By Abdulwahab Abdulah
THE frontier of the anti corruption campaign of the Federal Government was expanded last week at a round-table organised by the Department of Jurisprudence and International Law of the University of Lagos, Akoka.
The event which attracted legal luminaries and other scholars including the chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption, Professor Sagay, SAN, focused on the topic:
“Wining the War Against Corruption,” which held at the prestigious hall of the Ayo Ajomo hall of the Nigeria Institute of Advance Legal Studies.
Others at the session were the Lagos lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, Ayo Obe, a lawyer and civil rights activist, a former education minister, Dr Oby Ezekwesili, scholar cum controversial public affairs analyst, Dr. Femi Aribisala and the British Deputy High Commissioner in Nigeria, Mr Ray Kyles.
The hall with over 1,000 capacity was filled to the brim with students and others who sat with rapt attention and listened to speakers who took their turns to discuss how best the cancer worm of corruption can be dealt with.
Keynote Speaker, Falana, SAN, represented by Mr Wahab Shittu, a lawyer, set the tone for the discussion with the topic : “Rule of Law and Treatment of Politically Exposed Persons in Corruption Cases,” where he advocated the creation of special courts to handle corruption cases as well as rejecting bail for those charged with the offence.
Falana started with the recent frustration expressed by President Muhamadu Buhari over the role of the courts in the prosecution of corruption cases. According to him, the situation is not likely to improve as the government has not demonstrated its capacity to confront corruption headlong in any sustained manner.
He said, considering the situation, especially the usual manipulation of the criminal justice system, “there is no indication that a substantial number of the cases will be concluded before 2019 when the present administration will leave office”.
He said to avoid “a situation whereby the trial of the looters is suspended indefinitely, the criminal justice system has to be reviewed as a matter of urgency. As anti-corruption cases cannot be won through the regular courts we are going to make a strong case for the immediate establishment of a Special Court for the trial of economic and financial crimes including corruption.”
On the politically exposed persons, Falana said many of those entrusted with prominent political function have abused their offices by commiting offences such as money laundering, bribery as well as conducting activities related to terrorist financing. He noted there are several provisions of law put in place to combat these offences. He said to address the problem of corruption, there must be a special court as well as refusing bail to some of the accused persons.
Speaking on the rule of law and public accountability in Nigeria, Falana explained, “To stop corruption the government has to implement the fundamental objectives of state policy by providing adequate fund for the welfare and security of the people. This can only be possible if the resources of the nation are equitably distributed while the national economy is managed in the public interest.
“In addition, the criminal justice system has to be reorganised to deal ruthlessly with corrupt individuals and corporate bodies including transnational corporations and international financial institutions.” He added.
He also took a swipe at the Nigerian Bar Association and the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, who he said have called on Buhari to respect the rule of law, saying they were not sincere.
He pointed out that: “The Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria has urged the government to fight corruption under the rule of law. On its own part the NBA has censored the Federal Government for violating the human rights of certain suspects. But neither the BOSAN nor the NBA has deemed it fit to call the members of the legal profession who are determined to frustrate the prosecution of corruption cases to order. As far as both bodies are concerned, human rights are the exclusive reserve of the bourgeois. Hence, the tenet of the rule of law are only invoked when the trial of VIPs is involved, while human rights are violated in Nigeria when the looters of the treasury are arrested and detained for a few days without trial.”
Falana wondered why BOSAN and NBA did not talk of human rights when “70 soldiers were recently tried in camera, convicted and sentenced to death for demanding weapons to fight the well-armed terrorists,” and why the two bodies were not bothered about the plight of “40,000 out of the 52,000 prison inmates are awaiting trial under dehumanising conditions.”
Reality of the moment
Discussing the paper, Dr Oby Ezekwesili, said Falana was in tune with reality of the moment, arguing that “if Nigeria did not check corruption now, the situation may be worse than what obtained in Hong Kong where people became fed up and said enough is enough.”
