By Shehu Bashir
Integrity is a virtue that should never be compromised for anything, when it does, the result is always devastating – a nation in shambles and a soul in disarray.
Nigeria no doubt is such a very complex country. This complexity is making everything very difficult to work. When laws are to be made, the background intents in the minds of the makers are rarely for the purpose of correcting any mischief. Often times, mischief is created instead of being corrected by these laws. In most cases, such intents are tainted with sentiment of greed and evasive attempt as if the makers would live under the cover of that position forever.
The same thing applies to implementation. There is always a cry of sentiment against the administration of these laws; the mistrust is so deep rooted. When a law faces these challenges, I wonder what hitches policies may face?
You cannot define patriotism without borrowing a leaf from the concept of law; neither can you define corruption without taking note of the absence of patriotism in its commission or motive for commission; the tie is like a vicious cycle – you need one to understand the other just as you need the other to solve the problems associated with one. Most times, people often think the best way to solve corruption problem is to have stronger laws in place, a deterrent example to discourage commission but I hold the view that laws are not enough when those who enforce them lack the passionate patriotic commitment and integrity to shrug off the temptation not to compromise enforcement.
In Nigeria today, what is mostly lacking and inadvertently promoting the growth of corruption, making it the only way to stardom is unarguably the lack of patriotism to do the needful by virtually all the stakeholders charged with responsibility of doing so, i.e. the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. Without any intent to denigrate these Arms, we cannot discuss the failure of effective corruption control without scratching our head (worrying) about the non-committal attitude of these Arms and their agents at one point or the other and in one way or another.
Understanding the fact that corruption is the singular virus in this country that has plagued/infected virtually all the other fibres of our human lives, we cannot shy away from saying it as it is even if one will be rebuked. When you compare and examine these agents, there is always a common ground in motives of how they will do or will not do what. The menace now dictates the justification of what kind of laws to be made, how these laws should be enforced and how criminal cases relating to corruption should be adjudicated. We cannot be in limbo of this “unfortunateness” and expect perfect result in our resolve to fighting corruption. This is where there is need to separate the chaff from the grain and expunge the bad eggs from the brooding.
Not wanting to fall victim of this unpatriotic syndrome, this writer is keenly interested in contributing to the ongoing discussion on best strategy to fight and end corruption, hence, this piece. The attempt to do this is borne out of the patriotic zeal to help this helpless nation out of the hapless coma that has been caused by insensitive economic bourgeois who though are often separated by official delineation but usually united on the field of fiduciary conspiracy.
In 2015, when the present administration came on board, understanding and trusting the anti-corruption mantra that their party sang to garner votes and eventually win the elections, as a patriotic citizen, I made a bold effort to make effective contributions towards corruption eradication. The effort was not intended to gain any personal aggrandisement but to help sharpen the future of corruption fight in the country.
Like any other selfless Nigerian who is passionately interested in decimating the menace of corruption, I submitted a proposal to the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Muhammed Buhari, GCFR, to suggest a number of ways to address corruption problems. The proposal was submitted to him personally shortly before his inauguration at his private residence in Aso Drive, Abuja. There have been several of those similar proposals I have equally submitted with series of letters as addendum to suggest pragmatic approach to effective control of corruption.
Precisely, in the first blueprint, I suggested the following:- amendment of EFCC Act to strengthen it and especially to discourage the apparent culture of appointing a serving Police Officer as its Chairman, creation of the Office of the Senior Special Adviser to the President on Corruption Control and Strategy, suggestion for the creation of Mandatory Assets Declaration Directorate, suggestion for the separation of membership of the NJC from the Justices of the Supreme Court and suggestion for the creation of Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption.
An author will always be happy to see his book published but may not be so fulfilled if those reading it are not grasping the message therein. As the sole Author of the blue print that led to the creation of Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC, I have the proprietorial right to guide and offer a piece of advice in its implementation. Why I observe with a sense of fulfilment in the implementation of the blue print, atleast, I am concerned about the way and manner those who are saddled with the execution of these policies are carrying out the assignment with particular reference to PACAC’s modules operandi. PACAC was conceived and coined to assist the federal government in advisory position. It is meant to formulate policies on corruption control strategies, to help identify the loopholes in the laws against corruption and suggest the way out to government on best form of execution of these laws even without holding a press conference.
With due respect, it is rather a misplacement of priority that the Committee has turned itself into the “executor” of the laws, a disciplinary agent of sort, jumping into the arena of the fight and engaging everyone in fisticuff of relevance. With profound respect to the integrity of the members of PACAC, the way and manner they are doing their job make people of requisite knowledge see their procedures and probably intentions as “ego photo-bomb”. Members of the PACAC should not see their appointments as an opportunity to political engagement; rather, they should see it as a call to duty, a rare privilege to make meaningful difference in the fight against corruption at this period of our evolvement.
