Last week the anti-corruption campaign of President Muhammadu Buhari witnessed two significant features. At the opening of the 55th edition of Nigeria Bar Association Annual General Conference, the president made a strident appeal to lawyers – and by extension, the Judiciary – to buy into the anti-corruption campaign of his government.
The president, like most other Nigerians, including the lawyers themselves, are obviously aware that the success or failure of the entire fight against corruption hinges and measured largely on how many corruption cases are successfully prosecuted and punished. It is clear that, with the best intentions and diligence of investigators and prosecutors of corruption cases, ultimate success would largely depend on how promptly the cases are concluded in the courts.
In most of these cases, it is the lawyers that hold the key; by the way they can facilitate or frustrate the process, during the pendency of the cases in the courts. It is clear too, that since the EFCC was founded more than 15 years ago, the record of their success has not been as applauded as it should be, not because the Commission has not been diligent in carrying out its activities, but rather because most of its cases are stuck, at their different stages, at different courts.
Most of the cases are held up and frustrated through the antics of lawyers and other judicial officers, who demand endless adjournments by employing several forms of technical tricks of the trade. The president recognizes that, with the expected increase in the prosecution of corruption cases, if these antics by lawyers are allowed to continue, the efforts of the government would be a huge failure, even from the onset.
Even if the special courts or tribunals are set up for corruption cases, as the government intends doing, the situation would still hardly change, if the lawyers do not show better patriotism through the appreciation that the eradication of corruption is more important than whatever personal gains the lawyers and anybody else would gain by helping corrupt people in the system escape punishment.
One expects that apart from the new legislation which was enacted at the twilight days of the administration, aimed at cutting down the tedium of court cases as well as the duration of case pendency, the need for attitudinal changes on the part of the members of the judicial system would be most efficacious.
That is why both the members of the Bar and the Bench should see the call by the president as a very timely one, the heeding of which would determine whether the Judiciary is really the last hope of the common man or a mere empty postulation. Again, last Wednesday, one George Uboh enacted an unusual performance before the Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions Committee of the Nigerian Senate.
He stunned the public by alleging that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, under Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, had diverted public funds in the excess of one trillion naira. The act would have been a very important milestone in the anti-corruption fight in Nigeria, because it is clear that the anti-graft fight would be boosted and given a fillip when more and more whistle blowers step forward to courageously divulge information at their disposal, while enjoying the full protection of the law.
While the role of whistle blowers in fighting vices has been fully recognized and utilized in the developed Western nations of the world, it is only making a slow, but determined, inroad into Africa, especially through South Africa, Ghana, Uganda and Kenya. The whistle blowers’ protection act was one of the new laws that were enacted by the Seventh National Assembly, even if it is yet to go into full operation.
It is being hailed since its enactment by a cross section of Nigerians. The allegations peddled by Mr Uboh against the EFCC would have been a landmark event that would have encouraged other whistle blowers to step forward and reveal what they know against corrupt members of our Commonwealth.
Unfortunately, the Mr Uboh’s performance fell short of the expectations of many in many aspects; at the end of the day, it conveyed the clear impression of a man who, instead of exposing corruption, might, in fact, be shielding it or trying to frustrate the fight in itself. In the first instance, Mr. Uboh’s presentation was as befuddling as it was incoherent, in that the jumbo size of figures he quoted as to have been stolen by officials at the the EFCC, fly against the realm of reason.
Significantly, the whistle blower had claimed that the amounts allegedly stolen by the crime busting organisation were said to be amounts which were supposed to have been recovered by from certain individuals who had been indicted for corruption. Observably, all the monies ordered to be recovered from all the convicts from corruption, when added to all the monies that the EFCC had received for its operations, are said to be less than the amounts which Uboh claimed that EFCC officials had stolen, over the specified period.
It therefore looked obvious as is being speculated that the entire thing was a planned distraction. The members of the public were not present at his one-sided presentation at the Senate, which was done without the accused being present – a fact that made the entire hearing look very kangaroo both in plot and execution. What was more, Mr. Obuh painted a very shoddy picture of his personality at a live interview at the Channels TV, the following day, an indication that if Mr Obuh was acting a script, he did not rehearse it well.
Most members of the public, including a preponderant section of the Press came out with the impression that the entire Obuh saga was a very poorly stage-managed show, aimed at distracting the currently enhanced activities of the EFCC. It was further a huge shame that the Senate should lend itself as an accomplice or an accessory to what was a very irresponsible act, under the guise of performing its oversight functions.
From facts available, Mr. Obuh on behalf of his NGO, Panic Alert Security System (PASS) had sent the July 31st 2015 petition, entitled “Petition Against Ibrahim Lamorde, Chairman EFCC For various Fraudulent Acts/Omission Amounting to Over One Trillion Naira” the Senate, which promptly mandated its Ethics committee to invite the parties to a meeting of last Wednesday.
The EFCC had replied indicating its inability to attend on the stated date and asking for a later date. Significantly, the EFCC had recalled that it had recently, in a letter to the Senate, informed it that EFCC was in the process of forwarding the full report of its activities, which was still being audited, the contents of which would have fully addressed Mr Obuh’s allegations.
The EFCC was not present at the beginning but the Senate Committee meeting but the senators were not deterred, but gave the floor to Mr Uboh to stage his act. The Commission must have got the wind that the session was going on nevertheless and had despatched a delegation which arrived midway and drew attention to the fact that they had requested for another date.
The complaint resulted in the EFCC team being walked out! This short column lacks the space to expatiate fully on the many things that were terribly wrong with what would have passed as the first significant coming of a Nigerian whistle blower on a very important platform.
However, it must be stated that apart from the shoddiness of the act itself, Mr Obu was the least qualified person to squeal on the EFCC and its alleged corrupt activities. In the first place, the timing was most inauspicious, given that at the time he was blowing his whistle against the EFCC, he was undergoing prosecution by the same Commission over corrupt practices.
Added to that is the fact that the because, as McLuhan had observed, the “medium is the message”, Mr. Odu had been convicted for credit card fraud offences in the United States and had also been tried for narcotics offences from which he narrowly wriggled out.
He was, therefore, hardly a credible personality for the whistle blowing role in Nigeria or anywhere else. President Buhari’s anti-graft war can do with a lot of public involvement, especially from whistle blowers, but it can be complicated and complicated by the involvement of dysfunctional ones like Mr. Obu.