Why is it that, for the same crime, while our suspects still walk the streets, the United States has long convicted its bag eggs?
The ghost of the Halliburton scandal will not go away, unless a proper burial ritual is performed. Indeed, the putrid odour emanating from that scandal will continue to foul our national image, unless President Muhammadu Buhari’s government summons the courage to bring this national shame to a closure. In other jurisdictions, those who conspired with Nigerians to steal from our country have been punished, yet, no Nigerian allegedly involved in the crime has been brought to justice. From Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency, through that of Goodluck Jonathan’s, Nigeria has been conspired against.
Like we have done over the years, we yet again urge the present government to restore the country’s integrity. Considering that Buhari’s government has vowed to fight corruption regardless of whose ox is gored, Nigerians are hopeful that those who allegedly connived to corruptly enrich themselves at our nation’s expense, will be called to account.
The Halliburton scandal arose from the bribe offered to very top Nigerian officials, to approve the $6 billion contract for the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) project. It is scandalous that while foreigners who connived with Nigerians to steal from our country have been punished, the victim – Nigeria – stands accused of shielding her citizens allegedly involved in the crime.
Now, sources close to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), say that it is time for those involved in the humongous corruption scandal to account for their actions. Towards this, the commission is reportedly making effort to untangle the whereabouts of the $200 million purportedly remitted to the Federal Government by one of the companies involved in the scam, under a plea bargain. According to the EFCC source, as published in a news report, “If companies paid penalty (fines) as part of plea bargaining, Nigeria deserves to know where the money is. Let them produce evidence of remittance of the fines.”
To our country’s shame, while the whereabouts of the $200 million paid by one of the culprits is now a subject of debate, the United States government, in punishing Halliburton and her accomplices in the crime committed in Nigeria, clearly outside their shores, got paid a fine of about $1.5 billion. According to the report, “in fact, the so-called $200 million fines appeared to be a far cry from what the nation ought to have got”. It went further, “about $1.5 billion was paid by Halliburton to the U.S. government. Yet, the country which was ripped off got pittance”.
Not only that the U.S government imposed a heavy fine, those involved were tried and jailed in that country, for the crime committed against Nigeria. We recall that the Nigerian government refused all entreaties by the U.S. government to haul in the Nigerians allegedly involved, under one spurious excuse or the other. As also stated in that report, “despite the fines, the facilitator of the bribery, UK lawyer, Mr Jeffrey Tesler, has just completed a jail term. In Nigeria, all the culprits are walking freely as if it was a normal trend. We are looking at all the dimensions to the case. We want justice for Nigeria”.
Indeed, the present government should do all within its powers under the law to bring those involved in the Halliburton scandal to account, if it wants the international community to regard Nigeria as a modern country, operating by the rule of law. To continue to ignore bringing her citizens to justice, while their counterparts in other countries have paid the price for their infractions against the law, is to say that our country is a lawless country. The implication of that on our national reputation is huge.
Such an attitude will negatively impact on direct foreign investment into Nigeria, as most serious investors will shy away from any country where bribery is not punished. The Halliburton case arose from a clear case of corruption in the award of public contract. In pleading for mercy, after pleading guilty in the United States, the British born lawyer, Tesler, said, “There is no day when I do not regret my weakness of character, I allowed myself to accept standards of behaviour in a business culture which can never be justified. I accepted the system of corruption that existed in Nigeria. I turned a blind eye to what was happening, and I am guilty of the offences charged.”
Buhari’s government must prove to Mr Tesler and the international community that corruption is not our way of life. If lawyers who acted for the country have been paid their legal fees, it is strange that the principal income is allegedly missing. Nigerians are hopeful, when a source with the EFCC says, “we are going to get to the root of this scandal, including the legal fees of about $12 million”.