Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Revving up the anti-graft war

Amidst perceived lull in the fight against corruption, the Federal Government has, for the umpteenth time, affirmed its commitment to crushing the monster. Restating his aversion to pervasive impunity among public officials, President Umaru Yar’Adua recently called for the abrogation of the immunity clause from the Constitution. The President called on all Nigerians to join him in persuading the National Assembly to remove the immunity cover for some categories of political leaders. “Nobody in Nigeria deserves the right to be protected by the law when looting public funds. Let us expunge the immunity clause from the 1999 Constitution,” Yar’Adua said.

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EFCC Chairman, Mrs. Farida Waziri

While speaking in Abuja at the launch of the Anti-Corruption Revolution Campaign(ANCOR) by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the President also charged the anti-graft agency “to be ruthless, totally energetic in the pursuit of corrupt officials, prosecuting them and sanctioning them and bringing them to justice”.

The EFCC’s ANCOR is, among others, aimed at sensitising all Nigerians to corruption and its negative effects and mobilising opinion leaders and all Nigerians both within and outside the country against corrupt tendencies and practices. The EFCC Chairman, Mrs. Farida Waziri, had with equal passion condemned the undue delay in getting justice in corruption cases. The most daunting challenge, according to Waziri, is how to bring corruption cases to quick conclusion in the courts.

However, the new anti-graft stance is up against rising public cynicism that the government may not be totally committed to taming the monster. The overhaul of the EFCC and the travails of its former boss, Nuhu Ribadu, have been interpreted as a grand plot to cripple the agency. While the President’s call for the removal of the notorious immunity clause is welcome, it is the political will to prosecute the anti-graft battle that matters.

Section 308 of the Constitution only protects the serving President, Vice President, Governors and Deputy Governors from prosecution. While the nation awaits the removal of the controversial clause, there is need for a holistic approach to the war. Ministers, commissioners, top civil servants, heads of corporations and even local government officials that are not covered by the clause should come under a more vigorous searchlight of the anti-graft agencies. The Police and the Power Holding Company of Nigeria have been described, in recent global reports, as the two most corrupt institutions in the country. Others like the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Nigeria Ports Authority are equally infested with maggots. Sadly, the nation’s anti-graft institutions are looking the other way.

Besides, many Nigerians have been implicated in various international scams including Wilbros, Halliburton and Siemens. Over one year ago, a court in Munich, Germany, had indicted Siemens and awarded 201m Euros against it for paying bribes to government and industry officials in Nigeria, Libya and Russia to win telecommunications contracts. Eighteen government officials, including four former Communication ministers and a senator were accused of receiving 10million Euros. While those involved in these fraudulent acts have been punished in Germany, nothing has happened to the indicted Nigerian officials. Likewise, the on-going prosecution of some ex-governors has been in fits and starts, giving the negative impression that some of the indicted governors are being shielded by the government. Yet corruption has remained the nation’s Achilles’ heel.

Beyond the removal of the immunity clause, the most potent weapon against graft is to open up government files to public scrutiny by promulgating a Freedom of Information law. The Senate should also prescribe the modalities for accessing the assets declaration forms submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau as required by the Constitution. To win the battle against graft, the nation must be ready to enthrone openness and transparency.