The creation of the Committee is first in history in this country because the thinking behind it is also expected to yield results so unprecedented. It is important to emphasize that the methodology adopted by PACAC is eroding the values and the good intent behind its creation. It will be a bad development for the nation should PACAC be found to be boring, digressing, irrelevant and obsolete simply because its members do not have clear understanding of the assignment before them. In my candid opinion, PACAC would do better if it restrict itself to advisory roles, speak less and eschew personality contest.
Often times, we view some people with unlimited assumption of “men of integrity”, alas, assumptions are always wrong. One of the problems of effective corruption control in Nigeria is the pathetic practice of reducing “officialdom” to “kingdom”. We tend to justify success in the fight against corruption by the conduct and character of the holder of the office of the agency fighting it, even if such conduct and character display is just a “red carpet show”.
In an attempt to promote egoism, we diminish the institution. The raging drama on confirmation of Ibrahim Magu’s appointment is the worst ever attack on the successful fight against corruption in this Country. It is ironical that this diminishing attempt is unwittingly being “promoted” by those who are struggling very hard to eliminate corruption. In defence of Magu as the sole “saint” that can nail corruption on the head, we do not even care to gauge the level of his patriotic oil. If only the sanctity and superiority of the institution is prioritised above any individual holding such office, probably someone would have discovered some of the thorns tearing Magu’s flesh of presumed credibility. I intend to avail the readers of some of these albatrosses.
At this juncture, it is important for me to sound this caveat that I am not out to cast any aspersion against Mr. Magu neither do I have personal scores to settle with him. It is equally imperative to state that my personal position and opinion here is not in any way in conforming consonance with the political gladiators at the Senate. Our motives and intents are entirely different; mine is passionate patriotism, theirs have been described by many Nigerians as self-serving protectionism.
Having said this, for the love of the sanctity of government institutions and the respect for intellectual sagacity, it behoves on every one of us to live above sentiment of personal attachment and speak the truth so that the truth shall set us free.
In this regard, it will not be out of place to hint on some of the compromises of Magu in recent times. There is this case of alleged inflated contract against a certain company that was to renovate some Airports in the country. The value of the contract was put at over Fifteen Billion Naira (N15b), whereas, it was allegedly grossly inflated. EFCC discovered this and started investigation, in the process, the company’s account was frozen with about Three Billion Naira (N3b) still intact in that account. In the wake of the screening and confirmation of Magu, the case in question was one of those some powerful bloc within the Senate allegedly used as a “bait” to “whip” Magu into line, allegedly requesting him to unfreeze that account; low and behold! Magu allegedly unilaterally unfroze that account. If this is true, the Ag. Chairman is supposed to be issued a query.
In the same vein, the same Senate bloc allegedly asked Mr. Magu to disband some of the Special Task Force, STF, teams that have been investigating some of the high profile cases involving some of the members of the Senate, Mr. Magu immediately disbanded seven out of the ten teams of the STF and left only three teams that are rather too poorly equipped to continue diligent investigation and prosecution on some of these cases. This unfortunate development is choking the efficiency of the prosecution team that some of the lawyers could not even sleep in their houses anymore because they are burdened with too much work. An office space had to be converted to an apartment for some of the few remaining prosecuting lawyers to sleep. It is that misplaced.
Let me also tell the worst of these compromises. In the wake of the bullet proof car saga involving the former Minister of Aviation, now Senator Stella Oduah, I don’t know if anyone remembers that Dino Melaye was about the loudest voice for the prosecution of the then Minister. During this same period, about Six Million Naira (N6m) was allegedly paid into Melaye’s account allegedly from NAMA’s account without executing any contract for that Agency. The insinuation is that the money was paid to seal someone’s lips from the talking about the car saga agin. With this damning piece of evidence of bribery collection suspicion against Mr. Dino, Mr. Magu was allegedly briefed and urged to allow for full investigation of Dino on possible prosecution. Magu allegedly technically “killed” the case ostensibly to impress Dino by refusing to order for full investigation let alone prosecution. All these were attempts to impress and lure the Senate into confirming his appointment, even though, the Senate have shown that they are smarter than him, ambushing him along the way despite their “pledge” and his compromises.
If anyone is worried about the loss of certain high profile cases in courts in recent times, it is because those who are saddled with the responsibilities of getting the job done are grossly incompetent, disloyal and unpatriotic. This will be a topic for a later day discussion.
