Memo to Presidency: Milestones to Remember, By Sonola Olumese

  • PublishedApril 16, 2017

What should we make of the avalanche of stunning discoveries of illicit funds in Lagos recently?

Following whistleblower tips, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC):

On Wednesday announced finding about N13bn in various currencies in an apartment in Ikoyi, Lagos.
On Tuesday located N4bn in two GTB accounts suspected to belong to a politician.
On Monday found a huge pile, in Balogun Market, of about N250m in various currencies.
The previous week found N448.85m in a Bureau de Change.

The obvious lesson is that while Nigerians continue to suffer needlessly and the government seeks foreign loans, much more can be done to recover funds and assets former and current Nigerian officials are trying to hide.

But neither whistleblower tips, nor the gleeful broadcasting being made of these finds, constitute a successful onslaught on corruption. We need a clear, systematic, history-conscious plan.

Such a plan would guide anti-corruption productivity now and in the future. It will provide a framework for testing how faithful to higher principles this government itself is, and a platform on which future officials and administrations will be measured.

In that direction, here are 10 ideas I recommend to the Muhammadu Buhari administration:

One: Sponsor an amendment of the constitution to eliminate the immunity provisions. The circumstances under which they were made have changed, and immunity has since 1999 become only impunity.

If a leader does not doubt himself and his intentions, he is not afraid. That should be the guiding principle. Let us aim at a higher standard where the president and the governors are guided by the imperative of doing right, not the knowledge that they have eight years to cover their evil. This current system serves the dubious, not the people, and it is inherently unjust and dangerous.

By contrast, in the United States after which we modeled our constitution, Gov. Robert Bentley of Alabama was thrown out of office last week for misdemeanour campaign violations that were found while he was being investigated for an extra-marital affair with an aide.

That investigation roared on while he was governor, but Alabama did not collapse. In Nigeria, a critical part of our farce is that the president and the governors feel no fear, no pain, no law, and no one.

If the immunity provisions are not deleted from the Nigerian constitution, we deceive even our children, and history will scoff at us.

Think about it: Before he was rigged back into the same job in 2014, then former Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose was on the road to jail following certain murders committed by a killer squad he allegedly established during his governorship between 2003 and 2006. What the immunity clause has achieved is make all Nigerians witnesses of crime, and participants in grave injustice.

Two: Restructure and enlarge the EFCC. The scale of the challenge before this anti-graft agency, particularly in the light of unfolding dimensions of the malfeasance, cannot be handled by mortal men with a normal 24-hour day.

To make for fairness and effectiveness, the agency should be restructured into three broad units, perhaps as follows: federal and international; state and local government; and Advance Fee Fraud, each under the authority of deputy chairmen. That will strengthen the EFCC as an institution, and promote its ability to cover every blade of grass more effectively.

Three: As part of the restructuring of the EFCC, the funding of the agency needs to be changed so it can establish a full-fledged training institution and operate a competitive salary structure and attract the best professionals.

This will transform it into a place of pride to work, and not one where agents and staff are potentially the targets of blackmail and corruption. Remember, the EFCC and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are currently cooperating to prosecute staff of the electoral body who were involved in a N4.3 billion scheme to manipulate the 2015 general election.

Four: implement the Uwais Report.

In December 2008, the Justice Mohammed Uwais-led Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) submitted to then President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, a widely-celebrated report capable of changing Nigeria’s story of flawed and rigged elections.

Its recommendations included the unbundling of INEC, whereby some of its functions would be reallocated to other bodies; the introduction of independent candidates; and the trial and sentencing of electoral fraudsters even during elections.

Asserting the need to rectify the lack of appropriate independence by INEC and the State Independent Electoral Commissions as a “key deficiency” of Nigeria’s electoral process, the committee made powerful recommendations to address their composition, administrative autonomy and funding; and of the National Assembly, the executive, the judiciary, the political parties, security agencies, civil society organisations, the media and the public.

Nobody can address corruption in Nigeria without addressing the subject of elections in a fundamental and realistic way, and the Uwais Report did that. It is time to dust it up and put it to work.

Five: Campaign Finance Reform.

Nigeria’s elections, and therefore Nigeria, continue to be at the mercy of politicians who have the means and the opportunity to purchase them.

To change that, this government should decide on appropriate public financing of electoral races for the legislatures, governorships and the presidency, with strict caps on spending, and with dismissals from a race or from office as the price for violations. That will empower more qualified candidates, and discourage the compromised.

Six: Implement NNPC reports.

Only last week, several officials of the NNPC were fired. This has become routine at the corporation. Sweeping changes of the corporation’s leadership happens frequently, and certainly each time there is a new administration. Some of those fired last week were appointed only in March of 2016.

The reason is obvious: NNPC is a mountain of money. Ascending to the top of that mountain is no less than winning the lottery because there are so many ways a ruthless official can convert that position into sudden wealth. Buhari knows it: he was there; Olusegun Obasanjo knows it: he was his own petroleum minister for eight years, during which one of his appointees spent half a billion Naira in hotel expenses alone.

Everyone also knows what is wrong with the NNPC: Various reports in the past 16 years have pinpointed the issues, but they have not been implemented. The EFCC-INEC prosecution I referred to earlier in this story relates to monies, by the billions, that allegedly came from the NNPC.

It is obvious: you cannot reform Nigeria, or curb corruption, if the NNPC continues to be run as a rogue organisation. Implement those reports, strip the guilty of their unearned wealth, and send them to jail.

Seven: Reform the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Sadly, the CBN continues to be led by one of the most corrupt and inept leaderships in Nigeria’s history. It is unclear how this is supposed to inspire faith in the prospects of the Nigerian economy.

Eight: In response to last Wednesday’s discovery of N13bn in Lagos, a court swiftly ordered its forfeiture to the Federal Government. It is unsurprising the government was thrilled by the court’s decision. But in February last year, the court also ordered the government to publish an account of Nigeria’s recovered loot, which it has shamefully failed to do, a fact which has damaged its image. The government must publish that account.

Nine: No government is successful if its leader considers personal example to be a contradiction in terms. President Buhari must find the courage to lead by example, not by talk.

Ten: I fully support the need to punish the guilty. But Nigerians are not all, or always, bad. There is no better time than right now to start honouring the deserving.

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