Says fight against corruption is not a one-man show
• Osinbajo, Onnoghen insist on rule of law
• Sagay: NDDC used funds meant for ‘wretched’ Niger Delta people on pricey SUVs
Senate President Bukola Saraki had described as illegal the invasion of judges’ houses by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) last October.
Saraki, who was represented by Senator Chukwuka Utazii, accused PACAC of supporting the use of extra-judicial means to fight corruption.
This, he said, would make the fight against corruption unsustainable.
He said: “In the same vein, PACAC should not lend itself to supporting extra-legal actions if the fight against corruption must be sustained and ingrained in the body polity.
“A situation where PACAC speaks in favour of patently extra-legal means of law enforcement does not bode well for the rule of law.
“The end result of any action of government is as important as the process. The platforms for fighting corruption should not, themselves, be corrupt or be seen to be corrupted.
“The recent so-called sting operation by the Department of State Services on the residences of some very senior justices, some without search warrants, others without any proof of incriminating body of evidence, leaves much to be desired.”
Saraki said that there was a need for all government bodies to operate within their mandate.
He said even though the National Security Agencies Act of 1986 granted the DSS the powers to act in economic crimes of national security dimension, Section 6(c) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Act of 2004, a latter enactment, had vested the power for the co-ordination and enforcement of all economic and financial crimes laws and enforcement functions conferred on any other person or authority on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
He said: “It is even more instructive that by Section 2(1)(e) of the EFCC Act, the Department of State Services sits on the board of the EFCC and could easily, in their meetings, point out the persons or bodies the EFCC needs to investigate and prosecute backed up by the evidence it has clandestinely gathered.
“That sting operation was a needless violation of our laws and an aberration that democratic society should consider anathema.
“The EFCC should have been provided the necessary intelligence to execute its mandate if the evidence disclosed a prima facie case against the justices.”
He also accused PACAC of demonising the National Assembly as a corrupt institution, saying that this would not help the fight against graft.
“Certain government agencies and civil society bodies (and PACAC is not innocent of this), have formed the habit of making a scape goat of the National Assembly as a den of corruption.
“They deliberately cast institutions of state in a non-salutary hue that is divorced from reality. It does not help in confidence building, within government and across the civil population, when institutions of state are deliberately demonised in order to put the shine on others.
“As a critical stakeholder and partner in the mandate given to PACAC, it does not feel right when you mount rostrums to say how badly the National Assembly has performed; how they have left their duties derelict and how corrupt they are.
“Indeed, it is counter-productive for PACAC to do so because its mandate of advising should be given across board to all arms and tiers in order to promote the effectiveness of all government institutions and strengthen anti-corruption measures in a comprehensive manner,” he counselled.
The Senate President said it was important to continue to have intense discussions and interactions with a broad spectrum of the populace in order to internalise the message about the perils of corruption to the society and enthrone not only attitudinal changes but also institutional awareness of the strategies to eliminate corruption from the body polity.
He admitted that corruption was the greatest impediment to the development of Nigeria and the bane of the public service.
According to him, the pervasive nature of corruption and the brazen display of ill-gotten wealth had made it public enemy number one in Nigeria.
He said: “For this reason, special agencies have been created to deal with the issues of corruption, because laws that are designed to address escalating social misnomers require specialised agencies to implement such laws.
“More importantly, beyond specialised agencies to cater for them, the political will of the government of the day to regard corruption as an affront to societal cohesion and an impediment to growth is crucial.
“That is why it is gratifying that this government has placed the degree of premium it has on the issues around corruption.
“The scale of corruption in Nigeria is such that it is no exaggeration to say that no enemy of Nigeria, within or without, would have done the kind of damage to the psyche, integrity and ambitions of the nation, as much as what corruption has already done.
“Because of corruption, nations that were our competitors before, have left us far behind in the global index of development. There is therefore need to generate a platform for continuous discussions on the issues around corruption and I thank PACAC for this.”
He recommended that the fight against corruption must be driven by a well articulated strategy, adding that the strategy must be multi-faceted, taking alongside all facets of Nigeria’s political, economic and social systems with each arm or department of government operating within their jurisdictions and mandates to secure a collective stakeholder stage about the fight.
He said deliberately “casting the fight as that of one man, a kind of knight in shining armour, who wrestles with a resisting society, in my humble view, will not secure the desired result”.
Also speaking, acting President Yemi Osinbajo and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, both agreed that the war against corruption must be waged within the ambit of the law.
Osinbajo said corruption was an existential threat to Nigeria as a nation and as a viable economic entity, but confirmed that corruption was fighting back.
He said: “When you are fighting corruption, everything is thrown back at you. First religion is used and ethnicity is used in order to undermine every fight against corruption. And this is not peculiar to Nigeria.
“Anyone who tries to fight corruption will try to undermine the very fundamentals of that whole programme of anti-corruption.”
He said ethnicity was frequently used to fight back. “The truth is that you’ll always find those kinds of accusations. Those kinds of accusations will always be made and we must resist them.
“And we can only resist them by also ensuring that the systems that we put in place are fair and comply with the rule of law.”
He said that corruption in Nigeria was systemic.
According to him, “It doesn’t matter whether it is the executive arm of government, the judiciary or the legislature, as every arm of government is involved in this systemic and life threatening social anomaly called corruption.”
He also said that corruption affects all segments of the society.
“It affects the religious, it affects agencies and civil society groups. There’s no one in our nation that can say they are not in one way or the other, not necessarily being complicit, but at least under some influence or the other of some of the implications of corruption,” he added.
He urged participants at the dialogue to forget finger pointing, saying that finger pointing was unhelpful.
“What is important is that we recognise that there is a major problem here,” he added.
