A combination of poverty, cultural practices, permissiveness, weak institutions, including failure of law enforcement agencies, creates the impression that corruption pays while promoting a culture of impunity
He is a distinguished senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Under normal circumstances, that office should invest him with some level of authority and respect both within and outside the country. But that may not be exactly true in the case of Joshua Dariye, who is also former governor of Plateau State.
Whereas he is free to travel anywhere within the country and move around with the full paraphernalia of office as a senator, Dariye has to be careful anytime he ventures outside Nigeria. Reason: He may end up sharing the same fate as James Ibori, former governor of Delta State, who was recently convicted and imprisoned in the United Kingdom, UK, for money laundering.
And the reason for this is not far-fetched. On September 2, 2004, Dariye was arrested at the Marriot Hotel, Central London, by the Metropolitan Police over money laundering charges having been found with the sum of €80,000. While the case was on, Dariye jumped bail and fled back to Nigeria on September 15, 2004. From that point on, he appeared to have enjoyed some form of immunity from the long hands of the law within Nigeria. As a governor at that time, he was immune from criminal prosecution. Not even a petition written by Akin Olujinmi, the then attorney-general of the federation, AGF, and minister of justice, and addressed to the Plateau State House of Assembly for possible impeachment of the governor brought him anywhere near justice. The petition detailed Dariye’s offences of money laundering and economic crimes against British laws, illegal transaction in foreign exchange and false declaration in contravention of the Nigerian Penal Code, and Code of Conduct for Public Officers.
Rather than nail him, a federal high court in Abuja gave him a reprieve by declaring that the Code of Conduct Tribunal had no power to summon, arrest or try him over alleged breach of assets declaration laws. So apart from the support he enjoyed from the state legislature, the former governor also got a shield from the court. He would not be the only one who will be protected by the court. Shortly after that, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, stepped into the matter. On the request of the British authorities, EFCC launched an investigation into Dariye’s businesses and source of wealth. Soon, the commission discovered that he had stolen state funds running into billions of naira and had been laundering the siphoned money abroad. This discovery notwithstanding, the immunity clause in Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution shielded him from prosecution until the expiration of his term in 2007.
By the time he left office, the EFCC dragged him to court on a 13-count charge of stealing N700 million. He was granted bail in 2007 by the federal high court, Abuja, while the case has continued to suffer prolonged adjournments. In the meantime, Dariye has been elected as a senator. He is not alone. In this category are the likes of Sani Yerima, former governor of Zamfara State; Adamu Abdullahi, former governor of Nasarawa State; and Danjuma Goje, former governor, Gombe State, who are all currently standing trial for corruption-related offences and are now distinguished members of the Senate. Yerima is not only in the Senate, he also serves on the all-powerful Committee on Selection; those of Federal Character and Inter-Government Affairs; Drugs, Narcotics, Agriculture; and, very ironically, the Anti-corruption Committee.
Apart from those who are now distinguished senators, other former governors who have allegations of corruption hanging around their neck include Lucky Igbinedion, Edo State; Jolly Nyame, Taraba State; Chimaroke Nnamani, Enugu State; Saminu Turaki, former governor, Jigawa State; Boni Haruna, Adamawa State; and Orji Uzor Kalu, Abia State. They all walk the streets free and are able to aspire to whatever offices they may so wish in the country while their cases remain pending, all thanks to the ability of their lawyers to bring up appeals and secure prolonged adjournments of their cases.
In this respect, a good point of reference is that of Kalu who is accused by the EFCC of embezzling about N5.2 billion while in government. For that, he currently faces a 107-count criminal charge before Justice Adamu Bello of the federal high court, Abuja. The matter has been on since 2007 and Kalu’s lawyers have done a good job of prolonging it.
The former governor’s lawyers led by Awa Kalu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, argued that the EFCC and the federal government are incompetent to prosecute a case involving the revenue of a state. The former governor’s legal team also got an ex parte order from a high court in Abia State on May 31, 2007 asking the federal high court to stay proceedings against Kalu. Armed with that order, they argued that the federal high court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the case.
This was the state of affairs until Friday, April 2, 2012 when the Abuja division of the court of appeal ruled that Kalu indeed had a case to answer before the federal high court, Abuja. The appellate court also declared the ex parte order Kalu obtained in Abia State as an abuse of court process. On whether the EFCC was competent to prosecute him over funds belonging to Abia State, the panel of justices led by Justice Ejembi Eko ruled that, “EFCC derives its competence to prosecute from sections 6 and 7 of its establishing Act.”
