South Africa recently witnessed days of rage, fire and fury following the incarceration of the former President of the country, Jacob Zuma. He was officially accused of grand corruption and abuse of office as investigations intensified over the heist he organized while presiding over the Rainbow nation for close to a decade. And his manifest disdain towards the judiciary led to the Constitutional Court issuing an ultimatum for his capitulation which culminated in the apex court sending him to prison for failing to honour summons and convocations.
Jacob Zuma is a perfect example of what is fundamentally wrong with leadership in Africa, a continent where leaders are worshipped by the followers and they in turn create cult personalities by using state resources at their disposal as tools of oppression and terrorism. Almost all the leaders in the poor continent are dented by corruption or illicit acquisition of wealth.
Post-apartheid South Africa has not fared any better nor made much progress in terms of economic empowerment of the majority black population. Since the late iconic Nelson Mandela, the first non-white President, a couple of Presidents had succeeded themselves, all emanating from the dominant ruling African National Congress party (ANC).
From Mandela to Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe to Zuma to the incumbent Cyril Ramaphosa none of these black men entrusted with supreme executive power had been able to turn the tide of mass poverty or frustrations in a nation still haemorrhaging the blood of its citizens. Every now and then tension boiled over leaving in its wake blood, tears and sorrow! Yet the tale of underdevelopment remains the same, year in year out.
During the recent chaotic demonstrations against the Zuma incarceration looting, arson and anarchy were unleashed on the society. Foreigners (including Nigerians) and their businesses had been targetted. Whenever issues of local politics, unemployment or mass poverty crop up foreigners (especially blacks) are always at the receiving end, blamed wrongly — instead of the diffident system — for the social inadequacies and inequality.
Zuma has not had his days in court. Yet he is already trying hard to frustrate justice hoping that the strategy would work ultimately in his arrogant favour. Though he is still popular with the rural folks, most barely-educated, the violent riots that greeted his capitulation to justice demonstrated a pre-meditated pre-planned strategy on intimidation of the state and the will to make the country ungovernable.
Alas, despite the loss of lives and properties the power of the state has prevailed! By imposing order President Ramaphosa made it clear that anarchy must not be allowed to prevail. Jacob Zuma and his gang must be held responsible and accountable for whatever damage done to the system socially and economically.
Zuma was not a good President but he is good at playing populist politics. If a dancing contest were to be organized in Zulu traditional music he would definitely win a trophy as a champion! But the presidency is more than a dancing competition.
Former African Presidents had been jailed before Zuma. But while his is for contempt of court others were for crimes against humanity, corruption or abuse of power. Charles Taylor, Laurent Gbagbo, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz come to mind. These fallen men of power have smelt executive rod in different epochs and environments and circumstances.
The former Liberian President, Charles Taylor, (who waged years of war as a rebel before becoming President) is currently serving a fifty-year jail term for terror, murder and rape as well as aiding and abetting the Sierra Leonian rebels during the country’s civil war. He was equally found guilty of criminal involvement in diamond and arms trafficking. When Taylor fell from power in Monrovia he had relocated to Nigeria (Calabar) from where he was sent to the International Criminal Court where he was convicted and sent to prison in the United Kingdom.
Sentencing Taylor in 2012 the Presiding Judge, Richard Lussick, had said: “The accused has been found responsible for aiding and abetting as well as planning some of the most heinous and brutal crimes in recorded human history”.
Laurent Gbagbo ruled Cote d’Ivoire democratically for ten years. But when a presidential poll was held, supervised by the United Nations, following the protracted rebellion and political instability that characterised Gbagbo’s era he refused to concede defeat to the opposition candidate (and now President) Alassane Ouattara. Following a protracted political crisis that saw about three thousand people killed Gbagbo was overpowered with the French military support and arrested.
He was later sent to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, Holland, to stand trial for mass murder and crimes against humanity. After ten years of incarceration and pulsating judicial fireworks Gbagbo was acquitted of all the charges. And he has since returned home to Abidjan. Currently he has approached the court towards divorcing his ‘political wife’, Simone Ehivet! He came back home with his second wife, Nady Bamba.
Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz presided over Mauritania for ten eventful years. A retired military General he had staged a palace coup that deposed the democratically-elected former President, Ould Taya, who was then in Saudi Arabia on a state visit. Refusing to elongate his tenure in a controversial third term bid Aziz had handed over power to his right-hand man and fellow putschist, Ould Ghazouani.
Today Abdel Aziz is behind bars in Nouakchott for coruption and abuse of office. Like Zuma he was trying to frustrate investigations over his heist and refusing to co-operate with state prosecutors. On many occasions before the investigating panel he had elected to keep mum. And his lawyers were quick to evoke his ‘immunity’ from prosecution.
Nigeria has had her own corrupt ex-Presidents, living or dead. From Generals Ibrahim Babangida to Sani Abacha, Olusegun Obasanjo to Goodluck Jonathan. While Gen. Babangida still holds the ‘flag’ for grand larceny the late Gen. Sani Abacha remains the greatest kleptocrat ever to preside over our nation. IBB stole billions of Naira and millions of Dollars while dictatorially calling the shots. The ‘evil genius’ even ‘democratized’ corruption by criminally institutionalising the ‘settlement syndrome’ in which he used illicit state funds to compromise the opposition.
The late maximum ruler from Kano simply banked his stolen funds abroad. Many years after his demise we are still being regaled with the ‘Abacha-loot’ soap opera. While the likes of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and Mariam Abacha could still have the effrontery to tell us that Abacha never stole evidence abound of his organized fiscal banditry.
Olusegun Obasanjo fancies himself as a ‘patriot’ and great leader. But his dictatorial and democratic stints in power were fraught with unresolved graft-related issues. One of these happened to be the billions of Dollars ‘Baba’ claimed he spent to produce darkness rather than electricity.
Goodluck Jonathan may be seen generally as a gentleman who was not a victim of cupidity while in power. But his wife, Patience and mistress, Diezani Allison-Madueke were allowed to defraud the nation of billions of Dollars! While Jonathan was busy fumbling and wobbling presidentially these elegant official and unofficial First Ladies were busy stealing the nation dry.
No former President in Nigeria had ever been docked for corruption or abuse of office or power yet they stole and abused power. The judicial system in Nigeria is so emasculated and partisan that any expectation of seeing an ex-President behind bars remains utopian. If the justice system in Nigeria were independent then an example would have been made of one out of the retired or serving executive thieves.
Jacob Zuma may be convicted at the end of his judicial challenge in the Rainbow nation with proud judicial independence heritage. But upon conviction he could be granted state pardon by his successor to appease the tensed situation. Yet whatever happens to the executive traditional dancer the valuable lesson to be learned from his tribulation is that power is transient. And that corruption, no matter how smart the perpetrator or hard he tries to cover it up, the monster could eventually become a veritable source of anguish and ignominy.
We hold that Zuma deserves to be jailed to serve as deterrence to others, especially his staunch admirers like Senator Rochas Okorocha, the ex-Governor of Imo state, who immortalized him by constructing a giant statute for him in the state capital.