The Anti-corruption War and the Enemies Within, By Femi Falana
In view of the commitment of the Federal Government not to compromise the prosecution of the war against corruption, President Buhari should sack all public officers who cannot explain their sources of stupendous wealth. At the same time To address the problems of poverty in the society, the Buhari administration has to invest in the welfare of the Nigerian people and procced to mobilise them to fight against corruption.
Mismanagement of Funds Earmarked for the Provision of Relief Materials
Owing to the criminal diversion of funds donated to the government to provide relief materials to victims of natural disasters in Nigeria, the lives of many vulnerable citizens are now in danger. Just recently, President Buhari was compelled to direct the EFCC to investigate a petition received from an international donor agency which had alleged that the Federal Ministry of Health could not account for the millions of dollars donated to fight HIV/AIDS in Nigeria. It is common knowledge that the EFCC is currently prosecuting two ex-governors for the criminal diversion of ecological funds collected from the Federal Government to fight the menace of erosion in their states. Some other officials are under investigation for stealing the funds contributed by the Federal and State governments, as well as private agencies and individuals to provide relief materials to the victims of flood which occurred in many parts of the country in 2012.
In the same vein, the fund donated by international relief agencies to take care of the internally displaced people in the North-East region has been cornered by a few National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) officials. As we are gathered here, the humanitarian disaster caused by the criminal elements has claimed the lives of thousands of children in the camps of the IDPs. Indeed, the humanitarian crisis in the North-East region is traceable to the criminal diversion of the sum of $15 billion earmarked by the Federal Government for the purchase of military hardware for the armed forces from 2007-2015. Consequently, the rag tag army of the Boko Haram sect defeated the ill equipped Nigerian Army. Although the Buhari administration has motivated the armed forces to turn the tide against the insurgents, the war against terror is not yet over.
Citizens’ Vigilance In the Fight Against Corruption
The fight against corruption has come a long way in Nigeria. To prevent Nigerians from exposing corruption and the crude exploitation of the resources of the nation, the British colonial regime imposed the Official Secrets Ordinance which prescribed 14 years imprisonment for anyone who leaked official information without authorisation. The Criminal Code criminalised seditious publications and statements. The leaders of the Zikist movement were jailed for asking Nigerians to reject imperialist exploitation and embrace socialism. Many other Nigerians were jailed for exposing corruption by the alien regime.
The indigenous regime which took over power from the colonial regime in 1960 retained the repressive laws for the same purpose. In Chile Obi v DPP (1961) All N.L.R., the Supreme Court held that the pamphlet issued by the defendant wherein he had described the government as corrupt was capable of inciting the people. However, in Nwankwo v the State, the Court of Appeal held that the provisions of the criminal code relating to sedition were illegal as and unconstitutional for violating the right to the freedom of expression. It was the view of the Court that public officers who feel offended by any publications should not use the machinery of government to protect themselves but sue for libel and put their reputation in issue.
But the military dictators who ruled the country for close to three decades closed down media houses and jailed journalist or detained anti-corruption crusaders. Apart from ordering the release of those who were illegally detained, the Court kicked against the closure of media houses. In Tarka v Daily Sketch, the plaintiff, a serving minister under the Gowon-led junta, was accused of corruption by a business man. In dismissing the libel suit, the Court urged the media to publish and be dammed. Notwithstanding that the Babangida junta expelled a foreign journalist, closed down media houses, detained journalists and parcel bombed a prominent journalist, Dele Giwa, Nigerians were not deterred from exposing corruption. The Olusegun Obasanjo administration which established the EFCC and ICPC was accused of using both anti-graft agencies to settle scores. Both the Yar’Adua and Jonathan administrations did not pretend to fight corruption. All the same, President Jonathan was pressured by civil society organisations to sack the then aviation minister, Stella Oduah.
Time To Fight the Enemies Within
Since the Buhari administration commenced the war against corruption last year, it has enjoyed the support of the Nigerian people. However, corruption is fighting back on two fronts. From outside the battlefront, the beneficiaries of corruption have accused the government of selectively targeting its political opponents in the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). The allegation has been dismissed by Nigerians as all the suspects arrested by the EFCC have not denied their involvement in the mega looting of the treasury. Apart from the fact that majority of those who have been arrested are military officers and government contractors, a number of the suspects who are members of the PDP have actually refunded part of the loot.
From the home front, it is evidently clear that some highly placed public officers who have been linked with corruption are trying desperately to discredit and sabotage the war. Disturbed by the clamour for the removal and prosecution of such individuals, the government has urged Nigerians to stop making baseless allegations against serving public officers. In spite of the clarification by the government the online media have continued to substantiate the allegations of corruption against the Chief of Army Staff and the Minister of Interior.
