“In the last administration (of President Goodluck Jonathan), two weeks before the elections, cash in excess of N100 billion and over $250 million, was released in a few days ostensibly for security purposes. The aggregate sum released was more than some States earned in a whole year. That is the enormity of the embezzlement that we are talking about.”
These were the remarks by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo today, when he spoke at jointly organized Workshop by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the National Judicial Institute, on capacity building, in Abuja, the nation’s Federal Capital Territory
Professor Osinbajo swore that corruption had been, for a long time, the nation’s single greatest challenge, stressing that the notion that security was a more serious challenge was exploded, “when in the last administration, it became clear that the escalation of the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast was on account of the fact that billions of dollars allotted to the purchase of arms for our military, was cynically embezzled by senior military and civilian government officials.”
Osinbajo made it clear that the reason why Nigeria built no major new roads or no new infrastructure in the last six years, despite earnings from oil in excess of $100 dollars a barrel, is largely because of corruption.
“Corruption threatens our security, health, education and even our corporate existence. GAVI, the global fund for provision of vaccines for the poorest in developing countries, stopped providing funds to Nigeria for alleged mismanagement of funds by the Ministry of Health officials between 2011 and 2013. Nigeria had to refund $2.2million. These were vaccines and drugs meant to fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, amongst the poorest of the poor of our country.
“The enormous resources in the hands of perpetrators today are being used to subvert justice; to bribe pliable senior government officials, to bribe in some cases judicial officers, to subvert the legislative process and, of course, even to subvert the press.
“The problem with corruption is that it is a cancer. It may be terminal if not checked. The failure of African States, civil wars and destruction of lives and livelihoods, is the result of failure of institutions largely caused by endemic systemic corruption.”
Professor Osinbajo said that because of the existential nature of the threat of corruption, the need for collaboration between the Judiciary, the Executive and of course the Legislature had become imperative, adding that in working together, all the stakeholders: the Judiciary, Executive and Legislature, would be mindful that by the nature of systemic corruption, all the institutions are affected one way or the other.
“But we must come together and we are coming together, as a patriotic gesture to rescue our nation from looming disaster.
“At the swearing in of the last batch of Senior Advocates, His Lordship, the Chief Justice of the Federation, announced one of the most far reaching plans by the judiciary to effectively and promptly try corruption cases. First, his Lordship directed all courts in Nigeria to designate courts to exclusively hear and determine corruption and financial crime cases expeditiously.
“And secondly, the constitution of the Corruption and Financial Crime Cases Monitoring Committee headed by the Honourable Justice Salami, and deservedly his Lordship was commended both locally and internationally.
“That plan is a crucial component of the anti-corruption agenda, proposed by the executive because impunity seems magnified when the trial of alleged perpetrators of corruption never seems to end. That such individuals can afford the best legal assistance only deepens the sense of hopelessness that the corrupt will never be punished.”
The Vice President said that with the Chief Justice’s new initiatives, alongside the earlier practice directions issued by the Supreme Court and those issued by the Court of Appeal, and the Administration of Justice Act, “and again, the recent Supreme Court decision which stopped the dilatory tactic of staying proceedings in criminal cases on account of interlocutory applications, there is certainly great hope that corruption cases will be concluded and concluded promptly.”
According to him, alll nations that have successfully confronted corruption did one thing in common and that is that the administration of the justice system changed its attitude to the investigation and trial of corruption cases.
He said that such thing is important as it is not just about the Judiciary, because investigations must be conducted properly and thoroughly before cases go to court even as when cases go to court, what is presented is the best case the prosecution can present.
Professor Osinbajo said that most of the countries that have successfully dealt with corruption have had to dispense with needless technicality and focused on the offence.
“In the case of public officers, they recognized that there can be no real explanation for a public officer, whose pay is public knowledge, to have cash and assets several times more than his earning, let alone his savings. And the reason why people can never understand the way that cases are decided sometimes, is because it goes contrary to common sense. If somebody earns in excess of what he should possibly even safe in several life times, freeing him by technicality can never make sense. It will always seem as if something has gone wrong with the system.
“I think what most nations recognise, what most judiciaries, and what most administration of justices systems recognise is that even the whole process of the decision-making process, must make sense. If it doesn’t make sense, then we undermine the very fundament of the judiciary and justice, and if this undermined, then everything is undermined.
“Why should terrorism or homicide cases be more strictly viewed than corruption cases? Clearly the misery and loss of lives on account of corruption far exceeds that of any other single crime. There is no question at all that if you look at the extent of damage caused by corruption, it surely is a crime against humanity without a doubt. If you look at the sheer loss of lives on account of what we’ve seen even in our own country, there is no question at all that it is possibly the worst sort of crime that can be committed. So it must be taken seriously.”
He said that the seminar has turned out to be a step in the right direction, adding that the timing is right to re-jig the entire system. [myad]