By Gideon Oladepo:
Mainstream media and the social medial are awash with the news and discussions on the present federal government’s fight against corruption. The justification for the fight or otherwise, has pitched Nigerians against one another: those for and those against, even if such opposition is veiled in one form of the criticism of the government’s mode of leading the fight or another. One thing that became clear in all these discussions is the level of our tolerance for corruption – our corruption mindset.
An average Nigerian’s mind had been so corrupted by the system we operate that many seem to have accepted corruption and impunity as a way of life we must live with. For example, with the mind-boggling revelation that some highly placed people in the previous administration and their friends have shared among them a princely sum of $2.1 billion meant for the prosecution of the war on terror in the North East, one would have expected Nigerians to react with one voice with gusto! This is a sum equivalent to the Lagos State’s Recurrent and Capital Budget proposal for 2016; ten times Ekiti State’s approved budget for the same period and 140% of the $1.5 billion that the Chinese government used to build the longest bridge in the world across the ocean, linking their two major cities.
But contrarily, some youths in some parts of the country even went as far as organizing protests to challenge the government’s holding such suspects in custody for proper interrogation pending their arraignment in court. Rather than consider the merit or demerit of the accusations against the suspects, some are quick to read persecution on account of political differences or even ethnicity into the motive for arresting such suspects. Their reasoning seems to be that since those prosecuting them could be equally culpable or that there are other corrupt fellows around, why singling their man out for justice?
First, there is nowhere in the world where all criminals are apprehended all at once. Judgment must begin somewhere. This was why the Bible says judgment will begin from the most sacred place – the house of God! Even where people conspired to commit a crime, judgment is not delayed in respect of those who were apprehended among them just because their fellow travellers were still at large. Every suspected criminal deserves to have his day in court irrespective of what happens to others who were yet to come within the reach of the long arm of the law. Secondly, other people’s crimes are still in the realm of speculations until they are apprehended as ‘suspects’ to be investigated by competent authorities. And if after such investigation they are considered worthy of being arraigned in court, they become ‘the accused’. It is after the court of competent authority finds them guilty that they become ‘criminals’. But one must not lose sight of the fact that their innocence is being challenged more and more at every stage until their eventual conviction or discharge: from being mere ‘suspects’, to becoming ‘the accused’ and eventually ‘the convict’, if not discharged by the court.
The mind-boggling accusations to me are first and foremost this administration’s test of its seriousness to fight corruption. When during Yar’adua’s administration some legislators began their investigation of the alleged corruption in the Obasanjo’s electricity generation scheme without bringing it to a logical conclusion, but with the turnaround that the hunters later became the hunted, Nigerians were totally confused as to whom exactly were the thieves? This administration must avoid such pitfalls. Prosecutors must be ready to pursue justice even up to the Supreme Court, if need be.
On the other hand, I think it’s high time the Nigerian Judicial Council (NJC) provided a framework to monitor the quality of judgments in corruption cases without having to wait for petitions from the public. This is because government agencies like the EFCC or ICPC are not expected to petition the NJC on behalf of the state if they suspect foul play by a judge in the discharge of his duty. They can only go on appeal to contest wrong application of the law and not to impugn on the integrity of the judge. Having a monitoring framework would not only make it possible to review and possibly reverse some judges’ perceived indiscretion in letting economic saboteurs off the hook, but would also make the judges more aware of their onerous responsibilities adjudicating in these important cases that touch the wellbeing of millions of Nigerians and be more circumspect in their handling.
Lastly, governments should endeavor to stop encouraging corruption mindset by systems that dull Nigerians’ conscience against corruption and impunity. For example, everybody knows that having to obtain roadworthiness certificate for all vehicles above certain number of years old, when nearly all the vehicles on our roads fall into this category because of our economic reality, is just a revenue-earning gimmick for governments. This is because it’s practically impossible for all qualifying vehicles to be tested by the vehicle inspection officers before these certificates are issued as expected. Hence the people and those vested with the responsibility resort to agreeing that its cost be paid as revenue to government with additional money to facilitate its issuance. If the government wants more revenue, it should just add the cost of this paper to the cost of the regular vehicle licence for private vehicles and concentrate on testing the commercial vehicles before issuing the roadworthiness certificate as it used to do. The present procedure has made everyone involved to accept corruption as part of the system. This same corruption goes on in different degrees in most government institutions: from the customs, the immigrations, police, higher institutions, building plan approval etc. It’s almost the norm when soliciting for contracts in government establishments. And it informs why our elections are hardly free and fair.
With minds as corrupt as many Nigerians’ are, no amount of money will adequately fix our comatose infrastructures nor do we stand the chance of installing merit to determine who gets what, which is most essential to our excelling as a nation in this age when even the developed countries are eager to snatch our best and brightest brains from us.
Gideon Oladepo is a chartered accountant based in Lagos.
This article was originally published in The Guardian (Nigeria) and has been re-publsihed with the permission of the author.