President Goodluck Jonathan’s body language and mixed signals when it came to tackling corruption, left his Finance Minister drained and frustrated, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has shared in her new book: ‘Fighting corruption is dangerous; the story behind the headlines’.
Okonjo-Iweala served as Jonathan’s finance minister and coordinating minister of the economy from 2011 to 2015.
She writes that even though there was sufficient evidence of corruption in government circles and operations under Jonathan, not much was done by the president to bring perpetrators to book.
“I spent my time confronting corruption in my work and in all its faces in government. But at times, I felt that the pace at which I wanted to act was slowed by those who presented alternative narratives to the president”, Okonjo-Iweala writes.
“Both the implementation of the forensic audit in the oil sector and the sharing of the report were delayed and thereby muted the positive impact of the audit.
“I also felt a great deal of frustration that few high level perpetrators were convicted or jailed for any acts of corruption during the Goodluck Jonathan administration”, she adds.
Okonjo-Iweala cites instances when it became clear that fighting corruption was never going to be one of Jonathan’s strongest suits.
“While pension fraud perpetrators were convicted and some were jailed, fraudulent oil marketers were not. Some were picked up by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) but were later released.
“The masterminds behind my mother’s kidnapping have never been identified, much less investigated, even though it was clear from the sequence of events that it was not planned by low-level kidnappers.”
Okonjo-Iweala says Jonathan allowed himself to be called a weak president.
“But some critics saw the president as weak. This led to a feeling of impunity on the part of vested interests who felt they could get away with corrupt acts.”
Okonjo-Iweala says there were moments she felt like tendering her resignation because of the corruption in government and the brick wall presented by vested interests. “There were moments when I wanted to throw in the towel”, she writes.
She adds that for a nation to win the war against corruption, “support from the top—in this case, the president–is vital…it is a necessary, not a sufficient, condition to fight corruption. You still need the coalitions and the teams. In countries with weak institutions, if the president is against action, then little or nothing can be done within the framework of government because even the production and analysis of objective evidence can be blocked”.
According to the former finance minister, Jonathan’s reputation for condoning corruption blotted whatever good his administration achieved elsewhere.
“There were instances where we were slowed down (such as the forensic audit of the “missing $20billion”), but we were never stopped. President Goodluck Jonathan supported the anti-corruption work and in some instances brought questionable situations to my attention for action.
“Yet the president and the administration earned a reputation for corruption because corrupt people were not brought to account and communication was poor about positive anticorruption actions.
“The president’s approach to governance was low key, and the government’s stance against corruption delivered mixed messages in the sense that in some areas the fight was being waged successfully, while in others, unprincipled politicians and government officials continued with corrupt practices and few people were apprehended or jailed”.
Jonathan lost the 2015 election thanks in large part to a reputation that bordered on being weak on corruption, and not wielding the big stick on persons who had been caught dipping their hands in the nation’s cookie jar.
The succeeding Buhari administration has been prosecuting past government officials accused of corruption, even though the fight has been tagged a witch-hunt in certain quarters.