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Leaders not above the law

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Scale of Justice


It is important for leaders and those aspiring to lead in Nigeria to pay attention to what is happening in other climes and how the law takes precedence even over those who are in leadership positions. In Brazil, South Africa, South Korea and Mauritius, these countries have set examples of making their leaders face the wrath of the laws of the land they swore to uphold even at the slightest infraction. Hence their societies are the better for it.

It is noteworthy that Brazil and South Africa are part of the influential club of emerging markets called BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. In the same vein, all the countries, apart from Mauritius, are members of the twenty (G-20) most developed economies in the world. There is something extraordinary about Mauritius too: She is generally regarded as one of the most economically free and ranks high on the index of ease of doing business in Africa. Besides, most telecom service consumers may not have known that South Africa is actually not the origin of the Africa’s telecom giant, MTN. Its origin is actually Mauritius.

This is to show that Mauritius may not be a prominent African country like South Africa, Nigeria and others, but it is a significant country that the world cannot ignore in terms of growth and economic development.

There is something to learn from these countries: how the law rules over all the citizens including their leaders, past and present. Specifically, these countries are not condoning any culture of impunity and their leaders do not enjoy immunity from prosecution over corruption charges even after leaving office. For instance, South Africa’s Jacob Zuma who was forced out of office barely a few months ago is already having his day in the court over corruption charges. Interestingly, his very powerful party, the ANC that facilitated his ouster has also asked him to defend himself. The case is not being treated as a ‘family affair’ as it is sometimes treated in Nigeria where corruption charges are being politicised and romanticised.

In the same vein, former Brazilian leader, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was convicted on corruption charges in July 2017 in the first of five graft trials he had faced, was sent to prison the other day. The two-term president was sentenced to nine and half years in prison but had remained on appeal until two weeks ago when the prison term was upheld.  

The ruling marked a stunning fall for Lula, Brazil’s first working-class president who left office six years ago with an 83 per cent approval rating. The former union leader won global admiration for transformative social policies that helped reduce stinging inequality in Latin America’s biggest country. Former U.S. President Barack Obama once labelled him the most popular politician on earth.

The verdict represented the highest-profile conviction yet in the sweeping corruption investigation that rattled Brazil for over three years. This revealed a sprawling system of graft at top levels of business and government and threw the country’s political system into disarray.

But despite the fact that Lula was once the most popular president in Brazil’s recent history, Judge Sergio Moro found him guilty of accepting 1.2 million dollars (3.7 million reais) worth of bribes from engineering firm OAS SA, the amount prosecutors said the company spent refurbishing a beach apartment for Lula in return for his help in winning contracts with state oil company, Petroleo Brasileiro.

Lula, 72, was once one of the most popular politicians on the planet and he easily leads polls in Brazil’s October presidential election. His incarceration will throw the race completely open as the strong arm of the law would have to take its course.
Interestingly, Lula’s predecessor, Dima Vana Rousseff, a brilliant economist and female politician who served as the 36th President of Brazil from 2011 was impeached and removed from office on 31st August 2016. Her offence was that she reportedly sexed up a budget data that helped her secure a second term in office. Again, in the eye of the law of the land, she had abused her high office and the country’s legislature could not decide other-wise and the judiciary could not keep her in office.

It should be noted, and the lesson must be learnt especially in Nigeria, that in the eye of the law, Lula epitomizes Brazil’s corruption-riddled elite, not minding his acclaimed achievements.

Similarly, Africa’s only remaining female president Ameenah Gurib-Fakim of Mauritius resigned a few months ago, over a credit card scandal. Her resignation, which had been speculated, came after the Island’s 50th independence anniversary.The move came after the Prime Minister, Pravind Jugnauth accused Gurib-Fakim of back-pedalling on a promise to quit amid allegations of misconduct, and threatening unspecified actions if she did not step down.

The dispute between the two leaders had ratcheted up uncertainty on the prosperous Indian Ocean Island, which has been politically and economically stable since it gained independence from Britain in 1968. The World Bank constantly ranks the country as the easiest place to do business in Africa.

Prime Minister Jugnauth was once quoted as saying “The interest of the country comes first, and I am proud of Mauritius’s image as a model of living democracy in the world.” Gurib-Fakim, according to reports, said she “inadvertently” used a payment card issued to her by the Planet Earth Institute in 2016 that was identical to a bankcard she already had. After telling the London-based charity she’d used their card for about US$27,000 of “out-of-pocket expenses”, she immediately reimbursed the institute in addition to other expenses incurred on a PEI trip.

