Speaker, House of Representatives, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal condemned yesterday President Goodluck Jonathan’s attitude to the anti-corruption battle, stressing that the President’s handling of the N255million bullet proof cars scandal, the pension scam and the “rot” in the Securities and Exchange Commission(SEC) was feeble.
Tambuwal said the President’s body language was promoting corruption, adding that the administration has not addressed high-profile corruption cases exposed by the legislature.
Tambuwal was responding to questions after presenting a paper at a one-day roundtable to mark the International Anti-corruption Day by the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) in Abuja. He spoke on the “Role of the legislature as the vanguard for anti-corruption crusade in Nigeria”.
“Take the subsidy probe, the pension, the SEC probe and recently the bullet proof car cases. After the House of Representatives did a diligent job by probing and exposing the cases, you now see something else when it comes to prosecution.
“In some cases, you have the government setting up new committees to duplicate the job already done by the parliament. Take the bullet proof cars case; the NSA, with all the security challenges confronting the country, should not be burdened with a job that can best be handled by the anti-corruption agencies.
“The government has no business setting up any administrative committee in a case that is clear to all Nigerians. What the President should have done was to explicitly direct the EFCC to probe the matter. With such directives coming from the President, I am sure we still have good people in EFCC who can do a good job.
“By setting up different committees for straightforward cases, the President’s body language doesn’t tend to support the fight against corruption.”
Earlier in his paper, Tambuwal identified corruption as the bane of Nigeria’s development. “For us in Nigeria, the reality that no greater challenge than corruption confronts us as a people is not in controversy. Indeed, if the roots of the overwhelming majority of our woes were traced, they are sure to terminate at the doorsteps of corruption.
“This is a commonplace fact known to all Nigerians and requiring no corroboration. Yet, for the avoidance of doubt, it is important to state that in its 2012 Global Corruption Perception Index (CPI) by the global corruption watchdog, Transparency International ranks Nigeria as the 36th most corrupt country globally! Nigeria placed 139th of the 176 countries assessed, scoring 27% in contrast with the least corrupt countries; Denmark, Finland and New Zealand, which scored 90%.
“A survey of the social media showed that 98 per cent of Nigerians who commented not only agreed with the country’s corruption ranking but, in fact, felt Transparency International was too generous to Nigeria.
“A few of the comments read: ‘We don’t need a report to tell us what we already know”, another ‘Wow, I taught (sic) we were No.1. I wonder what country (sic) is before us. We all need prayers and serious fasting for our nation”. The other “to be fair, I always thought Nigeria is the most corrupt country in the world”, yet another, “Me too… 35th is actually being nice”.
“A list of manifestation of corruption, especially in the public sector of Nigeria, is legion, ranging from direct diversion of public funds to private pockets, contract over-pricing, bribery, impunity, nepotism, general financial recklessness, fraudulent borrowing and debt management, public assets stripping, electoral fraud, shielding of corrupt public officers; among others.
“It is a well established fact that corruption thrives well in any environment or society where there is community indifference or lack of enforcement policies. Societies with a culture of ritualised gift, giving where the line between acceptable and non-acceptable gifts is often hard to draw. Societies in which values have been overthrown by materialism, societies in which laws are observed more in the breach.
“It would appear that these environmental preconditions are all prevalent in the Nigerian society and no wonder, therefore, that corruption has found fertile soil to blossom.”
Tambuwal said the legislature had done its best to enact laws to fight corruption, stressing that if the laws had been strictly applied, Nigeria would have gone a long way in reducing corruption.
He, however, confirmed moves by the National Assembly to make the anti-corruption agencies independent. “In the exercise of this mandate, the National Assembly has enacted the Code of Conduct Bureau and Code of Conduct Tribunal, The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act 2002 and The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission Act 2000′ for the purpose of investigating and prosecuting public officers and other persons suspected of involvement in corrupt practices.
“In both legislations, the Commissions are given extensive powers of investigation and prosecution to deal with all cases of corrupt practices and abuse of office that may arise.
With respect to the specific objective of injecting transparency and accountability in the management of the resources of the nation, the National Assembly enacted the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007 and the Public Procurement Act 2007. Both legislations make copious provisions aimed at engendering transparency and accountability in the public space.
“I make bold to say that if the provisions of these legislations and indeed others were diligently enforced, significant milestones would have been accomplished in the fight against corruption and corrupt practices in Nigeria. Sadly, however, these Legislations are observed more in the breach by the majority, including government and government agencies.
“I am pleased to report that the House of Representatives is currently working on some proposals for the reform of these laws, with a view to reinforcing the independence of the agencies administering these laws including their mode of constitution and disbandment. I wish, therefore, to call on members of the NBA and indeed all Nigerians to prepare to buy into these reforms by making their inputs now or when the time comes for public hearings.
