A voice against legalization of corruption

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Culled from Daily Independent

Monday, December 02, 2013

Whatever anyone might think or say, I am of the opinion that corruption is the biggest threat to the survival of this country called Nigeria. The law of the land abhors corruption. A lot of people have openly spoken against it, but yet quite a few are prepared to lead the fight against the menace, albeit, genuinely. The government in recognition of the need to fight the menace established two anti-corruption agencies, the ICPC and EFCC to lead the war against corruption by investigating and prosecuting persons found to have cooked the book one way or the other. How well the agencies have performed in the discharge of their duties is not the issue for discuss here today, but the attempt by some persons in the parliament to legalize corruption using the instrument of law.

I’m talking here about the Bill passed through Second Reading on the floor of the House of Representatives two weeks ago seeking to make it legal for certain categories of public office holders to legally operate foreign account. Under the extant Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act (2004), it is criminal for a public officer to operate a bank account outside Nigeria.

But the Bill titled “An Act to amend the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act Cap, C15 Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2004, to provide for the leave of the Bureau to be obtained for any public officer to maintain or operate a bank account outside Nigeria, and for other matters connected therewith,” was sponsored by Hon. Bamidele Faparusi (APC, Ekiti), seeks to reverse the most cogent part of the 2004 Act. Ironically, I am also from Ekiti State….phew!

The controversial bill was consolidated with other bills to read: “A bill for an act to amend the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, Cap. 15 LFN, 2004 so as to make the leave of the bureau necessary for a public officer to maintain or operate a bank account outside Nigeria and other related matters; a bill for an act to amend the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act by deleting proviso to Section 3, deleting Section 18(1) and enacting an amended Section 81(2); and a bill for an act to amend the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, Cap. C15 Laws of the federation of Nigeria 2004 so as to make accessible assets and liabilities declared by public office holders and other matters connected therein.

The two other consolidated Bills were sponsored by Hon. Oluchi Ibeji (PDP-Abia) and Hon. Emmanuel Jime (PDP-Benue). The principal bill seeks amongst other things to amend paragraph 3, part 1 of the Fifth schedule of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which is impair material with the section which this bill seeks to amend.

When the bill was up for debate, Faparusi leading the debate noted that the provisions of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act is meant to ensure that public servants comply with the public morality and accountability and to discourage them from the “culture of graft, greed, materialism, ill-gotten wealth and conflict of interest in the performance of public duty.” He however observed  that the provisions of the law as it relates to the prohibition of foreign accounts by public officers in Nigeria as provided in section 7 has only been observed in breach owing to the obvious implacability of the law.

In his argument he said: “The purport of the law is to discourage the laundering  of money and fraud by public officers. But it is public knowledge that nobody would use his bank account to launder money, instead proxies and cronies have become ready instruments for such purpose.” He, however, shocked me to the marrow when he as a “doctor” prescribed decapitation as remedy for headache.

In his explanation said that the law as it is today does not contemplate this development and to tackle it, there is need to make for such public officer, who hitherto maintains and operate a foreign account and has cause to hold same, to get leave of the Bureau to continue to use such accounts, adding that “this would be an improvement from the practice of requiring a public office holder to close any foreign account so held by reason of the office now occupied.

“The instant law, as it is today, does not contemplate this development and to tackle it, there is need to make for such public officer, who hitherto maintains and operate a foreign account and has cause to hold same, to get leave of the Bureau to continue to use such accounts. This would be an improvement from the practice of requiring a public office holder to close any foreign account so held by reason of the office now occupied.

“This development would give the Bureau some teeth to bite, based on the fact that it would be able to prosecute any defaulter and seek the imposition of sanctions in line with section 23 of the Act relying on the said public office holder’s decline to make proper declaration to the Bureau” he argued.

In his contribution to his Bill, Jime who shared same sentiment with Faparusi though he argued that “the Principal aim of asset declaration/disclosure by public officials is tailored towards combating corruption; enhancing and building public confidence and legitimacy in government processes; and engineering transparency in its dealings, in the eyes of the public and the international community at large”, he stated.

The intention of the piece of legislation, according to him, is to amend section 3(c) of the Code of Conduct Act, 2004 to :Retain and make accessible to any Nigerian citizen within 14 days, the assets and liabilities declared by any serving or past public office holder, via any medium as he or she may wish upon agreement with the Bureau and to bear the charges thereof.”

According to him: “The importance of making more accessible assets and liabilities of public office holders to make governance more open has found expression in many countries of the world, a better example through public disclosure of assets as exemplified in Latin American countries like Argentina, Brazil, Chile etc.”

But some members expressed reservations, fearing that the proposal would simply give public officers a license to stash more government funds in private accounts overseas. Leading the group of antagonists to the Bill the Deputy House Leader, Leo Ogor, held the view that the bill ‘stands logic on its head.’

He noted further: “This amendment can actually encourage corruption rather than reduce it. Why not say public officers should operate domiciliary accounts in the country?”

Expectedly, the issue was taken up by some other Nigerians who say the danger inherent in allowing such law pass.

The Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) was the first NGO to raise the roof against the Bill. Reacting to the news on behalf of the Coalition, its Executive Chairman, Debo Adeniran flayed the reason adduced by the supporters of the new bill.

He said: “It is not only absurd but unreasonable for our legislators to base the reason for the scrapping of the extant Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, 2004 on non-enforcement. Does it mean that if you cannot enforce any law then you scrap it? This is like cutting off the head because one has headache. It is clear that the problem is not in the law, but its enforcement.

“This new amendment will actually encourage corruption rather than reduce it. The bill to allow public office holders open and operate foreign bank account will definitely expand corrupt practices to an unimaginable level, thereby worsening the current worrisome massive corrupt practices being perpetrated by the Nigerian politicians.

“Though we know that some public officers still smuggle and open foreign accounts by proxy, but this bill will just be another way to legalize the fleecing of our country’s treasury and laundering of the public funds to other countries.

“It is more reasonable to ask public officers to operate domiciliary accounts for the benefit of the country instead of giving them the leeway to stash their stolen loots in some foreign accounts where it would be difficult to trace.”

Last Wednesday, Femi Gbajabiamila, leader of the minority in the parliament behaved like someone who might have been talked to by “elders” at home as he raised a point of order seeking the leave of the House to have it reverse itself on the decision taken in the obnoxious Bill. He was asked by the Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, to bring the issue up this week in a proper motion so that the parliament can take a second look at its decision which is been faulted left, right and centre by angry Nigerians.

As a Nigerian who has felt and is still feeling the impact of corruption in our system, I want to beg the members of the House to redeem the image of the parliament and reverse the decision on the Bill by killing it. I remember that the parliament recently constituted a committee to look into the series of pro-people laws that have been passed by both chambers of the parliament but yet unassented to by Mr. President, which was a good thing to do.

My worry is that if the lasted law to “legalize stealing” goes through and is forwarded to the presidency for assent, it will likely get express assent because of the benefit to the power that be. Even as the “old law” still subsists I wonder how much of our commonwealth has been secretly laundered. Corruption is synonymous with rape. So shall we now willingly give room to the demented to rape our daughters freely? God forbid

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