Thursday, April 24, 2014

Why anti-corruption laws may never be strengthened By Ojelimafe Anthony

Published:

 Mr. Anthony says Justice Abubakar Umar was irresponsible in his judgement on the charges brought against two former EFCC staff.

 On October 4, 2012, Justice Abubakar Umar of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, presided over a criminal four count charge bordering on conspiracy and obtaining money under false pretence. The case was brought before the judge by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, against two of its staff, Douglas William and Abba Ishaku.

Justice Umar was not diplomatic with his judgment, he sentenced the duo to five years imprisonment, explained that the sentences will run concurrently, and should start from the date of their arraignment, being October 18, 2010. By implications, William and Ishaku, who were sent to Kuje prison immediately, shall regain their freedom on October 19, 2012.

Until their arrest in 2010 following a ‘sting operation’, the men were stationed at the reception of the EFCC headquarters in Wuse, Abuja. Trouble started for the officers when they posed as investigators of the EFCC and allegedly demanded for N100, 000 from Kullima Kachalla, a former Chairman of Bama Local Government in Borno state in 2010. They were alleged to have asked Mr. Kachalla to send them the money in order to bribe other investigators of the Commission to destroy a petition written to the EFCC, which indicted him (the former chairman) for alleged mismanagement of public funds.

By virtue of Section 1 (1) of the Advance Fee Fraud and other Fraud Related Offences Act 2006, any person who by any false pretence, and with intent to defraud, induces any other person, in Nigeria or any other country, to deliver to any person, any property, whether or not the property is obtained or its delivery is induced through the medium of a contract induced by the false pretence, commits an offence and such a person, according to subsection (3) of the Act, is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not more than 20 years and not less than 7 years without an option of fine. In the case of Money Laundering offence, which the legislators and executives are mostly culprits, the penalty is maximum of ten years and minimum of five years imprisonment.

But in his wisdom, Justice Umar said the light sentence he gave the two staff of the EFCC, contrary to the enabling Act, is in view of the “harsh penalty of the Advance Fee Fraud, AFF, Act 2006”.

One may argue that the Judge has no such powers to constitute himself into a lawmaking body by changing the laws as contained in the statute. The only power which the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria confers on him as a part of the judiciary is to interpret the laws of the federation. It is therefore, to me, a matter of judicial rascality, for Justice Umar to go a step further to become a law unto himself. Therefore, the October 4, 2012, ruling of Justice Umar, as counsel to the EFCC, Mary Onoja, hinted after the verdict, is a subject of appeal.

Be that as it may, like the eminent African novelist and critic, Prof Chinua Achebe said in his famous book “The Trouble with Nigeria “that the only trouble with Nigeria is the failure of leadership. With good leaders Nigeria can resolve its inherent problems such as tribalism; lack of patriotism; social injustice and the cult of mediocrity; indiscipline and corruption. Today, there is no denying the fact that the major problem with Nigeria still remains corruption, and nothing is suggestive that the leadership is atop of the situation. Rather than a concerted effort from concerned Nigerians, very little is being done to really fight the scourge of corruption, economic and financial crimes in the country.

Under the leadership of Mallam Nuhu Ribadu as EFCC chairman, so much was done to amend the immunity clause as contained in section 308 of the 1999 constitution. That never sailed through as it was not in the interest of those in government even though it was in the overall interest of the Nigerian people. But shortly afterward, the legislators muted the idea and in fact went ahead to present a Bill that was to grant immunity to members of the National Assembly and state assemblies. The Bill which was sponsored by Henry Dickson (PDP, Bayelsa State) now governor of Bayelsa state, was titled “a Bill for an Act to Amend the Legislative Houses, Powers and Privileges Act, Cap L12 2004, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria and for Other Related Purposes, 2009,”. Nkeiruka Onyejiocha, (PDP, Abia), who also supported the Bill, said, if passed, the bill would encourage the rule of law and would check a situation where people are whisked away by security agencies under different guises.

While that lasted, the same national assembly threw out the Civil Asset forfeiture Bill, which was intended to serve as deterrent to corrupt public office holders who loot the treasury and aggravate the pains of the populace. The bill was meant to be one of the most effective tools employed in the fight against corruption as the practice worldwide. The law would have been most applicable in cases where circumstantial evidence proves that assets the individual possess cannot possibly be explained by any of his or her known sources of income. The system would have been constitutional and would not have infringed the fundamental rights of citizens.

