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Nigeria: Democracy and Corruption
Aired April 21, 2007 - 12:30:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NADIA BILCHIK, GUEST HOST: Hello, I'm Nadia Bilchik. This is INSIDE AFRICA, your weekly look at life and issues on the continent. This week, we cast our focus on Nigeria's volatile democracy and on corruption, an issue that has longed plagued the country's democratic path.
This is the first time Nigeria's eight-year-old democracy prepares to hand power from one civilian government to another. But the transition has been marred by controversy and violence. So, where does that leave Nigeria's young democracy? Isha Sesay reports.
ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Last weekend's regional elections were seen as a key test in Nigeria's move towards multiparty democracy. But with widespread reports of electoral fraud and voter intimidation during last Saturday's elections, questions are once again being asked about the state of democracy in the nation.
Nigeria's current vice president, Atiku Abubakar, who was only included on the ballot this week, is among those concerned.
AKU ABUBAKAR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We do not anticipate any elections on Saturday. What we anticipate is again, votes allocation by the ruling party.
SESAY: The government and electoral commission have rejected calls for Saturday's polls to be postponed, but there is a sense here the seemingly constant political bickering and controversy is overshadowing key issues that concern ordinary Nigerians.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The poverty situation in the country is getting increased. The situation (inaudible) 75 percent of the people in Nigeria are poor. I think poverty is the aspect that you should really work on.
SESAY: After eight years of civilian rule, few Nigerians are enjoying the wholesale benefits of democracy.
Nigeria may be the world's sixth largest oil provider with foreign exchange reserves of more than $40 billion, but it remains one of the world's poorest countries. More than 70 percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day.
And while President Olusegun Obasanjo has made great strides in reforming the economy, there is a desire for the new government to go further in creating desperately needed jobs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that's what coming next, (inaudible), to create jobs, because we have most graduates, people who leave school, but there's nothing out there to do.
SESAY: There are calls for more to be done to assist the people of the Niger Delta and to resolve the growing unrest in this region that threatens Nigeria's oil production, the nation's lifeline.
Corruption remains endemic at many levels of Nigerian society, and most would agree that unless this issue is vigorously tackled, Nigeria will never be able to fully achieve its capacity for prosperity and regional leadership.
There are 25 candidates running the race to become the next president of Nigeria.
And what is striking is that for the most part, all the campaigns have been dominated by past track records, where they were born, religion and what ethnic group they belong to, rather than issues and principles.
After three decades of nearly continuous military rule, many believe there is a disconnect between politicians and the ordinary people. Politicians, they say, are serving themselves rather than the voters who put them in power.
So now, ordinary Nigerians are waiting and watching to see whether Saturday's elections will actually make a real difference to their lives.
Isha Sesay, CNN, Abuja, Nigeria.
BILCHIK: So, who are the people next in line to take the nation's top political spot? Jeff Koinange has a look at the candidates.
JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Campaign season in Nigeria means a lot of familiar faces and some not-so-familiar faces. Two dozens candidates alone vying for the title of president of Africa's most populous nation. Outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo surprised many by picking this man, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, as his chosen successor. Yar'Adua is a governor from one of the country's northern states, and is largely seen by critics as unknown and untested. The candidate insists he's ready to take over the leadership mantle of the ruling People's Democratic Party, or PDP.
UMARU MUSA YAR'ADUA, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Very ready. Mentally, psychologically, physically. In all aspects, I'm ready and prepared now for this challenge.
KOINANGE: Experts say Yar'Adua will have his work cut out for him, trying to beat out a crowded field that includes such political heavyweights as the country's vice president, Atiku Abubakar, long considered the obvious choice to succeed Obasanjo.
But the two had a very public falling out, and Abubakar was forced out of the ruling party. He went on to form his own, the Action Congress Party, or AC.
In the run-up to the election, Abubakar was accused, some say unfairly, of corruption charges, and spent most of his time in and out of court. In the final days before the polls, he was handed a lifeline -- the country's high court ruled he was eligible to run, but some experts here believe it may be too little, too late to salvage his candidacy.
UMARU FAROUK, DEMOCRACY ACTIVIST: Atiku has disrespected the president. Atiku has brought in division within the presidency. Atiku has been indicted for corruption. So we don't want Atiku.
KOINANGE: Another challenger for the country's top job is himself a former military head of state, General Muhammadu Buhari, running for the All Nigeria People's Party, or ANPP.
PRINCE CHUCI CHUKWAN, DEMOCRATIC ANALYST: If you take the case of Buhari, Buhari is what you call a regional champion. The people that support him are the low-class people in the northern part of Nigeria, so it is restricted to a region. He doesn't enjoy support across, you know, all the parts of the country.
KOINANGE: One candidate who could prove to be the surprise of the campaign season is newcomer, Orji Kalu, the 46-year old millionaire governor and football club owner.
ORJI KALU, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Nigerians know they're looking for a president who will be willing to call a spade a spade. Nigerians know they're looking for a president who will unite the country.
