Nigeria needs a corruption truth commission 1
The story of corruption in Nigeria has become like the story of tortoise in most Nigerian folklore. Everyday when Nigerians wake up, they are eagerly waiting for the release of next list of names of allegedly corrupt government officials and politicians; be it Dasukigate (the list of persons and companies allegedly involved in the stealing/sharing of the $2.1 billion meant for the purchase of arms to fight Boko Haram), the alleged fraud in the Ministry of Defence (which I refer to as Defencegate), particularly the one against the top officials of the Nigeria Air Force, or the alleged fraud at NIMASA; or the alleged fraud in Nigeria Customs Service or even the one at the National Broadcasting Commission. The number of allegations surfacing daily is so much that Nigerians are getting desensitised about corruption in the country. Nowadays, the question on the lips of most Nigerians is: who will be next or which government ministry or agency will be next.
Most informed Nigerians know that what we are seeing currently is a tip of the iceberg. As Mr. Magu, the EFCC boss stated recently, the EFCC has not even opened one per cent of the petitions they have received. President Buhari has not visited most of the Federal Ministries. To my knowledge he has only visited the Defence Ministry. Also the president is yet to visit most of the Federal Parastatals. From information available in the public domain, he has only visited the Nigerian Maritime and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC). For those who have had the time to read the 163-page report on the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) published by the Natural Resource Governance Institute in August 2015, they would have known that NNPC stinks up to high heaven. President Buhari has not even looked at state governments and local governments. I am not oblivious that investigating states and local governments has its own constitutional challenge due to the Federal system of government we currently run.
Last year after the election of Buhari, on April 8, 2015, I sent a proposal to him on what I thought then (and I still believe so) was the best way to fight corruption in Nigeria. I advised him that as corruption has attained a pandemic level in Nigeria, it would not be the best use of his tenure to devote his four-year term to fighting corruption. I posited that if Buhari were to devote a significant part of his time fighting corruption, he would have little or no time to implement the much needed social and economic programmes that will improve the life of Nigerians and the change that Nigerians yearned for, and for which he was overwhelmingly elected, will become a mirage. Most importantly, I noted that just as War Against Indiscipline (WAI) died after he was overthrown in 1985, the current war against corruption will die a natural death, after he leaves office in 2019 or 2023, if he is re-elected. Instead, I advised him that what Nigeria required was to build the two principal institutions (the Police and the Judiciary) that will make it impossible or at least difficult for Nigerians to get away with corruption, just as it is done in most western countries.
We do not have a police force in Nigeria that is capable of preventing and detecting crimes. This is not an attempt to paint the Nigeria Police black. I have huge respect and admiration for members of the Nigeria Police Force, who are doing a difficult job in a very difficult circumstance. As a lawyer, I have done so many cases against the Nigeria Police Force and some of the finest people I have met in Nigeria are in the Nigeria Police. In my view, the Nigeria Police Force itself is a victim of the Nigerian system. The painful truth, however, is that the Nigeria Police Force, as currently constituted, was not designed to prevent and detect crimes. I will leave the discussion on the Nigeria Police for another day.
Even if the organisation has the expertise, they do not have the capacity to take on the flood of allegations of corruption that we are experiencing today. The current staff strength of the Police, obtained from information available in public domain is about 371,800. According to the Country of Origin Information Report on Nigeria published by UK government on February 1, 2013 at paragraph 8.03. ‘Approximately a quarter of the NPF staff perform personal protection and guard duties.’ That leaves the Nigeria Police Force with only about 278,850 staff to perform operational duties. With a population of about 170 million, we have a ratio of one policeman to about 611 Nigerians, (1/611) which is probably one of the worst in the world.
What of the EFCC? I have my personal view about the EFCC, which is not important to this article. However, the real issue is whether the EFCC really have the strength to take on the deluge of allegations of corruption that we are currently witnessing? According to Mr. Lamorde, the former boss of the EFCC in a testimony to the Senate sometime ago, the total personnel of EFCC was about 3,000 and there is no evidence that the number has gone up. With the pandemic level of corruption in Nigeria, the EFCC does not have the strength and capacity to take on this large volume of caseload.
Assuming the police and the EFCC have the capacity to investigate, arrest and prosecute these high volume of corruption cases, where are the courts to try these cases? Everybody in Nigeria is familiar with the usual adjournments in Nigerian courts. These cases will never see the light of the day until President Buhari’s four-year term is over. Even if the cases are heard, Nigerians are not confident that justice will be done. We are too familiar with the case of Ibori who was discharged and acquitted on all counts of corruption charge by a court in Nigeria but was later convicted by a court in the United Kingdom (UK) for several offences, which arose from his acts or omission during his tenure as governor of Delta State and was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment and currently serving his prison term in the UK. It is for the above reasons that Nigeria must seriously consider setting up a corruption truth commission.
The corruption truth commission
Truth commission generally is more popular in the political and human rights spheres, where the aim is usually to encourage warring parties to come together to speak truthfully and candidly with a view to reconciling various factions and assuage the feelings of victims of political intimidations, oppression and human right abuses. A case in point in Africa is the widely publicised South Africa Truth Commission. It is generally believed by some commentators that a truth commission is not suitable for corruption matters. However, as Elizabeth Loftus noted in a blog posted on the Global Anticorruption Blog on August 17, 2015:
“… even if it is impossible – or undesirable – to fully integrate the anticorruption and human rights agendas, it is still worth considering what lessons we can draw from the human rights regime and incorporate into the anticorruption field.”
To be continued tomorrow
Omatsuli, a Legal Practitioner in Nigeria and a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England & Wales is a commentator on Public affairs. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org