Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The art and culture of living above one's income

Corruption has since turned into an art following the sophistication of anti-graft protocols by national governments and the global community. The reason for this development is not far fetched. It has been acknowledged globally that corruption is mostly responsible for the many cases of poor political leadership, pandemic poverty, snail-speed economic growth, decaying socio-economic infrastructure, and political instability especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.

It has also become an acceptable norm for people who occupy public offices to acquire fleet of expensive automobiles and own landed properties in major cities across the globe. Those who fail to meet this mark are hurriedly dismissed as dull or out of tone with current realities. This is most regrettable.

A careful analysis of this sad development has shown that people are forced into living above their incomes for varying reasons. Chief among them are weak national socio-economic framework which is too feeble to support citizens survive on their legitimate incomes. People are therefore forced to seek alternative means of finding funds to take care of their basic necessities such as shelter, food, clothing, health care, and educational needs of their families. This is one of the many ways corruption grow in developing societies.

There is no gainsaying that in addition to the high level of unemployment, close to 50% of Nigerian subsistent farmers, artisans, and junior workers in the public service earn barely $1 dollar daily. Another 30% earn about $2 daily while 20% earn close to $5 daily. The percentage of Nigerians that earn up to $100 daily is less than 10%. With such realities staring us in the face, one can rush to the conclusion that most Nigerians are living above their legitimate incomes going by the cost of imported cars, household equipments, and sprawling mansions springing up every minute of the day across the country.

Disturbed by the near boiling-point anger of the masses, the political class has now devised some strange mechanisms to launder proceeds of corruption. These are in the form of outrageous allowances, over invoicing of contracts, frivolous travels and seminars among others.

As part of efforts to discourage people from living above their legitimate incomes, government must act fast and address the following issues:
1. Reduce to the barest minimum, the percentage of unemployment and poverty
2. Carry out Socio-cultural re-orientation
3. Redesign the nation’s anti-graft protocols

In order to achieve these three fundamental objectives, government will need to energise the organized private sector to stimulate rapid national economic growth with specific emphasis on agriculture and other non-oil sectors of the economy. This will not only expand the employment market but also help to reduce poverty significantly. With this development, crime rate will fall drastically.

Furthermore, government will have to embark on the revitalization of all national socio-economic infrastructures like roads and power in order to reduce the high cost of doing business. Government should also pursue the inland waterways and railway transport infrastructure as part of efforts to reduce the high cost of moving goods and services around the country. Insecurity is another problem threatening the nation’s economic growth. The various security agencies should collaborate and invest massively in intelligence gathering mechanism. More than that, government should strengthen existing specialized banks like Bank of Industry and National Agriculture and Cooperative Bank to provide cheaper access to funds for farmers and those that desire to establish new businesses. The commercial banks are usually not ideal for these kinds of enterprises.

The National Orientation Agencies to me have not been doing enough to service its mandate. The agency should liaise with religious, social, and community based organisations to re-orient citizens on the importance of hard work and integrity.

In addition to all the existing anti-graft legislations establishing and empowering both the EFCC and ICPC, there is still the important need to establish a National Wealth Verification Commission (NWVC). Whoever- citizen or foreigner that intends to spend N3m or more should be required by law to approach any recognized court of law to swear to an affidavit indicating the sources of the fund and lodge the original copy with the NWVC. Within a maximum of 24 hours, the deponent will be issued a clearance certificate with which to spend the said amount. However, the issuance of the Clearance Certificate must not be tied to confirmation of facts deposed to by the deponent. NWVC will however within a period of not more than 12 months carry out thorough investigation of sources of funds and issue a Certificate of Confirmation of the previous Clearance Certificate. Where the deponent is found to have sworn to a doubtful or false affidavit, such person will be prosecuted in a specialized court set up to try cases of financial corruption alone. It is my belief that the introduction of NWVC will go a very long way to reduce the menace of corruption in Nigeria.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Reuben Abati: When Snakes Change Skin

I grew in an environment surrounded by thick forest on all sides. Seeing snakeskins was therefore not strange to me because there was never a week I did not stumble on one or more while playing in my dad’s then beautiful and serene landscaped compound. In my childhood innocence, snakes meant just one thing to me: a shy crawling creature that loves changing cloths always. I was however not jealous because my father succeeded in making his children to accept the fact that unhealthy desires were sin against God and man. Mind you, not many parents were that lucky.