So, five years after it started, the corruption case levelled against Kalu is just about to commence afresh at the federal high court, Abuja. That is provided Kalu’s lawyers do not head for the Supreme Court. For that was exactly what Femi Fani-Kayode, former minister of aviation and presidential spokesperson under the administration of former president Olusegun Obasanjo, did. Fani-Kayode who is facing a 47-count charge of money laundering before a federal high court, Lagos, was first arraigned in December 2008.
His case has so far dragged on because his lawyers objected to the decision of the court to admit a computer-generated statement of his bank account. This objection was argued all the way to the Supreme Court where a ruling was finally delivered on Thursday, May 10, 2012. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal filed by the former aviation minister while ordering him to go back and continue with his trial at the federal high court, Lagos, four years after.
Instances like these, says Opeyemi Agbaje, a lawyer, are the reasons some persons have come to the conclusion that lawyers and, by extension, the judiciary play a huge role in frustrating the war against corruption in Nigeria. “More importantly, the Ibori conviction illustrates how corruption has subverted our policing and judicial systems. While a London court confirmed without prevarication that Ibori had two previous convictions for petty theft in the UK, Nigerian courts went through a protracted process right to the Supreme Court before concluding that one ‘James Onanefe Ibori’, who stole building materials somewhere in or near Abuja, was different from ‘James Onanefe Ibori’ who became governor of Delta State. And while the London Metropolitan Police and Crown Prosecution Services succeeded in convicting Ibori of money laundering, all 170 charges against him in Nigeria were summarily dismissed by Justice Marcel Awokulehin. There are others who have obtained permanent court injunctions against investigation and trial, and many whose trials have in effect become a charade,” Agbaje said.
In this respect, lawyers are however not the only ones guilty of frustrating the war against corruption from within the temple of justice. Equally guilty are law enforcement officers, including police and officials of anti-corruption agencies, who have been found at different times to have aided the cause of the corrupt. In fact, corruption has got to a point where it could almost be described as synonymous with the police. Apart from mounting roadblocks, which was recently stopped by Mohammed Abubakar, acting inspector general, IG, of police, policemen have often been alleged to demand bribe for bail despite the enlightenment posters adorning the walls of police formations that bail is free. The magazine learnt that even the process of recruiting policemen is fraught with corruption, as intending police recruits allegedly bribe their way into the force. Instances abound of how policemen and the prosecution sometimes actively assist the accused to get away with corruption-related crimes by filing a weak case against him in court or often treating the matter with levity. In such a situation, the court will be left with no option than to dismiss the case for lack of diligent prosecution or evidence. Some have argued that this may be one of the reasons Justice Awokulehin dismissed Ibori’s case.
A similar scenario also played out in the case of Erastus Akingbola, former managing director of Intercontinental Bank, whose 22-count charge of stealing N42.4 billion was recently quashed by Justice Charles Archibong of the federal high court, Lagos, for lack of diligent prosecution. Apparently irked by the attitude of the prosecution team that was constantly seeking adjournments and stay of proceedings, the court also ordered Mohammed Adoke, AGF, to disband the team of five SANs prosecuting the case for EFCC. Justice Archibong also promised to forward the court’s ruling to the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee, LPPC, to sanction the senior lawyers whose actions he described as “a drain on public purse.”
Worried about the growing number of pending corruption cases in different courts across the country, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, chief justice of Nigeria, CJN, recently called on the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, to submit an inventory of such cases. The CJN made the call at a meeting with Ekpo Nta, acting chairman of ICPC, who immediately responded by submitting a list of 263 pending cases the agency was prosecuting. The cases, filed between 2001 and 2011, involve 495 accused persons. The CJN was said to have earlier met with Ibrahim Lamorde, chairman, EFCC, on the same issue. At the meeting, Lamorde reportedly re-echoed the request for the creation of special courts for the handling of corruption cases in the country.
Lamorde’s view is shared by Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, though he cautioned that the setting up of such courts was not the most important consideration. As far as he is concerned, the selection of people with integrity and untainted track records to man the courts should be paramount. “Those who will be made to head the special courts or any court for that matter should be seasoned professionals and tested hands who have respect for the law and who can hold their heads high in the society,” he said.
