Signalling is basically an indirect means of transferring information between two or more parties via available communication channels. The ‘agent’ transfers the message, while the ‘principal’ receives, analyzes and acts on it. A most common example in economics involves an individual seeking employment. The individual signals to the employer by constructing a resume replete with skills, expertise, competence and experience that will command attention and intrigue, influencing the employer to schedule an interview subsequently. Every day, individuals engage in varied forms of spoken and unspoken signals to pass across messages to others. Husbands signal to wives and vice-versa, subordinates to bosses, and leaders to followers.
On the 12th of March, 2013, there were reports that the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, requested approval from the Council of State to grant presidential pardon to a list of individuals, including former Governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. Now, history has it that Mr. Alamieyeseigha was sworn-in as Governor on May 29, 1999, re-elected in 2003 for a second term, and impeached for corruption related charges on December 9, 2005. According to the BBC, he was initially apprehended in September 2005 as he travelled through London, and subsequently charged to a UK court for money laundering. London Metropolitan police actually found £1m in cash at his London home. He was granted bail in the UK having surrendered his passport. Nonetheless, Governor Alameiyeseigha surfaced quite mysteriously in Bayelsa in December 2005. He unfortunately could not recall details of his miraculous transit from London to Nigeria. Eventually, in 2007, he pleaded guilty to charges of money laundering and false declaration of assets at a Nigerian High Court, and was sentenced to 12 years in prison; 2 years each for the 6 charges, running concurrently, backdated to his first arrest 2 years earlier. Because of the backdating he ended up spending less than a day in prison.
Such is the profile of one of the major purported recipients of the March 2013 presidential pardon. This development really shouldn’t surprise anyone as the president once referred to Alameiyeseigha as his political benefactor. Again, this is rational and understandable because Mr Jonathan served as Deputy Governor to Alameiyeseigha from 1999 to 2005, emerging as Governor after the latter’s impeachment. A benefactor is one who helps develop and bring up another, and as such, there is permissible reason to Jonathan’s description of the ex-governor. No surprise there.
The real issue however is the message emanating from the Jonathan-led government. The agent has signalled the principal. The leader has acted, leaving the followers to hear, see and receive. The masquerade has danced, the village ponders. The gong has been beaten, the subjects mull over the sound. What exactly is this government saying to the people?
A number of possibilities exist – one, it could be a simple gospel type message starting with “He who is without sin should cast the first stone”, and ending with the verdict “Alams, go and sin no more”. Two, maybe it’s the government’s way of demonstrating its Transformation Agenda… changing destinies, transforming ex-convicts. After all, amnesty is granted to militants as part of transformation. Old things have passed away and (by transformation) all things are new. Third, perhaps it’s an obvious signal that a Nigerian can assume an Executive role, commit economic and financial crimes, mysteriously jump bail, spend a day in prison, get released, and assume political relevance again – all it takes is time. Recall that Mr Bode George, who was indicted, convicted and sentenced to prison for fraud, got released in February 2011, to meet much pomp and celebration.
What impressions are being created in the minds of the young generation? That fraud, theft, and economic crimes are frequently embraced by this regime? Or in simple terms, that you can do whatever you want, serve your time ‘creatively’, and emerge eventually as a celebrated personality?
How do teachers in Primary and Secondary Schools teach their students not to steal? How do professors communicate the rudiments of ethical behaviour to their college students? How do you convince the average trader on the streets not to engage in undue opportunistic behaviour in a bid to achieve abnormal profit? How will religious folk, juxtapose the message of ‘sowing and reaping’ with vivid stories of transformed ‘ex-convicts’ around? What are the impacts of such signals on national values, if they still exist?
It would help if there were a commensurate number of corruption cases fully investigated, charged and convicted by the same regime. We however struggle to cite any cogent cases. Little wonder the Opposition considers Jonathan’s government of lacking the capacity to tackle corruption. When people see dark clouds in the sky, it is only reasonable to assume that rain is about to fall. When the orchestra sees the conductor wave his baton, it is time to play. When the entertainer hears the rhythm and kick, it is time to dance. They are only reading the signals.