…part of our memo to the Anti-Corruption Summit is this: let governments empower those affected by corruption, let governments deploy digital reporting systems in complaints and reporting mechanisms, and let us shut down all offshore centres and safe havens around the world.
A philosophy is a thought which drives a process. This administration came into being on the philosophy of change and change is what defies the power of time. It has a tone and tenor which mathematics cannot equate. It is something that is supposed to be well-wrought and well-thought through. On our part as an organisation seeking to assist government with the fight for transparency, accountability and good governance, we have keyed into the ‘change’ philosophy.
Yet before we keyed into Mr. Buhari’s philosophy, we studied the unending corruption cases in Nigeria. One of the things we found out is that corruption is festering. What we mean by that is that nearly all former and serving governors, senators, big bankers, and private businesses seem to have gone to a school where they took degrees in the fine-art of tweaking the law and avoiding doing time. Till date, no high-profile politician, apart from Bode George and a few others, has done time for stealing nearly six trillion naira.
Most politicians know that the rule of law supports democracy and its mode practiced here in Nigeria. They are aware that the three arms of government are supposed to be independent but must work together for us all. But politicians have exploited this paradox to feather their nests and line their pockets. A report titled Justice or Impunity by Prof Bolaji Owasanoye says that after cases involving heists in billions were instituted, many of them are in limbo nearly a decade after. Consider the cases pertaining to Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, Ayo Fayose, Joshua Dariye, Aminu Turaki, Orji Uzor Kalu, Jolly Nyame, Boni Haruna, Attahiru Bafarawa, Adamu Abdullahi, Rasheed Ladoja, Danjuma Goje, and Alao Akala, etcetera.
So the questions are: Why? Why? And, why? Nobody can claim to have all the answers. We don’t. But one thing we know is that the world over, people are coming together to campaign for a paradigm shift based on one strong conviction: that there seems to be a plethora of laws guiding the prosecution of corruption but there is hardly any justice dispensed. The laws on ground support the rich who steal billions and get a slap on the wrist after a lot of yak, money and time is spent during prosecution. It is not so with the case of the poor who probably steals because he has to eat. Just a confession that he stole to eat gets him more than 15 years time in prison, without a corresponding indictment of the government that either did not give him a job or provide an enabling environment for him to get one.
The paradigm shift we sought at the inception of this administration was non-conviction assets and stolen money recovery. This is contrast to the traditional systems enunciated above. In fighting corruption the old-fashioned way, we unwittingly give it a chance for a fight back with the monies stolen. A Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative (StAR), report published by the World Bank and the United Nations (2007) detail how stolen funds are ploughed back into the system through an intricate process which transcends geography – first the monies are stolen and invested in real estate or in offshore tax havens like Jersey, Panama, Bahrain, Singapore, Germany and Japan. Thereafter, the monies find their way back into the shadows of business, likely to be used for legitimate dealings which provide employment for our people. Until the Panama Papers leak, we all did not realise that very well placed people in Nigeria, and indeed the world over, operate two sets of tax laws which offer undue advantage and clout to the rich. But if a politician has stolen monies stashed abroad, convicting and jailing him won’t bring the monies back.
As Mr. President leads a team to the UK on an anti-corruption Summit with David Cameron, what should be uppermost in his heart is not despair – he was reported to have said in a Vanguard newspaper report of May 6, 2016 that the fight against corruption was getting tedious. Mr. President as well must not also be looking to the UK for help with a stolen asset recovery plan.
We recommended a Truth Commission on Corruption at the dawn of this administration. The idea of the Truth Commission on corruption is based on antecedents in South Africa, Australia, Nigeria, Germany, Ecuador, Haiti, Liberia, Canada and 15 other countries. We suggested that we could imitate the World Bank Voluntary Disclosure Programme (VDP), which has been in operation since 2006. Simply, we give former political office holders accused or alleged to have stolen public monies a chance to come own up and return monies which they have stolen. Our argument has nothing to do with an ‘amnesty’ or a ‘slap on the wrist’ or a plea bargain. A corrupt person who refuses to disclose and return funds forecloses any chance of a plea bargain because you likely get a plea bargain only after you get a conviction. In the VDP and our Truth Commission on Corruption proposal, we want the government to build a framework for non-conviction assets recovery juxtaposed with the old-fashioned methods. And as a matter of fact, we must stress that we should not unnecessarily get tangled with issues of amnesty or pardon for corrupt people. We just want justice but what we presently have is justice being delayed and denied because the justice delivery systems in Nigeria and many parts of the world are greatly compromised. A lawyer present at the Stakeholders Meeting on the Lingering Corruption Trials of former and present public office holders in Enugu from May 5-6, and organised by the DfID, said that the system of justice administration we inherited from the British is defective and encourages corruption. And this is even with the passage of the Administration of Criminal Justice bill into law in 2015. We believe him to the extent that failures being recorded in fighting corruption come because we are so conditioned to fighting corruption the old-fashioned way.
We therefore introduced the non-conviction plan on the VDP aegis. Unfortunately, it was misconstrued as an amnesty programme which would eventually promote more impunity. We are shocked at that insinuation and therefore took our call to Mr. President via other channels. Even though Mr. President listened, yet he seemed to have misunderstood us as well because he inadvertently set up a Presidential Advisory Committee on Corruption (PACC), where individuals would go to confess their sins, return their loot and be asked to go sin no more. That was not our plan. Our thinking is that he could have given us a chance to resolve the issues we raised on critical recommendations on the Truth Commission on Corruption with his administration. However till date, nobody has come before the PACC to ‘confess’, and even though we are very discouraged by this, we take consolation in the hope that the PACC will get real serious with formulating a platform upon which contemporary fight against corruption will commence.
We will never ask for an amnesty for looters of public monies, neither will we ask for a slap on their wrists. We want justice, not laws. As Mr. President leads a team to the UK on an anti-corruption Summit with David Cameron, what should be uppermost in his heart is not despair – he was reported to have said in a Vanguard newspaper report of May 6, 2016 that the fight against corruption was getting tedious. Mr. President as well must not also be looking to the UK for help with a stolen asset recovery plan. Let Mr. Buhari start by getting a network of persons across the local and international divide – the IMF, the World Bank, and Transparency International – to put together a truth commission on corruption in Nigeria. We believe that this will most likely lead to the formulation of a framework for stolen asset recovery where a voluntary disclosure programme would form part of the technique for asset recovery. Rather than making a case with Prime Minister Cameron or the EU for help with the return of the Abacha Loot and all other loots, Mr. Buhari will do well to realise that loot already returned were re-looted locally because there was no asset recovery and utilisation framework on ground. If there is a stolen assets recovery framework on ground, returned loots will not be re-looted. Mr. Buhari would do well to include CSOs, and let them be an integral part in the truth commission on corruption.
Therefore, part of our memo to the Anti-Corruption Summit is this: let governments empower those affected by corruption, let governments deploy digital reporting systems in complaints and reporting mechanisms, and let us shut down all offshore centres and safe havens around the world.
Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku is Communications Manager with the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ. @DsighRobert