If you know the characters that aspired to the national assembly, that were at the national assembly and are still at the national assembly making laws and influencing laws for the good people of Nigerian, then you will know that the laws will definitely be harsh on the common criminal and mild on the big rogues. According to Justice Umar, to protect their interest and not the interest of the Nigerian people, let us take a cursory look at some of these characters.

Senator Hosea Ayoola Agboola was arraigned at the Oyo State High Court on an 11-count charge bordering on abuse of office to the tune of N11.5 billion. He was arraigned on October 11, 2011.

Senator Adamu Abdullahi, former Governor of Nassarawa state, now a senator, is being prosecuted by the EFCC at the Federal High Court, Lafia, Nassarawa. He was arraigned on a 149 count charge of fraud to the tune of N15 billion.

Ex-governor Senator Sani Ahmed Yerima of Zamfara state: He was a two time governor of Zamfara state (1999 to 2007). At the end of his tenure in 2007, he indicated interest in the senate but the EFCC listed him as number 47 of candidates indicted as (being) corrupt. The list notwithstanding, he won and has remained in the senate ever since.

Ex-Governor, Senator Danjuma Goje of Gombe State: A Federal High Court, Gombe State, arraigned on 18 count criminal charge bordering on diversion of state funds to the tune of N52 billion.

Two time governor, Senator George Akume of Benue State is now the minority leader in the senate. This is a man who is a fugitive abroad wanted for fraud.

John Dangoyi of Nassarawa State: A Federal High Court, Lafia, Nassarawa State, arraigned on a 17 count criminal charge bordering on diversion of state funds to the tune of N40 billion. The case of Dangoyi who was arraigned on October 18, 2011, is on-going.

Abdulmumin Jibril of Nassarawa State: A Federal High Court, Lafia, Nasarawa State, arraigned on a 17 count criminal charge bordering on diversion of state funds to the tune of N40 billion. He was arraigned on October 18, 2011, case on-going.

Emmanuel Obot, Akwa Ibom State: He was 63 on the EFCC advisory list as a corrupt politician who should not be given a chance in the 2007 general election. After several court battles, he got his way back to the House of Representatives.

Chimaroke Nnamani, former governor of Enugu State (1999-2007) was a Senator (2007-2011). He is being prosecuted by the EFCC at the Federal High Court, Lagos, on a 105 count charge of corruption and fraudulent embezzlement to the tune of N5.3 billion. In 2011, he contested and lost in Enugu West Senatorial District on the platform of People for Democratic Change, PDC. He lost to Gilbert Nnaji of the PDP.

Orji Uzor Kalu, a former Abia State governor is being prosecuted by the EFCC at the Federal High Court, Abuja, on a 107 count charge of corruption and fraudulent embezzlement to the tune of N5 billion. He contested on the platform of the People’s Progressive Alliance, PPA in the Abia North Senatorial district and lost to incumbent Senator, Uche Chukwumerije, of PDP.

Senator Saminu Turaki is being prosecuted by the EFCC at the Federal High Court, Abuja, on a 32 count charge of corruption and fraudulent embezzlement to the tune of N36 billion. He was a former governor of Jigawa state and a former Senator representing Jigawa North-West Senatorial district. He was in the senate after completing his eight year tenure as governor.

Jolly Nyame was a two term former governor of Taraba State. He is being prosecuted by the EFCC at a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja on a 41 count charge of corruption and fraudulent embezzlement to the tune of N1. 3 billion. He contested on the platform of the ACN and lost to a retired Justice, Aisha Jummai Alhassan of PDP.

Boni Haruna, a former governor of Adamawa state is being prosecuted by the EFCC at the Federal High Court, Abuja, on a 28 count charge of corruption and fraudulent embezzlement to the tune of N250 million. He contested and lost the Adamawa North senatorial seat under the platform of the ACN.

Joshua Dariye served eight years as governor of Plateau state and also won the senate ticket to the National Assembly. He is being prosecuted by the EFCC at the FCT High court, Abuja, on a 23 count charge of corruption and fraudulent embezzlement of over N700 million. He defected from the ruling PDP to the Labour Party, LP.

Tolorunjuwon Joseph Faniyi, former Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs in Kogi State. He is being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for allegedly defrauding the state to the tune of N536 million at the Federal High Court, Lokoja. He contested the primaries of Kogi West senatorial seat under the PDP and lost to incumbent senator Smart Adeyemi. He defected to the CPC and contested the national assembly election on April 9, 2011 but lost woefully to the PDP candidate.

