Human rights frustrating fight against corruption?
Last week, the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, released a report with a damning verdict: irrespective of the good work being done by this administration to kill corruption, corruption has refused to die. The report said that monies paid out in 2015 and 2016 as bribes are about N400 billion and that the police and the judiciary were most culpable. The report also said that even though incidences of bribe taking cut across the private sector, it holds sway in the public sector more. I think however, this report is a lesson to the government of President Buhari: that in fighting to kill corruption, issues of tribe and tongue and party affiliations will kill the fight against corruption first before corruption begins to fight back.
Most Nigerians believe that one of the reasons corruption is refusing to die is that the campaign does not enjoy the support of Nigerians. Instead, most Nigerians appear to love corruption and this is why: for starters, Nigerians say that an average politician is a coward who has two different mouths. He tells you that we must change, and that that change begins with us but nothing in the disposition of the politician changes. He would still collect and pocket constituency allowances, drive around with flashy cars instead of patronising public transport, and would send their children to schools abroad instead of Nigerian schools. When they are taken ill, most just jump on their private jets to take an injection or two.
I ran into one of them recently in Abuja. It was at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC and the National Orientation Agency, NOA, seminar on corruption and human rights in Nigeria. Even though the agenda for that meeting did not provide for feedback mechanism, two things became clear from the interactions that inevitably ensued. One was that politicians blamed the public for pressure to be corrupt. A commissioner in Nasarawa State who was a successful lawyer got appointed as a commissioner. He said that as soon as his announcement as commissioner hit town, he became goldfish without a hiding place. Everyone began to see him as a big man with a pile of cash to throw around. According to him, his salary of N300k as commissioner became public property, and those he was unable to pay hospital bills for, or resolve issues of school fees for or provided a meal quickly labelled him as a bad person. He said he constantly feels a lot of pressure to do other things to try to be able to meet some of these demands.
But that, as far as most of us are concerned, was just a swan song and just part of the story. Apart from his N300k, does this commissioner have an official car? Does he fuel the car? Is he living in a house paid for by government? Does he pay for his food and what are the other perks of his office he was not kind enough to tell that gathering? You see, most politicians and indeed most public servants have no need to touch their salaries, and do not live from monthly salaries to monthly salaries the way we do. Therefore, at the level of a commissioner, and with all the appurtenances usually accorded these offices, nobody should be hard put to know that at the high levels of political activity, food is free, water flows from the taps and power is constant. I just wondered why this successful lawyer will not consider the option of letting well alone and go back to his successful law practice where his integrity and sanity would be waiting for him. But of course politics is the shortest cut to wealth and fame these days, and so we must understand the reluctance of the commissioner to return to lawyering.
Another one of the issues which the seminar threw up was the issue of the human rights of the victims of corruption. And why did it come up? Participants were being told that in prosecuting corruption cases, the prosecutors must operate within the Rule of Law, and respect the human rights of the accused. If the accused wanted to travel abroad for medical treatment, and the law allows it then so be it irrespective of the fact that that could well be a ploy to be frivolous and delay the course of justice.
But we must consider the human rights of the victims of corruption as well. For every kobo stolen by a politician, the human rights of the common man receives a blow. Information from the EFCC revealed that one minister in the Goodluck Jonathan admin stole monies that could build about 20 world class airports. We know that that former minister has come out to say that the EFCC got it wrong but there are very many instances today where monies which should have been put to the development of Nigerians are in private pockets. So, if the man, who has been alleged to have taken monies for building a hospital falls ill, would it be lawful then to allow him travel abroad for medical vacation or treatment? I don’t think so.
Therefore, what we want to canvass here is that the system should stop granting frivolous bail applications of high-profile suspects. These human rights applications for treatment abroad are being abused by the lawyers, and are being used to delay and deny the dispensation of justice. I believe that one of the ways to pursue an anti-corruption case is that the system should ignore applications citing the fundamental rights of the accused, especially if the accused made off with monies that assisted in diminishing our rights to potable water, power, good food and access to information.
Etemiku is ANEEJ communications manager.
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