FELIX NWANERI November 23, 2012
FELIX NWANERI writes on the controversy over the recent call by the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) for death penalty to be imposed against corruption, as the vice has become the rule, rather than the exception in Nigeria.
The public hearings on constitution amendment across the country have once more shown that Nigerians are in unison on the need to alter several sections of the nation’s law book as there is a general belief that the 1999 Constitution as amended was foisted on the people by the military.
However, while most contentious issues such as demand for new states, true federalism, state police, local government autonomy and tenure of elected public officers have dominated debates among the people, none of them has stirred controversy like the proposal by the pan Northern group, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) for death penalty against corruption.
ACF had in its proposal ahead of last week’s zonal public hearings on the constitution amendment advocated capital punishment for anyone found guilty of corruption. The group premised its submission on the destructive impact of corruption on the country.
The group stated: “The law classifies crimes according to the severity of their consequences both on the individual victim, the community or the country. If crime holds a high potential to gravely harm or kill its victim, the more severe the punishment, which was designed to punish and deter offenders.
“This is to say that punishment must always fit offences. One crime that has proved capable of gravely harming or killing its victim, Nigeria, is corruption. Sadly, our laws have not recognised corruption for what it is. ACF recommends that corruption be recognised as a capital offence and made to carry capital punishment.”
While capital punishment is not new in Nigeria, as some heinous crimes such as armed robbery and murder attract death punishment, China is perhaps the only notable country in the world where corruption attracts death sentence at the moment.
Just last year, the world’s most populous nation executed the deputy mayors of its Suzhou and Hangzhou provinces; head of the State Food and Drug Administration, Secretary of Justice of Chongqing City and the vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. This makes China the global leader for the number of corrupt officials who are sentenced to death, and actually executed each year.
But, judging by the seemingly endless “public demand” for this kind of punishment and the surging popular anger in China, it seems that there is actually not enough of it.
Although so many people have been “beheaded,” officials at all levels are still determined to brave death by trying to make the most of corruption.
The Chinese example, perhaps, explains the flurry of reactions, which have so far trailed the ACF’s proposal despite the acknowledgement by both sides of the divide on the issue that corruption, defined by as “abuse of entrusted power for private gain” hurts everyone who depends on the integrity of people in positions of authority.
To those in support of the death penalty proposal, the dimension that corruption has taken in Nigeria is so frightening that more drastic measures need to be taken to combat it, as the various antigraft agencies are fast losing the war due to delayed prosecution of alleged corrupt officials.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), for instance, is yet to make any head way in the trial of ex- Governors Ayo Fayose (Ekiti), Orji Kalu (Abia), Chimaroke Nnamani (Enugu), Sani Ahmed (Zamfara), Saminu Turaki (Jigawa), Rashidi Ladoja (Oyo), Joshua Dariye (Plateau), Jolly Nyame (Taraba), Attahiru Bafarawa (Sokoto) since 2007, when their prosecution commenced.
Some of them have even gone ahead to contest elections and are currently occupying top positions in government, even as it only took a United Kingdom court to convict the former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, who is currently serving a 13- year jail term in London.
But unlike Ibori, ex-Governors Lucky Igbnedion and Diepreye Alamieyeseigha of Edo and Bayelsa states, respectively, who got convicted in courts at home, were merely reprimanded. While Igbinedion was convicted and fined N3.5m, following a plea-bargain deal with the EFCC that saw 191 charges preferred against him reduced to just one, Alamieseigha was sentenced to only two years imprisonment.
This slap on the wrist kind of judgement on such high profile cases may have been responsible for the call by the ACF, though the world is gradually moving away from capital punishment to life imprisonment.
Lagos lawyer and activist, Fred Agbaje, who is of the view that the call is the way forward, said: “If we feel that the death penalty will put an end to or reduce corruption in our society, so be it.”
He added: “In Nigeria, corruption has become the 37th state of the federation, growing in leaps and bounds and drawing its weekly and monthly allowances from the Federation Account. If the death penalty will address it, it’s okay because we have not reached the level the advanced countries have reached where they convert the death penalty to life imprisonment.
“I will suggest that there must be a fundamental surgical amendment to the act establishing the two anti-graft agencies.
And it must include the removal of the power of the president to appoint the headship of the organisations. So long as the president retains the power to appoint the headship, the fight against corruption is a joke because you cannot fight yourself.” Similarlarly, the Secretary General of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), Chief Willy Ezugwu, described the proposal as one in the right direction, given the collosal damage that corruption had done to the polity.
“I agree with the ACF because there must be severe punishment for coruption in this country, else we are going no where. No matter the measure, even death penalty against coruption, I am totally for it, if it will make public office holders to sit up,” he told National Mirror.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Yusuf Alli, who has persistently advocated such measure, argued that corruption contributes at least 80 per cent to problems in the country, adding that if it is reduced by 50 per cent, the level of efficiency in the country will increase. His words: “When you are proven guilty of corruption charges, the person should just be executed.
I’ve been preaching this for more than a decade. I used to call it the Chinese treatment, because in China, if you are convicted for corruption, you are either hanged or shot. “I believe this is necessary.
At least, we would have achieved one thing; the person who committed the crime would not be the beneficiary of the gain. He won’t live to enjoy the fruit of his crime. Also, Nigerians will not be committing crimes for others to enjoy. Once they know and see example, they won’t be committing the crime.”
But convincing as the arguments may sound; another political school of thought fears that such law could also be a political tool. To them, officials who do not have godfathers or got caught on the wrong side may be used as scapegoats.
“Anyone could be a victim. Once you lose your footing in the political power struggle, the accusations of corruption are very likely to fall on you,” a senior Police official who pleaded anonymity told National Mirror.
Executive Chairman of Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Debo Adeniran, who also disagreed with the ACF’s call, said: “As much as we are worried about the recalcitrance of corruption culprits in Nigeria, death penalty cannot solve the problem. It would reduce the frequency no doubt, but criminals may become more brazen in their game.
They will steal so large so they’ll feel comfortable dying for their progeny to remember them to have made eternal wealth for them.”
He further said that such penalty presupposes that neither the accusers nor the trial judge can make mistake, as a culprit, once executed can never be brought back to live. He therefore opined that “rather than kill them, corrupt criminals should lose, not only the direct proceeds of corruption they’re found guilty of but also whatever wealth and property they might have accummulated in their lifetime to the state. Such would be deemed to have been gotten through corruption.”
In the same vein, notable lawyers like Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) and Femi Falana (SAN), said what the nation needs to fight corruption is a strengthened legal system and a strong leadership with sufficient political will.
Agbakoba said: “It is understandable that people are frustrated and that is why they are calling for extreme measure but what we need is strong leadership to tackle corruption. There is extreme poverty in the land. Even if you impose death penalty, corruption will continue to grow if there is no strong leadership. What we need is strong EFCC, strong police, strong SSS, strong ICPC which will ensure that corrupt persons will be dealt with.”
To Falana, death penalty is barbaric and should not be encouraged. “It is not the death penalty that will serve as the deterrent; it is the political will of the government of the day. It is the strong political will of the government of the day that will enforce the law that will ensure that there is no sacred cow; that will ensure that reports indicting highly influential criminals are not suppressed,” he noted.