Consolidating the Gains of the Fight against Corruption in Nigeria: The Need to Ban Convicted Looters from Holding Public Office for Life
Dr. Abubakar Alkali
The ongoing anti-corruption fight of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has recorded huge success in laying a solid foundation aimed at stamping out corruption from our country. It is fair to state that for a very long time in the history of our country, corruption has been the norm rather than the exception and eaten deep into all strata of the Nigerian system. However, President Buhari has been able to make corruption the exception rather than the norm.
Indeed, it is no longer business as usual for the looters of our commonwealth. But for divine intervention to bring in President Buhari, corruption would have killed Nigeria. Mr President deserves the support of all Nigerians as he is working to kill corruption before corruption kills Nigeria.
Corruption has been defined as a deliberate act to abuse trust and laid down procedure to gain undue advantage over the right of others. There are both official and unofficial forms of corruption. While the former involves public office holders who use pen and paper to enrich themselves through deliberate abuse of trust and direct stealing of public funds entrusted in their care, the latter happens outside government and can occur at motor parks when the driver overcharges his passengers or loads 4 passengers instead of 3 so as to make more money. Unofficial corruption also includes any form of lying and sundry manipulation of the truth.
The most serious form of corruption is the official aspect of corruption involving public office holders using their offices to steal ridiculous amount of money which they don’t even need in the first place. Our country is very rich but majority of the people are suffering and cannot afford even a single meal per day for themselves and their children because a select few in government have cornered everything for themselves and their families.
It is disheartening that distinguished senator Dino Melaye is calling for the pardon of convicted looters when he should be making laws to prosecute these looters and send them to jail where they rightly belong. Senator Melaye’s defence of corruption and looters is the latest signal yet that corruption is fighting back.
The call for pardon of looters by Senator Dino Melaye is repugnant and calculated to embolden the looters including giving them false hope that one can embezzle public funds meant to equip our hospitals and still be celebrated and decorated with a state pardon. The call lends credence to the widely held belief that there are ‘corruption moles’ in government paid for and implanted by looters of Nigeria’s commonwealth to work against President Buhari in his fight against corruption.
It is reassuring that President Buhari has remained focussed, steadfast and unwavering to rid Nigeria of corruption. Those calling for the pardon of looters should hold their breath because President Buhari is NOT a sympathiser of thieves and looters. Yes President Buhari wants to recover looted funds but that doesn’t in anyway stops appropriate and deserving punishment under Nigeria’s laws to be meted out to looters of our commonwealth.
Muhammadu Buhari of 1983 is still the same one of 2016 as far as his stand against corruption is concerned. Remember that Mr President started his war against corruption in 1983 as a military head of state (During his war against indiscipline WAI). Mr President is not ready to jettison what he started 33 years ago. When you fix corruption, you automatically fixed 95% of Nigeria’s problems.
The adage goes that corruption resurrects like a snake which was only wounded at the tail- It keeps coming back to life. The only way you can keep corruption out of circulation is NOT to pardon looters but to take them to court of competent jurisdiction, prosecute them and if found guilty send them to jail and BAN them from holding any public office in the future.
Corruption will always come back if not properly handled and dusted. In the light of the huge successes recorded in the fight against corruption, it is necessary to widen the net in the current anti-corruption fight by enacting a law that will stipulate a LIFE BAN on any public office holder convicted of embezzling a particular amount of public funds.
No public officer convicted of using his/her office to looting so much money should be allowed to hold a public office FOREVER because it will tantamount to making the same mistakes again. It is fair to say that no public officer used to corruption will ever stop because it has become their way of life. Corruption is easy money, a virus and an obsession which flows through the veins and once started, will be very hard to jettison. The right thing to do is to BAN any convicted looter at a certain amount from holding public office for the rest of his/her life.
The call also reverberates on the need to set up SPECIAL ANTI-CORRUPTION COURTS to try the alleged looters through the enactment of relevant laws to be inserted in the constitution. To a large extent, it is fair to say that the criminal justice system has been compromised as evident by allegation of bribery and corruption amongst the new breed judges. Last week, the National judicial council (NJC) recommended the dismissal of 2 senior judges and compulsory retirement of 1 for alleged corruption. This shows the level of decay and corruption currently going on in Nigeria’s judiciary.
