Corrupt leaders and the law: Lessons from Brazil

Former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva waves during the Workers’ Party (PT) Congress in Sao Paulo, Brazil on May 5, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / NELSON ALMEIDA


There are so many reasons Nigerians should pay attention to the way Brazilians are dealing with impurities in their body politics. There is quite a lot to learn from the South American country about the power of citizens, the potency of institutions and the need to constantly expand the boundaries of excellence or good governance.

The news the other day that Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, once the most popular president and the most respected figure in Brazil’s recent history, has been sentenced to nine years and six months in prison after being found guilty of corruption and money-laundering charges is worth the attention of every citizen who understands how heavy the yoke of corruption is on Nigeria.

Although Lula, as he is universally known, will remain free pending an appeal – and his supporters denounced the sentence as political persecution – the ruling marks a great fall for a leader Barack Obama once called “the most popular politician on earth.”

Lula won two mandates as Brazil’s first president from the leftist Workers’ party and helped his hand-picked successor, Dilma Roussef, win two subsequent elections before she was impeached last year for breaking budget rules amid a sprawling corruption scandal at state –run oil company, Petrobas.

This is significant: while passing sentence on the former president, Judge Sergio Moro said Lula took part in the corruption scheme, in which billions of dollars were paid to middlemen, executives and politicians for fat contracts.

Born into poverty in Brazil’s arid north-east, Lula ran the powerful metal workers’ union before helping found the Workers’ Party with fellow leftists, unionists and intellectuals in 1980. He fought and lost three elections before winning the first of two mandates in 2002. Thanks to transformative social policies, and a booming economy, tens of millions of Brazilians were lifted out of poverty during his rule. And this has become a political case study around the world where service delivery has become a huge challenge to political leaders.

It is thus pertinent to note the fact that no other Brazilian politician in recent decades has been able to capture popular imagination with such verve and panoply. Although his reputation has been tarnished in recent years, he currently leads polling for the 2018 election.

And so if a higher court upholds Lula’s conviction, he will be ineligible to stand. Thus his residual profile will enable him, of course, to dramatise this process to say this is a process to stop him being a candidate. The condemnation will enter the political game as some observers have said in Brazil, a prominent member of G-20 and BRICS, a G-5 of emerging markets in global economy. The Workers’ party will exploit this politically and say Lula is a victim of dirty politics.

Meanwhile, the sentence was related to accusations that Lula benefited from about £590,000 in bribes from a construction company called OAS, which the prosecution alleged was paid in the shape of a seaside duplex apartment, renovated at Lula’s request.

In his ruling, the judge said that Lula had bought a simpler apartment in the same building worth about £53,000, and the company had upgraded him.Prosecutors said the payment was part of around £21million that OAS paid in bribes to Lula’s Workers’ party in return for lucrative contracts in two oil refineries that Petrobras was building, Moro wrote in his sentence. And this is the clincher and the lesson for leaders that care less about political corruption they often condone:

“The responsibility of a president of the republic is enormous, and, consequently, so is his guilt when he practises crimes,” the judge wrote.The lesson here is quite clear: in a country, it is only the law that rules, not the man called a leader, however, popular or revered. The message for Nigerians is that a culture that encourages impunity nurtured by legalised immunity as exemplified in any clause in any regulation or law of a country cannot trigger economic or even political development. Corruption should not be condoned, neither by the leaders nor the led, and the system must be strengthened to ensure pure compliance with the rules and ethics of governance.

In Brazil, rising incomes catapulted more than 29 million Brazilians into the middle class during the eight-year presidency of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Because of him and his leadership style, the people prospered and many who were stuck at the bottom of the ladder remain, till today, beneficiaries of government handouts and other benefits such as enrolment in a steadily improving education system. Brazilians are staying in school longer, which secures them higher wages, drives consumption, which in turn fuels a booming domestic economy.

Lula is generally seen as a successful, even great leader. Yet, this feat could not be used as a defence mechanism for the former leader when corruption charges were read out against him in a law court. This is how a country should be run for the common good. This can only happen where the law, not a man, rules.This can only happen in a society where the frontiers of excellence and good governance are being pushed further by the day. Lula may eventually be exonerated and the theory of political conspiracy against him may turn out to be true. But the point has been made that purity in leadership is paramount and that appearance of impropriety will be seized upon as much as actual impropriety even at the highest level of leadership.

So, those in power in Nigeria who seem to care little about what they do with public funds despite the fierce campaign against corruption should note that the arms of the law is very long and will always reach them even long after leaving office.

In this article:
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva


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