By Tonnie Iredia
Many societal problems have defied solution in Nigeria. Poor public power supply and failed elections are among those which easily come to mind. But the king of them all is the issue of corruption- a phenomenon which has been part of our national life from time immemorial.
Every government has in vain fought the war against it. During the first republic, the Balewa government declared corruption as the nation’s main enemy. General Yakubu Gowon promulgated the ‘Corrupt Practices Decree No. 38 of 1975 to deal with the subject.
Murtala Mohammed sacked about 10,000 civil servants on the basis of corruption and related matters. The subject was also part of what informed his setting up of the Public Complaints Commission.
President Shagari concerned about the high incidence of indiscipline and corruption inaugurated an Ethical Revolution Committee in November 1982.
When General Buhari became Head of State, he warned that his administration ‘will not tolerate kickback, inflation of contracts, forgeries, fraud and abuse of office’ President Babangida resuscitated the Code of Conduct Bureau to which he added the Code of Conduct Tribunal in 1989 to handle corruption. General Abacha set up the Failed Banks Tribunal and promulgated the ‘Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Decree No. 13 of 1995’ to sanitize the nation. Even the Interim national government was not left out.
Chief Shonekan in the 1993 budget speech stated that ‘we can no longer ignore the issue of corruption which is now widely believed to be endemic in our country’. We have since added to the fight, two formidable bodies-the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). But till date not much has been achieved in respect of the subject.
One reason why all the efforts have yielded inconsequential dividends is that many people often use different strategies to disarm our anti-corruption bodies. A good example being what happened in 2003 when the National Assembly hurriedly amended the Act setting up the ICPC because the Commission was investigating charges of corruption against its leadership.
The legislature on the occasion did not only amend the law in haste, it did not even have a quorum to so act. It reduced the punishment for some offences relating to corruption, sought to extend the constitutional provision on immunity to itself and most ridiculously called for public hearing after it had concluded action on the subject. While the drama lasted, our docile civil society remained dormant.
Painfully, when the public is not inexplicably quiet over the acts of those who undermine the fight against corruption, its vibrant hyper critical segment is busy finding faults with the nation’s anti-corruption bodies. For example, all the efforts of Nuhu Ribadu were dismissed as selective prosecution as if the so-called select group did nothing wrong. What is easily forgotten is that each time we deal with a select group, the figure of corrupt persons and corrupt practices reduces progressively.
Sometimes, there is even the argument that a particular individual who has a case with the anti-corruption bodies is facing investigation because of his ethnic background making ethnicity an immunity clause.
Indeed, it is not unusual for large crowds of ethnic supporters to show solidarity with a suspect by religiously witnessing the daily proceedings of his trial. The suspect often triumphantly enters the court amidst ovation which he acknowledges with his two hands like someone in a party rally. At other times, when a citizen moves up into a big position, his friends and relations are quick to remind him that ‘this is our time’.
All of this is understandable though since ours has proven to be a nation with a few patriots. Yes, in Nigeria, there are no statesmen; what we have are local heroes of Ohaneze, Arewa, Afenifere and of recent South/South Forum who constantly whip up primordial sentiments to the detriment of the nation.
The EFCC has been under fire of recent for allegedly sending a list of persons who have cases with it to their political parties. The fear is that the parties might use the said list against some of their members who are interested in the 2011 elections. A few days back one of my friends educated me on the subject that the EFCC has since said it did not send such a list.
I hope that is not true. That no one is likely to believe the EFCC version is not what is of concern now. Assuming that such a list was sent to the political parties; does anyone think that the list would be of any use?
Of course not; because those who allegedly got the list are aware that ‘luck’ is the only difference between them and those on the list. Of what use is an advisory list to political parties which often disobey or circumvent binding court judgments? Are they more likely to respect an advisory list?
Well, a political party does not need any list from anyone because there is no political party that is unaware of its members that have cases with the anti-corruption bodies? The point to be made is that the bashing of the EFCC over the matter is dysfunctional.
It cannot help the fight against corruption; it can only intimidate Mrs Farida Waziri and her officials.
It is possible however that many analysts including our learned Attorney General who cautioned the EFCC on the subject may have meant well. Actually, we cannot fault their apprehension that the so-called advisory list could give the impression that those listed are guilty before the conclusion of their trial thereby hindering the attainment of the rule of law in our nation.
But Mrs Waziri who retired as an Assistant Inspector General of Police could not have been hearing of the rule of law for the first time from their caution. That apart, she has a legal department and a large team of experienced lawyers who handle EFCC cases to tell her not only the origin and development of the rule of law but indeed the life history of its exponent- A.V.Dicey.
In addition, the courts in 2007 reversed the decision by some political parties to exclude some persons from the electoral process on the ground that they had pending corruption cases. All these are enough lessons for Waziri.
Accordingly, what she needs now are not legal lectures but societal support to undertake the tedious task of fighting corruption. The EFCC cannot thrive if the society adopts a fault finding posture towards her. Under the circumstance, people will use wisdom after event to condemn whatever direction she takes. If she goes right it would have been left and vice versa.
If to avoid being criticized for going to a particular way she stays in the middle, she would be seen as confused and unable to know where to go. Haba-wetin? Do we really want to fight corruption using the EFCC?