And he sure has good reasons for making such a call. Over the years, there had been instances where judges were accused of getting ensnared by the lures of corruption. This, the magazine learnt, is even more rampant in cases involving election petitions and matters involving politicians. For instance, at different times in the past, the National Judicial Commission, NJC, had had cause to dismiss erring judges. One of such cases is that of Stanley Nnaji, the Enugu State high court judge, who was suspended in March 2004 for wrongly assuming jurisdiction on a matter outside his state. The judge had ordered the then IG to remove Chris Ngige, then governor of Anambra State. In the same vein, Justice Wilson Egbo-Egbo, another high court judge, who had earlier granted an ex parte order directing Ngige to stop parading himself as governor, was dismissed for endorsing unnecessary ex parte order. They are not the only casualties of political cases, five other judges were implicated in the 2003 Election Petition Tribunal in Akwa Ibom State. They adjudicated on the petition against the re-election of Victor Attah, then governor of Akwa Ibom State, by Ime Umanah, candidate of the All Nigeria People’s Party, ANPP, at the election.
But that was then. Lately, it is either the NJC has developed cold feet on matters of discipline or corrupt judges have become a little smarter. Justice Mustapha Akanbi, former chairman of ICPC, described this as a source of worry: “I cited the case where the president of the Nigerian Bar Association, Joseph Daudu, had the gut to say that some of the judges are corrupt and that some of them act as agents for corruption. If the president of the Bar said that, and in my view, he is not a man who is given to flippant talk, then we must look inward and see why the courts are not encouraging the fight against corruption.” Of course, it is not a flippant talk. Reports have it that some senior lawyers act as agents at different times in election petition cases, particularly at the state levels. If lawyers would readily collaborate in corruption, would the timid law enforcement agents be able to foil attempts where influential lawyers are involved? So what is the way out of corruption?
Akanbi wants the average Nigerian to be in the vanguard of the fight against corruption. “I think Nigerians must complain and talk about it. Honestly, people have been accusing judges of corruption, but they have not been coming out to identify those judges. In my time, there was a judge in Kano who was removed from office because of an allegation of corruption,” he recalled. He also has a task for the media. Said Akanbi: “When a corruption matter is taken to court, journalists must have an eye on the judge trying the case because if they have an eye on the judge, then the judge will know that if he takes a wrong step, he will be exposed. So, we all have to work hard and encourage the courts to do what is right.”
With that statement, Akanbi may have inadvertently touched on the role of the media in frustrating the war against corruption. Quietly, barely perceptibly but surely, the cancer of corruption which pervades virtually all the other sectors of the Nigerian society has eaten into the fabrics of journalism profession too.
Call it ‘brown envelope’, ‘keske’, ‘communiqua’ or even ‘handshake’, it is no longer news that some journalists too are compromised. Stories abound of how some editors are on the payroll of state governors, ministers and also act as consultants to banks, oil companies and other businesses. Have the media, frustrated that its criticisms are not being taken seriously or that it was becoming impoverished by the corruption in the land, thrown up its arms and decided to join the bandwagon?
The legislative arm of government, which is expected to be a check on the executive and the judicial arms of government, in its own case appears too enmeshed in the process. But for failure of the EFCC to properly serve the defendants with criminal charges at least 48 hours before the trial date, fireworks in the case of Herman Hembe, former chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Capital Market and Other Financial Institutions and Chris Azubogu, vice chairman of the committee would have taken off last week Thursday. As leaders of the committee, they had set out to investigate the capital market to find out reasons why it nearly collapsed. But as it turned out, the hunter has become the hunted. They were alleged to have demanded bribes from Arunma Oteh, director-general, DG, Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC.
Onjekwu Obe, counsel to the EFCC in the matter, said investigations conducted by the agency revealed that Hembe and Azubogu were the two key actors in the N44 million fraud allegation then rocking the disbanded House of Representatives Committee on Capital Market and Other Institutions. The EFCC counsel added that the two men had confessed that they did not attend the workshop for which they collected money from SEC. He added that investigations further revealed that Hembe and Azubogu collected estacode from SEC to attend a capacity building workshop in the Dominican Republic but never did. “EFCC has enough evidence to present to court and is ready to begin its case,” the counsel said.
