabon for 41 years. His short stature notwithstanding (he stands at barely 5 feet), Bongo is a giant among men in terms of his ability to siphon money meant for the people of his oil producing nation (the fifth largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa) into private bank accounts for himself and his cronies. A suit re-filed in July 2008 by Transparency International France together with three Gabonese and Congolese citizens (and corroborated by an inquiry led by French antifraud agency, OCRGDF) accuse Bongo and three other African leaders - Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola and Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea - of looting their countries' treasuries to finance expensive assets overseas for themselves, their families and close associates. The suit is taking advantage of a recent French High Court ruling that makes it possible to investigate individuals who cannot explain the source of their assets or wealthy lifestyles. Bongo reportedly acquired a 15 million pound (3.4 billion naira) mansion in Paris earlier this year. Obligatory appurtenances such as a 309,000 pound (70 million naira) Mercedes Benz Maybach for his wife, Edith (daughter of Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso), a 153,000 pound (34 million naira) Ferrari 612 Scaglietti F1 for himself, a 156,000 pound (35 million naira) Ferrari 456 M GT for his son, Ali, have already been acquired. The property is believed to be the costliest in Bongo's string of properties which allegedly includes nine other properties in Paris, four of which are on the exclusive Avenue Foch. Bongo is believed to own a further seven properties, including four villas, in the millionaires' playground of Nice in the South of France. Investigators discovered that many of Bongo's assets were paid for with cheques drawn on an account in the name of "Paierie du Gabon en France" (the Gabonese Treasury). It gets better. In 1997 a US Senate report accused Bongo and his family of spending 55 million pounds (12.4 billion naira) a year on their obscene lifestyle; while at least a third of their countrymen and women survive on less than 50 pence (113 naira) a day (to digress briefly, perhaps Nigeria's rulers would like to borrow a leaf from Bongo whose administration, to commemorate World Press Freedom Day in 2003, after accusing independent media houses of "excelling in misinformation" decided to take steps to "ensure that the press functions appropriately" and wrote "more responsible" articles. The Gabonese government announced a grant of 762,000 euros (133 million naira) that would go only to media houses that acted "professionally"). To our minister of foreign affairs I say this. The unbridled plundering activities of Omar Bongo and his ilk among Nigerian leaders - past and present - should form the basis for a United Nations instrument that criminalizes blood money acquired by crooked politicians and their associates. The reason for this is simple. For every house bought with stolen money, there are innocent Nigerians who have nowhere to sleep or sleep in structures unbecoming of human beings especially in a country as richly endowed as ours. For every bottle of champagne and caviar bought with stolen money, there are innocent Nigerians who go hungry and who fall sick because they have to drink unsafe water. For every student whose overseas education is paid for with stolen money, there are innocent Nigerians whose futures are guaranteed to be bleak because they are receiving no education at all or, at best, sub-standard education. For every overseas trip for medical care paid for with stolen money, there are innocent Nigerians whose lives are diminished or who end up dying needlessly for want of adequate medical care locally. For every exotic car bought with stolen money, there are innocent Nigerians who have to make do with no transportation at all or, at best, sub-standard forms of transportation including the death traps called "molue buses" and "okadas." For every exhortation from the powers-that-be that ordinary Nigerians should be patient in order to allow the benefits of sound economic management trickle down to them, there are innocent Nigerians who curse such people who steal the wealth that the Almighty provided for the benefit of all Nigerians. Each and every act perpetrated by people who commit such atrocities with reckless abandon is, to quote the minister, the real "…crime against humanity." According to the UN, "small arms and light weapons destabilize regions; spark, fuel and prolong conflicts; obstruct relief programmes; undermine peace initiatives; exacerbate human rights abuses; hamper development; and foster a culture of violence." Is it not ironic that if one substitutes the words "small arms and light weapons" with the words "the wanton theft of government revenues by immoral and corrupt leaders," the thrust of the message remains unchanged?
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters