Friday, April 24, 2009

The Okiro Panel

The ongoing twist in the Halliburton bribery scandal seems to be never ending. Sometimes I ask myself, for how long will this government continue to take Nigerians for a ride? And as someone rightly said, the Halliburton bribery scandal is now ‘hallucinating’. This week’s inauguration of the Okiro Panel, set up by President Umaru Yar’Adua to investigate the bribery scandal, reiterates the obvious, that this government is a time waster when it comes to fighting corruption.

Haven’t we seen it all before? Once upon a time, there was the Pius Okigbo Panel which looked into the ‘1991 Oil Windfall’ during the Babangida regime. Then, there was the Oputa Panel, which look at human right abuses post-1966. Lately, we have also had the Uwais Panel on ‘electoral reform’. However, government’s track record on the release and implementation of Panel Reports has not been very convincing. The politics been played with the Uwais Panel report speaks volume about the insincerity of the Yar’Adua administration. And for me, the inauguration of the Okiro Panel might just spell doom for the current investigation of the Halliburton bribery scandal.

The investigation panel is headed by the Inspector- General of Police, Mr. Mike Okiro, and includes Chairman of the EFCC and a representative each from the Office of the National Security Adviser, Nigerian Intelligence Agency and the Department of State Security Service. One of the justifications for inaugurating the investigation committee was the need to get ‘vital’ evidence required to prosecute those found to have compromised themselves.

The questions we need to ask ourselves is, ‘do we need to set up a panel consisting of the Inspector-General of Police and EFCC Chairman before vital evidence can be obtained from the law courts’? We all know that this investigation started in the US, but was the US Director of FBI or CIA engaged to investigate Halliburton? I can remember reading anywhere that the US set up any ‘high level’ committee to investigate the allegations levelled against Halliburton. I want to believe that the US investigation would have been carried out by officers. This is considering that the former US Vice-President Dick Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton when these crimes were committed.

This is not the first time foreign companies have been found guilty of bribery in Nigeria. We are all aware of the AG Siemens and Wilbros cases. So, why was a panel not set up to investigate these cases? Or is the Halliburton case any different from the Siemens and Wilbros cases? My concern is that this panel will spend the next eight weeks wasting taxpayers’ money, while embarking on a wild goose chase. I wouldn’t be surprised, if their first assignment will be to fly across the Atlantic, claiming estacodes, all in the name of gathering evidence. For starters, it will do Nigerians a lot of good, if the government can disclose the how much budget is made available to this panel. We have already seen the Attorney-General junketing all over the since in the last few weeks ‘gathering’ evidence.

I’m right to believe that the investigation and prosecution of Halliburton in the US did not just start two months ago. For those who may not be aware, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission opened a formal investigation of Halliburton's involvement in the bribery scandal in June 2004. I also found out that, the Nigerian government ordered its own investigation in February 2004. This suggests that the Nigerian government commenced its investigation before that of the US Justice Department. So what was the outcome of the 2004 investigation? The fact that an investigation was carried out in Nigeria in 2004, and that no one was charged is also a confirmation that the previous Nigerian administration is an accomplice and can be accused of ‘cover up’.

My view about President Yar’Adua on corruption is, as genuine as he may look, this man will be shooting himself in the foot if he dares attempt to fight corruption. Either directly or indirectly, he his one of the biggest beneficiaries of corruption in the country. It is common knowledge that his election was bankrolled by some of the nation’s most corrupt individuals. As silly as it may sound, some of the PDP Presidential aspirants (who were heavily enmeshed in corruption) had to drop their ambitions and support President Yar’Adua after they were been threatened with prosecution.

Also, we are now been told that the Attorney-General cannot prosecute any individual without the approval of the President (!). I don’t know when the AG’s discretion to exercise prosecutorial powers became subject to the approval of the President. If that is case, why not appoint the President as, the Commander-In-Chief and Attorney-General of the Federation. If I can remember, we were once told that the EFCC, ICPC and the Police prosecutorial discretion are subject to the Attorney-General’s approval, in compliance with ‘rule of law’. And now that the AG has to seek the President’s approval, someone probably needs to explain to me where the separation of powers and ‘checks and balances’ lies in the government.

Considering this government’s track record, I think I can predict the outcome of this panel investigation. The panel will submit its report in eight weeks as planned. President Yar’Adua will inaugurate another panel, which is likely to be headed by the Attorney-General to review the findings of the report. Mr Attorney-General will then recommend that the evidence tendered in the US courts to charge Halliburton officials were not obtained through due process (what ever that means!) and therefore, it cannot be tendered in Nigerian courts. To affirm his support for ‘rule of law’, Mr President will accept the recommendation., and that will be case closed!

No comments: