Corrupt practices: Igbo leaders’ position on probe of past govts (3)


This is the concluding part of this piece, the second part which was published in Monday’s edition of Vanguard blamed Obasanjo’s government for insincerity in the enforcement of the nation’s anti-corruption laws

By Ben Nwabueze

ACCORDING to a recent announcement, the Commission, (i.e. the ICPC), having completed its investigation, had requested the Chief Justice of Nigeria to appoint a Special Counsel to conduct interrogation of the 26 State Governors under section 26 of the ICPC Act. The announcement stated that President Obasanjo had approved the action of the Commission in this regard. In any case, the explanation that no complaints against President Obasanjo had been received by the Commission since Justice Ayoola’s assumption of office as chairman should surprise no one, and it proved nothing.

People are either scared to come forward and make complaints or simply consider it futile to do so, knowing that nothing will ever come out of it. The Courts, on their part, are precluded from entertaining any suit against the President while in office because of the immunity conferred on him by section 308 of the Constitution.

It might have been thought that he would not want to avail himself of the benefit of the immunity in view of his public posturing as a vehement detester of the immunity, but he did plead it in the suit filed against him in the Federal High Court, Abuja by Chief Gani Fawehinmi in connection with the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library project : see Chief Gani Fawehinmi v. President of the Federal Republicof Nigeria (General Olusegun Obasanjo) & Ors, Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/287/2005.

Courage of conviction

President Buhari

If he sincerely detested the immunity, as he had made the public  believe, then, he should have had the courage of his conviction and reject the benefit of its protection for himself. It is another mark of his insincerity that he should have pleaded the immunity in the library project suit.

As expected, the Court, in a Ruling delivered on October 12, 2006, upheld the President’s immunity and dismissed the suit. It is not only insincere but it also smacks of a false show of virtue that the same President who arraigned Vice-President Abubakar and some State Governors on corruption charges before the CCT and/or before the courts in violation of their constitutional immunity should unashamedly get the Federal High Court to dismiss on the ground of the very same immunity, the suit brought against him for corrupt practice and abuse of office.

The impotence of the CCB, the CCT, the ICPC and he EFCC to take action in the form of investigation against the President left the National Assembly as the only body with the independence and capacity to do so, but unfortunately the Assembly too had been sucked into the vortex of President Obasanjo’s personal rule machine or how else could the ICPC and EFCC Acts have passed through the two legislative houses with their obnoxiously unconstitutional provisions? The National Assembly’s moves to impeach him have come to naught more than once.

Happily, the Assembly, by its action in the tenure elongation saga, seemed to have regained part of its capacity for independent action. The Senate’s investigation into the affairs of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) might well set the stage for the enforcement by the National Assembly of the sanction of impeachment reposed in its hand by the Constitution. But the Senate investigation was, regrettably, limited to PTDF money and did not embrace the Marine Float Account and lodgments into the Moffas Account from other sources besides PTDF or indeed other areas of public expenditure. Even the Senate’s PTDF investigation ended at long last due, to corrupt manipulation, in a disgraceful exoneration of Obasanjo.

Concluding remarks: The fact that an incumbent President is, as a practical matter, free from the sanctions of the fight against corruption/abuse of office is the reason why it has made and can make hardly any appreciable and lasting impact on the incidence of corruption in the country. If the object of the fight is, in the words of section 15(5) of the Constitution, to “abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power” (emphasis supplied), and not just to punish certain individuals guilty of them, then, the President, as the leader of the nation, must be seen to be a sincere, untainted crusader against corruption/abuse of office.

Corruption has become a way of life in the country, and what is needed to abolish it is to create faith in the fight among the people, which cannot be done unless the President, as leader of the nation, is perceived to be corruption-free.

Campaign slogans

Without this, no amount of campaign slogans or punitive action against individuals, especially when such action is selective, as Obasanjo’s war certainly was, will make people give up decades-old attitudes and practices.

The President must lead the campaign by example, not by seductive slogans alone which, unless matched by public perception of him as corruption-free, will simply undermine, if not completely destroy, faith in the fight. The generation of faith in the fight among the people is therefore a sine qua non in the eradication of corruption. The President must inject into the fight a truly crusading spirit transparent enough to inspire faith and to carry everyone along.

