Our criminal jurisprudence needs to be reviewed to respond to the challenges of corruption, plea bargains, endless injunctions and even the proper gravity of punishment upon conviction, because I can’t honestly understand a concept of justice where someone who has been found to have stolen 33 billion naira is fined 750,000 naira and another fellow who steals a few iron rods from a construction site gets 15 years in prison without the option of a fine!
Nigeria and its corruption show is today a perfect scenario of the camera-roll-action sequence of a movie scene, with its cast and crew playing part of a poorly scripted and low budget suspense thriller. The movie, with its plots and sub-plots of crass razzmatazz and corruption orgy, pervade our national psyche with the most crude scenes of a few kleptomaniacs practically taking the country’s vault to their living room and having a filled day on it while watching “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”, an ending to the tale of which the kleptomaniacs are scheming to use their huge loot to alter, for their continuous mukeke.
The reaction of Nigerians to these revelations is usually one fraught with frenzy and at fever pitch, reminiscent of the cries of ancient Romans in the amphitheatre when gladiators were at each other’s throat spilling blood and displaying bravado to the rhythm of the crowd’s ecstasy. Those pleasures masked the underlying filthy underbelly of the Roman Empire, its politics, corruption, power play, and the endless scandals of its ruling elite. This scenario seems to play out in a different fashion around here. While the present corruption series might not be for entertainment or feeding a national appetite for the ridiculous, it’s potential to mask the real issues under the radar becomes real. If we want to produce a blockbuster of a nation, then we must not lose sight of the real plot that is our nation and guard the script jealously.
Collectively we must stay engaged on this issue, wading through the tons of scenes masking the real problem because herein lies an opportunity to banish impunity and institute a regime of accountability for public office holders but this we must get right; the tendency is to focus on issues of accountability after such persons have left office; which movie producer shoots a movie and only critiques the scenes after it is in the theatres? That is where we have been getting it wrong, because while in service, relationships have been built, patronage has been bought, loopholes have been understood better and such people are emboldened to dip their hands in the till because they tend to master the art of escaping justice in Nigeria, and as operators of the system know very well they can beat it. Why do we want to give them the opportunity to steal in the first place and cry foul later; we can do better as directors of our own destiny?
With the attendant drop in the resource base of the country and the moves by the new government to explore other funding avenues, including loans, stamp duties, increase in taxes here and there, increase in electricity tariff amongst others, these are avenues and funds that citizens should begin to demand accountability on. We cannot accept that our monies be spent by discretionary decision making processes, and the government must lay before us an accountability process that involves us as citizens before we part with our hard earned monies that government did not in any way help us earn in the first place. In the past when government explores such funding sources, these monies are totally cut off from the appropriation process, spent outside the purview of any accountability process and the monies usually end up lining the pockets of government officials and their cronies, and used to fund government’s extra-curricular activities. The gulf oil windfall, pension funds, the arms deal bazaar are just a few to mention.
The judiciary must not become a tool for the government of the day to hound its perceived enemies and stifle the opposition and dissenting voices, neither should it undermine the prosecution of corrupt cases for those who have sabotaged our development by appropriating to themselves our commonwealth.
Our criminal jurisprudence needs to be reviewed to respond to the challenges of corruption, plea bargains, endless injunctions and even the proper gravity of punishment upon conviction, because I can’t honestly understand a concept of justice where someone who has been found to have stolen 33 billion naira is fined 750,000 naira and another fellow who steals a few iron rods from a construction site gets 15 years in prison without the option of a fine! This is only possible in a movie scene, and the lawyers need to help me understand here. These are issues that have to be dealt with if we must make any inroad in the fight against impunity. Here is an important role for the judiciary. Nigerians are of the opinion that it is one of the weakest links in the fight against corruption and are waiting to be proved wrong. The judiciary must not become a tool for the government of the day to hound its perceived enemies and stifle the opposition and dissenting voices, neither should it undermine the prosecution of corrupt cases for those who have sabotaged our development by appropriating to themselves our commonwealth.
Man by nature is greedy and will always subvert the system to his selfish ends, except otherwise there are consequences and systems in place to check excesses. That’s the difference in the progress we are making as a developing country – the notion of crime and punishment. Until people recognise that there are consequences for their actions or inactions, then we will continue in this endless razzmatazz. We have to develop our institutions to the point where they are insulated from the machinations of our greed and they check our excesses, wherever we are from in this country, and whether Christian, Muslim or Sango devotees.
These are issues that have been over-flogged in this country, if you are one of those who have read this piece up to this point because I am sure a lot of those who stumble on this would have been put off by the title and find something else to do, I am sure you are telling yourself, we have heard all these before. Don’t be fooled and I am not going to pretend about it, I am also tired of the issue but I find myself writing because I believe I should add my voice to the call in ending this razzmatazz and that’s the most important part for me as a citizen of this corruption weary country.
Kenneth Okoineme writes from Abuja.