As years continue to take the better part of my sojourn on earth, my childhood opinion about snakes began to melt like ice-cream on a sunny afternoon in Kano or Sokoto. Interestingly, I have come to realize that snakes mean different things to different people. While some snakes are poisonous, others are not. Even though, many will detest the presence of snakes around them, some keep them as pets. There are others- snake charmers who are believed to possess the ability to manipulate the mind of these multi-specie creatures.

Since I appreciate how much space religion occupies in the consciousness of Nigerians; let me take a plunge into the deep waters of the Bible to appraise the unique place of snakes in the lives of Christians, which I am one. While commissioning His disciples in readiness for the task of spreading the gospel of hope and salvation in an unfriendly world, Jesus Christ said in Matthew 10:16: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” What will you find if one takes down the walls surrounding this counsel? Two mysteries. The first one is wisdom if in the midst of unfriendly people. The second mystery is magnanimity in victory.

This brings me to the foundation of my piece. There are usually two camps in human life. You are either on the defensive or on offensive. Whichever camp one finds him or her self, there is a moral code of engagement. This is where many people- especially newspaper columnists have failed. The fact that the media is the conscience of the society is no longer in doubt. The problem has been that many newspaper columnists and reporters only celebrate failures and ignore excellence. They believe that it is unprofessional to clap for political leaders even when the need becomes obvious. Those that sing praises of the excellent efforts of politicians are quickly tagged “corrupt” or “derailed.” Funny enough, the apostles of “anti” and “attack” brand of journalism will not bother to point their high beam torchlights to dry grounds in order to enable the masses walk through hard grounds. This does not make sense.

As a commentator on contemporary issues, I do admire the philosophy behind the “attack” brand of journalism. I however do complement writings with quite a handful of “how tos.” Every criticism must come with one or more alternative ideas. This makes it positive and healthy for the growth of democracy.
Unarguably, Reuben Abati is among the small community of Christian journalists that heeded the counsel of Jesus Christ as recorded in Matthew 10:16. He has lived most of his public life as a snake when the situation demanded and like a dove if it was necessary. This is one reason snakes change skin.

Now that Reuben Abati has just changed skin, I want to hope that the unambiguous job prescription of a spokesperson of the president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the federal republic of Nigeria will not make him live all his days in Aso Rock only as a dove. No doubt, the snake in him will help his charmer- the president to be on his toes always. Benefit? Democracy would be energised and the masses will have many reasons to rejoice.

However, while I was on the last paragraph of this piece, a close friend of my family called to inform me that a snake has just bitten its charmer at the market square. I tried to find out what happened afterwards but his line went dead. Each time I made attempt to get back to him, a mysterious feminine voice kept on reminding me that my friend’s number has been switched off. Because of the nature of his job, my friend will never switch off his phone. Could it be a problem of flat battery? Immediately, my mind flashed to PHCN. Abati- sorry, God help Nigeria!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Anti-graft war: when a nation's No.1 law officer becomes helpless

A new but sad vista was added to the myriad of reasons why not much have been achieved in Nigeria’s much talked-about war against graft despite the huge amount of human and material resources invested in it. As a matter of fact, it was tales of helplessness and absence of zeal that were brought to the fore when the immediate past Attorney-General of the federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke volunteered answers during the screening exercise of ministerial nominees at the National Assembly in Abuja on Thursday, 30th June, 2011.
Clearly, his opinion about the EFCC and ICPC were not unexpected. Adoke was quite aware that of recent, the nation’s two anti-graft agencies have become very unpopular among members of the National Assembly. This is not unconnected with the bitter experiences of the former speaker of the House of Representatives; Mr. Dimeji Bankole and other principal officers. He therefore capitalized on this unique opportunity to play to the gallery without counting his teeth.

Without doubt, Adoke’s comments about EFCC and ICPC carried marks of occupational fatigue and ‘do as you wish’ attitude. All of these are dangerous and unexpected of the No. 1 law officer of a country that’s desirous of winning the battle against corruption. As Attorney-General of the federation and Minister of Justice, Adoke had both teeth and voice but for reasons best known to him alone; refused to bark simply because the fierce looking leadership of both the EFCC and ICPC hanged a charge of ‘interference’ on his neck. This is novel in the history of anti-graft crusade.

To many observers, it was shocking to hear that the EFCC and ICPC lacked the required capacity to do thorough investigation and collation of evidences to secure the conviction of persons charged with corrupt practices. This cannot be true. Perhaps, the former law officer was only trying to polish the fact that officials the nation’s two anti-graft agencies do collect gratification and deliberately leave openings to enable accused persons escape the long arm of the law.

