Position of Igbo Leaders of Thought on corruption probe (2)
AT the valedictory meeting of his Federal Executive Council on 27 May, 2015 President Jonathan himself alluded to malpractices in the allocation of “our oil wells, oil fields and marginal wells” – we might add oil blocks – and asked: “Do we follow our laws when we make these allocations?”
He said that a probe of these malpractices should not be confined to his administration only but should be extended to other past administrations as well.
It is a fact well-known to many people in the country that most Nigerian billionaires and multi-millionaires acquired their wealth through the corrupt allocation of oil blocks, oil wells, oil fields and marginal wells.
These corrupt allocations should be probed no matter in which administration, Jonathan’s or some other past administration, they occurred.
In the same valedictory speech, President Jonathan said: “The Attorney-General is aware of massive judgment debts; if we aggregate all of them it is almost US$1 billion. But how did we come to this kind of huge judgment debts? These issues should be probed”.
He obviously implied that they arose from corrupt practices going beyond his administration. He cannot have been accusing his own administration.
But perhaps more despicable and more utterly subversive of the national interest, and which therefore calls more desperately for a probe, is the theft of money recovered from the thieves, by the very persons entrusted by statute with the duty of catching them – the EFCC and its officials.
Here is a case of the authorised thief-catchers joining the thieves. This may sound like a fable, but it is a fact of by no means infrequent occurrence, and it involves billions of naira. Only one of the many cases will suffice to illustrate this horrible phenomenon in the management of public money in Nigeria.
The case is concerned with the sale of properties found to have been corruptly acquired by former Inspector-General of Police, Tafa Balogun, and former Governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, and which, after their conviction for corruption, were forfeited to the Federal Government.
A probe of the sale revealed, according to report of its findings published in Saturday Independent of May 15, 2010, that the sale was irregularly conducted, as no proper valuation of the properties was carried out and as other requirements of due process under the law were not followed; that of the nine buyers of the Tafa Balogun properties, six, whose names were stated as limited liability companies, were in fact non-existent, as they were not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission; that the proceeds of the sale were paid into an unauthorized account, instead of into the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation as required by section 31(2) of the EFCC Act 2004; that the receipts of the lodgment of the proceeds were not deposited with the Auditor-General of the Federation in accordance with the Financial Regulation 2520; that some cheques and bank drafts received in payment of part of the proceeds of the sales were left in the vaults of the EFCC where they remained and became stale.
Above all, figures as to exactly how much was realised from the sales are conflicting, as no proper records of the sales were kept. About N12 billion, according to the probe report, was said to have been realised.
The findings of the probe were thus a serious indictment of the EFCC and its officials in charge of the sales, especially its Chairman at the time, Nuhu Ribadu.
Is a veil to be drawn on such buccaneering corrupt practices and other such practices perpetrated by the EFCC merely because they occurred before the Jonathan era? Buccaneering corrupt practices or stealing also take place under the cover of plea bargaining, which, as will be explained presently, is an arrangement dictated by necessity.
But it serves as a ready instrument used by the authorised thief-catchers to steal huge amounts of the stolen money they are mandated to recover.
There have been reports of culprits complaining that the amounts stated in the plea-bargaining documents are much less than what they surrendered to government under the plea-bargaining arrangement. The difference is taken by the authorized thief-catchers for themselves.
This is what makes plea-bargaining suspect to the public, who are unable to understand the whole idea of the arrangement, and why a thief of public money, after an admission of, or conviction for, the theft, should be allowed to keep part of the money.
The arrangement is resorted to because in most of the cases of stolen money, the money is in bank accounts in foreign countries whose laws do not permit withdrawals or other dealings in the bank accounts concerned without the authorisation of the account owner, which makes the cooperation of the latter a condition for the Nigerian government getting access to the money or any part of it, hence the necessity for plea-bargaining.
