Without leaning on demeaning the world-acclaimed professor of law and civil rights activist, Professor Itse Sagay, from all perceived indications, the chairman and members of the recently constituted federal government’s anti-corruption committee would appear not to know what President Muhammadu Buhari actually wants from them and the seriousness of it all.
If we assume Professor Sagay and his team understood the terms of reference of their assignment, then it can rightly be said the professor and his group may be on a dangerous course of diluting the flavor of the president’s hard anti-corruption stance by asking offenders to voluntarily come forward and confess their sins and obtain leniency.
Hear the chairman of the anti-corruption committee as reported: “And anyone who knows that his hands are dirty should come out and confess. I am sure, certain lenient terms can be obtained by him, but let them not hide under the cloak of selectivity ignoring that their hands are deep red with guilt.”
The late Justice Kayode Eso (as Chair of the National Committee on Corruption and other Economic Crimes in Nigeria, inaugurated the 3rd of April, 1989) aptly painted the pathetic picture of the Nigerian situation when he said: “One problem, which we must not lose sight of, indeed, to which we must necessarily address ourselves, is the realization that corruption has been very difficult to fight because it looms large in the very high places. Corruption bestrides the nation like colossus, and looks undisturbed, even when it is openly and unashamedly exhibited. This is just because those involved appear to the public as too highly placed and the public could see no reason why they too should not copy their examples, or see why they should be singled out for punishment when the highly placed corrupt wax stronger, look indestructible and give an air of the untouchable... If we have to do battle against corruption, we must think of combating it in the biggest places within our constitution and law.”
In the first instance, is Professor Sagay now a Reverend Father by asking for confessions and remission of sins? How does he expect people to come and confess? So the committee expects the very evil-minded corrupt Nigerians to walk up to them and own up to stealing? If this is how the presidency is to tackle corruption, then we may be missing it again, and the President may have just inaugurated another bunch of “the same” people. Professor Sagay’s idea of “your sins are forgiven you; go and sin no more,” shows that either the committee does not have an idea of the stuff Nigerians are made of, especially the bunch of looters around power, or they prefer to pretend about it. Whether anybody wants to hear this or not, Nigerians need strict handling—both in words and actions.
Under President Buhari, a plea bargaining system cannot be allowed to function, or else the president is only paying lip service to his vow on corruption in the country. A situation where a person steals ten billion naira and releases 100 million to the coffer of the government and then another 10o million to “facilitators” will not work as it would not produce the desired results our dear president and the ordinary short-changed Nigerians have in mind. It should be clear to all that this is not just the era of plea bargaining, or else we will again miss this opportunity of instilling attitudinal change in the minds of our public servants towards public funds. The president himself had acknowledged that, “If we don’t kill corruption, it will kill Nigeria.”
No corrupt Nigerian will ever come forward to confess that he or she ever touched, not even to speak of looted, the treasury. Who will ever agree that he or she has corruptly enriched himself or herself? So the “say-what-you-stole-and-be-set-free” approach cannot give the result we want, though it may be a step in the entire process. We will recover our monies and still prosecute them. That’s the way to go.
Every concerned Nigerian must encourage the President not to be distracted, nor to succumb to blackmail by agents of “reverse gear,” from frontally confronting this monster, as he campaigned to do. Our president must be prepared to deal a death blow to this hydra-headed monster, save this country, and be ready to damn the consequences. And as recommended by a lawyer, “his unflinching guide, like a good Justice, should remain ‘fiat justicia ruat coelum’: Let justice be done even if the heavens fall. The price for failure, is that corruption will finally slaughter Nigeria beyond recognition.”
The first assignment for them if they actually mean to deliver on the mandate is to completely overhaul or outrightly dismantle and repackage the existing anti-graft agencies, particularly the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Is it not an irony that the commission that was set up to catch those who steal our money in itself, as serially reported, has become a cesspool of corruption? The activities of the staff of the agency has contributed more than anything to the looting with impunity by those we entrusted to manage our collective wealth. This is the truth!
Several reports had it that when a whistleblower which also may be a disgruntled political opponent sends a petition to the EFCC, some staff would rather hijack it and reach out to the culprit to negotiate a “soft landing.” Tell me: with this kind of setting how will we ever prosecute the war against corruption? Corruption in the EFCC accounts for the reason why most reported cases are deliberately muddled up. The lifestyle of personnel of our anti-corruption agencies typifies corruption by all definitions, and so most of the looters we should be pursuing are not even afraid of the anti-graft agencies, either because they know how to manoeuvre them, or because they have “dealt” or are even still “dealing” with some key staff of the commission. We have to tell ourselves the truth if we are going to make any inroad as a nation. So let’s get the institutions right first, if not just forget it!
As we discuss this matter, there is a petition at the floor of the Senate by one George Uboh against the incumbent EFCC boss, Ibrahim Lamorde. The petitioner said that Lamorde, as the then Director of Operations of the EFCC and later as acting chairman when Nuhu Ribadu was sacked, conspired with some officers of the commission to manipulate records of assets recovered from Alamieyeseigha, Tarfa Balogun, and some overseas seizures. The amount in contention is over N1 trillion. Is it not right that the EFCC chairman should clear himself? If he refuses, on what moral ground is he going to stand to accuse and/or investigate other people?
If we are going to develop, and eliminate the present misery, joblessness, and dehumanization that the ordinary Nigerian masses have been forced to face, we need as a people to employ extreme measures to check this conscienceless bunch of people among us. And as rightly said by Professor Sagay, almost all the ills we are now facing as a nation, including a dearth of infrastructure, are traceable to the depletion of our resources by a “very focused anti-social elements, who have sucked us dry.” So if we resolve the issue of corruption, we have resolved a major problem holding this country back.
Nigerians are united against corruption. Last Friday, I was at a newspaper stand and got a good feel of what the “free-readers” association felt about President Buhari’s fight against corruption. Almost all contributors were well-informed about the goings-on and in strong support of the new administration’s hard anti-corruption stance. The one that really got me was when one person said that his fear was that the cabal will fight back and may even make attempts on the president’s life. The lady newspaper vendor interjected: “It won't work. No weapon fashioned against this country will prosper! Holy Ghost!” And we all shouted “Fire!”
IFEANYI IZEZE lives in Abuja and can be reached on: [email protected]; 234-8033043009