You probably found this as intriguing as I did. Officials of EFCC held a rally in Lagos on July 10 to commemorate this year’s African Union Anti-Corruption day. The Daily Trust of July 11 gave it a front page photo splash. It was the first time I saw the foot soldiers of the anti-graft agency taking up placards in a frontal attack against corruption. These were some of the messages on the placards: “Kill corruption;” “Break Corruption Chain” and say “No to Corruption.”
I would not know to whom their messages were directed. But I thought the commission was set up by President Olusegun Obasanjo to primarily do exactly what the placards said should be done to corruption. I wonder if the commission is minded now to pass the buck. I just hope not.
On page 6 of the same issue of the newspaper, the acting chairman of the commission, Ibrahim Magu, was pictured kicking a casket draped with a white piece of cloth with the inscription, “RIP, Corruption,” during a road walk in Abuja as part of the activities for the anti-corruption day. Magu must have had good reasons for choosing to kick the casket containing, I suppose, the corpse of corruption. But caskets are buried with their dead content, not kicked. If the chairman wants to practise his soccer skills, then he chose a comic practice pitch.
It is good to see African leaders rousing themselves up to speak with one shaky voice against the greatest ill of the continent: corruption. The African Union declared 2018 as African Year of Anti-Corruption. This year’s rally in Lagos and the walk in Abuja must have similarly been held in other African countries although I cannot say for certain. The idea is that at least once a year from now, we would witness a colourful rally of the foot soldiers of the anti-corruption agency protesting the murky presence of corruption in our country. It would help to remind us that corruption is evil; that our leaders on the continent are generally complicit in its perpetration and perpetuation; that when the sinner repents of his sins and takes up the wooden club against his previous sin, he is a born against moralist. There is some comic relief in that.
On the same day the EFCC walk and rally were held in Lagos and Abuja, Transparency International spoilt the fun somewhat. It released its 10th edition of the Global Corruption Barometer – Africa. It showed that the corpse of corruption was not in the casket Magu took some obvious delight in kicking. He must have kicked an empty casket because if anything, corruption was not resting in peace in it. TI said, and not for the first time, nor are we that ignorant of the fact, that “corruption is a major barrier to economic growth, good governance and basic freedoms such as freedom of speech or citizens’ right to hold government to account. More than this, corruption affects the wellbeing of individuals, families and communities.”
In his coup speech on January 15, 1966, the man who introduced the gun into our national politics as an alternative to the ballot box, the late Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, said that corruption made Nigeria look big for nothing. This country has been struggling mightily since then to make itself look big for something by trying to chain corruption. It became a consistent excuse by ambitious military men to use the gun to gain the political throne.
We are actually stumped. The harder we fight, the harder corruption fights back. General Colin Powell, former US secretary of state, once offered the only logical explanation he could put finger on for this. Corruption, he said, was wired into our DNA as a people. Our blood is tainted from birth with it. Corruption is our original sin as Nigerians. The men and women of God know this. And that is why they choose not to dwell on the empty excoriations of sin. Instead, they preach prosperity.
EFCC came into being in 2003 for the sole and welcome purpose of not just leading the fight against corruption but also freeing our country and us from its vice grips. The TI barometer paints a gloomy picture of a battle not likely to be won soon. Its detailed findings of what we might roughly call sectorial corruption index in Nigeria, tell a story that would perhaps make us wonder why corruption has proved stronger than the Nigerian state.
To start with, the Nigeria Police Force, the institution with a constitutional mandate to keep our country free of crimes, including corruption, appears to be like the physician that cannot heal itself. The inspector-general of police and his men and women would not be terribly shocked by the TI finding that the Nigeria Police Force is the most corrupt institution in the country. It topped other institutions with an impressive 69 per cent score. Truth be told, they would not be hearing this for the first time from TI.
The second position on the index was taken up by members of parliament with an equally impressive score of 60 per cent. These men and women are, remember, honourable members of our legislative houses decked out each day with the halo of importance as political potentates.
Local government officials made a surprise showing in the third position with a score of 55 per cent. It is important to note too that government officials, judges and magistrates, business executives, the presidency, non-governmental organisations, traditional rulers and religious leaders have soiled hands. To whom or to where shall we turn if everywhere and everything is so badly tainted in our country? I wish I could tell you. Sorry, I do not know.
From its inception the commission has failed so far to find its groove. There are several reasons for this but I suppose the most critical is politics. A ruling party, for instance, provides shelter for those within the gun sight of the commission. Consequently, the anti-graft war is weakened by a certain degree of ambivalence. There is no full commitment to it because political interests weaken the will to act against individuals in accordance with the law. Nor has the commission outlived its attack status it acquired under Obasanjo’s watch. EFCC finds itself dancing on the same spot, using the same tactics for waging the war. A war does not depend on a single set of tactics; it benefits from a periodic review of methods made necessary by changing circumstances.
The record of the commission in prosecuting its high profile cases is unimpressive. The prosecution of high profile cases is allowed to drag on for ever. The commission has formed the unhelpful habit of gleefully charging such cases in court only to find that it has no concrete evidence to really prosecute them. It embarks on a fishing expedition and tries to gather evidence from witnesses in the open court. Cases then drag on at the investigatory stage for years.
Justice Ibrahim Kutigi, the former chief justice of Nigeria, did not think this would take the commission anywhere near victory in its war against corruption. He advised the commission to do the proper legal thing by basing its prosecution on evidence not on investigation. Piling up cases in the courts and in the process tainting responsible men who want to clear their names is no way to fight the war, let alone win it.
Under our laws, a man is not guilty until proven guilty, not in the court of public opinion or the press but in a court of law. This legal dictum is blatantly exploited by high profile accused persons being prosecuted by EFCC. The commission is made to feel helpless when it sees former state governors it brought to court to answer for their sins, sail past it into the national assembly as law-makers. It cannot stop them because they have not been convicted. But in tolerating this, we miss an important point here. We are sticking to sterile legalism to the detriment of the anti-graft war. Leadership is about moral integrity. A former public officer who is accused of corruption has a huge question mark placed on his moral integrity. And that impairs his moral right to lead or to make laws for the good governance of our country. It has never been the province of the lawless to make laws for the law-abiding. Neither EFCC nor President Buhari has taken any visible steps so far to legally prevent such people from laughing in our faces. This could be cured by simply amending the EFCC Act to prevent those who are being prosecuted by the commission from moving to the next level.
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