In spite of such assurances, the EFCC, knowing full well that the law requires service of criminal charges on defendants at least 48 hours before trial, bungled the case by failing to do so. Hembe and Azubogu were only served 24 hours before commencement of trial. In view of this, Justice Abubakar Sadiq, the trial judge, had to adjourn the case till May 28. What is more curious is the fact that Hembe and Azubogu had also separately filed suits challenging the powers of the EFCC to put them on trial.
Looking at the whole scenario, Agbaje says, “Corruption in Nigeria has reached epidemic proportions.” He added that, “the greatest evidence of this is the scandalous revelation that has been emerging from the ongoing Senate Committee investigation on pensions. At some point, someone said Nigeria’s problem was not just corruption, but the impunity with which it was carried out. Now the matter evidently has graduated beyond impunity – in volume, scale, breadth and depth – and has now become a cancer!”
Corruption, as far as Tonnie Iredia, a veteran broadcast journalist and former DG, Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, is concerned, has reached a stage where “It seems it is time for us to introspect and ask another question – is Nigeria a naturally corrupt nation that openly purports to hate what it inwardly likes doing?”
Iredia, in an opinion published in the Sunday Trust of October 30, 2011, said the question is germane because of what he described as “the many unwholesome things that our public institutions stand for.” Probing further, he asked: “Why for example, is the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, unable to provide a meter to anyone who can afford it so that everyone can pay his correct bill? Another public body – the Abuja Water Board – is never able to reconcile payment of bills to it through banks designated by it for the purpose. Although the board gets the original of the payment receipt from the bank, every consumer has to display in his premises a photocopy of the duplicate copy of the receipt. This creates a conducive opportunity to extort money from those who panic over threat of disconnection or what else is the deliberate confusion for?”
In the same vein, he said, “With advanced technology, all our banks are now online, making it possible for a customer who opens an account in one location to operate it anywhere in Nigeria but because our electoral commission has to retain some inherited avenue for fraud, it cannot use the same strategy to make it possible for a citizen to vote in a place different from where he was registered. Meanwhile, we hear that over 1,300 of the commission’s direct data capture, DDC, machines have been allowed to be stolen from a designated custody.”
Iredia further explained that “At local government level, our councils are a haven of fraud. First, state governors divert a substantial part of their allocation. Secondly, council officials are reportedly found in their offices only on the days fixed for sharing among themselves whatever their governors graciously give them.”
What Iredia however may not have known is the fact that even some state government officials claim that they have to pay bribes before they can access the state’s monthly allocation from the Federation Account. There are also situations where officials of government agencies have to bribe their colleagues in the ministry of finance before money appropriated for their agencies in the annual budget is released. Buttressing this fact, a retired bursar who worked at a federal government college said he had to constantly bribe officials at the ministry of education before funds appropriated for the maintenance of the school were released. The veteran broadcaster condemns the attitude of Nigerians who solidarise with persons standing trial for corruption in such a way that they give the impression that “it is government itself that is on trial.” In view of this, he said, “In other words, we hate corruption but we love those accused of it; hence, when a citizen moves up into a big position, his friends and relations are quick to remind him that this is our time.”
That perhaps explains why people exploit opportunities given for them to serve. Francis Njoku, a legal practitioner, says: “There is a lot of greed. There is a lot of nepotism. There is a lot of poverty and unemployment. There is a lot of despair and hopelessness. Therefore, everybody in wherever little niche they find themselves wants to convert it into a goldmine. Therefore, they employ all manner of tactics to circumvent the system in order to enrich their pockets.”
Beyond that, he said, “Nigerians do not really see themselves as Nigerians. So what we have in Nigeria is that everybody wants to grab what they can get from the country. The orientation that makes us see ourselves as Nigerians is lacking.”
Shina Loremikan, human rights activist and coordinator, Campaign Against Impunity, a non-governmental organisation, agrees with Njoku. He is of the view that “our values contribute immensely to the menace of corruption.” And he is sure correct. At the moment, the education system in Nigeria, he says, is actively breeding a coming generation of corrupt leaders. Evidence of this abounds in the manner parents encourage their children to cheat in examinations and even go as far as helping them procure question papers ahead of the examination day. Many parents also go out of their way to enrol their children in “miracle centres” where students are assisted to write their Senior School Certificate Examinations conducted by the West African Examination Council, WAEC, or other examinations by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB, and come out in flying colours. Such parents, after ensuring that their children fraudulently secure admission into tertiary institutions, also assist them in bribing lecturers. This explains why many of the nation’s graduates are no longer capable of defending the integrity of the certificates they parade.
