24 Jul 2017

Jail, not amnesty, for treasury looters, ssys Speaker, House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara

The bill currently being considered at the House of Representatives, seeking amnesty for treasury looters, is another cold, hard evidence of the absence of coordination among the different arms of government in the ongoing anti-corruption crusade. While only a section of the executive arm appears to be enthusiastic about the anti-graft war, both the judicial and the legislative arms have been, at best, nonchalant about containing the rampaging corruption that is threatening the very existence of Nigeria.
This, on the face value, may appear odd, but there is hardly any other way of explaining a situation where the executive, all of a sudden, does not seem to know how to prosecute cases and all corruption cases before the courts are being thrown out on the basis of “lacking diligent prosecution”, regardless of the weight of evidence presented. This is why there has been no conviction so far of high profile persons even in cases where the suspects appeared to have been caught red-handed and heavy sums of money recovered. Even when ill-gotten wealth is traced to certain individuals and it is obvious that, given such people’s incomes, it is not possible for them to have legitimately acquired such wealth, the courts find it convenient to dismiss such cases on the grounds of one technicality or the other.

At the same time, the legislature, which has so far been reluctant to pass certain anti-corruption bills before it, has suddenly had a brainwave and believes the best way to further the cause of the war against graft is to grant amnesty to the criminals. According to reports, the Economic Amnesty Bill sponsored by Linus Okorie of the Peoples Democratic Party seeks to grant total amnesty to those caught with their fingers in the till, once they are able to return 70 per cent of their loot. This is morally reprehensible, if not outright preposterous. It confirms a widely-held perception that our lawmakers are bent on derailing the war on graft.

In decent parts of the world, people do not only have to return proceeds of ill-gotten wealth, they also face the grim prospects of lengthy periods in jail. Brazil, a country that is taking the anti-corruption war very seriously, has already demonstrated how to deal with such a situation. In a landmark judgement last week, the country’s former president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was convicted of corruption and money laundering and sentenced to close to 10 years in prison.

The 71-year-old former leader, who was hailed for his innovative and progressive leadership, becomes the latest victim of the raging corruption scandal in that country’s oil industry, code-named Operation Car Wash, which precipitately ended the tenure of the country’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff, less than a year ago. Her successor, incumbent Michel Temer, has already been indicted of bribery by the Supreme Court. The country’s finance minister, Antonio Polocci, had earlier bagged 12 years in connection with funnelling government money to the Workers Party, the same offence for which Sambo Dasuki, a former National Security Adviser, is being held and an allegation for which the trial of Diezani Alison-Madueke, a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, is being sought.

In South Korea, the Constitutional Court, on March 10, upheld the National Assembly’s decision to impeach the country’s president after finding her guilty on corruption charges. Park Geun-hye was removed for not only conspiring with a confidante to extort money from big firms, but for also attempting to conceal her wrongdoings. She was not asked to return the money or half of it and then go scot-free; rather, she faces the prospect of going to jail after returning whatever must have come to her from the deal. That is how to fight corruption.

That such a bill was conceived at all under a government that is waging a campaign against corruption beggars belief; it shows the extent to which corruption is fighting back. Perhaps the only logical explanation for this is that the lawmakers are not comfortable with the rate at which stolen public funds are being recovered or they want to frustrate the process outright. Rather than help the government’s cause, the bill will only encourage people to steal as much as possible, knowing that 30 per cent of whatever they steal is theirs. As a former governor of the old Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa, observed, the law would only legitimise corruption. That is not the kind of bill our lawmakers are paid to pass.

At a recent one-day conference on Financial System Integrity Improvement, the Secretary of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Bolaji Owasanoye, called on the lawmakers to pass certain bills before them that would enhance the fight against corruption. He said, “This is with regard, in particular, to certain key (pieces of) legislation such as Proceeds of Crime, Witness Protection, Whistle-blower, Crime Data…, which have been hanging there.” Although the Senate eventually passed the Whistle-blower Bill into law on Wednesday, what excuses do the lawmakers have for delaying the passage of these other bills?

It is sad that granting of amnesty to criminals has become a way of life in Nigeria, an official government policy. Something that started with militants attacking oil installations in the Niger Delta has now been stretched to cover almost all forms of criminalities. At a point, the clamour was so loud for the granting of amnesty to members of the Boko Haram sect, even though the jihadists had stated their objectives clearly and there was nothing pecuniary about them. The vogue now is for governments to ask criminals to submit their guns and they would not only be granted amnesty but would be rewarded financially. Such gestures have been recorded in Rivers, Imo and Benue, among other states.

Instead of working at cross purposes, all arms of the government and the generality of the Nigerian public need to come together to tackle the hydra called corruption. Corruption is the reason why there are no good health facilities in the country. It is responsible for the decay in education, the absence of good roads and other infrastructure. For Nigeria to develop, the fight against corruption has to be total.

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