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Foreign Affairs Politics and Policy

In South Korea And Brazil, ‘Heroic’ Former Presidents Are Now In Prison. What It Means for Nigeria

On Sunday, Brazil’s former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva spent his first night in jail after being found guilty of corruption charges. Two days earlier, South Korea’s ousted president, Park Geun-hye, got sentenced to 24 years on a conviction for 18 charges including bribery, coercion and abuse of power.

Ms Park was the first woman president of the Asian nation. She was regarded at the time of her election as a national hero and a symbol of the country’s impressive democratic maturation. Mr Lula, who was president from 2003 to 2011, was one of the most influential people in the world in his day, playing key roles in local and international matters such as the Iran nuclear program and curbing global warming. So substantial was Lula’s pedigree in Brazilian politics that there is such a thing as “Lulism”, a political ideology still active in Brazil.

But after his appointment as chief of staff to the immediate past Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, was blocked in 2016 due to investigations into money laundering, it became a countdown to the day he will answer for his offenses. Despite protests by his supporters to overturn the verdict, the 72-year old former president, once described as the most successful politician of his time, has begun a 12 year term behind bars.

Meanwhile, in Nigeria, Ibrahim Mantu, former deputy president of the Senate, recently admitted on television to rigging elections for his party while he was active in politics. Nothing has been heard in terms of an approach towards him by any law enforcement agency. Mr Mantu attributed his willingness to confess his crime to moral conversion and a belief in the need for politics to be done right. It is plausible to say he walks free because he is now a saint in the eyes of the people. In the same manner are other Nigerian top politicians mostly let be after their political adventures, because they become elder statesmen and heroes to their people.

But on the day of her sentencing last Friday, South Korea’s Park had people crying for her on the streets, those who still hold her in high regard. There had been weeks-long protests for her impeachment last year so there were no protests against her sentencing. But it did not stop some agonizing how it went terribly wrong for the one they held up high as another proof of advancement and modernity over their Northern neighbors.

That seems a stronger argument for a functioning democracy, the verification that no individuals are above the law regardless of their previous status in the government. No former president of Nigeria or governor has been to a Nigerian prison on conviction of corruption since 1999; those who have been to foreign prisons return to rapturous reception, reclaiming their pride of place behind the scenes in the corridors of power.

The mass of Nigerians want to see the day former top public service holders become convicted for corruption where found guilty. As Vice President Osinbajo insists that the present government will continue talking about corruption since “the corruption of the previous five years is what destroyed the Nigerian economy”, what progress has being made on the cases of the dramatis personae of those years? The building of democracy can only stagger on until the arm of the law can equitably reach the rich and the poor.

And the born again.

Some people have started asking for this:

It will be interesting to see how far it goes, even as more far-reaching measures will be required.

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