She noted that, “The systemic nature of corruption as a cancer against a system of governance is demonstrated in the fact that the activity of corruption begins to happen at their different levels.”
Also contributing, Mrs Ayo Obe, said Falana has said it all. She however, disagreed with him on his call for a special court to try corrupt cases. Beside, she said the call for perpetual detention of those charged for corrupt related offences will run foul of the constitution.
She advocated that the government should establish an enduring structures to tackle the menace of corruption.
Taken the podium, the controversial public affair analyst, Dr Femi Aribasala criticised Falana’s paper and said: “There is no fight against corruption in Nigeria. And if there is no fight against corruption, you can’t even talk about war,”
Tackling corrupt practices
Aribisala also criticized Dr Ezekwezili’s contribution where she called for a superb structure put in place by government to permanently tackle corrupt practices in the country.
He said, “Corruption cannot be narrowly defined the way Dr. Ezekwesili defined it, only relating it to public institutions. We are corrupt in Nigeria, the plumber, the tailor, the whole society is corrupt.
“And we have not yet taken a decision, we have not yet gotten to a point where we are fed up. I mean, she (Mrs. Ezekwesili) had given an example of Hong Kong where people became fed up and said enough is enough. We have not reached that situation yet, I don’t know why not, but we certainly have not.
Critizising the election that brought Buhari to power, he said: “The 2015 election was not an anti-corruption election. We did not have any political party that presented an anti-corruption mandate to us. The party that won the election was just a makeover of the PDP, I mean the PDP people moved from the PDP to the APC. If they were corrupt when they were in PDP, they became clean when they were in APC.
“So there is no mandate against corruption. If President Buhari was determined to fight against corruption, my feeling is that he gave up after losing election three times.
“Because the fourth time, he formed an alliance with people who he despised before. And they were not necessarily people who had a track record of being anti-corruption. So today, I don’t know who is anti-corruption and who is fighting corruption.”
“We have to make up our minds if we really want to deal with the question of corruption, Nigerians themselves must insist on it and we have to deal with it at the institutional level,” he said.
However, Aribisala got a full measure of response to his criticism of Buhari’s war against corruption, when the fiery senior lawyer and human rights activist, Professor Sagay, SAN, described him as one of the “unserious people”.
Sagay who did not hide his anger told the gathering which included other scholars that, “We are not here to make students clap. We are here on a very serious business. And students, don’t behave like American electorate who are ignorant of Donald Trump. The appreciation of unserious people shows ignorance. How can someone come here and say there’s no war against corruption and people clapping? “Invisibly angry Sagay said.
The development made Dr Ezekwesili not comfortbale. She also requested for another chance to further drive home her points against Aribisala’s argument.
She chided the students and other guests for their public applause on Aribisala’s argument.
“ I wasn’t surprised that some of you were clapping. The reason you were clapping is that you are a page in your own level of corruption. There are many whose exam malpractice is the basis upon which they have come to school.
“So when you are talking about the need to wage a war against corruption, they are completely disconnected from it. There is a complete dissonance from it.”
She charged the students to desist from applauding “populist statements”.
The British Deputy High Commissioner in Nigeria, Mr Ray Kyles, who spoke against the backdrop of an accusation by Dr. Aribisala that President Buhari’s war on corruption was fake, said the British government ‘firmly believes’ that the fight is on.
The envoy said his government viewed things in Nigeria differently.
“Britain firmly believes that a war is now being fought on corruption in Nigeria. The war is being led by President Buhari. I say that because that sentiment, that view has come from my Prime Minister, David Cameron, who has had the pleasure of several engagements with the president.
“And he’s convinced that the president is absolutely committed to fight this war, because, quite frankly, this is the only way to help the Nigerian people who are coming out of a situation where the economy is reeling from people stealing billions and trillions of naira reportedly stolen. Britain is actually at the forefront of supporting investigations into this.”
Kyles added that the British government supported moves by Nigeria to recover looted funds stashed abroad and would do its best to repatriate it to the country, even though the process was complex.