Considering the recent brow between the Senate and the Presidency, I am not even bothered about the legal technicalities of the two side’s argument than I am worried about the moral justification for each side’s argument. Legally speaking one may not be too worried about the usurpation attempt of the Senate to abrogate and adjudicate at the same time beyond their constitutional prescriptions because their giant may forever remain stunted. However, the Executive seems to be playing into the hands of this uncommon legislature for not doing due diligence on the credibility on the individual they are fiercely defending. Let’s assume the Presidency is conditioned to take such a stance in support of a principle or a person, such stance must be one that is steady enough, defensible anytime, any day. For me, Magu is not the right asset the Presidency can vouch for and engaging in show down with another institution over him is just not a smart move. I know the Presidency might have taken a position, insisting on Magu’s status but I also know that the position cannot be sacrosanct especially when there is a valid ground for integrity question. EFCC is too important an Institution for anybody to trivialize its operations and administration.
Defending Magu’s continuous stay in office is not entirely the problem, but doing that on a blind trust is the real issue. Does Magu have this integrity for anybody to go to war over him? I leave you to answer the question.
I ask, what particular integrity does a Chairman have if he had to arbitrarily suspend a senior Director under him for close to two years without pinning any offence against him? See the case of one Ayo Olowonihi, a former Commandant of the EFCC Academy who was suspended for no reason at all and remains suspended for close to two years. Why is nobody seeing this nor saying anything against this? Are we saying the innocent Director should continue to suffer in the hands of authoritarianism simply because we don’t want to make public Magu’s inadequacies?
I ask, what manner of a Chairman would deploy a sick staff far away from his family simply because the man once held a contrary view with the Chairman? What manner of a Chairman would refuse to approve medical grant for a sick and dying man simply because he didn’t like the man? What manner of a Chairman would allow his own staff to die for no other reason than victimizing the “dissident” staff because the deceased once argued in favour of fairness and equity? See the case of one Gbenga Aroyehun (May his soul rest in peace) who died few days ago as a result of Mr. Magu’s refusal to approve medical grant for him to treat himself. What moral and legal reasons would the Ag. Chairman proffer for this inhumane treatment? What manner of a Chairman would be intimidating and frustrating his own staff, men and women, old and young, single and married simply because they refuse to yield to certain requests? What manner of a Chief Executive Officer would be frustrating his own staff to mass resignation just because he does not know how to manage their intellectual prowess? See specifically Tundun Mandandola, Shade Popoola, Hasthrob Adeola, Aderemi Olugbemi, Medard Ehinaka, and I can go on and on. What manner of a Chairman would be waging war of vindictiveness against his own staff, what manner of a Chairman would be spending above budgetary limit with naked impunity? In EFCC, there is a standard policy on staff profiling in which certificates vetting, background scrutiny, drug test and other medical scrutiny are conducted on prospective staff. However important this is, has anybody asked if Mr. Magu ever submitted himself for this profiling, if not, why? What are we actually defending here in Magu’s so-called integrity? How would anyone possibly defend all these infractions against a man and still see him as a “saint”. It’s disturbing!
Taking particular observation that the Senate as currently constituted is about the most despised in the history of this country to the that extent not very many Nigerians are in tune with their agenda and style of achieving it. The 8th Senate is proficient in blackmailing anybody or institution just to achieve a goal. They can threaten amendment of any law should the current CEO of such agency acts contrary to their wish, they can instigate a probe against any official should that fellow refuse to “play card”. The current INEC Chairman is their latest victim. If only I can give privilege advice to the Presidency, especially if there is any such info that the Senate may want to use to blackmail the INEC Chairman with, it is better the Chairman is relieved of his appointment immediately so as to prevent any compromise in carrying out his constitutional duties. This recent development among others has shown that the appointing authority needs to do more than just picking any candidate for certain posts without conducting integrity test. There is need to do due diligence on the integrity of whoever they are appointing.
On Magu’s matter, the Presidency’s stance against the Senate is giving the despised Senate some “respite”, ironically so. In my opinion, I think Magu’s impasse is an unfair blackmail against the Presidency most especially because the leverage for taking this hard stance thus far is far from inherent in the fellow they are fighting for. It will not be out of place to assume that the Presidency might not have done due diligence even before Magu was appointed in the first place. It is ironically that this is looking like self-inflicted injury. I hope the Presidency would not be embarrassed at the end of the day when the contrary is proven against Magu.
To solve this impasse and to save the Presidency from embarrassment, it is imperative for them being the “hiring” and “firing” authority to conduct investigation on Magu; his administrative cum operational intelligence/style and his fiduciary credibility, even if such investigation would be administrative one like the ones conducted on the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF and the Director-General of Nigerian Intelligence Agency, DG-NIA. If the available facts are anything to go by, I have no doubt Mr. Magu would turn out to be a liability to anti-corruption fight and not asset as previously erroneously held.