He suggested that models that worked elsewhere be considered and a determination made as to whether those models would work in Nigeria.
He said there was nothing peculiar about the Nigerian citizen, or the Nigerian type, but noted that corruption thrives where it is allowed to thrive.
He said there are many societies that found themselves in worse circumstances than Nigeria and had somehow managed to solve their problems.
He made the following suggestions: improving on the integrity of the entire justice system by making sure that judges, lawyers, clerks are not corrupt, and more screening for judges before appointment.
Apart from screening by the DSS, he suggested that there should be particular tests and proper investigations of candidates to be appointed as judges.
He also recommended the improvement of the general welfare of the judges.
“Judges accused of any infraction must be investigated and prosecuted through the National Judicial Council (NJC) to avoid political influence,” he added.
Justice Onnoghen, in his contribution, said the fight against corruption must be done within the concept of the rule of law.
He said corruption should be fought in such a way that the judiciary as an institution is not destroyed.
He observed that the EFCC had boasted about the number of cases prosecuted and asked that if the judiciary was so corrupt, how did the commission secure those convictions?
He said the Nigerian judiciary remained very much committed and in complete support of the effort to cage corruption in Nigeria.
He also pointed out that corruption thrived because of impunity.
“So, if you are to fight corruption, then you have to fight the culture of impunity which is an attitudinal phenomenon, without adhering strictly to the constitutional provisions of the rule of law.
“If we allow the rule of law to reign, then you will agree with me there will be a dramatic reduction in corruption and injustice.
“That’s speaking for myself, that’s how I see it. However, ask yourself, the corruption the judiciary always stands accused of. In fact, it appears like the paint and the brush… it seems to be an institution that epitomises corruption.
“But that’s not fair. That’s not correct. A Nigerian judicial officer is a gentleman. You have gentlemen on that bench.
“And by the nature of that institution, the judiciary, it is crafted and designed in a such a way that a judicial officer can only see and not be heard; not that he has nothing to say, even in defence of himself?
“So, when you are dealing with judicial corruption when one exists, you have to do it in accordance with the rule of law and then channel whatever you have through the appropriate channels so that you don’t destroy that institution.
“Because destroying it will not do any good. It will do it more harm than good,” he averred.
He also pointed out that sometimes prosecuting agencies based charges on shoddy investigations only to turn around and blame the judiciary.
Onnoghen said that judges should not be expected to convict an innocent person when the prosecution has failed to discharge the burden imposed on him by law.
He advised anti-corruption agencies to report whatever challenges they face in the course of prosecuting their cases to the leadership of the judiciary.
“Whatever problems exist in the course of prosecuting their cases, let them bring them up, identify them and let us see how best we can improve on the system and not make it appear as if the judiciary is not doing anything,” he added.
He also said that some cases were abandoned in court even though judges were blamed for not concluding the cases.
In his remarks, the Chairman of PACAC, Itse Sagay, accused the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) of being reckless with funds meant for development.
Sagay said the commission recently bought 70 cars, including eight Super Lexus SUVs at N78 million each and 10 Toyota Land Cruiser SUVs, each costing N63 million instead of executing developmental projects that would benefit the people of Niger Delta.
He said the vehicles were acquired with funds meant for the provision of water, housing, hospital, schools and infrastructure development in the Niger Delta region.
“The cars were bought with money from funds meant for infrastructure, water, housing, hospital, schools, without conscience and without a thought for the wretched people of the Niger Delta.
“These huge sums were plundered from their allocations and yet the managing director was ironically complaining as reported by The Nation newspaper of February 6, 2017, that the NDDC lacks funds to execute projects.
“The managing director also said that NDDC was in debt to the tune of N1.2 trillion. What an irony.
“The recklessness with which public officers spend public funds is insensitive to the point of insanity. The level of insensitivity has become pathological,” he charged.
Sagay said despite efforts by the present administration, corruption remained entrenched in Nigeria.
“Corruption is omnipresent in Nigeria. High and low office holders, the public and private sector, the executive, legislative and judicial sectors, Customs, Immigration, police, the civil service, everywhere,” he said.
Sagay also took a swipe at the Nigeria Customs Service, saying nothing had changed since the current administration came on board in May 2015.
He said: “Let me give you dear compatriots another example of bold and brazen corruption, thumbing its nose at this administration and at all of us Nigerians.
“This is happening at the Customs and Excise Department, which has completely ignored the fight against corruption, operating as if it is not in Nigeria.”
He cited an instance in the Tin Can Island seaport in Lagos, where he said customs officials now charge fees to physically examine goods following the breakdown of the scanner.
Describing it as brazen corruption, he said there were many other instances, which PACAC brought to the attention of the Comptroller-General during a recent visit to him.
Sagay decried public apathy to issues of corruption in the country, noting that the people’s attitude to corruption had hardened and there was no longer any fear of consequence.
“Now, we need to ask ourselves what the problem really is. We are definitely overwhelmed by the epidemic of kleptomania. But do we also have a collective psychiatric problem?
“Why should a person loot what he cannot spend in 10 lifetimes, thereby exposing the rest of the population to misery, hunger, poverty and wretchedness?” he asked.
Sagay also reflected on judicial corruption, saying some judges still grant adjournments running into months, in contravention of the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.
He accused lawyers of contributing to the problem by using different delay tactics, thus causing the nation great embarrassment.
He said he had suggested to PACAC the need to recruit a group of young lawyers to monitor court sittings and note the adjournments.
According to him, the reports sent by the monitors will be compiled and sent to the National Judicial Council (NJC) for appropriate action.
Sagay faulted the recent public demonstrations against the present administration, saying they were sponsored by those who lost the elections in 2015 and those whose appointments were not renewed.