The Hon minister of Justice and attorney general of the federation stated in January 2016 that the PMB administration will jail corrupt judges and seize stolen assets. Judges are also very slow in prosecution of corruption cases which is a very worrisome development in the fight against corruption. Are we having a conspiracy between the judges and the alleged looters? Why do corruption cases take eternity to prosecute?
Currently we have SPECIAL ELECTION TRIBUNALS to ensure quick dispensation of justice in election cases and petitions. In the same vein, we should have SPECIAL ANTI CORRUPTION COURTS to try corruption cases and ensure proper and quick dispensation of justice.
There is also the need to enact relevant laws to stipulate appropriate jail terms for various levels of embezzlement. Any corrupt public office holder convicted of corruptly enriching him/herself up to a particular amount should be banned from holding public office and sent to jail for jail terms appropriate to their levels of embezzlement.
In this regard, the following jail terms are recommended:
Ø Public office holders convicted of embezzling any amount between N1 million – N100 million should qualify for a 20 year jail term,
Ø Between N100 million – N200 million should serve 50 years in jail
Ø N200 million – N500 million should go for a 70 years jail term
Ø N500 million – N1 billion should go for 100 year jail term
Ø Any amount above N1 billion should go for life imprisonment because any public office holder who stole over a billion Naira is a threat to humanity and NOT fit to live in the midst of human beings any more.
These jail terms should be periodically reviewed in line with inflation.
Another critical aspect of the fight against corruption is the need to remove the immunity clause which shields some public office holders from prosecution. By the way, there is a concurrence of opinion amongst experts that the current fight against corruption will be very difficult to prosecute without a new constitution with the required fundamental changes. Nigeria needs a brand NEW constitution and we need it NOW.
Immunity from prosecution conferred on the President, Vice President, Governors and deputy governors is addressed under section 308 of the constitution. Section 308 (2) states that ‘The provisions of subsection (1) of this section shall not apply to civil proceedings against a person to whom this section applies in his official capacity or to civil or criminal proceedings in which such a person is only a nominal party.
However, sub (3) of the same section (308) was clear that the immunity ‘applies to a person holding the office of President or Vice-President, Governor or Deputy Governor; and the reference in this section to "period of office" is a reference to the period during which the person holding such office is required to perform the functions of the office.
There are 2 issues to be considered here: investigation and prosecution. The constitution was clear on prosecution by the courts but silent on investigation by anti-corruption agencies such as the EFCC and/or law enforcement bodies such
as the police.
Clearly section 308 (2) did not stop the EFCC or the police from investigating state governors (who by the way have had a larger share of allegation of corruption than any other group of public office holders in Nigeria but no current or former governor has so far been convicted of corruption in Nigeria.
There is also a systematic and deliberate abuse of section 308 by almost all public office holders. While the 1999 constitution guarantees immunity for only the President, the vice President, Governors and deputy governors, almost all public office holders from councillors to local government chairmen to commissioners to members of state houses of assembly to members of the House of Representatives to senators now claim immunity.
This has created a worrisome scenario whereby these groups of public office holders escape justice although they are by no means offered immunity by the constitution. It has also given public office holders a blank cheque to steal as much as they possibly can since they enjoy immunity.
Corruption is a virus that impedes development because the funds meant to build infrastructure for the common good end up in the private pockets of corrupt public office holders. Moreover, corruption spreads poverty, deprivation, disease, illiteracy and keeps the nation perpetually on edge.
Corruption promotes unfair and disproportionate distribution of resources, breeds income inequality and widens the gap between the rich and the poor.
The widening gap between the rich and the poor is the reason for the current wave of violence in Nigeria from Boko haram to Niger Delta, from kidnapping to baby factory, from Fulani herdsmen V farmers to ethno- religious conflicts etc etc. Income inequality is the greatest single threat to the peaceful existence of our country Nigeria. The wider the gap between the haves and have not, the more the violence in our country and vice versa.
Of course, it is common knowledge that President Buhari will NEVER condone corruption. Indeed President Buhari didn’t contest to be President to make money for himself but to prove the fact that government can be run without abuse of trust and embezzlement of public funds. Mr President’s antecedents, posture and body language clearly portray him as someone who abhors any form of cheating and abuse of trust. PMB doesn’t condone corruption so everyone has to follow suit or find themselves swept aside.
