Banning looters from public offices - Flatimes

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Banning looters from public offices

Written by the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper

Nigeria’s weak and corruptible political leadership recruitment process is deservedly sharp in focus again with one of the last few statesmen in Nigeria suggesting that a specific law be enacted to ban convicted looters of public funds from holding public offices in the country.

The call from a former Minister of National Guidance and former Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule should not be ignored for corruption has become a bad ailment that often feeds on the supposed medication applied for its cure.

According to Sule, public officers convicted of looting public funds even in the current war on corruption by anti-corruption agencies should be barred from partaking in partisan politics and holding any public office.

But the novel thing is that the statesman would not want only multiple provisions in extant laws and regulations to be the entry point here, but a separate law by the current session of the National Assembly.
As a corollary to the ban law, Sule has also suggested that recovered loot should not be left to the vagaries of public expenditure framework that are not supported by specific provisions of the law. Accordingly, there should be another law to enable the government utilise the recovered funds to improve the living standard of Nigerians.

This is a worthy road to take. The issue of ban on convicted looters of public funds is not new. There have been laws and white papers from reports of administrative and judicial panels suggesting same. But since 1999 when democracy returned, no institution of governance including the election management agency has been able to secure any tangible conviction of any candidate who corrupted even the electoral process.

For economic and financial crimes against the Nigerian people, the situation is even worse. Again, so far, almost all indicted candidates by commissions of inquiries have escaped the arms of the law, thanks to the porous nature of the justice system. Besides, those indicted or even convicted abroad have completed two terms in office while some are serving in the national assembly where laws are made for the country.

It is curious really that apart from the inexplicable ‘judicial assistance’ to filthy candidates, the law enforcement agencies have been negligent in prosecuting criminal suspects generally. While citizens and civil society organisations have been proactive in their advocacy for enforcement of provisions, the leaders indicted or accused of criminal looting have devised another escape route which even the justice system has recognised as “plea bargaining”, a contrivance not known to law but is used by Nigeria’s leaders to escape justice.

Plea bargaining is a contrivance that has arm-twisted the law to allow aristocratic criminals in power to release a tiny part of their loot once found guilty and go home with the rest, a classic case of a slap on the wrist for high crimes. This is part of the curiosities of the strange democratic culture in Nigeria.

A weak biometric database of convicts and indicted candidates is also a problem in Nigeria! It is sad to note that a former governor had actually completed two terms of four years each in office despite two previous convictions in the UK. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) then (1999-2007) actually cleared him to contest election in Nigeria! Sadly, it was only discovered while he was being tried after leaving office that he had actually been convicted twice in the United Kingdom before returning home for election. There was no database to reveal such a filthy background. Also, the court in Nigeria had cleared him of a criminal charge while the same United Kingdom’s Financial Services Agency (FSA) began his prosecution and secured a conviction eventually. So many disgraceful contradictions about Nigeria!

What is more, from 2003 to 2015, most of the indictments that were tendered to stop some aspirants including presidential and vice presidential candidates have been struck out by the highest court in the land. Besides, most of the petitions from public records submitted against even ministerial nominees to the Senate since 1999, have failed to stop any candidates from being confirmed.

There are two revelations: One, the anti-graft agency, the EFCC, which initiated a governor’s prosecution in Nigeria was the same organ that eventually disclosed the earlier conviction in the UK. So the anti-graft agency did not disclose this background when the candidate filed papers for screening, especially in the second term when the agency had been inaugurated. This is part of strange developments in the country where it is possible to buy passages into even high offices.

The starting point should, therefore, be a solid equipment of the law enforcement agencies with the necessary tools that for instance should make them have an encrypted database of all citizens. This will be useful for rigorous political examination and recruitment, the absence of which is generally believed to be part of the bane of Nigeria’s development.
The only way to prevent criminals and state thieves from getting elected and appointed into power is to enact a law that will prevent them from buying their way into office.

And there is need for a fresh law to prevent indicted treasury looters from holding public offices. This is the least that can be done to sanitise the nation’s leadership recruitment process.

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