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Anti-Corruption War: Necessary hard step towards economic redemption – TMG

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*Saraki should resign over CCT trial *Governors who can’t meet obligation should quit *insists S’Court is a disappointment over Rivers, A/Ibom judgment

Text of a State of the Nation Press Conference addressed by Chairman of Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), Comrade Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi [above] on Wednesday, February 10, 2015 at Valencia Hotels, Abuja.

Distinguished invited guests, ever committed ladies and gentlemen of the Press,

Introduction

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to today’s Press Conference, which would afford us yet another opportunity to interrogate the current realities of our nation. A lot has happened since the last time we had this platform to intervene on national issues. Before I proceed however, it is imperative that I specially express my profound gratitude to the media (print, broadcast and online) for the unwavering support in amplifying the voice of TMG on critical national issues. 

In the face of a deluge of unpatriotic narratives by those who have made it their calling to hold down the nation, the media, irrepressible and conscientious as ever, has offered a robust platform for TMG to counter all anti-people tendencies, while setting agenda for the good of the nation. 

As Nigeria’s foremost civil society coalition with a membership base of over 400 grassroots organizations, the Nigerian people look up to us to speak their mind on critical matters of national concern, at all times. This is a responsibility we do not take lightly. Ours is a historic burden, which in most cases puts us in the firing line. This is exemplified by the current battle for the soul of the nation between the forces on the side of the people, and those against them. Let me however assure you that we will remain steadfast in standing up for the voiceless in our country, irrespective of the distracting antics of those who seek to handcuff the destiny of the nation.

War Against Corruption

TMG wishes to alert those attempting to confuse issues in the polity that the war against corruption was a cardinal agenda on which President Muhammadu Buhari was elected by Nigerians on March 28, 2015. It is therefore extremely irritating to hear narratives that suggest that the President is spending too much time fighting corruption. While we agree that corruption is not the only problem facing the country, there is no doubt that the nation has suffered untold losses from the activities of those who viewed the nation’s commonwealth as their private property. 

These people are now being called to account; their ill-gotten mansions, plazas, and other properties are being confiscated. The Nigerian people should not be ambivalent about these momentous developments. Corruption has accounted for the damaging social and economic injustices that have been serially visited on the Nigerian people. 

The parlous state of our educational system, the chambers of death that pass for our hospitals and even the economic woes that are being currently experienced, can be traced to unmitigated effects of corruption. Similarly, the audacious challenge of State authority as seen in the Boko Haram problem in the North East is another damaging offspring of corruption. What more; the shocking tip-of-the-iceberg revelations coming from the Dasukigate stealing unlimited amply justifies the robust chunk of time the administration has devoted to the recovery of looted monies belonging to the Nigerian people. We commend President Buhari for the unflagging resolve to recover all that belongs to the Nigerian people.

TMG would always remain steadfast and unwavering in its support for a meticulous, pro-people process of recovering our collective yams, from the greedy political goats. These are unusual times; as far as we are concerned, if it means disemboweling the goats to recover what belongs to the people, so be it. As for those hiding behind self-serving sophistries in canvassing constitutionalism and the rule of law as a leeway for looters to enjoy their plunder, the Nigerian people are not swayed. 

While we commend the government for the onslaught against those indicted and the confiscation of properties acquired with stolen monies, we wish to see more extra ordinary measures. For instance, we wish to see all military personnel involved in the Dasuki Armsgate tried under military law. In the end, those found guilty must be stripped of their ranks, forfeit their pension, gratuities and other such post-retirement benefits they would have otherwise been entitled to. We restate our call for a robust partnership with civil society and labour in the war against looters.    

This brings us to the role of the judiciary in the anti-corruption crusade. TMG commends the few courageous judges acting on the side of justice. But for those acting on the side of rich looters of the Nigerian common wealth, they must realise that they are writing, not just their own history, but the history of their children. TMG is miffed by the current discriminatory system of one brand of justice for the rich and another for the poor. A dominant section of the judiciary has continued to carry on as if the justice system in Nigeria is made for two different sets of citizens. 

When a rich looter is brought before the courts, the next thing is that the judge will start entertaining frivolous requests for bail, while an ordinary thief is held in custody until the end of his trial. The subliminal message, which the judiciary is passing to the Nigerian public, especially the youth, is that once the plunder is big enough, justice is automatically tempered. This is a wrong message and a collective national headache that has to be cured. TMG calls on the National Judicial Council to wake up from its slumber. The process of holding judicial officials to account is a necessary step towards restoring sanity and confidence in the system.

The judiciary is by no means the only arm that is expected to partner with the executive in the fight against corruption. Given the fact that the legislators are supposedly the representatives of the Nigerian people, the National Assembly should have naturally being at the vanguard of this renewed onslaught against corruption. To the disappointment of most Nigerians, the Senate especially has shown that old habits, in the form of extravagant tastes, die hard.

It is worrisome that at a time everyone is talking about how the Treasury Single Account (TSA) has brought transparency to government finance; the National Assembly is busy resisting it. It therefore means that as things stand, the Nigerian people do not have an idea of how many accounts the National Assembly that purports to represent them operates. A National Assembly that acts as if it is above the laws of the land holds no good for the country. 

