Every day we are treated to new revelations of how the previous regime plundered the treasury and plan to jail the perpetrators. Just this week, the APC declared how N11 trillion was stolen from Nigeria.
A cursory look at the breakdown would reveal how desperate and illogical their calculations are. For instance, how can any sensible person attribute bunkering and oil theft to official corruption?
Anyone watching the trend of things in the country with particular reference to the anti-corruption fight would easily come to the simple conclusion that President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) are setting themselves up for a denouement. With the current obsession to probe and the prejudgment of guilty, the nation and the government are setting the stage for a major unraveling. Any revolution of sort is a double edge sword cutting either way.
Every day we are treated to new revelations of how the previous regime plundered the treasury and plan to jail the perpetrators. Just this week, the APC declared how N11 trillion was stolen from Nigeria. A cursory look at the breakdown would reveal how desperate and illogical their calculations are. For instance, how can any sensible person attribute bunkering and oil theft to official corruption? Perhaps, government could have made more efforts to stop it but to say as even Prof. Chukwuma Charles Soludo once alluded to in his anti Okonjo-Iweala epistle is to stand logic on its head. Oil theft did not start under former President Goodluck Jonathan; even Obasanjo had cause to advocate criminalization of oil theft and bunkering at the United Nations.
The immediate challenge facing the corruption probe, which has assumed the image of a crusade, like the change mantra that brought them to power, came to the fore last week when the National Peace Committee (NPC) visited the president. While the president was insisting that trial of the corrupt officials will soon start, the NPC, led by former head of state, Gen. Abubakar Abdulsalami, called for fairness. This was followed with the establishment of the Prof. Itse Sagay Judicial Reform panel on corruption. Again during the National Security summit in Abuja on Monday, this week, Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar admonished government to jail corruption offenders.
All these point to certain facts: the government is working to a predictable end or answer. But Buhari must be careful because history has an uncanny way of repeating itself. Human beings are products of habits and habits, good or bad, but particularly bad habits are very hard to break. He should remember that it was corruption probe in his first stint in government that gave him a bloody nose as a leader, which eventually led to his down fall. That we are faced with the same situation is more reason why the president should be very careful.
With the desperate mood of the nation, confronted with crashing economic fortunes, it is easy for a leader to fall into the trap of vengeful righteous indignation and go off the tangent. But self righteousness inherently offends the spirit of natural justice. He that is without sin let him cast the first stone. This is not to justify corruption especially at the level being revealed, but guilty is not presumed, it is proved. And until guilt is proved our laws say that even the guilty remains innocent.
This is the point the NPC was making but they were shouted down by the APC mob baying for blood, as the Jews of old did of Jesus, disregarding the apparent fact of proving his guilt. There is limit to every intention and such boundaries are usually set by principles and law. When an intention, no matter how good and noble, patently or potentially violates such limits the intender will be ultimately consumed in his good intentions. It has happened before to the president, hence he must disavow his intentions and stick to principles and law to avoid a historical encore.
Several issues have already compromised the corruption probe and eventually colour its outcome. First, it seems this is being orchestrated to please some foreign powers that had issues with the Jonathan government. It was during his recent visit to the U.S that alleged incriminating documents were handed to the government. As good as this may seem, the president must be guided to know that Nigeria is a sovereign and every country acts in its own interest. We are still recovering Abacha’s loot 20 years after it was stolen. Why are western banks allowed to accept such illicit funds and nothing is done to them?
Second, you cannot get justice without fairness. It is justice that those who stole our money should be made to account for their deeds and more importantly, return the loot. But we should do this with fairness. Now, the mob hysteria and the trial by ordeal going on will not provide fair trial. It will not because anybody mentioned is already adjudged guilty by the government and APC. Does Buhari have the power to determine or jail anyone as the Sultan advocated? Such is the dilemma facing the corruption probe that whatever is the outcome this government will be tainted and even damaged.
Third, Buhari and the APC are creating euphoria of hope and expectations they cannot meet as long as the corruption issue is concerned; and this too will be damaging to them. And it has to do with our legal system. Any reasonable adult would tell you that there are three major challenges fuelling corruption in the country: the law, the judiciary and lawyers – the legal system and its adjudication. Many have argued, justifiably you may say, that our criminal justice administration is archaic and out of synch with present realities. I disagree!
Indeed, our law is too advanced for our level of socio-cultural, economic and political development, and this has made it easy for unscrupulous lawyers to exploit its safeguards as technicalities. The challenge is not modernizing the law, because it is presently ahead of the society; rather it is bringing the law to our crudity. We are operating a legal system that was introduced in the 12th century through the Magna Carta and took almost a millennium of practice to perfect, when we are still at the primitive political and economic stage. It is major cultural development contradiction.
Lord Denning, the renowned British jurist, in his equally famous book, Law and Society, insists that law must be an instrument of social change. In our case, law has become a tool for corruption and social decadence. Judges, even at the highest level, are corrupt and justice is for sale. Dr. Tunji Abayomi has shouted so much about this that nobody gives him an ear anymore. Lawyers are lazy, compromising and corrupt. Combined, the judiciary is where the corruption probe should be focused on if the fight against corruption will yield lasting result.
It is the easier part to expose political corruption because it has electoral and political capital, but it is the lesser of the two evils. Remember, the crisis in the fight against corruption is the apparent breakdown in the judicial system. Many celebrated cases have been compromised, bungled or bogged down at the court of justice. You can probe political corruption but you will go to the court to get conviction and as longer as we operate this inapplicable justice system, it will be a cry in the dark – an exercise in futility.
While we agree with the appointment on the Sagay’s Presidential Advisory Committee on judicial reform, it is irrelevant to the current probe. Its report can only serve as post probe deterrence. Our legal system does not permit trying anyone under a law that did not exist when the crime is committed. Under the present judicial system some of the cases will not be decided until Buhari leaves office. After all there are still pending corruption cases that have been in court even before the Jonathan government. So, how he intends to get the result being promised is anyone’s guess?
Next week, the Amaechi and Fashola factors