Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper
When Vice President Yemi Osinbajo publicly declared the other day that henceforth, public officers must account for what they own, his words were inspiring enough and they illustrated how government can trigger hope in a people who have been long traumatised by corruption in high places.
Osinbajo’s declaration is not deemed a mere expression of intent because the regime’s war on corruption has appeared serious and it is the Buhari/Osinbajo administration’s unique selling point.
So, further and expeditious action on this will be most welcome at this time when some world leaders heap scorn on Nigeria for perceived absence of the political will to tackle corruption.
That scathing and uncultured remark by British Prime Minister David Cameron, on the eve of a global forum on corruption in London recently in which Nigeria was classified alongside Afghanistan, as being “fantastically corrupt,” is still raw as a wound.
This is notwithstanding the fact the accuser, the United Kingdom, has been recognised as a haven for some of the laundered funds from a country that posts a paltry $30 billion yearly budget for more than 170 million people.
However, there is no doubt that official corruption thrives because Nigerians see and condone wealth and wealthy people without work or productivity. No questions asked! Very well known thieves have been installed chiefs just as people without any visible means of income not only become wealthy overnight, they use the ill-gotten wealth to buy the nation’s leadership positions. These dubious characters are known to influence outcomes of even political contests, which produce an unsuitable subset of leadership that continually drags Nigeria down. One other noticeable implication is that such wealthy people without work have been identified as part of the criminal gang that also desecrates the temple of justice by seeking to buy judgments in the courts of law.
Therefore, in an age of technological tools and transparency in governance everywhere, sound financial intelligence mechanism has become a global measure for certifying countries fit to be part of global trade and investment opportunities without impurities. And the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) based in Paris has been the focal point of this.
Part of the specific objective of this global task force is “to combat money laundering and terrorism financing.” Unfortunately, a bill that should authorise Nigeria to be part of the 36-member FATF has been in the National Assembly for ages. It was again killed in the last session of the Assembly over a mere disagreement on where Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) to be created by the law should be domiciled. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) would like it to be in its domain while some other stakeholders want it domiciled with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). And in the absence of seriousness from the presidency, the bill went into oblivion in a committee of the last session of the federal legislature. This is a serious setback for the institutionalisation of a critical agency that can monitor money laundering, a ring that people who can’t account for their wealth fuel. Actually, the absence of serious reforms of critical institutions of government remains one of the weaknesses in the current anti-corruption efforts. In the end,it is not enough to arrest and possibly jail corrupt persons, the institutions to ensure that the fight succeeds and then outlive this administration, must be put in place. Therefore, a good starting point is for Vice President Osinbajo to walk his talk by ensuring that the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) bill is passed into law by this government.
Reports of high-sounding rhetoric from the seat of power are legion, without concomitant action. That is why necessary amendments to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) law to compel assets verification by the officials of the Bureau are now being suggested.
Specifically, officials of the CCB should do their job: verify assets of public officials as part of the measures in pursuit of transparency and accountability in public office. It is not enough to verify assets of persons only for official prosecution. Even in the organised private sector, there should be mechanisms for verification of assets, after all. For instance, it is the responsibility of the CBN to approve candidates for certain offices in the banks. Nigeria needs to know and monitor the lifestyles of those who do business in an economy. Even lifestyles of clerics who manage funds of faith-based organisations are monitored in climes where financial services agencies are serious about money trails in the economy and Nigeria cannot be an exception.
Therefore, recognising the need to monitor lifestyles of notable Nigerians, especially those in public offices, is a good development. But it should not just be all talk again. Besides, all the state governments and local government councils should be covered by this policy objective. And the searchlight should be beamed on all public officers in all the arms and agencies of government. That is the only way the anti-graft policy instrument of inquisition into public officers’ lifestyle can be meaningful.
The time to begin this inquisition is now and assets that cannot be accounted for by serving and retired officers should be forfeited to the state in public interest. But the law of the land must be followed and no arbitrariness should be deployed if the fight against corruption would not be corrupted too.
It has been said that corruption may kill Nigeria. Everything must be done, therefore, to kill the menace before its relentless attempt on Nigeria’s life succeeds.