Judiciary, my constituency is about the most sacredly conservative Arm. Its members are always cautious in talking about it even when there is a valid ground to pat it on the back for correctional purpose. This “timidity” is not helping the Arm to shoot itself onto utopianism. There are so many areas of attention to look into about judicial efficiency, but for the purpose of this discussion, I am narrowing it down to judicial discipline, control and management. If we must strengthen the workings of the Judiciary, we must ensure discipline among its ranks. Generally speaking, lack of effective disciplinary apparatus for judicial officers is capable of breeding corruption. One antithetic that might be contributing to the ineffective disciplinary procedure or non-deterrence of any such disciplinary pronouncement against any judicial officer might be that some judicial officers are seeing themselves as “more equal than others”.
As it is, the National Judicial Council, NJC, is the disciplinary body and appointing authority of all Judicial Officers. The Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN is constitutionally the Chairman of NJC. Let’s assume the CJN is under disciplinary probe, who sits on the panel against the CJN, who calls for such panel when the CJN himself will be the chairman and most especially when there is no such provision in the Constitution for the CJN to recuse himself in case of any allegations against him? This is a serious lacuna in our constitution that must be amended immediately.
In one of my letters to the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, GCON in his capacity as the Acting President, taking into consideration the challenges in handling corrupt elements within the Judiciary especially when such involves a likely prominent member of the NJC, I had suggested that the Constitution be amended to give room for the creation of the NJC whose members shall not include any member of the Supreme Court, except by ex-officio status. By this idea, the NJC shall be a different/separate body from Justices of the Supreme Court, whose membership shall be determined and appointed by the President Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces and as may be ratified by the National Assembly.
If the recent drama that played out when the NJC would have to nominate a candidate for the position of CJN, while that same candidate is at the same time the Chairman of the NJC is anything to go by, this suggestion should be given a second thought.
It is more appropriate, more ideal and more democratic when there is such a body that shall be responsible for the duties of NJC including disciplining the CJN should the cause arise. It would then be that the NJC which the legal frame may be drafted later upon proper deliberation shall now be the employer and disciplinary body of all judicial officers, including Justices of the Supreme Court. The membership to comprise of seasoned legal practitioners (with no political affiliation), retired Judicial officers and such other member as may be unbiased, with an incorruptible and reputable retired Justice of the Supreme Court or retired Justice of the Court of Appeal as the Chairman.
Talking further about compromises, the Legislature can make the worst of these compromises by merely enacting ineffective laws or refusing to even attend to the most potentially potent ones. Without particular prejudice against the 8th Assembly, they have demonstrated obvious fear of the unknown by not yielding to the call to pass some of those stringent Bills against corruption as communicated to them by the Executive. Anti-Money Laundry Amendment Bill has been with the National Assembly for close to two years now and I doubt if it has even been read the second time. They seem to be haunted by the ghost of the corruption crime they have not even committed but which they may commit in future. They have won for themselves the perception of the most “self serving” Assembly in Nigeria history. There are very few Nigerians who are their fans. I am not one of those few. Ofcourse, one can hardly argue against such perception about them when its leadership are hastening the amendment of the constitution with particular intention to reducing the eligible age of candidates to contest for political posts so as to pave way for a very inordinate selfish interest of an individual who is insidiously scheming to see his son becoming the next governor of his adopted state.
Nigerians are fond of rhetoric and this National Assembly seems to be profoundly professional at it. They defend the worst of infractions without blinking an eye and attack the best of policies without compunction. In my opinion, these are visible display of absence of patriotism and integrity.
When you look at all these and you would wonder why corruption has become so endemic in our society inspite of some of the lion laws we have in place, your conclusion might not change from the fact that what we particularly lack as a nation and as a people is cognate integrity and passionate patriotism and not necessarily material law. Until such time when patriotism is regarded as an obligation and omission is treated as misconduct sanctionable, fearlessly, indiscriminately, decisively and legally, we may not move beyond showmanship in corruption control. The agencies of government saddled with the responsibilities of fighting corruption and their representatives must be empowered to operate with zero political influence and must be men of unquestionable integrity, committed, dedicated, loyal and passionately patriotic enough to assist in effective control of corruption.
Lastly, I know some people may want to ascribe political connotations to my position but it is far from it. For those who can think deeper, I urge you to consider my position as that of a man who has contributed immensely to the fight against corruption, one who is worried about the way and manner the fight is being trivialized, taking particular note of the fact that corruption is the singular toxin corroding our system, the cancer that we must all join hands to cure collectively if we must remain healthy and avoid system breakdown.
Shehu Bashir writes from Abuja. Contact him @shehufaa