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Of Rule of Law and war against corruption, By Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu

By News Express on 03/05/2018

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•Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu
•Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu

Corruption in Nigeria context has been a nagging issue. The phenomenon has defied any known definition. It is as recalcitrant as the character abiku, the ogbanje girl – in Wole Soyinka’s popular Abiku – which keeps reincarnating. Corruption has also defied every effort by successive governments to put it at bay.

It is either that corruption is as old Nigeria or it predates the nation’s independence. Corruption has been cited by perpetrators of coups de’tat in the country for justification for ousting governments. A typical example is the reasons advanced by the leader of the 15th January 1966 coup, Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, thus: “Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 per cent, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian calendar back by words and deeds.”

It was also reported that the country’s total foreign assets at independence were $174.2 million, and by March 1964, less than four years after, the assets depleted to a deplorable £76.8 million: a figure grossly lower than that of 1948.

The war against corruption has been a continuous exercise. It will be recalled that the General Yakubu Gowon regime witnessed an unprecedented oil boom. Gowon boasted that “the problem of the country was not poverty, rather how to spend the abundant resources accrued to the country occasioned by the Arab-Israeli war of 1973, when the prices of oil rose to the high heavens; as high as 400 per cent, due to the boycott of western oil market by Arab nations that protested the alleged connivance between Israel and the West.

Unfortunately, despite the boom witnessed during the reign of Gowon, when the regime was ousted through a coup in 1975, prominent figures in that administration were found wanting. They allegedly engaged themselves in amassing illegal wealth at the detriment of the Nigerian public. Consequently, an assets investigation panel was set up to probe the top brass of that regime. According to the report issued on February 3, 1976, all the military administrators, except two, were found guilty of abuse of office. Those found guilty were subsequently dismissed and their assets were confiscated, while two were retired.

Like the Gowon regime, President Shehu Shagari’s administration was not spared. When the administration was ousted on December 31, 1983, it was discovered that the regime inherited N2.3 billion external reserve when it assumed office on October 1, 1979, and also earned a total of N40.5 billion in the next four years. The huge external reserve developed wings and flew when Shagari's government was ousted by Maj-Gen Muhammadu Buhari, leaving the country helpless with external debt of N10.21 billion.

Efforts to put the menace of corruption at bay have given birth to the mounting of anti-corruption campaigns, including current efforts by the President Buhari-led administration. A clear example was the War Against Indiscipline during the first-coming of Buhari in 1984. The impacts were short-lived and slightly felt.

Some schools of thought have advanced solutions to corruption. They proffer that government ought to take decisive steps and impose stiff punishment on corruption, especially on top public servants. The position suggests that in the execution of the policy, any public servant who is proved to have compromised his status by receiving inducement should be dismissed from office and barred from holding any public office. The measure further suggested is the forfeiture of their property to the state. The second suggestion is that government should re-examine the present laws on corruption that exist in our statute books, with a view to reflecting what the appropriate consequence of either giving or receiving inducement of any sort ought to be.

 Countries that have succeeded or seemed to have succeeded in fighting corruption or checking excesses of public officials have done that through the robust application of Rule of Law. According to John Locke, “freedom in society means being subject only to laws made by a legislature that apply to everyone, with a person being otherwise free from both governmental and private restrictions upon liberty.”

Rule of law implies that every person is subject to the law, including lawmakers, law enforcement officials, and judges. Rule of Law opposes autocracy, dictatorship, or oligarchy: where the rulers are held above the law. It is further opined that, “lack of rule of law can be found in both democracies and dictatorships, for example, because of neglect or ignorance of the law, and the rule of law is more apt to decay if a government has insufficient corrective mechanisms for restoring it.”

The rule of law did not spare President Richard Nixon of United States during the Watergate scandal of 1973. It was the strict observance of the rule of law that forced him out of office in 1974. The same fate befell the vice-president in 1973, when he was convicted and imprisoned for false tax declaration. Robust application of the rule of law did not shield Augusto Pinochet of Chile for series of murders he committed between 1973 and 1990, when he held sway as head of state. The same applied to Carlos Menen of Argentina, Abubakar Waheed, ex-president of Indonesia, former president of Philippine, Joseph Estrada, and Jonathan Aitken, a powerful minister of state in Britain. The same applied to a former deputy leader of Britain’s Conservative Party and millionaire, Jeffrey Archer.

The same rule of law provoked investigations in Germany into alleged illegal funding of the party of Helmut Kohl, long-serving German chancellor. In India, the strict application of rule of law enabled the Indians to jail their former prime minister, PV Narasimha Rao and his deputy, Bunta Singh on September, 29, 2000 for bribery and corruption. They got three years imprisonment. A former General and head of state in Bangladesh was not spared. Neither did application of rule of law by the International Criminal Court at The Hague spare Slobadan Milosevic, a former president of Yugoslavia who was tried for murder before the war crimes. The imperative of rule of law was aptly captured by the late fiery human rights lawyer/activist, Gani Fawehinmi, thus: “When the poor, the lowly and the weak transgress the law of the land, the fullest weight of the law through its punitive mechanism, is crushingly brought to bear on them; but when the powerful, the mighty and the rich offend the laws of the nation, they do so without the wildest punitive reaction of the enforcers and dispensers of the law.”

On this note, a government that demonstrates tendencies of shielding powerful members of its cabinet or influential private individuals who have strong affiliations with it, is either paying lip service to such fight or deceiving the people. Also, the anti-corruption drive must not be portrayed as being selective. The sledge-hammer that was used in killing a fly must also be employed in murdering an elephant.

•Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu writes from Aba and can be reached on keshiafrica@gmail.com

Source News Express

Posted 03/05/2018 9:13:19 PM

 

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