KOINANGE: Yar'Adua may have a slight lead over his opponents in most polls, but questions about his health have been persisting in the lead-up to the elections. He's had a history of kidney problems and for a time was on dialysis.
YAR'ADUA: You see, I think I'm as healthy as any 56-year old man now on the surface of the earth. You see, what people want, my opponents want, is a guarantee which I cannot make.
KOINANGE: What seems to be guaranteed, though, is a new civilian president succeeding another civilian president, something that hasn't happened here before.
BUKOLA SARAKI, GOV., KWARA STATE: I think it's as clear that, you know, democracy has come to stay in Nigeria, Nigerians want democracy. It is new for us to have a transition of a civilian president heading over to another civilian president. It is new, but it is clear that all hands on deck.
KOINANGE: All hands on deck as Africa's most populous nation prepares to navigate uncharted waters.
Jeff Koinange, CNN, Abuja.
BILCHIK: When INSIDE AFRICA returns, Nigeria's history of corruption permeates the nation's politics. And also, this year's elections. We take a closer look when we come back. Stay with us.
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BILCHIK: Welcome back. You're watching INSIDE AFRICA, with a special look at democracy and corruption in Nigeria.
Nigeria is ranked among the most corrupt nations in the world. Since his first day in office, President Olusegun Obasanjo has proclaimed his fight against corruption, among other things, by setting up the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Since 2003, the commission has convicted over 150 people involved in economic and financial crimes. It's also turned the spotlight on one of Obasanjo's friends turned rivals, Vice President Atiku Abubakar. This and other incidents have led to criticism that the commission is targeting opponents of the government and the ruling party.
We'll hear from Abubakar in a moment, but first here is Jeff Koinange with more on the politics of corruption.
KOINANGE: There was a time in Nigeria when corruption was synonymous with bad governance. That all changed, experts say, with the election of this man -- President Olusegun Obasanjo -- in 1999. His zero tolerance for corruption meant no one was above the law, and during his eight years in office, no fewer than two dozen top officials and politicians were removed from office for allegedly engaging in corrupt practices, unprecedented in a country where crooked politicians were viewed as idols.
And to prove he wasn't just playing politics, Obasanjo went after friend and foe alike.
Take Vice President Atiku Abubakar, for instance. He was sworn in for a second term nearly four years ago, and for a while was affectionately known as "the man next to the man," the shoo-in replacement when his boss, President Obasanjo, would eventually step down. This was the picture many Nigerians were accustomed to seeing of the president and his number two, side by side, always smiling, at least for the cameras.
But in less than four years, these two seemingly inseparable figures have become what experts describe as sworn enemies.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You shouldn't expect the relationship, you know, to be absolutely smooth.
KOINANGE: It all began with accusations in the press that quickly became the stuff of headlines. Atiku, as he's popularly known, accused of corruption and accepting bribes.
There is no doubt in the vice president's wealth. This is his sprawling residence in the Nigerian capital Abuja, for which he reportedly paid $3 million. And this is his retreat in his home village in Nigeria's north. Sources at the EFCC, or the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, say it costs $5 million.
Atiku is also said to own various other properties around the country and beyond. This is a house owned by Atiku's wife in an upmarket suburb of Washington, D.C. The FBI raided the house in late 2005 investigating a telecommunications deal in Nigeria that U.S. Congressman William Jefferson was allegedly trying to broker on behalf of a U.S. company. Jefferson has denied the claims.
How Atiku's wife came to acquire that house attracted the attention of the EFCC, which is tasked with battling corruption. Atiku says it was bought in 2001 with proceeds from the sale of another house.
The question is whether Atiku used his position to enrich himself. His office says he was a wealthy businessman before entering politics and was chairman of several companies.
The country's information minister says if there's evidence the vice president has been using his position to acquire personal wealth, then he should be treated no differently than other recent high-profile corruption cases in Nigeria.
UNIDENTIFEID MALE: There's never been any other time in the history of this country where you have had people so highly placed in government actually come under such fire.
KOINANGE: Among those coming under such fire, also happen to be allies of Atiku Abubakar. Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was governor of Bayelsa State in the oil-rich Niger Delta. He was arrested at London's Heathrow Airport carrying more than $3 million in cash. His assets in Britain, said to be worth more than $20 million, were frozen. While awaiting trial on charges of money laundering, Alamieyeseigha fled Britain. According to British police, he took a train for Paris, dressed as a woman, and then flew home to Nigeria, where as governor of a state, he enjoyed immunity from prosecution.
But a month later, he was impeached by the state assembly and was immediately arrested by Nigerian police. He sits in jail facing 40 counts of corruption and money laundering charges. He has denied all the charges.
Another Atiku ally, Governor Joshua Dariye of Plateau State, had been arrested on charges of money laundering in London. But soon after he was granted bail, he fled back to his home state in Nigeria. Nigeria's EFCC is still investigating his case. Dariye denies any wrongdoing.
