7th September, 2011
Â The recent report on the fight against corruption in Nigeria released by the Human Rights Watch shows that the country still has a long way to go, writes EROMOSELE EBHOMELE
On 25 August, the Human Rights Watch, a prominent and highly respected non-government organisation, released a damning report on the efforts of the Nigerian government to fight corruption. The country has failed despite the huge funds expended in the fight against this hydra-headed menace that has continued to turn Nigeria into a laughing stock.
As if to drive home its point in this critical assessment of the anti-corruption agencies, including the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, and the Code of Conduct Bureau, the body reminded Nigerians that only four nationally prominent cases have been pursued to a logical end since the establishment of the EFCC in 2002.
â€œSince its inception, the EFCC has arraigned 30 nationally prominent political figures on corruption charges and has recovered, according to the EFCC, some $11 billion through its efforts. But many of the corruption cases against the political elite have made little progress in the courts: there have been only four convictions to date and those convicted have faced relatively little or no prison term.
â€œOther senior political figures who have been widely implicated in corruption have not been prosecuted. At this moment, not a single politician is serving prison term for any of these alleged crimes. Despite its promise, the EFCC has fallen far short of its potential and eight years after its inception is left with a battered reputation and an uncertain record of accomplishment,â€ the organisation, which has shown its interest for a better world stated, adding that political office holders in the country were themselves part of the challenges facing the fight against corruption.
The HRW, in the report titled: Corruption On Trial, was particularly irked by the recent case of former chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Chief Olabode George, who it described as a powerful ruling party power-broker. George was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for contract-related offences in 2009 and the body described it as a ruling that should have been a landmark success for the EFCC. But his case is also an example of the willingness of Nigeriaâ€™s political establishment to embrace convicted criminals.
â€œBode George was released from prison in February 2011. Far from being treated as a pariah because of his misdeeds, he was whisked from his jail cell to a lavish welcome ceremony attended by prominent ruling party politicians including former President Obasanjo, then Ogun State governor, Gbenga Daniel, and then Minister of Defence, Ademola Adetokunbo. According to media reports, a former Transport Minister even declared that Georgeâ€™s conviction had been unfair because all government officials engage in the same illegal practices for which he had been convicted.
â€œNigeria watched the ruling party establishment including a sitting cabinet minister from the same administration that supposedly backs the EFCCâ€™s anti-corruption agenda, welcome Bode George back into its arms as though he were a conquering hero rather than a convicted criminal. Meanwhile, the Lagos State judge who sent Bode George to prison was removed from criminal matters and sent to work in family court. While there is no proof that the move was connected to Georgeâ€™s conviction, many Nigerian activists and commentators found it hard to believe it was a coincidence.
â€œBode Georgeâ€™s story is not an anomaly. Ten months after former Bayelsa State governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, was convicted on corruption charges, Goodluck Jonathan, who was Vice President at the time, and late president Yarâ€™Adua openly campaigned alongside Alamieyeseigha in May 2008 at a political rally in Bayelsa State. These images of senior government officials embracing convicted criminals only served to reinforce the broader trend of impunity that these convictions were meant to check,â€ the HRW lamented.
Not through with the critical assessment of the anti-corruption bodies in the country, HRW recalled the cases of former governors Joshua Dariye and Abdullahi Adamu, former governors of Plateau and Nasarawa states respectively, who won elections to the Senate in the April 2011 elections even after they had been arraigned by the EFCC on corruption. It added that â€œtwo of the legislators awaiting trial on corruption charges,Igwe Paulinus and Ndudi Elumelu, also won their elections to seats in the House of Representatives. Eight other former governors arraigned on corruption charges by the EFCC won party nominations to stand in the 2011 elections, either for governor or senator.â€
The HRW did not just end at bashing the anti-corruption agencies. It also took a swipe at the nationâ€™s judiciary for subjecting itself to the whims and caprices of political office holders. According to Human Rights Watch, the judiciary has continued to batter its image before the entire world judging from the way it has handled corruption cases in the country as well. For example, since being charged after he tried severally to stop the EFCC from prosecuting him, former Kogi State governor, Abubakar Auduâ€™s case has been crippled by interminable delays. In early 2011, after nearly five years of appeals and other stoppages, the trial was finally expected to commence only to be postponed yet again when Audu was granted a delay for medical reasons. But it remains doubtful how ill the governor really is, as he declared his candidacy to regain the governorship of Kogi State and campaigned vigorously for the election before it was postponed.
Again, in March 2007, the former Rivers State governor, Peter Odili, obtained a remarkable Federal High Court decision forbidding the EFCC from investigating the finances of his government even in the face of massive embezzlement and mismanagement of public funds that prevented tremendous resources from being spent to improve basic health and education services during his administration. â€œAfter Odili left office, he managed to secure a perpetual injunction widely condemned as a mockery of the judicial process restraining the EFCC from arresting, detaining and arraigning Odili on the basis of his tenure as governor.â€
The HRW said the decision was widely denounced as having no legal basis and its author, Justice Ibrahim Buba, became a widely reviled figure in the Nigerian press. Instead of the judiciary to call itself to order, it further helped to promote Odiliâ€™s wife, Justice Victoria, to the Supreme Court as one of the justices, the NGO said in the report. It also reminded the people of how the judiciary made itself a laughing stock when it absolved former Delta State governor, James Ibori, of complicity in the 170-count charges brought by the EFCC against him. The mess that resulted from the handling of the corruption case against former governor Lucky Igbinedion of Edo State was also recalled in the report.
