President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, on Monday, took a swipe at the Federal Government’s anti-graft agencies, saying they preferred showmanship. He said this was the reason why the agencies had failed to ensure conviction of suspects in court.
The anti-graft agencies in the country include the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission. Saraki said this at the presentation of a book, ‘Antidotes for Corruption (sic), The Nigerian Story’, written by the lawmaker representing Kogi West Senatorial District, Senator Dino Melaye.
The Senate President, who wrote the foreword of the book, was among prominent Nigerians who attended its public presentation in Abuja.
Others in attendance were the Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara; Mrs. Patience Jonathan, wife of former President Goodluck Jonathan; a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim; and a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ghali Na’Abba. Some others in attendance were the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Bello Mohammed; and Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige.
The 600-page book has 14 chapters. The book is a compilation of media reports, bills and motions relating to the anti-graft campaign and major corruption cases under the current administration. The hardcover edition of Melaye’s book was sold for N50,000 each.
The President, Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, presented the book with N10m. Saraki and Dogara bought a copy for each of the 109 members of the Senate and 360 members of the House of Representatives, respectively. Saraki will pay N5,450,000 while Dogara will pay N18m for the book. Saraki, in his speech, alleged that the anti-graft agencies were under pressure “to show that they are working.” He added that this made the agencies to do more showmanship than actually prosecuting corruption cases.
The Senate President said, “Talking about antidotes, I am convinced that we must return to that very basic medical axiom that prevention is better than cure. Perhaps, the reason our fight against corruption has met with rather limited success is that we appear to have favoured punishment over deterrent.
“Most often, it is difficult to establish guilt beyond all reasonable doubts as required by our laws. It requires months, if not years, of painstaking investigations. It requires highly experienced and technically sound investigation and forensic officers. It requires anti-corruption agents and agencies that are truly independent and manifestly insulated from political interference and manipulation.
“We must admit that we are still far from meeting these standards. Most often, therefore, because our anti-corruption agencies are under pressure to justify their existence and show that they are working, they often tend to prefer the show over the substance. However, while the show might provide momentary excitement or even public applause, it does not substitute for painstaking investigation that can guarantee convictions.”
Saraki stated that each time Nigerians talked about corruption, they focused “almost exclusively” on high-profile political corruption. “While these tend to be of high impact and high drama, I suspect that they are not even as debilitating as what is often referred to as systemic corruption,” he noted.
He alleged that the form of corruption by middle-level and junior-level government officials, who demanded gratification to do their ordinarily routine duties, was “as grievous as the high-level corruption that readily comes to mind.” The Senate President stated that Nigeria must review its approach in order to build systems that would make it “a lot more difficult to carry out corrupt acts or to find a safe haven for corruption proceeds within our borders.”
He said in doing this, Nigerians must continue to strengthen accountability, significantly limit discretion in public spending and promote greater openness. Saraki stated, “It is my view that the key area of prevention, we must work on, is to make it difficult for stolen money to find a home. “It must not be based on individuals but on institutions.
“Let us fight corruption with sincerity. If we fight corruption in a corrupt way, we will not make any headway.” Saraki added, “We, in the National Assembly, last week, took the first major step in this direction towards greater openness.
For the first time in our political history, the budget of the National Assembly changed from a one-line item to a 34-page document that shows details of how we plan to utilise the public funds that we appropriate to ourselves. This is a very significant step forward and we are very proud of it.” The Senate President, however, pointed out that the current administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari, had put corruption on the front burner of national discourse.
He said, “I admit it is early days yet, but one area I believe we have made remarkable progress in the past two years of the Buhari-led administration is that corruption has been forced back to the top of our national political agenda. Every single day, you read the newspapers, you listen to the radio, you go on the Internet, you watch the television, people are talking about it.
“The people are demanding more openness, more accountability and more convictions. Those of us in government are also responding, joining the conversation and accepting that the basis of our legitimacy as government is our manifest accountability to the people. “And, to borrow from the title of the book that we are launching today, that we are determined to find antidotes to this disease that has almost rendered our country prostrate.”
While criticising the Corruption Perception Index issued by Transparency International, Saraki urged the global body to adopt “more robust parameters” that would show the improvement made by countries in their anti-graft wars.
Saraki stated, “My last point is on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. It is important to note that the CPI always generates controversy each year it is released. This is so because, most often governments and countries tend to believe that the year-on-year report does not fully reflect or account for the progress being made in the fight against corruption.
“I believe the key challenge here is also because ‘perception’ is largely subjective. And it is so easy for perception to degenerate into stereotype.
“Therefore, while relying on perception, I think it is important for TI and other such organisations to improve on their methodology by developing more robust parameters that reflect the progress that some countries are making in respect of corruption.” In his remarks, Dogara said the current administration had been “missing the point” on the prosecution of high-profile corruption cases.
