By Epiphany Azinge, SAN
Any inquisitive mind naturally will want to know what is new about this “new deal”. One need not to be an economic expert to appreciate that corruption in whatever guise breeds instability and threatens the social fabric of any society, but more significantly corruption breeds, poverty, social dislocation, unemployment, crimes and political disharmony .
All these snowball to bigger issues at the international level. So when we are confronted with modern day slavery, human trafficking, terrorism, immigration and asylum issues, increasing underdevelopment and in extreme cases failed states, these are nothing but harsh consequences of corruption in all its ramifications.
I come from a jurisdiction that is often labelled as one of the most corrupt countries of the world. While the indices and indicators are highly questionable, all other variables cannot earnestly support that assertion. A country of 150 million people (10% of whom are literate and less than 5% computer literate) cannot be adjudged to be experts in computer crimes or computer related offences. Similarly, in an economy that is best described as Cash-economy, reference to credit card scam and internet banking fraud appears misplaced. In spite of all these, Nigeria remains one of the most over- regulated countries in the world as far as the fight against economic crime is concerned.
It is for this reason that I have titled my address “the limits of regulatory and institutional control in the corporate sector. Perhaps, it has to be said without equivocation that both military and civilian governments in Nigeria contributed in equal measure in developing the regulatory framework for fighting economic crimes or other forms of corruption. Mention must be made of the Adanced Fee Fraud Law, 1995 Money Laudering Act, Failed Banks Law, Dishonoured Cheques Offences Act 1977, Banking Act, Code of Conduct Bureau/Tribunal Act, Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act, and more importantly Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Act. In addition to these, the laws of Central Bank of Nigeria, Securities and Exchange Commission Act and Companies and Allied Matters Act also regulate activities of the corporate sector.
The interesting scenario in Nigeria is that all this agencies and commissions function in a well organised and clearly defined manner. This is without prejudice to the oversight functions of the legislative houses of the National Assembly which in most instances turn out to be an inquiry or probe monumental proportion.
Thus is can be said that Nigeria has been able to set the tone from the perspective of regulatory framework, But it appears to have done more in building institutional capacity. Aside from the ICPC and EFCC, Nigeria can boast of having one of the best trained crops of judges in handling cases of Corruption and Economic Crimes. A look unto the records of the past symposia in this college will attest to the enormous contribution made by Nigeria in the direction. This does not include other training programmes locally and internationally.
It is therefore understandable why there is a strident call for establishment of specialised courts for Prosecution of Economic Crimes. I wholeheartedly endorse the view. Arising from challenges confronting the trial of Economic Crimes in the Ordinary courts, the need for specialised courts cannot be overemphasised.
In the pursuit of stability, integrity and survival, the Procurement Act was also enacted to regulate conduct of business in government. Corporate entities applying for contracts with government establishments must comply with the provisions of the Procurement Act. There are also for the corporate sector a host of code of Best Practices in corporate governance contained in several instruments which impose minimum standards of corporate behaviour and values. Thus we have
(a) Securities and Exchange Commission Code of Corporate Governance; (b) Central Bank of Nigeria Code of Corporate Governance, (c) Nigerian Insurance Commission Code of Corporate Governance.
Recently, there is a move to establish a corporate Governance rating structure to monitor, measure evaluate and publish compliance of entities to corporate governance ideals and codes.
Mr Chairman, this brings me back to the issue of the New Deal. Nigeria in its recent history has witnessed large scale involvement of foreign corporate organisation in perpetration of corrupt activities in our corporate sectors. The list which includes Siemens, Sagems, Halliburtons, Wilbros among others underscores the level of external plundering of Nigeria’s economy. Indeed it can be said that the persistent Power/Energy problem confronting the country is mainly attributable to this unbridled assault on our economy by supposedly friendly foreign investors.
The story from the Banking Industry is no less different. It is expected that as the nation prepares for election in 2011, the banking sector will be confronted with massive withdrawal of funds. Many corporate organisations will also want to make donations to political parties and candidates. The EFCC and ICPC will be expected to rise to the challenges not only to scrutinize the source of money injected into politics but to enforce compliance with the ceiling an expenditure.
The New Deal will be the willingness of Off_Shore financial institutions and indeed foreign Banks to allow funds to be repatriated back to the Nigerian economy. It will also form part of the New Deal for foreign governments to demonstrate good faith in prosecuting Directors of indigenous companies that have been involved in corrupt/ shady deals in Nigeria. More significantly there is need for Nigerians to appreciate that they are not being unfairly treated as far as the fight against economic crimes is concerned.
Mr chairman, the issue of integrity, stability and survival is undoubtedly very fundamental to the average Nigerian, But what appears most critical is the dignity of their existence; the respect and courtesies extended to them at the airport; an appreciation from the international community of the determination and doggedness of the people to win the fight against corruption; a refusal by the people to be collectively branded because of isolated incidents involving few of her citizens and above all the support of the international community as we strive to emancipate our people from poverty and attendance social ills.
I must use this forum to commend the ICPC and EFCC for the good work they are doing in combating corruption. I must also commend the Central Bank of Nigeria for sanitizing the Banks. It is my hope that Directors, Shareholders and other Stakeholders of our corporate organisations will be alife to their responsibilities and contribute immeasurably to the enthronement of corporate governance, transparency, accountability in the corporate sector.
Prof Azinge, SAN, is the Director General, Nigerian Instituite of Advanced Legal Studies, NIALS.