The truth of this is borne out by General Murtala Muhammed’s anti-corruption crusade in 1976 as Head of the Federal Military Government (FMG). He launched the crusade by first surrendering to the state his assets acquired by the wrongful use of his office. By this singular and unprecedented act, by his revolutionary ardour to clean up the society of the cankerworm of corruption and by his sheer zeal and fervor characteristic of one waging a religious war, he was able to create faith in the crusade among the various sectors and levels of the Nigerian society.

People were simply propelled to take a cue from him and join the bandwagon of the crusade. Within just six months the mighty edifice of corruption began to crumble. But, alas, he and his awe-inspiring anti-corruption efforts were silenced by the assassin’s bullet.

Nwabueze: Demands a national conference

With General Muhammed’s demise, the eradication of corruption was also eclipsed, not for want of anti-corruption measures, but mainly because the successive rulers, both military and civilian, were not prepared to make examples of themselves as corruption-free leaders, as General Mohammed had done. The General Obasanjo Administration that took over from him did not invoke Muhammed’s draconian Corrupt Practices Decree 1975 or the Public Officers (Special Provisions) Decree 1976 against any of the members of the administration. While it dealt severely with corruption committed during the Gowon Administration (other than corruption that might have been committed by its own members during that Administration), corruption by its members was left undisturbed and so continued unabated.

Since the 1976-79 Obasanjo Administration and the public service under it were not probed by the succeeding civilian administration, the extent of corruption during its rule has not been publicly exposed, but its prevalence cannot and has never been doubted. And if corruption continued in the face of enforcement actions under the stiff corrective measures, it might have been expected to flourish, as it in fact did, when the corrective force was removed in October 1979 on the return to civilian rule.

Corrective measures

The Buhari Military Government 1984 – 1985 had again busied itself with the investigation and punishment of corruption committed under the ousted civilian government of the Second Republic and the recovery of assets corruptly acquired by the members or officials of that government.

The investigations into past corruption and its punishment by long prison sentences and forfeiture of assets corruptly acquired did instill fear into the minds of many public servants, yet, it seems clear that no real impact had been made on the incidence of corruption. In its preoccupation with the past, the administration did pretty little, if anything, to enforce its stiff, punitive anti-corruption legislation against its own members or against current corrupt practices which were thus again allowed to continue unpunished and unredressed, unless a succeeding government should in future decide to focus the searchlight on them. And so the rot has continued up till now, eating deeper and deeper as we gravitate from one bungling government to another.

President Obasanjo claims in his characteristically propagandist fashion that his war against corruption is one of the most successful in the world, citing the cases of the former inspector general of Police, governors, Senate president, ministers and others removed from office upon an indictment for corruption. But the success of his war is no more than the kind of success achieved by the anti-corruption measures of General Buhari’s Federal Military Government between 1984 and 1985, a success measured by long prison terms and forfeiture of assets imposed on those found guilty of corruption by special military tribunals, with prison terms ranging from life to 25 years, 23 years to 21 years, though later reduced by the Supreme Military or the Armed Forces Ruling Council.

Lasting impact

However, the long prison terms and forfeiture of assets of the culprits left no lasting impact on the problem of corruption simply because people had no faith in the sincerity of the measures. All what is said above cannot but create a credibility gap between the government and the public. A government that enacted anti-corruption measures but refused or neglected to enforce them against the ruler himself cannot but appear to its citizens as insincere and unworthy of credibility and trust.

The lack of faith in President Obasanjo’s anti-corruption war amongst the generality of Nigerians is, as earlier stated, the major problem militating against the effectiveness of the so-called war. It is not enough, therefore, in creating an ethic of public probity, that corruption by individuals is being punished if corruption by the ruler himself is not also being exposed and punished.

Only if the ruler himself is seen to be corruption-free can public probity become part of the legacy he will be handing over to future generation of leaders. Obasanjo is only deluding himself in thinking that people are going to give up corruption if he retired from office in May 2007 while keeping the enormous wealth which he has acquired through the wrongful or corrupt use of his office as President, or if numerous others who corruptly acquired billions or millions of naira are allowed to keep and enjoy their ill-gotten wealth while the suffering majority of the population continue to live below poverty line.

Having replaced the evil rule of the PDP, the new ruling party, the APC, under President Buhari, must spearhead the desired change, the Social and Ethical Revolution. They should not fail the nation..


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