Despite this heart-breaking scorecard against the nationâ€™s anti-graft agencies, the EFCC, according to the HRW, is still better when compared with the ICPC and the Code of Conduct Bureau. The organisation actually tagged the two bodies â€˜unreliable partnersâ€™, adding that the two federal institutions specifically tasked with fighting corruption, have been widely criticised as ineffective despite the huge allocation annually made available to them.
“Though the ICPC, the first of the three bodies was established in 2000 with broader powers that far exceeded those of the EFCC, in a public opinion poll of Nigerians in 2008, only 16 percent of respondents named the ICPC as the anti-corruption agency that first came to their mind compared to 81 percent of respondents who named the EFCC,” the report said. This is against the fact that it got an annual budget of approximately $12.3 million in 2010 and some 500 personnel in 11 offices across Nigeria.
â€œTheir shortcomings are important; both institutions have powers and resources that in some ways outstrip those of the EFCC and could be very potent weapons in the fight against corruption. If both were functioning properly and had the right leadership in place, they would greatly bolster the EFCCâ€™s anti-corruption work and perhaps even take the leading roles.
â€œSince 2000, the agency has arraigned 520 people on various corruption charges and secured 25 convictions. But only 10 of the defendants were nationally prominent political figures. Out of those cases, seven defendantsâ€”charged in 2005â€”died or had their case dismissed; two of the trials, at the time of this writing, had not yet begun; and only one case had resulted in a conviction. In June 2010, former chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Bello Lafiaji, was sentenced to four years in prison on seven counts of financial crimes, including taking â‚¬164,300 to release a suspect arrested on drug charges,â€ HRW noted.
The report said the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, and the Code of Conduct Tribunal have a combined annual budget of some $8.3 million, with more than 80 CCB investigators stationed in the Abuja office and state capitals across Nigeria. Yet nothing spectacular has come from them.
Quoting Senator Sola Akinyede, chairman of the Senate committee that oversees both the ICPC and EFCC, the Human Rights Watch noted that the institutions make no use of their broad asset seizure powers and waste enormous resources on ineffectual â€œpublic educationâ€ efforts on the evils of corruption. To drive home its point, HRW said that in 2010, the ICPC published a front-page interview with controversial Ogun State former governor, Gbenga Daniel, in its glossy promotional magazine which uncritically examined the governorâ€™s claims to fight corruption by â€œmonitoring performanceâ€ of government agencies and remaining in close contact with his constituents. Meanwhile, in 2011, the EFCC announced that it was probing allegations of corruption against the same governor.
Said the report: â€œNigeriaâ€™s other anti-corruption bodies, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), have failed to complement the efforts of the EFCC. On paper, both institutions have powers that in some ways outstrip those of the EFCC.
â€œUnfortunately, they have been ineffectual relative to their size and statutory power and have displayed little appetite for tackling high-level corruption. They need to be empowered with new leadership and prodded to live up to their mandates and complement the EFCCâ€™s work.â€
As part of the solutions, the report suggested to the government that the allegations of incompetence against the EFCC chairman, Farida Waziri, should be investigated. It questioned part of the Act establishing the EFCC which makes it important for an official of the nationâ€™s security agencies, whether still in service or retired to head the EFCC. It stated that it is difficult to see any high ranking police officer in Nigeria who has not soiled his hands with corruption and that placing such a person at the top in the anti-graft agency means the country is not actually prepared to fight corruption
For example, it said its research has shown â€œhow corruption has helped transform Nigeriaâ€™s national police force from protectors to predators. Widespread bribery and extortion by the rank-and-file officers, and a system of â€œreturnsâ€ in which bribes are passed up the chain of command, have fuelled abuses ranging from arbitrary arrests and unlawful detention to torture and extra-judicial killings.
â€œBribery, embezzlement and abuse of office by police officials have severely undermined access to justice for ordinary Nigerians and left the force with inadequate resources to carry out meaningful investigations.â€ It thus asked how many responsible persons could emerge from such a system.
It urged President Goodluck Jonathan to demonstrate faith in the fight against corruption and publicly acknowledge undue interference in the activities of the three agencies. He also should, as a matter of importance, sponsor legislations that would further improve the anti-graft bodies and curtail the powers of the Attorney-General in relation to their activities just as it advised that the chairmanship position be given to people of trusted character, who have integrity, experience and ability rather than the mere fact that they were security agents as it is currently.
â€œThe EFCC Act should be amended to grant the EFCC chairman robust security of tenure. At a minimum, the position should enjoy the same tenure security as the ICPC chairman, who the president cannot remove from office without the assent of a two-thirds majority of the Senate and even then, only on grounds of incapacity or misconduct,â€ the report further advised.