By Chuks Okocha
Some Nigerians are quick to jump into conclusion that the Senate, indeed the National Assembly is not supporting the anti corruption campaign of the President Muhammadu Buhari led Federal Government. In fact, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice. Abubakar Malami once accused the National Assembly of not supportting the anti-corruption campaign of the present administration.
But when the facts are cross-checked with what is on ground, and especially with what the Senate has done on anti corruption bills, it does not support the claim that the red chambers is sabotaging or not supporting the Federal Government crusade in tackling the monster called corruption.
The 8th Senate under the leadership of Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki has, in many ways than one supported the Buhari administration’s quest to curtail corruption. Indeed, from 1999 till date, none of the sessions of the Senate has given support to a president like the present set of Senators has done, especially on issues of corruption and fixing of the ailing economy.
One of such evidence to show that the Senate is indeed on the same page with President Buhari in the fight against corruption is last Wednesday’s passage of the Whistle Blowers Bill, which is seen as one of the potent bills aimed at curtailing and tackling corruption.
The Bill, when signed into law, seeks to encourage and facilitate the disclosure of improper conduct by public officers and public bodies and was presented by the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, chaired by Senator David Umaru, the member representing Niger East District in the 8th National Assembly.
Otherwise known as “An Act to Protect Persons Making Disclosures for the Public Interest and Others from Reprisals, to Provide for the Matters Disclosed to be Properly Investigated and Dealt with and for other Purposes Related Therewith”, the Bill also seeks to ensure that persons who make disclosures and persons who may suffer reprisals in relation to such disclosures are protected under the law. The Bill also specifies who is qualified to make disclosure of improper conduct; the procedure for making disclosures; and the protection due to ‘whistleblowers.’
Under the newly passed Bill, a person who makes a disclosure shall not be subject to victimization by his or her employers or by fellow employees. Additionally, a person who makes a disclosure has the right to take legal action if he or she is victimized, dismissed, suspended, declared redundant, transferred against his or her will, harassed or intimidated in any manner.
Additionally, the bill makes it a criminal offence with jail terms of not less than five years without any option of fine for any government official to under-declare any proceed of crime to the relevant authorities.
Speaking on the passage of the Bill, Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki stated that: “The passage of this bill today is a landmark. This is a promise kept. Today, we have passed a landmark piece of legislation to fight corruption and protect patriotic Nigerians who are fighting corruption,” he said, “This Bill will protect the lives of those who risk themselves to expose corrupt practices in Nigeria.”
Still on the senate’s active supprt to the Buhari administration in the fight against corruption. the red chamber passed the Proceeds of Crime Bill on June 4th this year. The bill is focused on recovering illegally acquired property through forfeiture, confiscation or civil recovery and provides the powers to seize, freeze, and restrain criminals from dealing with their property.
The Senate Committee Chairman on Human Rights and Justice, Senator Umaru Dahiru commended the 8th senate for passage of this bill. He also described his colleagues as patriots. He described the Proceeds of Crime Bill as a necessary legislation to move the country’s anti-graft war forward.
He said. “It is no news that the assets recovered from corrupt politicians in Nigeria cannot be accounted for. They are simply re-looted, thereby making a mess of the anti-corruption war.”, arguing that with this new bill, it will be impossible for people to enjoy the proceeds of crimes as the law will hunt them till their arrest and prosecution.
Another anti corruption bill passed by the Senate is the bill for mutual assistance in criminal matters between Nigeria and other foreign countries to facilitate the identification, tracing, freezing, restraining, recovery, forfeiture and confiscation of proceeds, property and other instrumentalities of crimes.
The bill, sponsored by the executive arm, would provide a legal framework that would strengthen the fight against corruption, terrorism, economic and financial crimes, money laundering and other related offences. It would also facilitate the voluntary attendance of persons in the requesting state. It is also intended to effect the temporary transfer of persons in custody to assist in investigations or to appear as witnesses, facilitate obtaining and preserving of computer data, and providing any other assistance that is not contrary to the law of the requesting state.
Before the eventual passage of this bill by the Senate, Senator David Umaru in his lead debate said that the passage of this bill was paramount to the anti-corruption drive of the government, as it seeks to eliminate territorial and jurisdictional constraints in the prosecution of cross border crimes.
In his comment, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, said the passage of the bill would restore the confidence of foreign investors in doing business in Nigeria.
With the passage of the Whistle Blowers Act, the Senate has concluded work on three anti-corruption Bills. In May 2017, it passed the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill, while in June 2017, it passed the Witness Protection Bill.
The Bill to establish Special Anti-Corruption Courts has been sent to the Constitution Amendment Committee. The Proceeds of Crime Bill has been sent to the Senate Joint Committee on Anti-Corruption and Judiciary.
- Okocha is Special Assistant to President of the Senate