Little wonder, the leadership of the National Assembly is currently morally challenged. That integrity deficit has been accentuated by the recent Supreme Court judgment, which ordered the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki to go face criminal trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). Whatever modicum of respect enjoyed by the Senate would be further obliterated by the time the number three citizen is mopping from the dock, and answering to charges of false asset declaration. TMG expects Dr. Saraki to put the sanctity of the legislature above every other consideration, by stepping down immediately. While we agree that his trial at the CCT does not automatically translate to guilt over the charges, we call on the Senate President to follow global best practice. 

Supreme Court Judgments on Governorship Elections

TMG firmly stands on its well reported position that the recent Supreme Court verdicts on some State elections, specifically Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Abia are a clear incentive for electoral brigandage. The disturbing trend in these judicial pronouncements is in the fact that the apex court has elected to give judgments, and not justice. In the face of unrepentant attempts to subvert the will of the people in a good number of the cases, the court has curiously turned a blind eye. 

It is pertinent to stress that our position on the Supreme Court judgment is not borne out of any partisan inclination, as some faceless groups would want the public to believe. We have not under any guise suggested that a particular party won the election. All we are saying is that the elections failed to meet all known global standards for free and fair elections as enunciated in various international legal instruments. This is the position of not just domestic observers, but also the conclusion of credible international groups, which observed the polls.  

We hold our previous position that it is absolutely shocking that the apex court decided to act as if it exists in a far flung planet. We must restate the fact that we are perturbed by the strange legal reasoning that has informed the blank cheque that the court has given to election riggers. To say the least, the attempt by the court to upend the card reader, is retrogressive. 

We make bold to say that while the legal gymnastics behind the assault on the card reader, is best known to the Supreme Court, the open reward for electoral impunity does not resonate with the Nigerian people. The card reader has a history; it was well presented to stakeholders and approval was received before its deployment for the 2015 elections. Beyond this, the nation’s Constitution and the Electoral Act empower INEC to make guidelines for running elections. As such, whether there is an express legal backing for it or not, the card reader has come to stay. 

Rather than engage in judicial acrobatics, we would have expected the apex court to do some thorough research on the place of the card reader in the nation’s electoral system to see whether it is adding value or not. TMG is also not impressed by the incongruous tendency wherein the Supreme Court gives judgment first, only to start exploring and adducing reasons for such judgments several weeks after. The expectation of Nigerians is that the judgments and the legal reasoning behind them should have been given simultaneously. It is no longer acceptable to give judgments, and then begin a frantic search for reasons to validate such pronouncements.  

2016 Budget and the National Economy

TMG welcomes with a cautious dose of optimism the 2016 Budget, not because all estimates are perfect, but because for the first time since the advent of democracy in 1999, government expenditure has weighed heavily on the side of the ordinary Nigerian. TMG commends the Buhari administration for the conception of cutting edge social protection programmes which collectively aimed to lift about two million citizens out of the dungeon of poverty. However, good intention is not the only thing to consider. 

Equally critical is the creation of a robust methodology to ensure that the hundreds of billions that would be devoted to these programmes get to the targeted recipients. On the other hand, since the budget is still going through the mill of the legislative process, TMG wishes to admonish that that the component on Conditional Cash Transfer of N5000 to extremely poor Nigerians could have been channeled into a well thought out programme of industrialisation targeting Nigerians in the 774 Local Government Areas (LGAs). 

It is our considered view that establishing industries to employ citizens, is a much more sustainable approach to wealth creation than giving out paltry sums, which may not eventually make a lasting impact on the living standard of those concerned. Our position is that a cottage or agro-allied industry which is set up with the sum of N1 billion for example, is capable of providing jobs for hundreds of young people. So if the sum of N1 billion is devoted to each of the 774 LGAs and conscientiously managed, a phenomenal reversal would have happened with the debilitating unemployment situation in the country.  

There is no gainsaying the fact that using the Local Governments as the channel for getting development to the ordinary people is a critical task before the Buhari government. To reach the grassroots, and halt the often catastrophic drift from the rural to the urban areas, the Federal Government must empower the Local Governments to become hubs for participatory governance. 

We make bold to state that part of the grand scale corruption and the emperor syndrome that has festered in the states comes from the systematic hijacking of the resources that should have ordinarily gone to Local Governments. The social protection schemes being put forward by the administration, present an opportunity to correct the deliberate alienation of Nigerians from the governance process.     

TMG expects that the State governors would take a cue from some of the pro-people ideas being espoused at the federal level. Instead of throwing up their hands and feigning helplessness in the face of dwindling oil revenue, our expectation is that State helmsmen who tirelessly canvassed for the votes of the Nigerian people during elections would come up with smart ideas to generate monies and create jobs. 

Any State Chief Executive who is unable to meet these obligations, including obligations to workers in his workforce should honourably resign. Governance is by choice and not force. Consequently, knowing the level of pilfering going on in the states, it is a big surprise that not a single state has joined the Federal Government in launching a full scale war against the evil of corruption.

TMG calls on the Federal Government to encourage the states to begin exploring ways to stand on their feet instead of waiting bowl in hand for monthly allocations, which is basically a euphemism for unearned money that is so easily frittered away. For us, the current cash crunch in the system is an opportunity to know those interested in governance and who have the capacity to govern, as well as those who have merely embarked on excursion to the respective government houses in the states, with the sole aim of enjoying and looting at the expense of the people. 

For this task of separating the serious minded, ideas driven governors from those on a hedonistic ego trip to the various government houses, TMG calls on the Federal Government to stop playing Father Christmas to the states. Let the states, which have failed the Nigerian people so terribly begin to reinvent themselves.

Thank you for your attention.

Comrade Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi


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