Still speaking of values, Loremikan said, “The electoral system is that of cash and carry and winner takes all. This has not helped in the war against corruption.”
Beyond politics, Loremikan says even as individuals the cultures in different parts of the country also encourage corruption. “In a situation whereby individuals worship and prefer money to good name, everyone wants to get rich so as to be respected. The tragedy is that even the elders, who should shun such quick riches that have no trace to hard work, also fall for the money. So, in a way, loss of societal values has a hand in the growth of corruption in the country.”
Even religious leaders are not spared the touch of corruption. Loremikan decried a situation where in Nigeria of today, religion is all about money. Religious leaders, he said, “talk more of wealth creation and less of soul winning or salvation. No one speaks against primitive accumulation of wealth. They teach their followers that poverty is not their portion as children of God and, as a result, all of them strive to be rich either through hook or crook. The end, they say, justifies the means.”
Against this backdrop, Iredia says it is obvious that the institutions of society set up to coordinate the fight against corruption have a herculean task ahead. And this, he says, is not entirely due to the absence of efforts by different governments to tackle corruption. Tracing the history of Nigeria’s attempt at waging war against corruption, Iredia said during the First Republic, the Tafawa Balewa government declared corruption as the nation’s main enemy. General Yakubu Gowon promulgated the Corrupt Practices Decree No. 38 of 1975 to deal with the subject. Murtala Muhammed sacked about 10,000 civil servants on the basis of corruption and related matters. President Shehu Shagari, concerned about the high incidence of indiscipline and corruption, inaugurated an Ethical Revolution Committee in 1982. After him, General Muhammadu Buhari swore never to tolerate kickback, inflation of contracts, forgeries, fraud and abuse of office.
By the time it took over the reins of power, the Ibrahim Babangida administration resuscitated the Code of Conduct Bureau to which it added the Code of Conduct Tribunal in 1989 to handle corruption while, for the same purpose, General Sani Abacha set up the Failed Banks Tribunal and promulgated the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Decree No. 13 of 1995. These efforts were later followed by the Money Laundering Prohibition Act, 2004; Public Procurement Act, 2007; as well as EFCC Act 2004; and ICPC Act 2004.
Beyond the laws, Iredia said, “The suspicion that the nation may not have the political will to try the high and the mighty is no longer an issue since we have in our anti-corruption drive humiliated many – a former Senate president, a former speaker of the House of Representatives (Patricia Etteh), several former ministers and permanent secretaries, chief executives of banks and even a former inspector general of police (Tafa Balogun)!”
Given this record therefore, why is corruption still thriving in Nigeria? Ayobami Adeniji, a psychologist, formerly with the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, says it is linked with the poor reward system in the country. “It is no longer news that workers in the society are not paid well or regularly. Therefore, to check bureaucratic corruption, workers should be paid, and when due, because without getting paid they would devise ways to meet their family obligations even if it involves breaking the law,” she said. With this statement, Adeniji may be indirectly referring to the kind of message the country passes to civil servants when they see pensioners queue for days on end waiting for their meagre pay.
On the flip side of the reward system is the fact that many of the people who have been caught in corrupt practices have virtually walked away with a slap on the wrist. In this respect, the case of Igbinedion who merely forfeited the sum of N3 million to government after his conviction readily comes to mind. Sometimes, the corrupt appear to even get rewarded with other positions. For instance, a former governor in one of the South-eastern states in the Second Republic who was said to have mismanaged money meant for the creation of a carpet industry in his state later became a minister and then a senator. Senator Nuhu Aliyu, a retired assistant IG, once alleged that there were people in the National Assembly who had links with drug trafficking. He later retracted the statement, apparently because of pressure from his colleagues.
Situations like this, says Adeniji, create the impression that corruption pays, while promoting a culture of impunity in the system that encourages others to join the bandwagon. So who is winning, the corrupt or the anti-corruption vanguards? Agbaje hazards a response, “there is no anti-corruption fight; the only war going on often seems to be a war on anti-corruption.” That must be a shade beyond corruption fighting back. It actually gives the crown to the corrupt.
Additional reports by Juliana Uche-Okobi, Ayodeji Adeyemi, Arukaino Umukoro and Abiola Odutola