Instead of attacking the imaginary enemies of the government, the anti-corruption war calls for an urgent review of strategies. For instance, it was recently reported in the media that three ex-chiefs of army staff had been indicted by the arms procurement panel. But when the report was eventually released, the name of one of the three security chiefs, who is a serving minister, was missing. Not unexpectedly, allegations of cover up were raised in the media. Embarrassed by the development, the government reacted by denying any cover up and explained that the panel had not investigated the arms procurement from 2007-2010 when the minister served as the chief of army staff.
Before the release of the controversial report, a group had alleged that the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai had purchased some properties worth $1.5 million in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. In defending the allegation, the Nigerian Army claimed that the general bought the properties from his legitimate earnings. In confirming that the properties were declared, the Code of Conduct Bureau claimed that the army chief had declared them in the name of his wife! Aside the statement, the CCB should proceed to investigate and confirm that the properties were legitimately acquired from the income of the general. This investigation should be speedily and transparently conducted to assure the Nigerian people that there are no sacred cows in the prosecution of the war against corruption.
Another official whose conduct ought to be investigated by the government is the comptroller-general of prisons, Mr. Jafaru. According to media reports which have not been denied, the prison boss is alleged to have reduced his age by two years. Since two judges were recently dismissed for reducing their ages and ordered to refund the money they had illegally collected the comptroller-general of prisons ought to be removed from office without any further delay. Similarly, having identified the top civil servants in the Presidency who padded the 2016 national budget, the federal government should hand them over to the EFCC for prosecution.
It is particularly disturbing to note that both chambers of the National Assembly dominated by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) are frustrating the anti-corruption war. For instance, contrary to the anti-corruption policy of the federal government and in utter violation of Section 81 of the Constitution, some unscrupulous federal legislators are said to have padded the 2016 national budget. The chairman of the Appropriation committee in the House of Representatives, Honourable Abdulmumin Jibril has just stepped down over allegations that he singlehandedly increased allocated N4 billion to his constituency. In reaction to the allegation, Jibril has accused the House leadership of padding the budget to the tune of N40 billion. These serious allegations should not be swept under the carpet or treated as an internal affair of the House. The claims and counter-claims should be investigated by the EFCC without any delay and all the legislators and civil servants who are indicted should be prosecuted.
The APC-led National Assembly has also engaged in collecting jumbo emoluments for services not rendered to the nation. Whereas Section 63 of the Constitution provides that the Senate and the House of Representatives shall each sit for not less than 181 days in a year, section 68 thereof states that any legislator who fails to attend the proceedings of the house or senate for less than one third of the required number of days shall automatically lose his or her seat. For the first legislative year which ended on 9/6/16, the Seventh session of the National Assembly did not meet the constitutional requirement. Specifically, due to incessant recesses, the House of Representatives sat for only 104 days while the Senate sat for 96 days. This means that the Senate sat for barely 50 percent of the required sitting period. Indeed, some of the senators who had to attend criminal courts where they are standing trial for corrupt practices did not seat for up to 70 days throughout the legislative year.
The Senate was actually shut down on a number of occasions to enable the Senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki to attend the proceedings of the Code of Conduct Tribunal where he is standing trial for false declaration of assets. And in solidarity, a number of senators abandoned their duties to accompany him to the Tribunal. Since the labour policy of “no work no pay” is applicable to all public officers, the federal legislators ought not to have been paid when they did not perform any legislative duty. In other words, having failed to sit for the mandatory period of 181 days, the legislators were not entitled to the payment of full salaries and allowances for the whole legislative year. Having been paid full emoluments when they failed to sit for the required number of days, the federal legislators ought to refund some money to the treasury. In the circumstance, the Accountant-General of the Federation should ensure that the legislators are made to refund the money collected for the number of days they failed to sit in the National Assembly. Furthermore, it is high time the Federal Government stopped the payment of salaries and allowances to former governors who are members of the Senate. Since they are already on pension for life in their respective states, it is illegal to continue to pay them federal salaries and allowances at the same time.
In view of the commitment of the Federal Government not to compromise the prosecution of the war against corruption, President Buhari should sack all public officers who cannot explain their sources of stupendous wealth. At the same time To address the problems of poverty in the society, the Buhari administration has to invest in the welfare of the Nigerian people and procced to mobilise them to fight against corruption. Civil society organisations should ensure that the activities of government are closely monitored with a view to exposing corrupt practices in the government. Finally, the Federal Government should ensure that all the civil servants and legislators who padded the budget together with those who have diverted money donated by international agencies, are prosecuted.
Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), writes from Lagos.
This is the text of a public lecture delivered at the investiture of Dele Ojogbede Esq. as the President of Rotary Club, Ikoyi, Lagos on July 24, 2016.