Royal Dutch Shell Plc  .com Rotating Header Image Nigeria: Siemens Allegations – Litmus Test for Yar’adua’s Anti-Corruption Drive?

22 November 2007
Nathaniel Jonah

The new bribery scandal involving some former and still serving top government functionaries has elicited President Yar’Adua’s anti-corruption war. Will this succeed? asks Nathaniel Jonah

Nigeria’s polity has been terse in the last few months with intriguing developments, especially issues that border on corruption and graft practices among the political class.
The melodramatic thearetrics which climaxed into the “drama of the absurd” at the House of Representatives has been described by Nigerians as most unfortunate for a nation struggling with the realities of democratic values after so many years of military interregnum in the body polity.

The word “corruption” is almost an household name in Nigeria. At the just concluded sixth national seminar on economic crimes in Abuja, United Nations (UN) undersecretary-general, Dr. Antonio Maria Costa, who is also the executive director of the Vienna-based United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime was quoted as saying that Nigerian leaders stole more than $400 billion from the Nigerian treasury between 1960 and 1999. The series of kleptomania leaders which had governed Nigeria since independent is viewed as being responsible for the poor state of infrastructural development of Nigeria and the consistently dwindling quality of life among the citizenry.

The latest of Nigeria’s corrupt profile is the report that the United Kingdom’s anti-corruption authorities have embarked on a probe of Chevron Texaco and Royal Dutch Shell in respect of some payments the companies made in Nigeria. Financial Times of London also alleged in a recent report that British investigators are probing payments to a company said to be owned by a Nigerian politician who is a former governor in the Niger Delta State. This report is coming on the heels of allegations by the American oil-servicing company, Willbros Inc. that it paid top Nigerian government officials million of dollars in bribes to secure contracts in Nigeria.

Also, last week, reports were rife that prominent Nigerian politicians and government officials were alleged to have demanded and collected bribes amounting to 10 million Euros from German company, Siemens, in order to influence lucrative contracts in Nigeria. The Financial Times of London was quoted as saying “it saw a UK court affidavit which says there is a reasonable cause to believe that a former governor bought assets including a $406,000 (about N70 million) armour plated Mercedes Benz from a Mayfair dealership.”

In a similar development, a Munich court was reported to have named four former Nigerian ministers of communications, Cornelius Adebayo, the late Haruna Elewi, Tajudeen Olanrewaju and Bello Muhammad as well as other officials and chairman of the senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Professor Jubril Aminu, as having received bribes of about 10 million Euros from the company. But in a swift reaction to the allegation, the opposition Action Congress (AC) called the development a national disgrace “coming so soon after full disclosures from the Wilbros bribery scandal also involving Nigerian officials yet to be made accountable.” The party also went further by calling on the Yar’Adua’s administration to probe the Obasanjo administration which according to them, “has been spewing out these scandals like lava from a volcanic Eruption.”

President Yar’Adua, while reacting to the scandal allegation through his Special Adviser on Communications, Mr. Segun Adeniyi, claimed that relevant security agencies had been directed to “thoroughly investigate the allegations and take appropriate action.” One of the former ministers of communications accused of complicity in the 10 million euro bribe scandal, Dr. Muhammad Bello, in a reaction through his media adviser, Mr. Emeka Kanu, denied knowledge of the alleged bribe of public officers by Siemens claiming that “the allegation was not only strange and bewildering but malicious, libelous and wicked evil designed by his political opponents.” But whether the allegations of conspiracy and evil plot by his political distractors are true or not, remains contentious.

Also, in a wave of indictment of Nigerian public office holders over corrupt acts, the London Metropolitan police has allegedly claimed that the immediate past Governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, used British banks to stash 20 million pounds of public funds to finance his flamboyant lifestyle. “This allegation of financial impropriety and recklessness underscores the fact that the development of the Niger Delta region is widely attributed to the diversion of funds meant for its development by the leaders,” Mr. Ifeanyi Okoli, environmental consultant spoke with our correspondent.

Apart from the presidential reaction to the Siemens allegation scandals, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) has reportedly invited the accused for questioning over their indictment in the affair. According to ICPC officials, those invited would help it unravel their involvement or otherwise in the allegation.

The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Micheal Aondoakaa, had earlier said he would summon the German ambassador to Nigeria Joachim Schmillen, to explain the scandal. According to him, “we are going to look at the case. As the Attorney-General of the Federation, I can tell you that it is not a matter that government will treat with levity.”

However, the president of the West African Bar. Association, Mr. Femi Falana, has urged the federal government to investigate the involvement of public officials that were named in the scandal. In an interview with journalist recently, Falana posited that “the bribery scandal has once again exposed Nigeria to international opprobnum. All public officials indicted by the Munich Court must be brought to book to serve as a deterrent to others who may wish to drag the name of Nigeria in the mud.”

The House Committee Communications chairman, Jerry Manwe, had also signified the National Assembly’s interest in the case and has concluded arrangements to probe it. According to him, “if it is true that Siemens bribed (Aminu and Adebayo) then they are not fit to do business in Nigeria. This is a government that vowed to follow the rule of law. The president is serious about fighting corruption so he too would take up this matter.”

But contrary to Senator Jerry Nwanwe’s claim that the Yar’Adua’s administration is committed to the fight against corruption, there has been skepticism among Nigerians about the president’s sincerity in the war against corruption.

It would be recalled that President Yar’Adua had retrerated his commitment to stamp out the endemic scourge of corruption in the country. At a recent anti-corruption summit recently, the president reportedly stated thus “I vow before you this day, that as president of this country, I will lead the fight against corruption. The fight against corruption is my fight.” Pundits have however maintained that the Yar’Adua’s anti-corruption war would not be taken seriously until the immediate administration of Olusegun Obasanjo is probed. According to the Action Congress, “if ever, any government has a chance to show its anti-corruption campaign is not a fluke, it is this Yar’Adua a government, considering the rate at which the corruption allegations are being made against public officials in both past and present administrations.”

It is also ironical that the same Obasanjo administration that has made so much noise about its commitment to the anti-corruption war is the very one accused of gross corrupt practices. Alhaji Lai Mohammed, National Publicity Secretary of the Action Congress in a recent press statement claimed that “Obasanjo’s administration was a cesspool of corruption, despite its anti-graft battle and Obasanjo’s holier than thou attitude the nation’s vital assets to individuals and cronies. It was during the Obasanjo regime that the anti-corruption outfits like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practice and other related Crimes Commission (EFCC) were transformed from Instruments of fighting corruption to objects of executive lawlessness and witch-hunting.”

The Yar’Adua administration’s stance on the anti-corruption battle experienced its first test with the House renovation contract scam. The president decision to allow due process and rule of law take its course was applauded as a marked departure of the Obasanjo’s meddlesome antics who would have employed every available resources to support illegality and corruption.

Barely three weeks since the Etteh corruption scandal was laid to rest, President Yar’Adua’s avowal to stamp corruption out of the national system is once again brought being made to suffer another litmus test. Undoubtedly, the outcome of the presidential investigation into the Siemens bribe allegations will go a long way to give credence to the presidential pledge on zero tolerance for corruption.

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