There is already this cloudy opinion in some quarters that the fast becoming culture of rift between the office of the Attorney-General of the federation on one hand and those of EFCC and ICPC on the other are the handiwork of some well heeled apostles of corruption in and outside the country. It started in the early days of the late President Musa Yar’Adua’s administration. The then attorney-general, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa and the leadership of EFCC and ICPC never agreed to put their kernels in one basket. It therefore became extremely difficult for government to wage an effective war against corruption. Some analysts are of the opinion that these unnecessary disagreements are mere smokescreens rehearsed and deployed to distract and eventually deceive unsuspecting Nigerian masses.

Let no one, including Mohammed Adoke stand on the Vaswani brothers’ case to undress the EFCC and ICPC in front of Nigerian masses. The truth is that, right from 2000 when the ICPC was inaugurated; the office of the Attorney-General of the federation has never wanted to fight corruption. They have rather been busy rubbing drums of grease on the elbows of Nigeria’s many and powerful apostles of corruption. To support this opinion, let’s consider the submission of Adoke as it concerns the Halliburton scandal. According to him, “I decided to confront the issue once and for all. I called for the reports and went through the reports. I found out that there were no sufficient evidences linking any of our past leaders in respect of the said Halliburton scandal.

“Those of them that we could identify, including Halliburton itself, Julius Berger, and others, we decided to evaluate the position of our laws. At the end of the day, in line with global best practices, we opted to settle with them, because if we decided to prosecute them, the likeliness of our securing a conviction was very minimal.”

With due respect to Mohammed Adoke, his submission was not only shallow but an insult on the sensibilities of ordinary Nigerians. He should do well to tell Nigerians how weak our laws are that it cannot nail persons that clearly took bribes to influence the awards of contracts. This is made more repulsive because some of the foreigners that gave the bribes have been indicted in their countries. Even in the face of the worst case scenario, we should ascribe to Femi Falana’s opinion that the aim of going to court is not always to win. Sometimes, it should act as opportunities to make bold statements. In the Halliburton case, the statement would have been: corruption is killing our nation. The truth about the Halliburton case is that no one is disputing the fact that bribes were given. What, according to Adoke was the problem is lack of sufficient evidences to nail those involved. Even at that, the minutest of evidences should have been presented in court and allow the judge to make a pronouncement. This will add real value to the war against graft. Our anti-corruption war should also seek to place moral burdens on those that committed corrupt practices but were freed by the courts due to technical inadequacies. This will in some way help to discourage corrupt intentions.

We are aware that it has become fashionable for those accused of corrupt practices to abandon proving their innocence to pursuing technical loopholes to escape justice. Unfortunately, there is no practical evidence anywhere that any of Nigeria’s attorneys-general has religiously made attempts to tighten our laws so as not to give room for corrupt persons to shorten the long arms of the law. This is what I earlier on referred to as occupational fatigue. It’s sometimes caused by lack of patriotism. That’s the reason for question like, “na my papa work? It takes only a patriotic mind for a public office holder to go all the length for one’s country.

More than that, the majority of Nigerians are convinced about President Goodluck Jonathan’s promise of a national reformation agenda. The foundation of this conviction is in his decision to appoint a no-nonsense Nigerian in the person of Professor Attahiru Jega as head of INEC. Every informed mind is aware of the fact that the task of national transformation starts with the conduct of credible elections, which the Professor Jega-led INEC did. The president will need to do same for the office of the attorney-general and minister of justice if the war against graft must be won.

Furthermore, appropriate legislation should be made to streamline the activities of the EFCC and ICPC to make them more civil in terms of their mode of reporting, investigation, invitation, arrest, and prosecution. Also, the reasons behind the constant conflict between the offices of the attorney-general and the anti-graft agencies must also be addressed so as to avoid technical lapses that led to rewarding corrupt people with their ill-gotten wealth. Most importantly, thorough investigation must be concluded before the arrest of suspects. These investigations should be tired to time. No investigation should take more than twelve months.
While I agree with Adoke that the EFCC and ICPC were in some cases involved in snowmaking while doing their jobs, it will be very difficult to invite or arrest Politically Exposed Persons (PEP) without the media making noise about it. This is where the ‘show’ comes in. Is he suggesting that their invitation, arrest, and prosecution should be done in secrecy?