Nigeria needs a corruption truth commission- Part 2
Continued from yesterday
In the past, some countries with endemic corruption problems, similar to Nigeria have established a corruption truth commission to deal with corruption, with varying degree of success. These include Philippines, Hong Kong, Bangladesh.
Corruption truth commissions have taken varying forms in different countries. But one thing that is common to all of them was that they presented avenues for corrupt officials to come forward to make full and frank disclosure, followed with refunds of all ill-gotten wealth and a case by case review, as to whether or not any particular official should be granted amnesty or should be referred for prosecution.
Let me sound a note of warning here. Any corrupt official who thinks that the proposed corruption truth commission can be used as a smokescreen to escape justice and keep their ill-gotten wealth will be utterly disappointed. I have no doubt in mind that if the corruption truth commission is properly set up, well resourced and ran transparently, it will achieve its aims of recovering looted wealth, punish in appropriate circumstances corrupt officials and lay a foundation for the building of a corruption-free Nigeria, just as in Hong Kong.
The corruption truth commission being proposed should have at least four committees: (a) The Public Hearing committee, (b) The Refund/Recovery committee, (c) the Amnesty committee and (d) Anti-corruption policy committee.
(a) The public hearing committee
The public hearing committee should sit in public to hear evidence from corrupt officials, as to how they looted Nigerian resources and where the loots are kept. There should be adequate publicity to warn corrupt officials of the consequences of failure to take advantage of the hearing to come forward to make full and frank disclosure. The commission will also encourage any person, whether Nigerians or foreigners who have evidence of corrupt activities of any public officers to send it to the commission. This can be done anonymously. If they are willing, such witnesses should also be encouraged to appear before the commission to testify. As some of the funds may have been stashed away in foreign banks or invested in foreign properties, we may be shocked by the response we may receive from abroad. Most importantly, the hearings should be covered by both local and international press.
(b) Refunds/recovery committee
The refunds/recovery committee will deal with the receiving of monies or properties that officials who appeared at the hearing have declared. Again, any sum refunds or properties surrendered will be made public, with invitation to individuals and organisations who may have knowledge of undisclosed properties to come forward. Each concluded file will be passed to the amnesty committee.
(c) Amnesty committee
The amnesty committee will grant amnesty on case-by-case basis. For the corruption truth commission to produce the desired result, the only amnesty that can be granted by the amnesty committee should be a reprieve from prosecution. Upon receipt of files from the refunds/recovery committee, the amnesty committee will review the file and decides whether or not any particular official should be given amnesty. If the committee is satisfied that a particular official has made a full and frank disclosure, the committee may grant him/her reprieve from prosecution. The committee shall however have the power to prescribe other forms of punishments. For example, depending on the extent and/or the nature of the loot, the committee may decide to ban an official from holding any public office for life or for a number of years. If the committee takes the view that a particular official did not make full and frank disclosure, the committee shall have the power to refer the file to EFCC for investigation and possible prosecution.
(d) Anti-corruption policy committee
Part of the term of reference of the corruption truth commission should be to ask the commission to come up with policies that will reduce corruption in Nigeria. No doubt, they would have gathered considerable information during the public hearing, which will greatly assist them to formulate future anti-corruption policies. They should also be tasked to come up with effective anti-corruption programmes that can be included in the curriculums of our primary and secondary schools and tertiary institutions. These anti-corruption courses should be made compulsory in all levels of our schools, whether primary, secondary or tertiary institutions. Corruption has become a culture in Nigeria and if we want to destroy corruption, we must destroy that culture by re-orientation of future leaders and elite. And the best way to achieve that, is to catch them young from primary schools.
However, Elizabeth Loftus beautifully summarised the advantages of setting up a corruption truth commission in her Blog referred to above as follows: “First, a truth commission’s focus on gathering information would allow it to delve deeply into complex societal issues, exploring the causes and consequences of corruption more fully than in a prosecution scenario. Such data could reveal, in an organised way, which offices are most corrupt, what form bribes are likely to take, which segments of society are most likely to behave corruptly, etc.
Second, granting amnesty can greatly facilitate information gathering and can reduce the amount of time and resources necessary to conduct an investigation. This was, in essence, what the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission did in the mid-1970s, when it called on corporations to come forward to reveal their bribe-paying activities abroad; the resulting information – which shocked regulators and the U.S. public alike – was instrumental in generating political momentum for passage of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in 1977.
Third, truth commission amnesties have a strong public aspect that contributes to collective justice. Amnesties often can and should be accompanied by required admissions of guilt, commitments to reform, limitations on holding public office, and, at times, restitution payments.
Fourth, and perhaps most important, truth commissions allow for community members to participate in accountability mechanisms by sharing their own stories in a formalised process. On a larger scale, a truth-seeking model would nationalise anticorruption discourse. All of these traits would help to conserve prosecutorial and judicial resources.”
Also in a recently concluded International Anti-corruption Conference, the following recommendations were included in its official communique:
“prosecutorial approaches are always preferable [in a transitional justice situation] in order to stem impunity from past [corruption] crimes, but full disclosure and truth-telling for past crimes is an essential element of any transitional justice process”
An important advantage of the corruption truth commission is that it will reduce the workload of EFCC significantly and allow EFCC to focus on the few cases referred to it by the commission and thereby allowing them to do more thorough investigations. Also, it would mean that the number of cases going for prosecution will be reduced. The judiciary faces several challenges but one that is undeniable is that judges are currently being over-worked as a result of too many cases in our courts.
Notwithstanding some of the imperfections in corruption truth commissions, in case of Nigeria, the fact that we do not have the resources to investigate and prosecute these floodgates of allegations of corruptions, should make us give serious thoughts to setting up a corruption truth commission.
• Omatsuli, a Legal Practitioner in Nigeria and a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England & Wales is a commentator on Public affairs. Email: email@example.com
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