In September, 2016, Civil Society and Media practitioners in Nigeria gathered in Enugu to review the country’s anti-corruption war. The meeting, supported by the Justice for All of the British Council was attended by about fifty Civil Society and Media practitioners interested in the anti-corruption war.
Top on the agenda were the several cases involving politically exposed and influential persons, or what one may call high profile corruption cases; many of which have gone to sleep, as well as transparency concerns within the country’s anti-graft agencies.
One of the major issues raised was that of the immediate past Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission- EFCC, Ibrahim Lamorde. Many questioned why he is not being investigated on allegations of misappropriation of over One Trillion Naira as Chairman of the EFCC; as alleged by one Dr. George Uboh, an Abuja-based Whistle Blower. If we have One Trillion Naira now, Nigeria will not be talking of borrowing about Thirty Billion Dollars to finance the 2016 Budget. What about the immediate past Governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi – why is he not being investigated over allegations of misappropriation of more than Two Hundred Billion Naira belonging to Rivers State? Will investigating him open a can of worms? Are the authorities playing safe? What about the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari and the MTN Five Hundred Million Naira bribery scandal; as well as Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal and the Two Hundred and Seventy Million Naira IDP grass cutting scandal? Is it a case of sacred cows? Time shall tell!
Other cases examined at the Enugu meeting were those involving some Ex-Governors, Ex-Ministers, Ex- Lawmakers, Ex-Federal and State Civil Servants, members of the private (Banking) sector and businessmen.
Former Governor of Rivers State, Governor Peter Odili is said to have gotten a perpetual injunction restraining the country’s anti-graft agencies from investigating, arresting or prosecuting him. The judicial pronouncement granted former Governor Odili judicial immunity on the frivolous ground of fundamental human rights. That can only happen in Nigeria. But, why was it not appealed? As absurd as it were, none of the country’s anti-graft agencies approached a superior Court to set aside the order? Many will blame it on absence of political will to prosecute; but there is definitely something they are not telling Nigerians.
What about the case of the governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai? Many will argue that he is presently enjoying immunity and cannot be prosecuted, but he is less than two years old as Governor, while the matter dates back to about 2010. As former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, El-Rufai was arraigned on an 8-count charge of abuse of office and gratification through his office.
The matter was before a Federal Capital Territory High Court (12), Abuja, with number: FCT/HC/CR/05/2020. It is on hibernation today.
Another case of interest is that of the daughter of Nigeria’s former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello. She was arraigned on a 56-count charge bothering on corruption. Plea was taken, but the case was stalled, as defence lawyer filed to challenge charges and application pending for determination. The application is no doubt, one of those frivolous applications to delay trial. The case is not moving forward, despite the birth of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.
What about our own Farouk Lawan, former Chairman, Adhoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy Regime and former Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Education? He was arraigned before a Federal High Court in Abuja over bribery and corruption allegations amounting to about Ninety Six Million Naira (N96,000,000.00). Is the case dead, or resting?
Again, former Managing Director of Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria- FAAN, Roland Iyayi’s case has gone to sleep. Iyayi was arraigned on an 11-count charge bothering on corruption and abuse of office before a Federal Capital Territory High Court, Maitama, Abuja. In his case, plea was taken, trial commenced, prosecution witnesses were already testifying, before the matter went underground.
Dr. Dayo Olagunju, Ex-Secretary, National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education, Joshua Alao, Alice Abang, Jibrin Waguna, Ahmed Abubakar, Shehu Abdullahi, Dr. Victoria King-Nwachukwu, Adamu Khalid, Moses Oseni, Francis Awelewa and Bashir Suleiman were arraigned before Justice Anuli Chikere of the Federal High Court, Abuja, with suit number: FHC/ABJ/111/2009. They were arraigned on an 83-count charge on offences under the Public Procurement Act, Money Laundering and stealing. Plea was taken and the matter adjourned for trial. Today, the matter is in the dream land.
What about former governor of Plateau State, Joshua Dariye? He was arraigned on a 23-count charge of criminal misappropriation of public funds, embezzlement and criminal breach of trust. The case lingered at the Supreme Court on the issue of jurisdiction until recently. He is accused of stealing over Seven Hundred Million Naira and was arraigned before a Federal Capital Territory High Court, Gudu, Abuja, with suit number: FCT/ABJ/CR/81/2007.
Interestingly, Dariye, now a Senator representing Plateau Central in the upper legislative chamber, in September, 2016, decamped from the Peoples Democratic Party-PDP to the All Progressives Congress- APC, claiming that his former Party, the PDP is in crisis. Pundits however argue that he may have joined the ruling Party in order to avoid the reopening of the case of corruption hanging on his neck. The impression created so far, no doubt, is that joining the ruling Party gives the individual(s) immunity from prosecution.
The list is endless. But, why are the old cases, some of which have lingered for over a decade not moving forward? Is it about political will or judicial collusion or even compromise on the part of the prosecuting agencies/counsels? Why are the new cases of corruption involving public office holders not being investigated? There is no shortage of reasons for the retreat of justice in high profile corruption cases, but the time has come for Nigerians to refuse to accept any excuses for failure to prosecute corruption cases.
The amount of money stolen from public treasury is so huge that the fact that Nigeria is still standing firm is a miracle. Corruption is at the root of virtually all the country’s woes; it is the cause of unemployment, poverty, underdevelopment and hunger in our land.
One of the promises made to Nigerians by President Mohammadu is to fight corruption. The war has not started, until the hibernated high profile corruption cases are resuscitated and concluded.
The legal framework against corruption in Nigeria needs to be strengthened. The Proceeds of Crime Agency (POCA), Nigeria Financial Intelligence Center (NFIC), Whistle Blowers Protection (WBP) and Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) Bills should be passed without delay.
The country’s anti-corruption agencies must be sanitized; persons with toga of corruption disengaged from public offices, ‘corrupt sacred cows’ demystified, investigated and prosecuted.
When the above steps are taken, Nigerians will be reassured that the anti-graft war is real. While all the accused persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty, steps must be taken to urgently conclude the cases, started with Nigerian’s tax payers’ money.
Whoever the courts acquit, so be it, but let the cases be concluded and not be in hibernation forever. The time to act is now!
Dr. Walter Duru is the Executive Director of Media Initiative against Injustice, Violence and Corruption-MIIVOC and a Communication expert.