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LOSS OF MOMENTUM IN THE ANTICORRUPTION PROGRAMME
'I predict that the government stands to lose more corruption cases unless the federal government is prepared to reorganize the anti graft agencies and review the anti corruption policy in line with the proposals designed by the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption.' -Human Rights Lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) at an ongoing Training The Trainers Workshop in Lagos, 12th April 2016
Mr. Femi Falana's warning or prediction quoted above, indicates the raging disappointment, soul searching, and dejection at the recent judicial reverses, suffered by Buhari's flagship programme, the anti corruption agenda.So disappointed were some commentators by last week's court rulings that at least one of them, the Socio-economic Rights and Accountability Project called on President Muhammadu Buhari to use the auspices of the International Criminal Court for the investigation and possible prosecution of corruption cases. In other words, the reverses signal renewed pessimism over the ability of law enforcement to bring alleged looters of the public treasury to justice.
This should be taken in the context of what is generally perceived in Nigeria as the castration of law enforcement institutions by elite corruption and power plays, symbolized by the fact that it took the British Judicial System to bring a former governor of Delta state, Mr James Ibori to justice. Most 'big men' with deep pockets can easily get away with blue murder. Until Buhari came to office that was, or nearly so. Nearly so? Yes, because Buhari's efforts are proving unavailing and have fallen short of the muscle and political will needed to slay the hydra. So, we had four high profile anti corruption cases thrown out by the court. These involved a former First Lady, Patience Jonathan, Minister of Niger Delta Affairs under the President GoodLuck Jonathan administration, Godsday Orubebe, Justice Adeniyi Ademola and his wife Olabowale, as well as Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN).
What is the problem? Former President Olusegun Obasanjo believes that this is attributable to the lack of proper investigation and unseriousness on the part of prosecutors and antigraft agencies. In his words, 'if the investigation is very sound and you have 'ogbologbo' lawyers to handle the case, even if you have Salamigate you know what the answer will be'. While this is undoubtedly correct, it is difficult to see how agencies which are under funded and undermanned can match the resources and capacities of corrupt persons who can afford to hire the best lawyers at home and abroad. Falana underlines this point in his address, referred to earlier, by mentioning that the British Government reportedly spent close to twenty million pounds to investigate and prosecute Ibori. He went on to say that if the anti corruption agenda is indeed a priority of Buhari, then government must be prepared to properly fund the antigraft agencies.
Money is not the only problem however. Falana alluded to what he called "official negligence and lack of inter agency cooperation by the Federal Ministry of Justice, antigraft agency and the Department of State Security." Here, he broaches the issue of governmental incoherence in the fight against corruption. Before carrying the narrative further however, I crave the readers indulgence to offer a short take.
As the Greek Philosopher Plato knew too well, philosophers are not always men of action or high achievement while men of action, and high achievement are not always philosophers. Sometimes however, some Men of Letters also distinguish themselves by their achievement in the business and public spheres. That is one way of understanding the career of former Managing Director of the Daily Times, and currently Pro Chancellor and Chairman of Council, Obafemi Awolowo University, Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, who turned 70 on Thursday. Ogunbiyi's unique selling proposition was to summon his enormous intellect and literary forte in building a business and advertising empire, following a successful stint as Chief Executive of a revitalized Daily Times. This writer was part of a coterie of academics appointed by Ogunbiyi in the 1990s to give that organization a new lease. As Tunde Olusunle, poet and writer informed recently, the news room of those years packed far more intellectual excitement than some academic departments in our universities. In that adventure were soul mates like Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, a former Minister for Industries, Prof. G. G. Darah, influential orature scholar, Dr. Chidi Amuta, renowned literary stylist and publisher, Dr, Ngozi Ayegbunam, a notable writer, Dr. Farouk Ibrahim, and Mr.Segun Ayobolu, among several others.
It is to Ogunbiyi's credit that he provided intellectual leadership for the star editorial board that he put together, thus redefining Nigerian Journalism in ways that long outlived his advent at the Times. This writer wishes him luck in his challenging assignment at OAU and a happy birthday in arrears
To return to the zigzags in the anti corruption drive, the recent failures are also a function of the feuding in the interstices of the Buhari administration, illustrated by the duel to death between the DSS and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. In a context where State Security openly provided ammunition for the shooting down of Magu's confirmation as head of the EFCC, we observe a situation described by Chijoke Okoli (SAN) as "a most egregious example of a disoriented, indecisive and indeed probably irredeemably disabled presidency" (The Nation Tuesday April11,2017).If as Etannibi Alemika, Professor of criminology at the University of Jos told this writer on thursday, the recent setbacks should be converted to opportunities for renewal, then Buhari must mend the much rumoured fracture in his kitchen cabinet. For it is impossible to win the anti place corruption war in a dilatory, self defeating and incoherent manner.
Alemika talked to this writer in the course of researching this write up, concerning the need for our judges to be conversant with the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act of 2015, as well as the need for them to embrace elements of American style judicial activism.This will not likely take place, he argues, in the absence of greater citizen awareness of the toxic effect toxic of corruption in the context of governance.
A final problem given wide play by Falana concerns the need for Buhari to take the anti corruption battle to his aides and political associates, in the interest of consistency.Indeed, Falana went so far as to suggest that despite Buhari's statement that there are no sacred cows in the fight against corruption"the presidency has casually dismissed serious allegations of corruption and abuse of office" regarding some serving public officers. He cites as evidence a serving minister implicated in the procurement of arms racket, Secretary to the Federal Government Mr. Babachir Lawal and the grass cutting scandal, as well as a judge of the high court of Kano state accused of receiving a bribe of 197million Naira.The argument here is that a revival of the anti corruption programme must include consistency in spreading the official dragnet and the provision of a level plain field.
Of course, government has the right and has promised to appeal the recently lost cases. But in doing this, it must seize with both hands the opportunity to refresh the anti corruption drive by taking on board the several suggestions being made in the ongoing conversation in the public space.