Fight against corruption is real, says Obasanjo
Text of a speech last night by President Olusegun Obasanjo to the nation on the issue of transparency, accountability and eradication of corruption.
IT is with a heavy heart that I have to address the nation today. As you know, the issue of transparency, accountability and eradication of corruption assumed a central place in the policies and programmes of this administration from its inception.
The fight against corruption is meant to be observed within the three arms of government, the Executive, Judiciary and Legislature because corruption will not disappear in our national life if the measures adopted in the fight are designed for the Executive arm or within the Judiciary alone while the Legislative arm wallows in corruption.
In addition, our fight against corruption will be meaningless if it is concentrated within the Federal tier of government while the States and Local Governments wallow in corruption; neither would the battle against corruption be won if it is concentrated within the public sector while the private sector, the Fourth Estate of the realm, and civil society wallow in corruption.
We have never made shy of our undiluted commitment to eliminating corruption from our national life because it compromises national development, contaminates collective morality and values, distorts national planning, corrodes integrity and discipline, and destroys the foundations of creativity, innovation, and democratic structure and development.
Sometime in the month of February 2005, intelligence report came to me that contrary to my firm instructions to Ministers and departments and parastatals under them that no body should bribe or give inducement to any individual or group in the National Assembly for approval or enhancement of the budget proposed by me, some Ministers have disregarded my instructions.
The intelligence report confirmed that some Ministers have violated the rule and actually paid bribe to Committees and individuals in the National Assembly. I asked that the allegation be investigated and while I was away in Europe during the week of March 13 to19, 2005, the investigation came to a climax.
The following facts have now been established in the investigation report:
- That the Minister of Education invited his acting Permanent Secretary and some Directors to collect money from votes under their control to bribe some members of the National Assembly so that they can ensure that their budget will not be reduced, in fact, in order that the budget for the ministry submitted by the Executive may be increased;
- That those Directors produced from the votes under their control the sum of N35 million while an additional loan of N20 million was taken from the National Universities Commission (NUC) to pay a total bribe of N55 million which was collected by the Senate President, Adolphus Wabara; Senator John Azuta Mbata, Chairman, Senate Appropriation Committee; Senator Ibrahim Abdulazeez, Chairman Senate Committee on Education; Senator (Dr.) Chris Adighije, Senator Badamasi Maccido, Senator Emmanuel Okpede, and a member of the Federal House of Representatives, Honourable (Dr) Shehu Matazu who is Chairman of the House Committee on Education.
On my brief return on Saturday the 19th of March 2005, an Interim Oral Report of the investigation into the allegations was made to me while the investigation continued. I insisted that the N55 million be recovered from those who received it. By the time I returned on Monday from Namibia, the money had been recovered through the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) brought in by Senator (Dr) Chris Adighije, and it will be kept and used as exhibit.
A written report confirming the oral report has now been submitted to me.
In the meantime, the following actions are to be immediately instituted:
- The Minister of Education is dismissed from office and he would be handed over to the ICPC for necessary follow-up action;
- The Acting Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Mr. P. S. Abdu and the five Directors of the Ministry are to be referred to the Federal Civil Service Commission for necessary disciplinary action;
- I have forwarded the Report on the Senate President, Senator Ibrahim Abdulazez, Senator (Dr) Chris Adighije, Senator John Azuta Mbata, Senator Badamasi Maccido, and Senator Emmanuel Okpede, to the Deputy Senate President and Leader of the Senate for appropriate action while sending the same Report to the Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Chairman of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) for appropriate action by their respective parties. In addition, a formal report will be made to the ICPC for necessary action;
- A copy of the Report has been forwarded to the Honourable Speaker of the House of Representatives in respect of the Chairman of the House Committee on Education, Honourable Shehu Matazu for appropriate action at the House level and at the Party level;
- The Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri Professor Jude E. Njoku who also provided the sum of N25 million (Including N10 million to Honourable Matazu, Chairman House Committee on Education) as bribe to the House Committee on Education in the 2004 budget year is being recommended to be appropriately disciplined by the Ministry of Education in the absence of a Council and I am doing this in my capacity as Visitor to the institution based on the Report. He too will be referred to the ICPC for necessary action. This should serve as a lesson to the heads of other institutions and parastatals. Further investigation on the receivers of Professor Njoku's payment during the 2004 Budget confirmed Honourable Gabriel Suswan and Honourable Osita Izunaso as members who shared the bribe money with Dr. Shehu Matazu.
- The Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Professor Peter Okebukola will be dealt with appropriately for providing a loan of N20 million to the Ministry of Education on instruction of the then Minister; and
- The allegations against other Ministers and departments that may have committed similar offences will continue to be investigated.
Fellow Nigerians, it is a disheartening event that the number three man in the government hierarchy in the country is involved in this sordid matter. It is an action that violates all known norms of good governance, progressive leadership, integrity and credibility. This tends to vindicate those who made similar allegations in the past.
