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Curbing graft from abroad

Posted by The Punch on 2005/10/12 | Views: 244 |

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Curbing graft from abroad


The Olusegun Obasanjo administrationís courageous attempt to root out official graft with foreign assistance and the mixed feelings it has generated deserve a closer look.

The Olusegun Obasanjo administrationís courageous attempt to root out official graft with foreign assistance and the mixed feelings it has generated deserve a closer look.

Some have condemned the approach for its negative impacts on Nigeriaís sovereignty, reputation and dignity. Perhaps those pains are no more than mere costs which the nation has to pay in its difficult search for a cleaner society. Seeking foreign assistance in waging the war is in the nationís interest and the country is acting in line with the United Nations anti-graft Convention to which she is a signatory.

Indeed, the group of eight industrialised nations (G8), at its last meeting held in Scotland, promised to give practical expression to the said UN Convention by denying officials found guilty of corruption of safe havens, as well as implementing a new plan to detect, recover and return the proceeds of corruption.

It is also obvious that the reliance on foreign nations in prosecuting the war stems from the impotence of Nigeriaís anti-graft institutions. Except the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, which is quite visible in tackling the monster, others such as the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, the Nigeria Police, audit departments of all tiers of government, the legislature at all levels and even the courts, have not been very effective in curbing official graft. This is evident in the revelation of the retiring ICPC chairman, Justice Mustapha Akanbi (rtd), that the 35 files on 14 state governors suspected of corrupt practices he sent to the Chief Justice of Nigeria yielded no result as most of the governors exploited the immunity clause and the courts to scuttle moves to investigate and prosecute them.

But some of these corrupt officials have not escaped the global dragnet. Between September last year when the London Police caught Plateau State Governor, Chief Joshua Dariye with 93,000 Pounds and another 150,000 Pounds in signed cheques, the nation has been inundated with reports of massive looting by many public officials and their incredible wealth and choice assets abroad. The development climaxed with the recent detention for money laundering in Britain, of the Governor of Bayelsa State, Dr. Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, after the Metropolitan Police allegedly found about one million pounds on him.

The cost of widespread filching of the treasury by public officials over the years is reflected in Nigeriaís decrepit infrastructure, mass poverty and declining living standards. The World Bank recently rated Nigeria as the second poorest nation, while the UN Human Development Report said life expectancy plummeted from 51.6 to 43.3 years between 2002 and 2003. The UNICEF has similarly reported rising maternal and child mortality rates. Yet the country is reputed to have made about $320 billion from oil since 1970, enough to pull her entire population away from the scourge of poverty, hunger and ill-heath, but much of which corrupt official have stashed away in their private offshore accounts.

Unfortunately, only the President seems to be totally convinced of the need for more transparency in the nationís public life. At state and council levels, it is still business as usual. The legislature, at all tiers, is guilty of conspiracy of silence, preferring to actively participate in the grand larceny or look the other way while the till is being plundered by executive rogues. When will democracy and its institutional checks and oversights work for ordinary Nigerians?

For once, all Nigerians should resolve to tackle corruption headlong, even if it entails enlisting further international assistance and making more prominent scapegoats. Repatriating looted funds and using them to improve the lot of Nigerians should be the utmost concern. Nevertheless, the fight should not be personalised or turned to an instrument for persecuting perceived political opponents. The anti-graft war will become stronger and more credible if the institutions are made to work independently to apprehend and punish the corrupt no matter their status in the society.

The PUNCH, Thursday, October 13, 2005

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