Foreign Accounts And The De-Nigerianization Agenda
Everyone has an innate fault line-no doubt. One of mine is that I have an incurable penchant for engaging in intellectual conversations with female lawyers who bagged upper levels and/or distinction in their qualifying examinations in the Nigerian Law School. This is because the Nigerian law school even with recent infiltration of examination cheats among the lecturers, is still one of the best in terms of academic standards and excellence.
November 21st 2013 was one of those days I sat with a female lawyer friend and our topic of discussion was on the move by the federal House of Representatives to legislate into law the ownership of foreign or offshore bank accounts by political office holders such as the President, vice president, governors and their deputies, national and sub-national legislators.
Lady J as I chose to call her for the purposes of this public debate expressed consternation that the political elite are on a journey to demolish all the legal frameworks that seek to check capital flight by public office holders such as the law banning ownership of foreign accounts.
She said that she has always suspected political elite of a grand conspiracy to gradually denigerianize Nigeria so much so that only the extremely poor and economic wretched of the earth would end up becoming truly Nigerians since they cannot afford what it takes to acquire foreign citizenship and or set up investments in Europe or the United States to enable them escape the uncertain future that befalls corporate Nigeria.
Lady J used example of the fad among political elite to acquire foreign passports for themselves and their children as one of the many underground schemes to denigerianize Nigeria even as she said that the Icing in the cake is the current move to legalize ownership of foreign accounts.
She is of the considered view that the current set of national legislators of all political affiliations are on a collective journey to weaken the operational capacity of the near-moribund Code of Conduct Bureau and the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
Speaking on the mandate and powers of the code of conduct Bureau and its Tribunal, my mutual friend stated that the current move to amend the Act to enable political class own and operate foreign accounts is the final nail in the coffin of these two institutions that over the years have stood by while political office holders embark on coordinated looting spree.
The Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, Chapter 58 LFN 1990 gave the Bureau the mandate to establish and maintain a high standard of public morality in the conduct of government business and to ensure that the actions and behavior of public officers conform to the highest standards of public morality and accountability, so says official records.
To implement the above mandate, section 3, part of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended has provided an enabling legal environment for the bureau to; receive declarations by public officers under paragraph 12 of part 1 of the fifth schedule to the constitution.
By law the code of conduct bureau is to examine the declaration in accordance with the requirements of the code of conduct or any law; retain custody of such declaration and make them available for inspection by any citizen of Nigeria on such terms and conditions as the National Assembly may prescribe.
The Code of conduct Bureau by the enabling Act is to work vigorously towards ensuring compliance with and where appropriate, enforce the provisions of the code of conduct or any law relating thereto; receive complaints about non-compliance with or breach of the provision of the code of conduct or any law in relation there to, investigate complaints and, where appropriate, refer such matters to the code of conduct tribunal.
The Conduct Bureau by law is independent to such an extent that the law allows it to appoint, promote, dismiss and exercise disciplinary control over staff of the code of conduct bureau in accordance with the provisions of an act of the National Assembly enacted in that behalf and carry out such other functions as may be conferred upon it by the National Assembly.
Specifically, Code 3 is on the Prohibition of foreign accounts even as the President, Vice President, Governor, Deputy Governor, Ministers of the Government of the Federation and Commissioners of the Governments of the States, members of the National Assembly and the House of Assembly of the States, and such other public officers or persons as the National Assembly may by law prescribe shall not maintain or operate a bank account in any country outside Nigeria.
The above sacred functions meant to preserve and conserve public fund for Nigerians in Nigeria, is what the members of the National Assembly are plotting to undermine through the passage of the legislation to allow the members of the political class to own and operate foreign bank accounts.
Lady J further expressed her legal view to my admiration that for over fourteen years that the 1999 constitution has being in existence as Nigeria's Supreme body of laws, there are evidence to show that substantial chunk of public fund disappear into private accounts of top political office holders even as the Code of Conduct Bureau and the Tribunal stand by and watch.
In 2003, the then President Olusegun Obasanjo introduced two anti-graft agencies to stem the tide of monumental heist of public fund but this evil scheme of outright theft of public fund has not stopped. My friend then wondered how the current move to liberalize foreign accounts' ownership will empower the anti-graft institutions to stop the high volume of capital flight into foreign jurisdictions of Nigeria's public fund.
Determined to push through this agendum of authorizing further grand stealing of public fund and create safe havens for these stolen public fund, the members of the Federal House of Representatives are standing logic on its head.
