Nigeria’s ranking in the global anti-corruption index is not quite impressive. In 2012, Transparency International (TI) ranked Nigeria 139 in the world out of 178 nations surveyed.
Although, the report has been dismissed by Nigeria’s Minister of Information Mr. Labaran Maku, who described it as nothing but products of perceptions of both the people and media who fail to appreciate efforts of the government, the mind bugling figures churned out by reputable Nigerians purported to have been lost to corruption should propel patriotic Nigerians to reflect on where the country got it wrong so far.
For the former Minister of External Affairs, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, about $500 billion has been lost to corruption from 1960 till date. And it appears that dishonesty is on its way to assume a national character. What is baffling is the fact that it is taking place despite the multi-pronged approach that has been adopted by the Federal Government to tackle the menace through various anti-graft laws, like the Ethical Revolution of1983, the Penal Code of Northern Nigeria, the Investigation of Assets Decree No. 5 of 1996, the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal of 1989, the 1999 Constitution Section 172; the Corrupt Practices and Other Offences Act of 2000, the EFCC Act of 2004 and relevant sections in the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria.
Of course some Nigerians have rightly been prosecuted and jailed for various offences, while some have escaped with plea bargain. In the list is Chief Lucky Igbinedion, said to have embezzled N2.9 billion but escaped via plea bargain after paying N3.6 million. The former Chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority; (NPA) Chief Bode George was convicted of contract scam and spent about two years in jail. Others are the former Governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Diepriye Alamieyeseigha, alleged to have embezzled N2.9 billion but pacified to refund N500 million and forfeit three properties including his house in the United States worth about $700,000. Delta State Governor, Chief James Ibori was said to have embezzled about $292 million Dollars but was acquitted of all 170 count charges in Nigeria only to be convicted in London. The list is endless.
But for Britain, Ibori will be walking the streets a free man like most politicians who have been convicted in Nigeria, suggesting that the legal framework required to effectively prosecute the war is either very weak or outdated and incapable of reducing corruption to a manageable level. The Minister for National Planning Mr. Shamsudeen Usman was very right when he declared that until the issue of corruption is tackled headlong, the nation’s Vision 20:2020 would just be a mirage.
But from all indication, the lawmakers seem not to have been bothered, except to take a passive look, while corruption continues to render Nigeria comatose. Experts are of the view that they seem to be more interested in laws that have very little or no relevance to the social economic well being of Nigerians. Till date no lawmaker, not even one among those in opposition, they argue has been able to champion a private bill to strengthen the fight against corruption. They aver that the best Nigeria has had was from Senator Smart Adeyemi, who has refused to back his calls for stiffer penalty on corruption with a bill.
Former Secretary General of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Mr. Frank Ovie Kokori hit the nail on the head when he described lawmakers in Nigeria as nothing but kitchen girls of the governors. Besides, he argued that the lawmakers both at state and national level have failed in their responsibility to act as effective checks on the executive. He is not alone, Chairman Progressive Action Council (PAC) Chief Charles Nwodo advised lawmakers to collaborate with the executive to rid the country of corruption.
A former lawmaker, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora believes that it is wrong to put the whole blame on the legislature. “I want to say that it will not be fair to put the whole blame at the door steps of the legislature. We should look at the system as a whole. Yes the legislature may have its own blame; but where you now put everything on the door step of legislature is not right. It is a shared blame. What do I mean? I must also say here and now that it is erroneous to believe or to even think that all the ills of the society can be corrected through laws”, he said adding that it is impossible to legislate for morality since it is an issue of conscience.
“But I will agree that law is one of the instruments of change, one of the instrument for achieving change in the society and change in attitude. Having said this, where the blame partially goes to the legislature is where the legislature has not being doing enough to look at the statute books with a view to reviewing certain laws that have become obsolete. Like you rightly said, there are some laws that are due for complete repeal, or due for amendment with a view to bringing them in conformity with the reality of the time”, he said.
Perhaps one of the changes needed at this stage especially with ongoing efforts to review the constitution is the need to impose stiffer penalties for corruption in whatever form in line with the arguments propounded by the former Minister of Information, Professor Dora Akunyili who has advocated for death penalty or other stiffer penalties.
“In China, it is death penalty for corruption. I believe if we are really serious about fighting corruption, there is the need to insert harsher clauses to make corruption less attractive, just like they do in China. Once, one, two, three, four corrupt people are executed for corruption, some others who have such tendency will definitely fall in line. We just have to find a way to decisively fight corruption before it completely ruins this beautiful country,” she said in a lecture at Bells University of Technology, Ota, Ogun State. Even the Arewa Consultative Forum has also added her voice to the need to firm up anticorruption laws in the country.
Besides, the Trade Union Congress (TUC), argued that corruption has reached a stage at which it should attract something more drastic. For Peter Esele, former TUC president, the time has come to implement capital punishment in Nigeria.
“Capital punishment is the law in China. You know something graver than that is happening here today. Or let me put it this way, there was a time in China when they had a similar threat of corruption. The Chinese decided to introduce capital punishment to deal with corruption-related cases. That step has streamlined their society and cleansed their community. I think our own has got to that level. If the introduction of capital punishment would help to reduce corruption, it is a welcome development,” he said.
But Commissioner for Justice Lagos State, Mr. Ade Ipaye believes that death penalty would be an overkill adding that there are instances even in the civilised countries where individuals convicted of an offence were later found to be innocent. Such individual he argued would have been wrongfully executed where death penalty is punishment for corruption. “Rather than death penalty, I think we should advocate for stiffer penalty”, he advised. Some have also argued that death penalty could also be used as a weapon to eliminate opposition hence it may not be the best way out of the woods.
The consensus however seems to be stiffer penalty, as well as the need to totally reform the judiciary which has in many ways assisted corrupt leaders to get out without punishment. This is exactly the argument put forward by Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders which has argued that corruption has continued to thrive in Nigeria because the nation’s criminal justice system seemed to give corrupt leaders a pat on the back. To change the situation the lawmakers, whom some have described as the conscience of the nation must rise up above personal interest and give the needed teeth in the fight against corruption if they must disabuse the minds of many who believe that the lawmakers have opted to remain passive in the fight so as to avoid self-affliction since they are nothing but corruption personified.