Ayo Fayose, former governor of Ekiti State is being prosecuted by the EFCC at the Federal High Court, Lagos, on a 51count charge of corruption and fraudulent embezzlement to the tune of N1.2 billion. He contested the Ekiti Central Senatorial district on the platform of the Labour Party and lost. Now, he has been celebrated back to PDP.

Dimeji Bankole the Speaker of the House of Representative is being prosecuted by the EFCC at the Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, over contract scam to the tune of over N9 billion. He lost in the Abeokuta Federal Constituency election on the platform of PDP to Segun Williams of ACN.

Senator Iyabo Obasanjo, PDP, former Chairman, Senate Committee on health and daughter of former President Olusegun Obasanjo was also being prosecuted by the EFCC on a 56 count charge of N10 million unspent budget of the ministry of health. She lost to Gbenga Obadara of ACN in the Ogun Central Senatorial district.

Nicholas Ukachukwu is being prosecuted by the EFCC, alongside former governor Abdullahi Adamu, on a 149 count charge of corruption and fraudulent embezzlement to the tune of N15 billion at the Federal High Court, Lafia, Nasarawa state. He contested the Anambra West Senatorial South seat under the platform of the PDP. Though the PDP won the senatorial district, INEC gave victory to Andy Uba of PDP.

Nicholas Ugbane contested for the Kogi state governorship primary under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and lost. He is being prosecuted by the EFCC alongside eight others at the high Court of the FCT, Abuja, on a 65 count charge of corruption and fraudulent embezzlement to the tune of N5.2 billion in the Rural Electrification Agency, REA scam.

Usman Bayero Nafada, former Deputy Speaker, House Of Representatives: Arraigned at an Abuja High Court, on 17 count charge for criminal breach of trust, Misappropriation and theft on June 13, 2011 to the tune of N37.7billion

Paulinus Igwe. former Members of House of Representatives. This is the Rural Electrification Agency Case involving a serving Senator, 3 serving members of the House of Representatives, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Power and other high profile public officers. They were arraigned on 158 count charge.

Ndudi Elumelu This is the Rural Electrification Agency Case involving a serving Senator, three serving members of the House of Representatives, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Power and other high profile public officers. He was arraigned on a 158 count- charge

Mohammed Jibo: This is the Rural Electrification Agency Case involving a serving Senator, serving members of the House of Representatives, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Power and other high profile public officers. Arraigned at an Abuja High Court Abuja on 158-count charge.

Bala Mohammed of Bauchi: Senator Bala Mohammed was number 45 on the list of the EFCC list of indicted politicians. He nevertheless won the Senatorial ticket of Bauchi state under the banner of the ANPP. He was nominated for a ministerial appointment by the ruling PDP and was endorsed by the Senate. He then decamped to the PDP. He is today the minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.

Abbass Braimoh Edo: The Edo state born politician was termed corrupt by EFCC and subsequently indicted as unfit to contest election in 2007. He was 37 on the list. He however contested and won his election as a member of the Federal House of Representatives.

Many, including Senator Smart Adeyemi, have advocated the death penalty option as penalty for corruption and economic crimes, but who will pass the bill into a law.

Senator Adeyemi said in an interview in 2010 with Zero Tolerance, a quarterly publication of the EFCC, that: “I have the feeling that after fifty years of independence there must be radical approach in solving our problems, notwithstanding the opinion of the international community. In the last 48 to 49 years we have been fighting corruption in Nigeria, I don’t know if you are aware that even the in 1960s there were cases of corruption against some ministers in the first republic, I don’t want to mention names. Some of their children are today occupying sensitive positions. I have taken time to read the history of Nigeria, and I have read so much about what happened in the first republic. There were a lot of panel that were set up in the 1960s and in the early 1970s nothing happened. Those panels never saw the light of the day. I am not saying they are guilty, I am only saying that corruption is not a problem that emanated today. If we have started fighting corruption for the past 45 to 49 years, we must start looking for other alternatives in the fight, we must consider other options. Great nations of the world are great today because at a particular period in the history of such nations, they took radical decisions. They all reasoned and said we need a turning point, there is a need for a turning point in the way and manner we manage our affairs in Nigeria.” But who will bell the cat?

Mr. Ojelimafe, a public affairs commentator writes from Abuja.

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