He added, “Corruption, for those who are farmers, is like a tree that grows vigorously. If you end up pruning the trees and not attacking the roots, there is no way you will deal with that thing.
“So, when those who celebrate the successes of the fight against corruption in terms of the high-profile investigation, high-profile prosecution and even detention, they are missing the point because that is dealing with the symptoms of corruption. That is punishing corruption. But how are we developing remedies that we can apply to ensure that the tree dies?”
“Recently, in the labour community, we went for May Day and some of us were nearly held hostage. You can’t blame the workers. While they were agitating for their rights, agitating for minimum wage, some of us are talking about living wage. “You see, the workers control, perhaps, about 96 per cent of the budget. In the National Assembly, we have about 92 per cent. So, if you don’t make the environment conducive to those who administer this money not to want to be corrupt, you will end up jailing people.”
Dogara also stated that institutions must be built and strengthened for Nigeria to effectively stem corruption as according to him, only strong institutions can fight corruption in the country.
Talking about the author, Dogara said he would not be surprised by the avalanche of criticisms that might follow Melaye and the book. “Dino himself is a combination of so many things: he is highly opinionated, often pugnacious. So, obviously, he will be a magnet for opinionated criticisms as well; he will not escape that,” he said.
Na’Abba, in his opening remarks, said the book, which he described as timely, would help in changing how corruption was perceived in Nigeria and the dangers it posed to the country.
Melaye, EFCC differ on invitation.
Melaye, however, failed to invite the EFCC to the book presentation. While the Chairman of the ICPC, Mr. Ekpo Nta, was in attendance, the EFCC was not represented at the event. Sources in the EFCC told one of our correspondents that they did not receive any letter of invitation from Melaye. An operative of the anti-graft agency said, “We did not shun Dino Melaye’s book launch. The truth is that we were not invited at all. Even on Monday morning, we checked all correspondences but we did not find Melaye’s invitation. We would have gone if we were invited.”
When asked why he did not invite the EFCC to the book presentation, Melaye, in an SMS to one of our correspondents, said he invited the commission. “I did and I have the acknowledgement,” he stated.
Sagay, CACOL, SERAP scold Senate President, say he’s part of FG
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN); and two civil society organisations – the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders and the Social-Economic Accountability Rights Project – have knocked Saraki for criticising the government’s anti-corruption fight, describing it as “inappropriate”.
The groups pointed out that Saraki was also part of the Federal Government that he criticised. The Chairman of CACOL, Debo Adeniran, on Monday, noted that Saraki was involved in several allegations of corruption, adding that it was not surprising that he had chosen to attack the anti-corruption agencies. He said, “You have three arms of government and Saraki is the head of one of them. All the laws under which the Federal Government operates, emanate from the National Assembly. If any department of the government is failing, the Senate has oversight functions. If Saraki accuses the government of being sensational, he is part of the sensationalism.
“Also, because Saraki is psychologically involved in all the accusations, especially levelled by the EFCC, and the Code of Conduct Tribunal, you will expect that he will discredit the agencies bringing him to the fore. Also, because the executive has not risen to cover up the Senate members undergoing investigations, the Senate President will not be in good terms with the executive. “The Senate President should be ashamed to say that a government, where he is number three, is sensational.”
Also, the Executive Director, SERAP, Adetokunbo Mumuni, said, “The Senate President is entitled to his opinions, but he should concentrate on matters of legislation that will help the anti-corruption agencies to do better; not to deride them. “What Saraki is saying is that the legislative arm of government is not on the same page with the executive as far as war against corruption is concerned. But Nigerians can judge; they know that the war against corruption has been different from what it used to be.”
Anti-graft war, struggle against satanic forces –Sagay
Sagay faulted Saraki over his claims that the anti-graft agencies were involved in more of showmanship than investigation. Sagay said his committee had effectively advised the anti-graft agencies on how to gather evidence that would be acceptable in court. He said the main problem was that high-profile individuals had amassed “satanic sums of money” which could pervert the course of justice. Sagay added, “My reaction to that is that in every endeavour being mounted against very powerful people, who have accumulated enough money, even more than the states, it is always going to be very tough. So, we will lose some (cases), learn from that and then improve.
“So, it is not showmanship. It is a tough struggle against the dark satanic forces that have run down the country’s economy and they are very powerful; so, it is a very tough struggle and we will carry on and we will get better and better with time.” The PACAC chairman said following the advice of his committee, anti-graft agencies had begun to change their strategies which would yield positive results soon.
Sagay added, “We are teaching them not to have a sole investigator but a team who will work with the prosecutors so that the prosecutors can advise the investigator exactly what to look out for in terms of the ingredients constituting the offence; so, he doesn’t just go on a wild goose chase and bring irrelevant evidence.
The spokesman for the EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, said the Senate President was entitled to his opinion. “He is entitled to his opinion; so, there is nothing to respond to,” Uwujaren said.