Tambuwal condemned undue secrecy surrounding government activities and pleaded with Nigerians to take advantage of the Freedom of Information Act to check secrecy in government.
“One other area, which has been of great concern, is the culture of undue secrecy that surrounds the operation of government. Whereas our Constitution enjoins in its Section 14 (2) (c) that ‘the participation of the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution” government business tended to be run like secret societies to the exclusion of the citizenry.
“It was clear that this tended and was indeed intended to aid the concealment of corruption, such that even in times of suspicion, members of the public, including gentlemen of the fourth realm, could not access public information.
“The National Assembly has passed the Freedom of Information Act 2011 to enhance the right of access to public records and information about public institutions. This is one Legislation that attracted massive public interest and it is my expectation that Nigerians will make maximum use of the right created under this legislation in order to defeat the culture of undue secrecy in the running of government business.”
The Speaker took time to justify the oversight functions of the National Assembly. “The other function of the legislature is oversight of the other arms of government. Section 88 mandates the National Assembly to investigate the conduct of affairs of any person, authority, ministry or government department charged or intended to be charged with the duty of or responsibility for( i) Executing or administering laws enacted by the National Assembly or ( ii) Disbursing or administering moneys appropriated or to be appropriated by the National Assembly.
“The main object of investigation according to sub section 2 (a) and (b) of Section 88 is for law reform and to expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws or administration or disbursement of public funds. Similar provision is made in Section 128 of the constitution for legislatures at the sub-national levels.
“Another critical role of the Legislature is the provision of adequate funding for Anti Corruption Agencies through appropriation. Unfortunately, efforts to exercise this function by the legislature is often misconstrued by the executive arm and even some members of the public. Yet without adequate funding, the anti-corruption agencies can not execute their functions satisfactorily. I wish to call on the other arms of government and indeed the general public to corroborate with us in the exercise of this mandate.
“It is in exercise of this mandate that the House of Representatives and indeed the National Assembly has been carrying out oversight of government agencies and series of investigations or probes over allegations of corruption and corrupt practices. As you are all aware, the legislature has over the years exposed several cases of corruption.
“It is important for me to stress once again at this stage that the mandate of the legislature is to expose corruption. It does not have further mandate to prosecute. That mandate of prosecution lies with the Executive and Judiciary. I have heard public comments to the effect that the public is tired of investigation by the legislature since the people indicted in their findings are never prosecuted and sanctioned.
“Let me reiterate that the Legislature will not abdicate its responsibilities on the account of inaction or negligence of another arm of government. If nothing else we will at least continue to name and shame. As noted earlier, the war against corruption is the responsibility of all and I call on the citizens of this great nation to rise in the exercise of their constitutional power to insist on the prosecution and sanctioning of persons indicted by the Legislature or by any agency whether public or private concerned in the fight against corruption.
“In the exercise of the mandate of oversight the legislature is able to audit both pre and post expenditure of agencies of government and to give appropriate direction on the administration and disbursement of funds and execution of programs and projects under the Appropriation Act. Indeed the Public Accounts Committee of both the House and Senate has the specific mandate to review the disbursement and administration of public funds by ministries, Departments and Agencies.
“As representatives of the people, Legislators will continue to be for all Nigerians their eyes to see, ears to hear and mouth to speak out against corruption anywhere and at anytime it rears its ugly head.
“The task may appear daunting but I wish to assure that wit will, zeal, passion and determination, we shall eventually overcome this hydra-headed dragon. Only let us be single minded that it’s a task that must be done in order to preserve the country for posterity.
The Chairman of the Code of Conduct Bureau(CCB), Sam Saba, rejected moves to legalise operation of foreign account by public officers. He said such a policy would encourage money laundering.
“Legalising the operation of foreign account for public officers will further encourage money laundering. In some African countries, refusal to accept asset declaration form attracts three years jail term. But in Nigeria, the fine is only about N5,000. And sometimes, a governor can even pay for his aides. We need a stricter law, if we are serious about fighting corruption.”
Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) Chairman Ibrahim Lamorde, who was represented by his Chief of Staff, Kayode Oladele, said the agency was not going after those with differences against the President.
Lamorde said: “It is not true that EFCC go after those who are against the president. Presently, we are investigating some Permanent Secretaries and judges over corruption allegations.
“Some have even said the governor of Jigawa’s sons are being prosecuted because their father is part of the G-7 governors. They fail to ask if his sons actually committed the offence.”
“These are some of the issues we should face and not accuse the commission of investigating only those who are against the President.
“We have so many challenges as a commission because of our criminal justice system. We need very strong policies to fight corruption. Lawyers should see the fight against corruption as a challenge to all.”