The underlying reason for banning foreign accounts ownership by political office holders is to check the proliferation of corrupt practices by these set of public office holders but now the Federal House is on a predetermined suicidal mission to wreck the economy of Nigeria by passing this bill authorizing ownership of foreign bank accounts.
The bill before the House of Representatives seeking to allow public office holders to operate foreign bank accounts passed second reading.
It also makes provision for the details of the assets declared by public officers to be assessed by members of the public. This angle of the amendment is a subterfuge targeted at tying a wool of confusion around the eyes of Nigerians to make them believe that there is national benefit in this move when in actual fact the members of the political class are aware that most Nigerians are too poor and weak and are therefore preoccupied with matters of bread and butter than to worry themselves trying to monitor how politicians operate foreign bank accounts.
Emmanuel Jime (PDP, Benue), who sponsored the amendment for an “Act to amend the Code of Conduct and Tribunal Act Cap 15” definitely stood logic on its head when he argued that the bill aims to make accessible assets and liabilities declared by public office holders, thereby making Nigerians to hold public office holders accountable.
Jime said when passed into law, the bill will establish legal framework which has been missing in the Code of Conduct and Tribunal Act and offer procedure for records of assets and liabilities declaration for public office holders to become more public and accessible to all members of the Nigerian public. This is a grand subterfuge.
Also, another part of the consolidated bill as sponsored by Rep Bamidele Faparusi (APC, Ekiti) seeks to provide leave for the bureau necessary for a public officer to maintain or operate a bank account outside Nigeria.
Rep Faparusi told the House that section 7 of the Act prohibited public officers in Nigeria from operating foreign accounts, but “the obvious impracticability of the law only help in breaching the law”. This is totally illogical and fallacious because it is inconceivable to convince us that making a law to own ownership of foreign account will promote transparency and accountability when in actual fact these legislators know the precarious economic condition of millions of Nigerians who are in not in any position to access the true picture of the foreign accounts to be maintained by their representatives in government when these same sets of politicians have failed to provide good governance locally.
The lawmaker not done by his illogical submission proceeded to argue further that by passing the bill, it would make the leave of the Bureau necessary for a public officer to maintain or operate a foreign bank account. He said the closure of public servant's foreign account was a disservice to such an officer.
A few good voice of conscience came up during the debate because while contributing to the debate, Deputy House Leader Rep Leo Ogor cautioned the law-makers of the possibility of breeding corruption by the amendment, as it tries to curb the menace and urged the law-makers to strive and operate domicile accounts in the country.
Also, Rep A'isha Dahiru Binani (PDP, Adamawa) said there have been series of initiatives ever since the introduction of Code of Conduct Bureau back in 1979 by different leaders, but the “monster has refused to be defeated”, saying the legislators have to demonstrate the will of crushing corruption in the country. Good reasoning from Aisha Binani.
Nigerians who live abroad have also began criticizing this move as anti-Nigeria since according to them; there is no single foreign public office holder that maintains bank account in Nigeria. How many American congressmen own accounts in any of our Nigerian Banks?
The timing of this move is also suspect given that this is almost five months since public universities have been shut down due to strike action by the academic staff union of universities demanding enhanced pay package.
While the public schools are shut down, children of political elite are all schooling abroad. What this new sinister move to empower political elites to operate foreign accounts aims to achieve is to give the corrupt political office holders the official seal of approval to keep stealing public fund since they can now have safe havens to store those treasures for themselves and their children.
It is difficult to expect the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the independent corrupt practices and allied offences commission to have the capacity and professional skills to competently monitor how these foreign accounts are maintained given that both institutions including the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal are grossly understaffed and indeed have credibility problem to contend with.
I agree with the conclusion drawn by my friend that the move to create the legal framework for foreign bank accounts ownership will further compound Nigeria's problem of capital flight and money laundering among political office holders.
Nigeria is said to harbor over 100 million extremely poor families, why are the legislators making law to take our money abroad rather than create enabling environment to attract genuine foreign investors and end the vicious circle of poverty?
My appeal to speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal is that he should not allow the hawks in the House drag him into the misfortune of participating in the grand conspiracy to empty Nigeria's public treasury into private accounts of privileged political office holders. This bill to amend the relevant sections of Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal should be consigned to the dustbin of history where it belongs even as the legislators should focus more on effectively checking to make sure that relevant government agencies charged with delivering good governance and efficient social services to poor Nigerians are supervised to carry out these mandates and duties.
Emmanuel Onwubiko; Head, HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS' ASSOCIATION OF Nigeria
[email protected]; www.huriwa.org.