HEARINGATE: IMPERATIVES FOR A SPECIAL PROSECUTOR
Last week, our public domain was convulsed by dreadful details of criminal complicity gone awry between two key institutions of government that should ordinarily serve as counter-poise to check and balance each other in the shared task of fostering an enabling investment environment and the restoration of investor confidence in our economy.
I am referring to the much ballyhooed tiff between Hon. Herman Hembe and the rested House of Reps Committee on the Capital Market with Ms Arunma Oteh, the Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC); essentially over the how much and how-by of gratification to the former by the later in 'support' of pussyfooting over a probe of the capital market and the glossing over of any regulatory frailties of the Commission via-a-vis the prolonged puny performance of the Nigerian stock market.
The decibel of the din of the national outpouring of opprobrium that greeted the revelation of the cash-for-acclamation misadventure is rather surprising in a nation that has been so jaded by the malady of corruption through almost daily doses of disclosures or allegations of graft and the gross abuse of power to the point that the rest of us are almost becoming inured to the wholesale grand larceny in the nation's public space. It is a most welcome development that the apparent nonchalance of Nigerians to the evil of corruption appears to be reaching its limits going by the reported determination of the organized Civil Society and the NBA to initiate moves to hold all the culpable persons in the saga to account for their actions. This is as it should be if we are to make the 'zero-tolerance-to-corruption' mantra the mainstream of our national ethos and values.
To be sure, corruption is at the core of the problems that are besetting our beloved country and holding it in enthrall, and threatening to extirpate the very life out of her. The grinding poverty in all its abjectivity, the general insecurity, militancy in the south, insurgency of the Boko Haram as well as the fractious state of our federation today are progenies of the endemic corruption in the land. Corruption in our country is as insidious as it is invidious, and it is haemorrhaging the live-fluid of the nation; daily debilitating and vitiating this country as it appears to be ineluctably tottering towards a socio-economic and political morass.
In Nigeria, corruption has become a hydra-headed monster that is also a metastatic tumour that can no longer be treated by localized surgery. It is pervasive and permeates every layer, facet and branch of government at all tiers. It is certainly superficial, if not deceitful, to single out only one branch of government or only one set of functionaries in a branch for special target as the purveyors of corruption as we often tend to do with the federal legislators.
As a reality check, simply glancing through your newspapers of the past two weeks or so will make you to realize that the disclosures of corruption or at least allegations of it are not limited to one institution or branch of government alone. Just weeks ago, Abdulrasheed Maina, Chairman of the presidential Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT) revealed that the PRTT uncovered a fraud of N151 billion in the Pension Fund, even as it traced six million pounds sterling to a foreign account.
In another development within the period, an N18 billion scam was discovered in the Police Pension Scheme and the sum of N2 billion in cash of the Police Pension Fund was found in the residence of a Permanent Secretary, who with his cohorts were said to be withdrawing N300 million daily from the Police Pension Account. And, these are revelations regarding the measly pension schemes ordinarily not regarded as juicy postings. Then, imagine what the situation will be in the juicier ministries, departments and agencies where multi-billion naira contracts and concessions are routinely divvied up and awarded.
In most parts of the world as is the case in Nigeria, taking bribe is as much an offence as giving it. That is why the officials of Siemens in Germany and Halliburton/KBR in the USA have been jailed for their roles in the bribery scandal involving their respective companies and Nigerian officials. But, here at home, the identities of the Nigerian officials have remained shrouded in mystery and conjecture, not to talk of prosecuting and bringing the felons to book. Rather, what we see is that these corrupt Nigerians – bribe givers, bribe takers, pension funds scammers, and pen robbers and so on – strut around flaunting their ill-gotten wealth and garnering all manners of ludicrous titles from rogue traditional rulers and churches; and now they appear intent on invading and desecrating our once hallowed national awards!
It is only a fool, dwelling in his own paradise, that would think that the sort of unseemly pecuniary compact which Hearingate has exposed exists or existed only between the dissolved House Committee on the Capital Market and Other Institutions and the SEC. Informed observers are not at all deluded that this kind of cozying up is the exception rather than the norm. In fact, it is being whispered that snugness between the MDAs and their supervising Committees is quotidian! Therefore, seeking to address the scandal as if it is an isolated case or an aberration that just happened would be a great mistake, as sooner or later, others will relapse to the same old errant ways, and perhaps with a little more subtlety that will be devoid of incriminating written records. Cutting off one head of a hydra has never been known to be any more than an irritant which the hydra would in a little while more than compensate with the regeneration of two or more heads.
The EFCC has over the years been more melodramatic than meticulous in its activities. It has the unflattering record of being successful in obtaining conviction only in an infinitesimal fraction of the charges it has preferred against the society's bigwigs that account for over 80% of the corruption in this country. And, the EFCC is a touch too reactive in the fight against corruption.
Its only successes have been in the incarceration and expropriation of the ill-gotten riches of some of the chaps involved in advance fee fraud who lacked the well-oiled connections in the polity, the bureaucracy or the judiciary with which the top-dogs tend to successfully fend off the EFCC. How come the EFCC has not succeeded in jailing any of the former governors, except with the possible exemption of when a foreign police or anti-graft agency is also involved? What of some of the serving or former top civil servants who live in vulgar opulence obviously way beyond their legitimate earnings? As for the ICPC, it has remained effete and ineffectual from the outset and no one really knows what it is doing or what challenges it faces.
Just as any strategically minded military buff will tell it, no General wins a major campaign involving army groups fighting over vast territories by deploying a handful of snipers to take pot shots at individual soldiers without first destroying or disrupting the enemy's capacity to be re-supplied with men and material. Our ignoring of this tried and tested military dogma is responsible for the lack of progress we continue to suffer in the anti-corruption fight. To win the war against corruption we must, willy-nilly, take a holistic look at the causes and forces at play that permit or support the sprouting, nurturing and growth of corruption in our midst; and pull out the vice and avarice that co-constitute corruption from the roots.
To really understand the entire gamut of the corruption incubus, our organized civil society groups, the NBA, labour organizations, anti-corruption watchdogs and crusaders, and other similarly minded bodies and individuals should urgently come together and organize a national indaba on corruption. Local and foreign cognoscenti from global anti-corruption agencies and organizations such as Interpol, Transparency International etc as well as experts from the anti-vice agencies of other countries should be invited to come and lend their experience and expertise in our search for a road map stamping out institutionalized corruption in our nation.
Following the discussions and the development of the blue-print for collaring corruption which should be replete with action plans, implementation schedule and a draft enabling legislation, national and international pressure should then be brought to bear on both the executive and legislative branches for its expedited passage into law. The OIP should have adequate budget and the powers to subpoena any natural or corporate citizen as well as any and every document considered germane to its investigations.
The OIP, unlike the EFCC, shall not watch and wait until it has been invited via a petition, but can ferret out new axis of investigations or expand the scope of an ongoing probe from facts unearthed in the course of the investigation or other investigations. Delving deep into cases of past and present corruption and punishing those found wanting is the best way we can clean up the Augean stable and restore confidence in our polity and governance.
Nwagbara is visiting a member of The Sun Editorial Board.