A lost anti-corruption war is a lost future II

Last Saturday, I recalled the first part of this piece but I goofed big time in respect of the date of the swearing-in of the first female Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar, which was the peg of the write-up.  The erudite justice was sworn in on July 16, 2012 and not in 2015.

In my preamble to the part one, I had a rethink (eight years after) about eliminating corruption through capital punishment.  My new take is that corruption is a spirit that cannot be killed. The best you can do is to bind or cast it out. You can only kill a carrier of the evil spirit through death sentence. When you achieve that, the spirit will flee in search of another willing body… and willing bodies are all over the place waiting to be possessed. That is why the war against bribery and corruption precipitated by the first coup in 1966 has not been won. But it should not be lost. It is an everlasting war. To lose it is to lose our future. It is high time we began to view corruption from this spiritual dimension.

Enjoy the second and concluding part:

Former chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Justice Emmanuel Ayoola (retd) and the ex-chairperson of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mrs. Farida Waziri, were poles apart regarding the manner of punishments to be meted out to convicted corrupt elements. Just as President Goodluck Jonathan and the new Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar, could not find a common position on where to route corrupt cases.

 At the recent swearing-in ceremony of Justice Maryam Aloma Mukhtar at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Mr. President favoured the establishment of special courts to prosecute corrupt elements. However, the new CJN strongly believed that the nation’s criminal justice system is all-encompassing and does not require parallel courts to try corruption cases.  

Apart from the (immanent) disagreement of ICPC’s Justice Ayoola and EFCC’s Mrs. Farida Waziri over where to try corrupt elements, the duo also differed on the manner of punishments for convicts. While Ayoola recommended a mandatory term of a minimum of 15 years and a forfeiture of assets, Waziri canvassed for the Chinese option: death. In China, the penalty for corruption is capital punishment. And that is probably why that country has become a prosperous nation today despite harbouring about 15 percent of the world’s population. The population of Nigeria is less than 25 percent of that of China and that country is not as blessed with abundant mineral resources, which are a sine qua non for technological development and industrial revolution as Nigeria.

Imagine what would have become of China and its citizens today if its leadership had treated corruption with kid gloves, as it is the case in Nigeria. Apart from the former governor of Delta state, James Ibori, who was convicted in London for money laundering and allied crimes (a Nigerian judge had earlier tried, discharged and acquitted him of similar offences), only a few high profiled cases had been decided with laughable sentences. For instance, the former inspector-general of police, Tafa Balogun, was given only six months (which he spent in the hospital anyway) for embezzling N17 billion.

Former Edo state governor, Lucky Igbinedion, had his name work for him when he was fined N3m for stealing N9 billion. Former chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Olabode George, earned just 30 months for stealing over N9 billion.  Former managing director and CEO of the Oceanic Bank Plc, Cecilia Ibru, came from the blue to prove that, indeed, what a man can do a woman can do even better. She ran the financial empire like her personal estate, and stole close to N190 billion in cash and assets. After the long-drawn battle, the trial was brought to a dramatic end following “a plea bargain” by her lawyers. Mrs. Ibru got only six months in prison for the unprecedented single case of fraud. Consequently, the Oceanic Bank is consigned to the history book.

The Nigerian corrupt environment thrives on the law of geography: the higher you go, the cooler it becomes. In other words, the heavier the loot, the lighter the punishment. Whereas, chicken and goat thieves often bag heavy sentences ranging from two to three years or even amputation! It is these light sentences handed down by the normal courts that embolden emerging corrupt elements in our midst. Then, there are a handful of ex-governors who have been facing money-laundering charges or mind-boggling cases of fraud at the regular courts all over the place since 2007. Some of them are now ensconced in the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly, addressed as Distinguished Senators. Most of the normal courts operate like a vehicle without an accelerator… they move at their own pace.

The Obasanjo administration, which threw up the EFCC and the ICPC, had its own hidden agenda. Many accused him of using the two bodies to witch-hunt his opponents within and outside the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Those who argued that the ex-president merely floated the anti-graft agencies as a smokescreen to hide his own malfeasance were proved right when a presidential panel set up by the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to probe the National Independent Power Project told the nation that only $3.08bn was spent. But the late president had earlier raised an alarm that more than $10bn was spent on power by his predecessor without anything to show for it. The House of Representatives promptly instituted a probe panel headed by Hon. Ndudi Elumelu. After its investigation, the panel located over $16bn that was wasted by the Obasanjo regime, bestowing on the nation a legacy of everlasting darkness and collapse of the manufacturing sector, while the economy stood on its head. Expectedly, nothing but scandal trailed the panel’s report.

The anti-graft war appears to be waning. This can be attributed to the fact that the normal courts where the war is waged are not only congested but also hamstrung by the culture of impunity entrenched in the system. Because corruption has become a way of life in this country, everyone is cashing in on available opportunity to have his own share of the booty. I weep for this country whenever I see Senior Advocates of Nigeria falling over themselves to represent corrupt elements even before they are charged to court. You do not have to look for them. They will come after you like ants on sugar, knowing full well that you have stolen big enough to hire them, influence the bench, get a light sentence… and then fake illness so that you could spend the jail term in a homely hospital and everybody will be happy ever after.

A vote for special courts by President Jonathan is a positive development in the anti-corruption war. A desperate illness requires a desperate cure. When armed robbery became an endemic felony during the military, special tribunals were set up to try armed robbery cases.

Similarly, Special Military Tribunals were set up by the military regime of Buhari/Idiagbon to try corrupt elements. Corrupt elements are worse than armed robbers. In Nigeria, the hugest haul a gang of armed robbers can make (and it has to be from a bank) may be about N50m in a single operation. But one crook can single-handedly corner N50bn or more with a stroke of the pen.

To strengthen the anti-corruption war, President Jonathan should go around the resistance of the CJN and put in place the special courts headed by retired eminent jurists. He can seek the support of the National Assembly in achieving this laudable objective, with capital punishment as icing on the cake. The recent upsurge of corrupt practices in high places at all levels of government is not only frightening but also a bad augury for our collective survival as a nation. We must not fold our arms and watch helplessly as a tiny clique of crooks immolates our future on the altar of corruption. It is the ultimate challenge President Jonathan must face and squarely for that matter or we are all doomed.

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