It will, I believe, be generally agreed that eradication of corruption from any society is not just a difficult task: It is without dispute, an impossible objective.’ Obafemi Awolowo (1909 – 1987).
Late Pa Obafemi Awolowo SAN, GCFRN, an acknowledged most visionary leader, a progressive-minded politician, was also a Premier of the old Western Region, during her golden years, also, he was the Federal Commissioner for Finance and Vice Chairman, Federal Executive Council, during the debilitating internecine Civil war years from 1967-71. He suffered the indignity of facing a vicious probe panel, the Coker Commission of Inquiry in 1962. He knew so well, what corruption in all ramifications or by any stretch of the definition, means.
The scourge of corruption seems to be in the DNA of the vast majority of Nigerians, East, West, South, North, no zone irrespective of socio-religion learning is immune to this scourge. Some people said to believe that this vice, however, did not enter the DNA at adult, or acquired while schooling, it is an intuitive or even an impulsive trait, something like a born trait. Deep cogitation would reveal that it is now becoming an inborn thing. Prior to the 60s, our culture did not permit the corruption of any colouration. A child was expected to be honest, full of integrity and outstandingly hardworking in whatever he was doing. Rewards systems naturally flowed from these virtues.
Just last week, the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics NBS published a damming statistic of past Governors already in jail. The figure is in double digits. Also, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Universities Commission NUC disclosed that over 100 fake Professors have been discovered in the Nigerian Universities. In the last five years, the country’s anti-graft agency, EFCC have successfully prosecuted and convicted a huge number of public office holders, huge amounts of stolen funds recovered, their assets seized and several of them imprisoned. This is even as the country adopted a strange plea-bargaining procedure in her criminal justice administration.
Virtually, all public institutions are rotten and reek of corruption. The same NBS also published some institutions its findings showed are reeking with corruption. Chiefs amongst are; Police, Tax/Revenue Agencies, Judiciary, Legislature, Customs and Immigrations, Power Holding Companies, Public Health facilities, Tertiary institutions, banking systems and public service.
These critical mass dealings institutions aside, the fact is corruption today permeates all the strata of the Nigerian society. From the home front, education sector, health services delivery, judiciary, police, Civil Service, Public Service, even religions organizations are not immured from this nerve-wracking malady.
Growing up in Yoruba land, South West, Nigeria, up to the early seventies, it was a common sight to see farm products displayed in an open basket along the roads, with a coin signifying the selling price. Buyers buy and place the money on top of the basket. No one would touch products or money. But suddenly, the era of armed and forceful collection of both the products and the proceeds crept into society. This started gradually, developing into a monster that the country now spoonfeeds and pampered till today, that she does not even know how to deal with it.
A sad aspect of this is that many do not even know what corruption is or entails. A lot of corrupt practices are passed as ‘one of those things’ among the people, even the elites. Among the notorious public institutions mentioned in a UN-sponsored report released by the National Bureau of Statistics Public Service, Judiciary, Police, Customs, and Electric Power Distribution officials appear to be the worst set.
Blue Chips companies of the organized sector are terrible hit by the scourge of corruption. A senior official of a brewery with a large network in the country told FEFERITY MAGAZINE that staff in the marketing and sales departments are most culpable. He said huge sums of sales returns are never remitted into the company’s accounts, and that this happens regularly.
In banks, it is either depositors’ funds are stolen directly, or an armed robbery gang contacted by staff to come and haul them. Just last month, a Customer Care Officer of an old generation bank in Mpape, Abuja drove armed robbers to the bank, led them in and directed the operations on where to go and how to go about it. Luck ran out of the team. One tried to escape but was shot dead, while the remaining four were arrested. Their target was a huge sum being deposited that day by
a customer. And most, unfortunately, our extant statute books seem incapable of providing a safety net to trap a corrupt official. It is either the laws are so weak or leaves glaring loopholes for smart lawyers to exploit. And even, when the law seems to be working, the issue of human rights is played up by the defence lawyers. Delay tactics are often employed by the lawyers to frustrate case flow, and in most cases, prosecution teams fall easily into the trap.
The rule in stealing is treated as stealing. If one steals N100 naira, he stole, and if another steal N1 billion naira, he stole, and the offence carries the same penalty. The joke now among the elites is – ‘why not steal enough to be able to afford a silk lawyer, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria to defend you in court. With this, you are sure of getting legal reprieve’.
However, many cases laid credence to this. There is the case of Alhaji Abudlrasheed Maina of Pension Reform Task Team. He was convicted over an N1.2billion-naira fraud. The anti-graft agency, EFCC trailed him for over four years before he could be arrested. He was charged to court with his son, Faisal. The case is still dragging over legal technicalities till now.
There is also the case of Dr Erastus Akingbola and Mrs Cecilia Ibru of the defunct Intercontinental Bank PLC and Oceanic Bank PLC. At the end of the day, a strange concept of plea bargaining was imported to settle the oceanic amazon’s case while Adegbola’s case is still dragging in the Courts till date.
Colonel Sambo Dasuki, the erstwhile National Security Adviser to the immediate past President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, his case is a classic case of abuse of office, diversion of public funds and outright looting of the State’s Treasury. A $2.1 billion funds meant to help the Military fight the debilitating Boko Haram insurgency in the North-Eastern part of the Country was shared, as it were, among political cronies of the government of the day. The succeeding government opened the books and uncovered the slush.
Col. Dasuki was able with the help of some smart lawyers, silk lawyers at that, circumvent the statutes books. Political and emotional angles of the suspect being denied bail were played up, the refusal of the government to obey Courts of competent jurisdictions rulings of his bail applications was trumpeted loudly, and at the end of the day, a seemingly straight-forward good case is mismanaged. Today, Dasuki is home, technically not on bail, but by human rights, with his loved ones, and can go on enjoying his loots. If care is not taken, properly, the case might be lost for good.
Another terrible flaw in criminal case management is the role of the prosecution in titling these cases. The former Lagos State Governor was able to get out of the legal entanglements before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Abuja in 2011 because the prosecution wrongfully filed the case. His lawyers merely employed legal technicalities to knock off the case. The merits or otherwise of the case were never put to test.
FEFERITY MAGAZINE spoke to a cross-section of lawyers and activists on the topic.
Watch out for their responses in the next instalment.
Afolayan Adebiyi, writes from Lagos, Nigeria
Feferity (c) 2020.