Besides, a former Governor of the Bank of Mauritius and now an independent political analyst, Dan Maraye said, “the clash between the two leaders on the Island “makes a big dent to the reputation of our country as a business-friendly and well-managed economy…Political uncertainty destroys economic development and stability. It brings the whole system to a crashing halt until the matter is cleared….” The matter was cleared when the President resigned on March 17, 2018, illustrating the fact that there should be zero tolerance for misdemeanors even at the highest level.

In the same vein, former South Korean President Park Geun-hye was recently sentenced to 24 years in prison for abuse of power and corruption, in a scandal that exposed webs of double-dealing between political leaders and conglomerates, and the power of a Rasputin-like figure at the top of government.

Park, 66, was not present for the ruling, citing sickness. She had boycotted the proceedings since October 2017.
Prosecutors had sought a 30-year jail sentence and an £80 million fine equivalent on charges that also included bribery and coercion. In a rare move, the court in Seoul decided to broadcast her trial live, a move Park objected to.

The court reportedly found Park had colluded with her longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil, to solicit bribes from South Korean conglomerates including Samsung and the retail company, Lotte in exchange for policy favours. Prosecutors charged Park with 18 separate crimes and accused her of working with Choi in taking bribes of at least £25 million and pressuring companies to fund nonprofits run by Choi’s family. She was also accused of leaking classified information. 

Choi, a pastor’s daughter, had no government experience but was described in a US diplomatic cable as having “complete control over Park’s body and soul during her formative years.” Choi’s influence over the president led one opposition lawmaker to describe Park’s government as a “scary theocracy.” The scandal exposed what had long been widely suspected in South Korea: an entangled web of government and the chaebol – sprawling business conglomerates that dominate the economy.

Park’s rise to the presidency in 2013 was seen as a personal redemption 30 years after her father, then the country’s dictator, was assassinated.Even in the United States, the bastion of modern democracy, the president is not finding his office easy. His office is being investigated for so many things, ranging from allegation of Russia’s possible intervention in America’s election that brought him to power, abuse of office and sexual impropriety, all before assuming office.

In 1999 too, in the course of congressional investigation, this is what a Senator told a President who was involved in a sex scandal while in office: “This great nation can tolerate a president who makes mistakes,” declared Senator Orrin Hatch, from Utah. “But it cannot tolerate one who makes a mistake and then breaks the law to cover it up.”Mr. Hatch was talking about Bill Clinton, a brilliant man and one of America’s greatest president in recent history. At that time, the American system underwent, and passed, a hard test: The president, his financial dealings and his personal relationships were painstakingly investigated for years. Prosecutors ultimately accused Mr. Clinton of lying under oath, to cover up a sexual affair. The House of Representatives impeached him, but the Senate declined to convict, and Mr. Clinton stayed in office.

The public, which learned in detail of everything investigators believed Clinton had done wrong, overwhelmingly agreed with the judgment of the Senate. It was a sad and sordid and at times distracting business, but the system worked. This is a lesson for Nigeria.

Since he assumed office, investigators have been examining whether Donald Trump’s campaign conspired with the Russian government to undermine American democracy, and whether the president misused his power by obstructing justice in an effort to end that investigation. Specifically, Nigeria has a lot to learn from all these examples to deepen democracy and for governance therefrom to trigger meaningful development of the people. At the moment in the country that has been crippled by massive official corruption. Most of those accused of stealing are walking free: none in jail. Most of those recently accused of massive corruption enjoy media trials and no diligent prosecution. Yet the government of the day continues to make noise around the world that its main agenda is fighting corruption and insecurity. Apart from parading a dubious list of looters, the main anti-corruption bodies are in a state of jeopardy.

Yet the presidency has not shown any sense of urgency to get the machinery of the anti-graft agencies working – after about three years in office. This is inexplicable.The lessons from South Korea, Brazil, Mauritius and South Africa are that these countries are great not by mere wishful thinking of greatness. They are great because their governments and their people have decided to allow their laws to rule. They are exceptional because they have rejected a culture of impunity that normally thrives when the law is not allowed to rule the people.

Nigeria should brace up to elect leaders who would allow the laws of the land to rule. All who aspire to lead Nigeria at this time should bear in mind the ancient counsel of Lord Alfred Thompson Denning to all citizens and leaders: “Be ye ever so high, the law is above you.”



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