Tuesday, 31 May 2016
Corruption and the civil servant
Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper
The tide may be beginning to turn and the fight against corruption would seem to have started yielding some results. A statement on this was made the other day when a former accountant with the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) was convicted and imprisoned for six months without option of fine, for crimes that included stealing, abuse of office and forgery. Nigeria needs more of such convictions for the anti-corruption train to move full-steam!
The convict, Babatunde Abisuga who was reported to have fraudulently helped himself to the tune of N109 million from pension funds was prosecuted in a High Court in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Nailing the accused with clear evidence and proof of his culpability, Abisuga who had earlier pleaded not guilty to the charges against him turned to a ‘plea bargain’ that earned him not only six months imprisonment but also loss of all the proceeds of the crime. This came after four years of prosecution, as the case commenced in April 2012.
Although the judge who sentenced the culprit was said to have stated that his conviction was not just to punish but to reform offenders and deter the public from get-rich-quick syndrome, there is hardly any doubt that the jail term was a mere slap on the wrist. Such a conviction is impotent as a tool for reforming the culprit or anybody else for that matter. It was also meaningless as a deterrent to others. If anything, it could encourage weak-minded and valueless individuals to embark on similar escapades knowing, as it were, that the penalty for such abhorrent behaviour involving multiples of millions naira of the people’s funds would be a mere tap on the head.
The judge may not be blamed for the insignificant penalty imposed on the culprit because he must have been guided by what is provided in the nation’s laws, most of which are no longer in tune with current realities. But the statements that followed to justify the less than acceptable penalty on a civil servant that should be trusted beyond all reasonable doubts, especially if he is a professionally qualified and certified accountant, is an evidence of lack of appreciation of the weight of duty such a fraudster owes to his employers and the entire nation. He has not only betrayed the trust reposed in him by the nation, he has given a bad name to the institution of the civil service, disgraced his profession and brought odium upon his family.
Nonetheless, the fact that a civil servant has, through the legal system, been made to pay for his criminal, unethical and unprofessional behaviour, is a good sign that quest for zero-tolerance of corruption in the civil and public services is beginning to yield dividend. When people realise that once they violate the laws of the land, they would be confronted with the full force of those laws, circumspection and discipline would reign.
The most powerful restraints will even come from the realisation by people that they will be caught, thoroughly investigated as well as speedily and diligently prosecuted, if involved in any crime. Most assuredly, punitive and deterrent sanctions will further serve as excellent influencers to better behaviour by all citizens.
The EFCC, all the institutions and individuals that legally facilitated the jailing of the dishonourable civil servant, Babatunde Abisuga, deserve commendation and encouragement to do more to rid Nigeria of all forms of corruption.
The professional bodies to which Abisuga may belong should further subject him to their disciplinary procedures with a view to ensuring that he pays direly for the disrepute into which he has brought the accounting profession and the civil service. In this wise, the least expected is that Abisuga will be de-listed as a member of the accountancy profession and never again to practise as an accountant in any part of this country, if not globally, when he regains his freedom from prison. Many lessons are likely to be learnt from his experience by other professionals who may be contemplating indulging in corruption.
The government should also leverage on this successful prosecution to review the nation’s laws, especially the Evidence Act and Penal Code, with a view to ensuring that suspects are thoroughly investigated, diligently and speedily prosecuted. Those found guilty should be subjected to the severest of sanctions to serve as deterrent to intending corrupt persons.