There seems to be pretty little that can be done to stop this type of stealing, but it should nevertheless be probed. Constraints on President Buhari probing other past administrations beside Jonathan’s President Buhari probing other past administrations in addition to Jonathan’s is constrained by two main factors.
One, with perhaps more constraining force, is the existence of a group known as “the invisible government of Nigeria”, whose existence and activities with respect to governance in Nigeria are not known to many people, because it operates stealthily. Hence it is called “the invisible government”.
They, together with other reactionary oligarchic elements opposed to democratic rule, manipulate governmental affairs, unseen, from behind the scene.
Nigeria must be one of the few democracies in the world, outside Africa, where retired military officers, with oligarchic outlook and interest, wield such great influence in government as well as in the political process after transition to democratic rule. This clearly augurs ill for democracy in the country.
The country deserves to be left alone to pursue its experimentation with constitutional democracy free from the retarding influence of retired military men.
This group, whose most notable members are former Military President Ibrahim Babangida and Gen Abdulsalam Abubakar, both of whom were former Heads of the Federal Military Government, had declared support for Gen. Buhari in the March 2015 presidential election, as reported in the Vanguard Newspaper of Tuesday 20 January, 2015.
Their rank and influence have been augmented by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, self-proclaimed father of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the progenitor of god-fatherism in Nigeria, who has now left the party after declaring and vowing that it will rule the country in perpetuity.
The constraint on President Buhari in probing the administrations of these three past rulers is near insurmountable, but it is better to admit it openly than to call such a probe a distraction or to hide under some other argument based on expediency or convenience.
The other factor comes from a group of die-hard Islamists determined to impose Islamic (Sharia) system of government on Nigeria – a theocracy, such as the Caliphate and Sultanate systems and other dictatorial forms – and to whom a New Beginning for Nigeria and the Liberal Democracy it implies is anathema.
We will wait and see how President Buhari can overcome these constraints on his powers, and betray the sponsors of his election to the presidency.
Now about the law on corrupt practices, their adequacy or otherwise, and how unswervingly or resolutely they have been enforced or implemented by successive past administrations with a view to the accomplishment of their set objective, i.e. the eradication of corruption. This dictates an investigation across the board.
The laws on corrupt practices and their enforcement or implementation (i) Adequacy of the laws on corrupt practices The laws on corrupt practices are quite adequate.
They come from three different sources, viz the common law, the Constitution and the statute law.
As regards the common law, it is a well-established principle of our law, laid down in decided cases, that an employer, public or private, has a right to the money or property acquired by his employee by means of corruption or abuse of office. This is not strictly forfeiture, as the term is commonly understood as connoting a penalty for crime.
The right of the employer at common law, though often referred to as forfeiture, is intended, not to punish (i.e. penalty), but to provide a method of recovering the money easier and quicker than the process of forfeiture as penalty for crime under the statute law.
Of the various anti-corruption laws, the Constitution is the most far-reaching in the generality of public servants covered and the amplitude of its provisions on the matter.
By section 172 (section 209 in the case of a State) “a person in the public service of the Federation shall observe and conform to the Code of Conduct.”
All public servants, without regard to categories, whether of the officer cadre or not and, if an officer, regardless of his class or grade, whether he or she is in the top, middle or lower cadre, is bound by the duty or obligation to “observe and conform to the Code of Conduct.”
Whilst the Code of Conduct itself, as scheduled to Constitution (Fifth Schedule) by section 318 of the Constitution, is headed Code of Conduct for Public Officers and its application is restricted to public officers listed therein, the duty to observe and conform to the Code enjoined by sections 172 and 209 are no less obligatory and binding on other categories of public servants, notwithstanding that no sanctions are prescribed for failure by them to observe and conform to its stipulations.
Sanctions are meant to reinforce the duty, and their absence should not diminish or detract from the obligatoriness or binding force of the duty.
A citizen of good repute and integrity obeys the law because it is his duty to do so, not so much in order to avoid the wrath of the law being visited on him or her.