In the run-up to the presidential elections, the EFCC went after Atiku, charging him with corruption. Atiku denied the accusations and spent most of the campaign's season in and out of court. In the end, he was allowed to run, but political analysts see this as a temporary delay. And should he lose the election, analysts say, he could end up in jail.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's no longer business as usual. People can no longer carry on with the kind of impunity with which things were done in the past. Now, we know that it's only a question of time before we can, you know, really bring this to zero level.
KOINANGE: A zero level that's seen Nigeria drop for the first time below the top three list of most corrupt nations in the world, according to the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International. In 2006, it was tied for fifth place.
Much of the credit, experts say, goes to outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo. Obasanjo insists there's a new urgency in Nigeria about tackling corruption.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It does not matter who you are. If you are found guilty of corruption, you will be brought to book. No matter who you are, no matter where you are. Because we are, in fact, defining corruption not only the abuse or misuse of a public power for private gain. It is the abuse or misuse of any power, or any position, public or private, for the gain that it is not authorized for.
KOINANGE: Obasanjo once told me that if there is one thing he wants stamped on his legacy, is that he fought the war against corruption. Experts believe he certainly won some major battles, but winning the overall war against corruption in Nigeria, they insist, almost likely take years, perhaps even decades.
Jeff Koinange, CNN, Abuja.
BILCHIK: But where is Nigeria in the battle against corruption? Earlier, Isha Sesay asked Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who has denied all allegations of corruption against him, about the situation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ATIKA ABUBAKAR, NIGERIAN VICE PRESIDENT: Corruption is still endemic, and we set up two institutions to fight corruption, the ICPC, they call it, and then the EFCC.
Unfortunately, the EFCC has been turned into a political tool for prosecution of political opponents. If corruption is -- is done by people who support the government, they're not investigated, they're covered up. But if corruption is perpetrated by opposition, then it is jumped.
The ruling party is more corrupt than any, you know, any other section of our country today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BILCHIK: That was Nigerian vice president and presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar, speaking to us earlier.
Just ahead, a different prospective on the corruption issue. We sit down with Nigeria's chief anticorruption czar Nuhu Ribadu, and we will find out what newspapers around Africa are saying about the election. Stay with us.
BILCHIK: Welcome back. You're watching INSIDE AFRICA, with a special look at democracy and corruption in Nigeria. Earlier, Isha Sesay set down with the long-time head of Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. She talked to him about his work and allegations that his commission has been used as a tool to target the opposition. Here is what he had to say.
NUHU RIBADU, ASST. INSPECTOR GEN. OF EFCC: We're trying to address the problem confronting us as a country. You yourself have said it. You said that Nigeria is one of the most corrupt countries, and that's what the view of most people in the world. We are fed up. We are tired. We are trying to do something about it. We want to change our country. We are confronting corruption. We are bringing people to justice.
There is no any other way to do it, and we go by what the law says. For example, you mentioned about the list (ph). This is the requirement of the constitution, constitution of Nigeria, that said that if an individual is indicted for fraud or embezzlement, such person is not fit to be a candidate or present himself for election.
All what we have tried -- I have tried to do is to give meaning to the law, to the provisions of our own constitution. We have never done it before, and (inaudible) in position of power. We have said enough is enough.
I think the world will just have to understand and support us. We are trying to clean ourselves. We are trying to see if it's possible for us also to do what is right, like the rest of the world. We are insisting that Nigeria will change. It has to change. And there is no way for you to change Nigeria unless you start paying attention to the people who lead -- who lead us.
SESAY: How much progress do you think you've really made in terms of cutting back corruption?
RIBADU: It is changing the nature, the attitude of people. But it will take a while for us to say we are going to be on top of it, that we have won.
SESAY: What is the greatest obstacle to progress?
RIBADU: It's change of attitude of people. And then for us to understand and appreciate the fact that we'll just have to do it. You know, it's endemic. Those who benefited from corruption are more or less in control of our own lives. They are controlling the means of communications. They are literally overwhelming us. To fight them and then to win is a big, big task.
BILCHIK: That was Nigerian anti-corruption chief Nuhu Ribadu, speaking to us earlier.
Now, allegations of corruption are already tainting this election, which seems to some as a real test of Nigeria's democracy. Here is a look at what some editorials around the country are saying.
"The Daily Trust" writes: "Obasanjo realizes how unpopular he is. Realistically, he can never allow the election to run free. And if anybody was in doubt that the PDP was determined to rig the elections, then one should consider last week's election."
"The Vanguard" in Lagos writes: "It's frightening that those who failed to make positive changes in the affairs of this country are once again at the verge of hijacking it to sustain their selfish interests."
And finally, "This Day" writes: "The presidential election is the most important litmus test for our democracy. We urge Obasanjo to be not only the father of the People's Democratic Party, but a true father to all Nigerians. The success of the elections will be the hallmark of his legacy."
And that brings us to the end of this week's program. But there is much more to come next week. So please, let INSIDE AFRICA be your window to the continent. Take care.
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