By Theophilus Ilevbare
“Corruption has become a state of the Federation, drawing its weekly and monthly allowances from the Federation Account unabashedly” – Lagos lawyer and activist, Fred Agbaje
Lately, the Nigerian media has been awash with opinion, analysis and editorials on the spiralling rate of corruption especially under the President Goodluck Jonathan led administration. The war against graft is now an issue of national interest in public discourse in the light of Nigeria’s consistent top rating in global corruption index and its eroded image in the comity of nations. More damning is the lethargic approach the President Jonathan administration has adopted in fighting corruption. As most Nigerians would readily agree that if the menace of corruption is reduced by 50% then more than half of Nigeria’s problems becomes effectively solved.
The long term iron-clad impunity of Nigerians political elite has escalated in recent time under the nose of President Jonathan’s Administration resulting in the disappearance of a whopping N5trillion in just two years as revealed by Punch investigation. The gargantuan sleaze over the years has left an estimated 11, 886 federal government projects abandoned across the country according to Professor Kole Omotoso. No surprise, the Gallup Poll and KPMG Report ranked Nigeria the second most corrupt country in the world and most corrupt in Africa respectively. Another study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, says Nigeria is the worst place for a baby born in 2013 but just days earlier Mr Jonathan braved up in a media chart on National TV… “I can assure Nigerians and the global community that this government is fighting corruption frontally, we have dealt with political corruption, the corruption in fertiliser procurement and corruption in the oil industry. There has never been a time corruption in the oil industry has been attacked in all fronts. The effort this government has put in fighting corruption, I don’t think any other person has done that”. Going forward, he gave an insight to how he intends to fight Corruption using the staggered elections in Edo and Ondo as a template.
These and many more scams unraveled on a daily basis across all sectors of the economy, indicate that special attention at the ongoing constitution review process need be given not only to the removal of immunity clause and severe (if not capital) punishment for corrupt leaders, but appropriate laws to strengthen the relevant anti-corruption agencies so as to fast-track prosecution of cases.
The fuss by the anti-graft agencies about their efforts in the anti-corruption war have so far failed to translate prosecution of indicted individuals to conviction for any of the ex-Governors accused of enriching themselves through corrupt means save for James Ibori, former Delta State Governor, who was only sentenced with the help of a British court and Olabode George. A situation where Dr. Peter Odili secured a court injunction to shield himself from prosecution makes one wonder if such corrupt persons still enjoy some form of immunity even after leaving office. They employ the services of lawyers skilled in delaying court processes with unnecessary adjournments. Such injunctions have turned the Nigerian judiciary to a laughing stock. A slap on the wrist treatment of high profile offenders have inspire would-be-looters and emboldened those neck deep in the act.
Nigerians clamour for scrapping or merger of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) with the Independent Corrupt Practice and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) as a way of strengthening the commission in the anti-graft war, should have a rethink as such move will not only hamper the fight but exacerbate the present endemic corruption. I am not an advocate of multi-agency approach in tackling the gargantuan graft in various sectors but if this argument is to be won on such numbers, then Nigeria is behind when compared with other countries around the world. For instance, China has 3, 563 agencies fighting its corruption and related offences, the Philippines with 94 million people has 18 anti-graft agencies, Argentina with 40 million population has three anti-graft bodies and Australia has four anti-graft agencies. In Africa, Ghana with just 24 million people has three, South Africa with 49 million has four and several countries around the world with more than two agencies waging war against corruption.
To the government of the day, of paramount importance should be the harmonization of the workings of the anti-graft agencies so as to avoid duplicity of functions and to eliminate waste of public funds considering it now cost as much as N9.32billion, from its 2013 budget, to run the EFCC in a year without any guaranty of convicting a single accused person.
The Western countries today are more advanced and developed not because of the absence of corrupt persons but by means of effective anti-graft agencies which are empowered with the right constitutional framework, making them strong enough to ensure whoever, be it a common criminal or looter of public funds, is prosecuted and convicted, thereby serving as a deterrent to others.
The bogey of Boko Haram, unemployment, rising crime rate, poverty are all concomitant effect of sleaze. The attack of the Police SARS headquarters in Abuja by a new Islamic sect is a testament that no part of the country is safe and no one, leaders, looters or political office holder will be spared if the country is left to continue in its steep downward trajectory.
To give a boost to the anti-graft crusade, grey areas in the law establishing them need to be revisited. A look at the Plea bargain for instance, former Governors of Edo and Bayelsa states Lucky Igbinedion and Dieprieye Alamieyeseigha were accused of gargantuan corruption, after plea-bargains with the EFCC, the former saw 191 charges against him reduced to just one upon conviction and thereafter asked to pay a paltry N3.5m while the latter was sentenced to only two years imprisonment. Offences that would have at least guaranteed life behind bars after forfeiture of all assets and ill-gotten wealth to the state. Such is tantamount to a slap on the wrist which will only inspire other looters. Unnecessary adjournment of cases and congestion of the regular courts have lead to calls for special courts to try corruption offenders.
To fight corruption, President Jonathan must first give priority to political corruption by powerful politicians and their immediate cronies. He must throw his weight behind the leadership of the anti-corruption agencies in their quest to go after corrupt persons and prove to Nigerians beyond doubt by his actions that he is not in tacit support of corrupt practices oozing from close quarters around him. He must ensure that laws that would engender speedy prosecution and conviction of corrupt persons are reviewed by the National Assembly. President Jonathan has got enough time in his administration to combat Nigeria’s monumental corruption and to see that it cease to exist in aphorism as the 37th state of the federation.