It is reported that PMB’s picture dangling in several public offices in the civil service has saved Nigeria several billions of Naira because when corrupt public officers in the comfort of their offices are about putting pen on paper to embezzle public funds and they raise their heads to catch a breath, they force an eye contact with Buhari’s picture and promptly change their minds. They know there is a price to pay for corruption in Nigeria today.
Mr President has done extremely well in the fight against corruption- which is one of his campaign promises anyway. Mr President is now known the world over as the symbol of anti-corruption. Indeed PMB is the nemesis of corruption in Nigeria, the father of anti-corruption in Africa and the leading light in the global war against corruption.
Allah (SWT) has a reason for bringing in President Buhari at this time to rescue Nigeria from the cankerworm of corruption which was slowly but surely grinding our dear country to a halt. PMB has contested for the presidency on 3 occasions but didn’t get to become President until at the 4th attempt including in 2003 when he was overwhelmingly thought to have the won the election but denied by the PDP under former President Obasanjo.
Allah (SWT) in his infinite mercy chose the right moment to bring this great son of Nigeria –Muhammadu Buhari- who has served our dear country for about 55 years without a single accusation of corruption against him. President Buhari is a rare gem who will build a new Nigeria and a better future for us and our children.
PMB has served this country meritoriously as head of state, minister of petroleum, Chair Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), Governor North Eastern region (which comprised of the 6 states in the present North East geopolitical zone) He was managing director and chairman of the NNPC board, General officer commanding, and has held literally any socalled ‘juicy position’ in Nigeria but up till this moment, nobody has come up to label even a false accusation of embezzlement of public funds against President Buhari. This is remarkable!
Mr President is fighting corruption not only as a policy during his tenure but as a lasting legacy for generations yet unborn. PMB wants to clear the Augean stable of corruption that has served to keep our dear country in perpetual underdevelopment after which he will pass on the baton to the new generation of leaders who will dig in and take his reforms to new heights. Buhari’s strategy to fight corruption using the double barrel of recovery and prosecution is the right step in the right direction. Very little will be achieved in the fight against corruption if it stops at prosecuting and jailing convicted looters. However, it must be emphasised that returning looted funds cannot be a ticket to escape justice.
The good people of Nigeria want all looters to return the stolen funds and also go to jail even if to serve as a deterrent to others. Of course everybody is confident that the funds recovered from looters so far (said to be around N1.5 trillion) are safe under President Buhari but it is important that the amount recovered is made public and the good people of Nigeria informed of what the funds will be used for. This will stop conspiracy theories from going to town with their propaganda tools.
The looted funds could be in cash or property but should all be returned to the federal government for transfer to the good people of Nigeria who are the bona fide owners of these funds. In this regard, the property confiscated of which appropriate court orders have been obtained by the economic and financial crimes commission (EFCC) should be sold in the open market and the proceeds from the sale be deposited in the federation account.
There is the clear danger that the looters are waiting for President Buhari to leave office after 8 years before they move in to recover their confiscated property. They should not be given this privilege.
A case in point is the $15 million found in the ‘ghost account’ operated by the former first lady Mrs Patience Jonathan which should be transferred to the federation account immediately or better still, be used for the construction of at least one fully equipped mini maternity hospital for pregnant women in each of the 6 geopolitical zones in Nigeria.
An appropriate court order has been obtained by the EFCC to confiscate the funds hence EFCC should move ahead and take over possession of these funds and transfer same to the federation account.
Since Mrs Patience Jonathan cannot justify the source of the illicit £15 million OR what business she was into which fetched her $15 million as a salary earning civil servant in Bayelsa state, these funds are termed as proceeds of crime and should be given back to the good people of Nigeria.
For a successful long term and sustainable implementation of the fight against corruption, there is the need to stop the recycling of corruption which comes when convicted public office holders somehow find their way back in government to continue with corruption from where they stopped. These convicted public office holders and looters should be banned from holding public office; their names gazetted and kept in the archives as reference for future generations that there is a heavy price to pay for corruption.