By Oke Epia

Many Nigerians are amongst the craziest copycats in the world. They move in droves in the direction of advertised success even if unprepared for or unbefitting of it. They love to trend the inane even if it makes them appear insane. They love the luxuries of life even if they have to live a lie. Have you noticed a trend in the last few years where the country’s struggling middle class elite virtually empties into Dubai for the Christmas and New Year festivities? Everybody who is an aspiring somebody in society somehow saunters into the glitz and glamour of the glorious showcase put up by Dubai to attract the world to it at Christmas.

But the attraction to Dubai has been for long and it is beyond the colours of Christmas and magnificent fireworks of New Year’s Eve. Hitherto, a privileged set of Nigerians has found it a destination for stacking wealth and trading influence. With a booming property market and upscale commercial capacities, Dubai became (and still is) some investment Gloryland for the good, bad and ugly from Nigeria. Lacking stringent financial flows monitoring, it became a sought of safe haven for those seeking to hide ill-gotten wealth and keep away from the arm of justice. And from trickles to numbers it became a Nigerian movement for illicit wealth transfer and ostentatious display of diverse kinds. A recent fad was the hosting of birthday parties, anniversary dinners, wedding engagements, school graduation gigs and other vain glory showcases in Dubai. Such gathering of who-is-who became an acceptable way of confirming one’s social status in Nigeria. And for the clan of the corrupt thieves, it was a measure of just how much of the public pie they had piled up for themselves and generations yet unborn.

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Fortunately for the country, the community of public funds looters is now having its back against the wall. Thanks to the new sheriff in town. Yes, accusations of selectivity and politicization of President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war may contain some cogency. But that can hardly override the collective sense of repulsion felt by a nation stolen blind, burgled and left battered in the backwaters of perpetual underdevelopment. To the extent that the mindless pillaging of the common patrimony has been without discrimination as to political affiliations, the President should not be intimidated from doing his bit on corruption. Yes the pot is now calling the kettle black because of the tenuous turn in the political balance of power but those on the receiving end today should be consoled by the fact that what goes around comes around. But for the sake a credible engagement, I submit that President Buhari should be encouraged to wage the anti-corruption war within the ambits of due process and rule of law and not the rule of the thumb (or ‘moderated rule of law as recently canvassed by a prominent Professor of Criminology who was ironically once a victim of unmoderated rule of the thumb). The President should be continually held to account on his solemn declaration that he belongs to nobody but belongs to everybody. Nigeria can only achieve some unassailable mileage in the battle against corruption through some kind of national consensus and synergy instead of partisan prisms.

Just like he has been seeking to achieve some consensus at the international level given that Nigeria’s notorious corruption ring has tenterhooks abroad. And as long as these foreign antennas are left in place, the quest to curb the menace may remain a mirage and imperil the nation to final doom. Viewed against this background, the President’s recent trip to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a milestone of some sort. The visit to the Arabian nation offers a fresh focus in the war on corruption and an inevitable tracking of the unholy Dubai trend. Earlier this week, Buhari led a delegation of top cabinet members to Abu Dhabi ostensibly to attend the World Energy Forum but the real deal of this substantially fruitful foreign travel is the strings of bilateral agreements entered between Nigeria and the Gulf State.

Nigeria and the UAE signed a Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal and Commercial Matters. This pact enables the government of UAE return monies hidden or invested in banks and real estates in its country. Another pact which is germane to the anti-corruption war is the Judicial Agreements on Extradition, Transfer of Sentenced Persons which allows for legitimate demand for the extradition of allegedly corrupt persons for trial in Nigeria. Recall that the absence of such a pact between Nigeria and the UAE before had allowed convicted former governor of Delta State, James Ibori to successfully hibernate in Dubai after escaping from arrest in Nigeria back in 2010. Ibori had to be extradited to the United Kingdom where he was eventually tried and jailed for corruption and money laundering offences perpetrated in both Nigeria and Queensland. With the pacts in UAE now place, the odds are certainly stacked against the looting lot that have deprived Nigeria of billions of naira that could have been used to enhance child and maternal healthcare, upgrade public infrastructure, provide safety nets for the vulnerable, jobs for the unemployed and generally increase the life expectancy of the average Nigerian which is at a lowly 52 years (2013 figures) compared to other sub-regional averages in Ghana, Niger and even Burkina Faso, among others.

While there are other economically beneficial agreements signed off by both countries including ‘Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement’ and ‘Agreement on Trade Promotion and Protection’ the first two represent a clear expression of Buhari’s determination to recover looted funds and prevent escape from justice by those culpable and complicit. This is one achievement critics of the president’s war against corruption can hardly fault even though implementation of these agreements is another matter that remains to be seen.

Already, media reports are suggesting panic mood in the camp of the looters as the days of hiding illicit wealth in the rich Arabian enclave are surely numbered that is if the implementation of these pacts is not clobbered by extraneous considerations from either Abu Dhabi or Abuja or both. As reported by Premium Times during the week, “the news of the signing of the agreements broke some ex-officials started making frantic efforts to either escape from that country or relocate their slush funds out of the reach of the government.” The online newspaper in this particular story reports that “at least $200 billion allegedly stolen from the country’s treasury by former government officials is believed to have been stashed in banks and invested in properties in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, two of UAE’s most prominent cities.”

With these milestone pacts in place, the work of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); the Nigeria Police; the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC) and other law enforcement agencies in Nigeria have been enhanced beyond the limits of national jurisdiction. The onus is on the EFCC to actually walk the loud talk we have heard from its new boss in recent times as Nigerians indeed want to see more looters being arrested, diligently prosecuted and sent to jail. The good news from Abu Dhabi is that any former or present public official indicted for corruption can no longer find Dubai or any of the six other provinces which make up the United Arab Emirates a place of solace from the long arms of the law in Nigeria. Not for themselves and certainly not for their loot. Indeed for the corrupt public official and looters of the nation’s treasury, it is no longer Christmas in Dubai. And it can never be even when the new sheriff outlives his tenure.
LAST LINE: Bringing Olisa Metuh, National Publicity Secretary of the PDP to court in cuffs during the week was an overzealous overkill that provides a rather pungent point to puncture Buhari’s anti-corruption fight on grounds of political victimization and vendetta. If it was not good enough for Kabiru Sokoto (a convicted book haram terrorist) and Sambo Dasuki (the alleged distributor of the bribe for which the PDP Scribe is being tried) it should not have been suited for Metuh.
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