Nigeria: Corruption – Between Yulia and Gloria
by SOC Okenwa
Politics is said to be a game of numbers but one must add here that it is one for the strong and the brave — especially in Africa! All around the world the menfolk dominate political spaces because they bear certain things women can’t bear and withstand a lot of pressure that comes with being in public life. Some women have distinguished
themselves nonetheless on global scenes and we owe them appreciation for their ability to be in command in spite of the men. It takes more than mammary glands or gender element for a woman to be in a powerful position surrounded by men and women, some of them her opponents, who wish her nothing but failure. Politics, for the avoidance of doubt, is never a fair game for the faint-hearted!
In Nigeria like elsewhere around the world women are not doing badly in their chosen politico-economic endeavours. Back home you have super Ministers like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Diezani Alison-Madueke holding out with sound professional backgrounds. And in the Securities and Exchange Commission you have another super-woman with sound connections Arunma Oteh in command. Across the states we have some female Deputy Governors and prominent members of the legislatures. Lest I forgot we have a powerful First Lady who ‘rules’ Nigeria with her husband! In the National Assembly you have some good and bad women doing ‘deals’ in equal terms with their male counterparts and taking home their own part of the ‘national cake’ guaranteed by oil.
In Africa there are two female Presidents: Liberia’s Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Malawi’s Joyce Banda. While Johnson-Sirleaf has been accused by the local opposition of nepotism (having employed her two sons in controversial top positions) Banda is riding high in Lilongwe dismantling the late Mutharika’s dictatorial legacy and taking full charge. These two women are doing well relatively, drawing international sympathy and local solidarity in their respective countries. We wish them more “transformation” agendas in their presidential briefs!
President Barack Obama recently paid a state visit to some Asian countries including the changing Burma, Cambodia and Thailand. In Bangkok Obama was hosted by the Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Ms Shinawatra happens to be the sister of the controversial billionaire-politician living in self-imposed exile in Dubai, Thaksin. The Shinawatra political dynasty has dominated Thai politics for decades drawing its strenght from a combination of factors: systematic corruption, high-wire connection and public hoodwinking and blackmail. But the truth remains evident in Bangkok and elsewhere in Thailand that the Shinawatra’s family pedigree is rooted in grassroots politics and they delivered in the imagination of the majority poor Thais.
In France there is this raging cold war involving the current First Lady Valérie Trierweiler and the mother of President Francois Hollande’s children Segolene Royal who was defeated by the former President Nicholas Sarkozy in the 2007 presidential election in France. While jealousy could be blamed for the animosity and bitter rivalry between the two ‘femmes de Hollande’ the President tends to ‘favour’ the First Lady for some obvious reasons which could include new-found love experiment that worked! As a professional journalist Ms Treiweller is controversial and courts same withingly. She is an audacious woman with sharp intelligence!
In Brazil President Dilma Rousseff is trying to bring back the fond memories of the immediate past President Lula da Silva whose economic transformation placed Brazil in a good stead in the comity of nations. Brazil is hosting both the 2014 FIFA world cup and the 2016 Olympic games. Efforts are being made to make the global events a huge success given Brazil’s international clout in soccer. Her ‘godfather’ Lula (whose rag-to-riches life-story is legendary) is providing quality advice and support as the woman seeks to maintain a democratic hold of a potentially great Latin American nation.
In Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel is working hard to save Euro and Europe from debilitating financial crisis. From Athens to Madrid, Lisbonne to Paris she is always there demonstrating leadership and proving herself worthy indeed of being referred to by Forbes magazine as the world’s most influential woman. Right after her on that list of the powerful women is the out-going US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. We wish Mrs Clinton well in her future endeavours and hope to see her on the Democratic podium in 2016.
In Argentina the President is one glamorous woman called Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, a cerebral lawyer who succeeded her husband in 2007. The woman is feeling the political heat right now as opposition grows at home over her poor economic management records and cases of corruption. But she is weathering the storm refusing to be intimidated or dictated to by political forces beyond her executive control. The “New Evita” of Argentinian politics is equally receiving sound presidential advice from her husband and ex-President Nestor Kirchner. Ex-President Juan Peron’s third wife Isabel was the first female President of Argentina from 1974-76 after her husband’s death. Eva Peron (Evita) was his second wife.
