Perhaps mindful of the growing perception that the anticorruption crusade of his government ,which was the major plank upon which he was elected, has not been as effective as promised, President Buhari recently sought to add bite to it by issuing Presidential Executive Order 6 of 2018. The order seeks to enforce the temporary forfeiture of property linked TO anyone suspected and accused of engaging in corrupt practices.
Section 5 (b) of the order defines corruption or corrupt practices as any corrupt activity ... in excess of N50 million or its equivalent in foreign currency. Paragraph 8 also states that the provision shall, in particular, apply to those connected with persons listed in the first schedule to the Order, which also granted wide latitude to the Attorney General to determine those affected from time to time, and prosecute them in accordance with the provision.
The New Independence Group (NIG) is elated that President Buhari appears finally willing to rev up the fight against corruption as he promised during election campaigns, no matter how belated it appears. For so long, the anticorruption fight has been in fits and starts, which has made us note in previous interventions that the approach being deployed will at most achieve very limited results if any. The last three years have witnessed a mere amplification of the approach of past administrations, where most of corruption cases (are) WERE prosecuted through the generation of media frenzy, at the expense of sober, diligent dispensation of justice.
The gestapo-like arrest of judges and the drama that followed the trial of the Senate President bore the hallmark of an approach that is long on sensationalism but short (of) ON precision. The outcomes of many of the cases vindicate(s) our call for a more coherent, focused and institutionalized fight against corruption. Based on the foregoing, we commend the President’s new-found vigour, and hope that it will be the beginning of a new, systematic and sustainable fight against corruption, which continues to be a major obstacle on the path of the country’s developmental efforts.
We must hasten to say though, that the recent Executive Order is yet another way of how not to prosecute the fight against corruption. The approach is laced with too many landmines that suggest the role of diligence is still minimal in the conceptualization of the anticorruption strategies of this government. It is immediately apparent that an Order conceived in this manner is likely to run foul of the constitutional guarantees enjoyed by accused persons as to their innocence until proven guilty. This Order as stated effectively confiscates properties of suspects, until such a time they can reclaim them by proving their innocence. By our constitution, the burden of proof is on the accuser not the accused.
In addition, about 155 ongoing corruption cases are set to be affected by this Order. The effect of this is that even if the Order was not in breach of a fundamental provision of the constitution, it is likely to still run into murky legal waters because of its retroactive nature. This is particularly unnerving, coming under a President who as a military dictator ordered the execution of Nigerians on the strength of the retroactive application of the infamous Decree 2. The killings remain one of the lowest points in terms of the violation of human rights in the WORLD ( history of the nation). The President therefore needs to be very creative in ensuring that past corrupt practices are prosecuted in ways that do not violate the rights of the innocent or create a technical loopholes that facilitates the escape of justice by those who are truly guilty.
It is also important for the government to understand the social context within which its ExecutiveOrder are being put forward for implementation. When a government that has been largely perceived to shield corrupt elements within its own rank seeks broad powers to determine who can be labeled corrupt, with his or her properties listed for forfeiture without recourse to the judiciary, it creates a plausible basis for suspicion that the fight is not so much about corruption but targeted at its perceived enemies, especially as another cycle of elections approach.
The NIG commends therefore, the rejection of the Executive Order by the House of Representatives, and calls on the Senate to do likewise. However, it is not enough for the legislature to condemn the overreach of the Executive arm. It must be willing to collaborate with it to provide the needed reform in the judicial sector, so that the war on corruption can become institutionalized and not subject to the body language of any personality.
NIG calls on the National Assembly to urgently consider the consideration of the bill for establishing special courts to try corruption cases. The Executive arm needs to also demonstrate that it did not just send the bill to parliament to give the public the impression that it is fighting corruption, by ironing out possible grey areas with the lawmakers. Providing a proper, legal framework for tackling corruption is long overdue, especially from a party that swept into the control of executive and legislative powers on the strength of its campaign against corruption.
On a last note, NIG calls on President Buhari to demonstrate that his commitment to fighting corruption is beyond lip service by showing zero tolerance for corruption in government circles. The handling of the case against the former SSG, Babachir Lawal, the mess over Mainagate, as well as the deafening silence on a possible case of forgery against the Finance Minister do not in any way inspire confidence in this government to combat the menace of corruption. Redefining corruption along partisan lines effectively sabotages efforts at eliminating it from our body politic. The government of President Buhari is hereby called upon to review its approach to fighting corruption towards a more holistic intervention that eliminates waste, reduces graft considerably, and reform(S) our rentier system towards a merit based system. Any fight against corruption within the current architecture of the State is likely to have limited success, as the current structure itself was designed to enable corruption. The NIG advocates the strengthening of the justice system within a wider framework that disincentivises corrupt practices and prevents them from happening. That is the way to ensure that corruption does not sustain its reputation as a cultural phenomenon birthed by ill-conceived political processes and structures.
• Signed for NIG by Akinyemi Onigbinde, Convener