Let me commend and express appreciation to those Ministers and officials who have stood firmly against the harassment and demands of some, I repeat, some members of the National Assembly for bribe to approve or increase their budget or not to make negative comments on the performance of the Ministry or Department as the legislators carry out their oversight functions.
I want to appeal to all Nigerians that the fight against corruption in all its ramifications is a relentless one and should involve all citizens. Nobody, no matter how highly or lowly placed, irrespective of status or stature that is caught engaging in any act of corruption will go free. Let me use this opportunity to point out that in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, there are men and women of honour, probity, integrity and discipline that deserve the respect of all Nigerians.
I salute such men and women and I wish we have them in sufficient critical mass to make the National Assembly a haven of integrity, probity, transparency, honesty, patriotism and accountability.
But what has now happened must make us all to be extra cautious in the realisation that when some members of the National Assembly are inviting people to question them on what they have done or are doing, or to discuss or defend their budgets or investigate what may not be their business, no one should fall for the antics of using that guise to engage in acts of bribery and corruption.
Contractors have also alleged such acts on the part of members of the Senate and the House in the past but such contractors were scared to substantiate their allegations. There have also been allegations against some members of the National Assembly who directly or indirectly make demands from Ministries and parastatals in the performance of their oversight functions. Equally, allegations have been widespread about demands from members of the National Assembly during political appointment confirmation exercises as well as during the on-going N25 billion equity requirement on banks.
In fact, allegations that will confound the honest Nigerian and boggle the minds of the public on all sorts of demands for bribe and gratification by some public servants continue to complicate our campaign for transparency, accountability, service delivery and due process. These allegations have to be laid to rest through thorough investigation. We cannot
continue to solicit for debt relief without being prudent and relentless in our fight against corruption at home.
We must match our words with sincere, honest,transparent and serious action. Then, the world will take us seriously.
It is the responsibility of the National Assembly to cleanse itself, to show to Nigerians that it deserves their respect, to rebuild public confidence, and to flush out those members who continue to derogate and degrade its integrity and stature. Because this has never been part of the Assemblyâs agenda, past leaders of the Senate and the House got away with near murder and are now living in obscene opulence. Such opulence is without foundation except abused privilege of being a leader in the National Assembly for a few years.
Their honour, integrity and credibility will remain impaired and dented no matter how they live and where they live and certainly cannot meet acceptance in the eyes of their Creator. In the final analysis justice will catch up with them.
Membership of the National Assembly, I believe, is a sacred trust and responsibility reposed in a legislator by the electorate. Such trust and responsibility must not be violated, abused or compromised through the sale of this sacred mandate for personal material gain.
I want to reiterate my appeal to the National Assembly to be moderate and conscious about what it puts in the budget for its own remuneration and upkeep which has tendency to encourage corruption and lack of accountability. We sure cannot continue in this way. I believe that this is also a time for us to carefully watch the cost per head to the nation of members of the National Assembly.
We must not continue to tolerate limited service delivery for the astronomical cost of maintaining legislators, some of whom are more interested in compromising their mandates rather than serving the nation as expected.
The National Assembly must be earnest, stringent and serious in its self-monitoring and self-sanctioning efforts to earn and sustain respect, honour and dignity for itself as the highest law-making body in the land. It is in our best national interest to have an honourable and respected National Assembly which is the pride of all of us. I will leave no stone unturned to achieve such a stature and status for the National Assembly.
Although it is perception which may be different from reality, and although we have expressed some dissatisfaction with its process and methodology including not stigmatising corrupting countries of the North and their corrupting companies, it is still unacceptable for Nigeria to be rated third on the ladder of corruption by Transparency International.
This is irrespective of the fact that Transparency International itself properly and profusely acknowledges the effort of this Administration in the fight against corruption. For as long as this perception persists, it is a stigma on all Nigerians, no matter the honesty and integrity of any individual. We must collectively fight to destroy this monster.
I therefore count on all Nigerians to join hands in this fight against corruption. Let us all give our dear nation a chance to grow. Corruption brings a nation no good. The resources meant for water supply, roads, education, health, and other basic and social services that are captured and stolen by a handful of Nigerians through corrupt acts stultify development.
When you encourage, cover up or join hands in such acts you are destroying the nation and our collective future. I am pleased to note that things are changing for the better as more and more Nigerians are voting for transparency, accountability, due process, fair competition, and prudent management of our scarce resources. I take this opportunity to express appreciation to those individuals who have taken it upon themselves to expose corruption wherever they have found it.
It is the action of such individuals that has given us some successes that we have had in recent times. That is how it should be and with God on our side we shall win this war against corruption. The Executive at the Federal level will continue to do its best. Other tiers of government and other sectors must be actively involved in the war.
This is a warning to all those who have tendencies to be corrupt. This Administration is fully poised to deal ruthlessly with corruption in all its ramifications. And being under pressure is no excuse.
Thank you and May God continue to bless Nigeria.