The 51-year old (still!) unmarried and childless Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard is becoming more and more controversial with her failure to embrace domestic life; this has brought some criticisms from the opposition led by the firebrand Tony Abbott. Ms Julia still lives with her glorified boyfriend! (Or should one speculate ‘mischievously’ that a gigolo is at work here?) On a state visit to India last month she stumbled and fell after a visit to the Gandhi Memorial in New Delhi. The lanky PM seems to be happy with her childless situation rationalising it positively and saying nebulously that she chose to concentrate on her job rather than mixing up things with bearing children and managing both — a feminine task she appeared to abhor!
In Manila Philippines former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the US-educated Thatcher-like woman who succeeded the corrupt disgraced former film actor turned president Joseph Estrada in the year 2001 is still standing trial for graft. Philippines as a country has an interesting people-revolution history especially the celebrated one that toppled the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his shoe-mad wife, Imelda. The current President Benigno Aquino has been accused wrongly or rightly of victimising Gloria in a campaign of vendetta and witch-hunting. He remains till this day her chief political opponent.
Whilst still in a military hospital receiving treating for an ailment (“rare spinal disease”) she was brought to the court in a wheelchair to answer to charges of corruption! It was reminiscent of the image of the Egyptian ex-President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo — brought inside the military tribunal almost in chains and bed-ridden! Power and its high-profile victims, isn’t it?! Mrs Arroyo was principally accused of diverting $8.8m during her presidency! (Peanut, you might say compared to what the late Gen. Abacha or even Gen. Ibrahim Babangida each stole out of Aso Rock!)
Mrs Arroyo was first arrested late last year on charges of allegedly rigging the 2007 senatorial elections as she tried to leave her country for medical trip to the States. (Reminds you of Nigeria, doesn’t it?) And the charges against her has since multiplied: plundering of state resources in millions of US dollars of state lottery funds from 2008 to 2010 and approval of an allegedly anomalous contract to set up a national government broadband system. President Aquino has long accused Mrs Arroyo of massive corruption and other abuses of power and had declared his intention of seeing her jailed!
In Kiev Ukraine, there is one firebrand of a deposed imprisoned Prime Minister in the person of Yulia Tymoshenko. She it was, a heroine of the Orange Revolution, who did political battles with the ex-President Leonid Kuchma and the oligarchs who were holding sway. The glamorous, fiery orator who was one of the prominent leaders of the Ukrainian revolt against a corrupt election in 2004 was convicted of criminally exceeding her powers when she agreed a gas deal with Russia, seen to have disadvantaged Ukraine.
But Mrs Tymoshenko is fighting back declaring that the charges of abuse of power against her were tissues of lies inspired by the man she helped oust in 2004 Viktor Yanukovych — who however returned to defeat her in the 2010 presidential election. Her efforts to remain Prime Minister were frustrated and she was consequently forced to leak her political wounds. She remains defiant even in ‘detention’ and her supporters are making themselves heard loud and clear on the streets.
Madam Tymoshenko also faces tax evasion charges dating back to her time as head of a private energy company in the 1990s. Her lawyers had argued that her opponents in power wanted her to remain in jail for the rest of her life! Her daughter Eugenia is doing everything possible to help her mother regain her freedom and dignity! Though she is currently indisposed, held in her hospital bed by the authorities, she had recently undertaken a hunger strike in protest of her ordeal.
Beaten by her bitter rival Yanukovych in the second round of the 2010 presidential poll and therefore forced to go into opposition she had radically promised to make political life for the President as difficult as possible declaring thus: “We will protect Ukraine from this new calamity that has befallen her”. Yulia, even in solitary confinement, still commands certain popularity among Ukrainians frustrated by years of economic stagnation and corruption.
Trained as an engineer and economist Tymoshenko is also a business tycoon reputed to be one of the richest people in Ukraine. She specialised in the energy and gas sector. And when she served in Yushchenko’s government of 1999-2001 she oversaw some energy reforms that bore fruits. Held in prison for a month on corruption charges, she had vowed to unseat the then President launching a campaign that reached its climax in the Orange Revolution.
Between Gloria and Yulia corruption seems to have broken the gender barrier. In Nigeria corruption knows no gender difference as women are also involved in the fleecing of the common-wealth. The powerful Minister of Petroleum Resources Diezani Alison-Madueke and the Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Ms Arunma Oteh are common examples of women who love money and can do anything, including involvement in unholy liaison with Mr President, to satisfy their cupid egos. When it comes to money matters then some women in Nigeria become ‘men’ — desperate to acquire more and ready to flaunt their ‘special’ biological orifice, in order to ‘belong’.