Reacting to the Day of the Long Knives in the Education Ministry and National Assembly
Events of the last few days in connection with the Ministry of Education and the National Assembly of Nigeria have been rather giddy.
At one level of analysis, the national broadcast by President Obasanjo of March 22, 2005, and his move of dismissal and promised future prosecution of certain public officials in the Ministry of Education and the National Assembly for corruption are the toughest and bravest he has made of late to stem this cancer of corruption that ravages our nation like AIDS. He must have suddenly experienced an epiphany that the rot in our polity is far worse than he originally thought.
At another level, however, I was a little bit worried about the speech. It laid too much blame on the National Assembly, while in fact it is the Civil Service (under the PRESIDENCY) which substantially TAKES OVER from the National Assembly once the budget has been approved. That is when THE CORRUPTION really begins - in expending the monies approved, and subverting the process of using the monies for the contracts and other matters that they were voted for.
In ALL THE YEARS that the military were in service, was the NATIONAL ASSEMBLY there ? Absolutely not ! Was there not financial brigandage then ? Can a MAN at the very top of an organization steal money WITHOUT the connivance of those civil servants beneath him? Did we not read how a head messenger, driver, a pay-office accountant, etc. were involved in this particular Education Ministry fiasco ?
Another point: Why did the president not make a broadcast over IG Tafa Balogun, who is reported to have had MORE MONEY in his bank accounts than the N55 million being bandied around now - to approve a budget ? Who is more demoralizing to the health of a nation: a Prof. Osuji who is "bribing" to get an Education budget passed - for which we currently have no allegation of self-gratification - or a Tafa Balogun who should be CATCHING CRIMINALS and yet he himself is alleged to be a HEAD CRIMINAL ?
Again, please do not get me wrong: I commend the President for these bold moves. I am however worried that there can be a BACKLASH that he may not be able to defend because he has not adequately protected his flanges and can be rightly accused of selective justice. For example, with the Sultan of Sokoto's son Senator Badamasi Maccido involved, you can expect a FIGHT ON OBASANJO's HANDS from now on. Accusations of ethnic injustice will also be heard - as is normal in Nigerian affairs.
Nevertheless, now that Obasanjo has now made an example of the Education Ministry and those in the National Assembly related to the bribery and budget saga, he should seize this MOMENT OF OUTRAGE to put in place lasting steps to stem the cancer of galloping corruption - coupled with tolerant ethnicism and hypocritical religionism - that is ravaging our country by taking further actions as follows:
A. In the short run, the President should (re-)issue the following proclamation (he had done something similar before this saga broke, but he was obviously not taken seriously):
(1) that all ministers and agency heads who bribed or were involved in bribing Assembly members over the budget should QUIETLY own up;
(2) all National Assembly members that accepted bribes should quietly own up;
(3) all monies that were received should be returned QUIETLY to the EFCC;
(4) that the ultimatum expires at end of March 2005, whereupon there will be no amnesty/waiver and all will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
He should then:
(5) cause to be printed NOW, the Fifth Schedule Part I (Code of Conduct for Public Officers) of the 1999 Constitution . Millions of copies of this extract should be distributed to all Public Officials and Civil Servants, from the cleaner to the Head Messenger to the Ministers and Heads of Parastatals, to the Presidency itself.
(6) for starters, send up an Executive bill to remove or amend section 308 of the Constitution.
B. In the short- to medium- term, the president should also seek to:
(1) champion the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill, which will allow the press and other willing individuals to press for public information, including suspicions of corruption;
(2) champion the passage of the Whistle-Blower's Bill; which will allow various people (particularly lower down) in the public service to cry "Foul!" about corruption and/or refuse to be co-opted without fear of being victimized;
(3) seek to strengthen all the laws that were used to establish the ICPC and the EFCC so that they are not weakened by the courts.
(4) enable public access to declared assets of public officials, sanctioning any officials that don't declare their assets truthfully; and causing to be seized those assets that are not declared and are traced to these public officials;
(5) require independent, professional and regular audits of all local government, state and federal accounts as a precondition for further disbursements, making such audits available to the public;
(6) seek to abrogate or seriously amend Section 308 immunity clause that benefits the President, the Vice-President, the 36 governors and 36 deputy-governors.
(7) speedily prosecute all persons not protected by Section 308 who aid and abet those immunized officials in financial and other types of corruption; he should for example see the very end of this Education Ministry Saga as well as Tafa Balogun's by jailing those lower officials found guilty of aiding and abetting, as well as their bosses;
(8) focus on ridding the Police Force and Judicial Bench of corruption; these two arms are the most public faces of exercising justice in the land; again, Tafa Balogun and those Egbo-Egbo-like judges should not merely be allowed to go home if found guilty !
(9) observe zero-tolerance for bribery by the NPF on our highways, including use of sting operations;
(10) observe zero-tolerance for bribery by judges, mandatorily disbarring for life any found to have taken bribes.
(11) focus on ridding the banks and other financial houses of corrupt practices. Most of these corrupt people don't carry these bribes around without having gotten for example N50 million cash from some bank or the other. What should a SENATOR be doing with N20 million to N50 million cash, for example, without query from a bank, who is probably too happy to take ~0.5% COT (commission on turnover/transaction) ? Is that not suspicious in itself ?
(12) observe zero-tolerance for money-laundering by banks;
(13) observe zero-tolerance for foreign-exchange round-tripping;
(14) focus on eliminating the 4-1-9 advanced fee fraud crime, making it a "special economic crime against the state"; using, for example, a central registry of phones and faxes supplied on 4-1-9 letters to SHUT down the phone numbers IMMEDIATELY;
(15) use sting operations to arrest, prosecute and SUMMARILY jail caught miscreants.
Until we all - that is the Executive, the Legislature, the Judiciary and Civil Society - have a consensus to do at least each of the above steps systemically and comprehensively, then the fight against financial corruption in Nigeria cannot be deemed to be serious, and any little gains can be unraveled in the twinkling of an eye.
All the above is to keep the momentum against corruption going at maximum pace a time of maximum outrage. Corruption - and along with lack of reliable electric power - is the one main thing that is SAPPING the energy for our progress in that country. We may be a poor country, but our poverty at the moment is REALLY not because we are THAT POOR, but because of the "fat cats" in Abuja who live as if they are not part of the rest of Nigeria.
So the jury is out on these latest developments. It may be a New Day - or Same-Old, Same-Old. Hopefully, President Obasanjo will seek God's wisdom - and Man's cooperation - to begin to overcome some of our myriad problems.
Obasanjo's Broadcast to the Nation on the Bribery Saga
EFCC Rap Sheet Against Indicted Officials
UN-STAR CORRUPTION: Heads Roll over Education Ministry Bribery
17 Ways of Stopping Financial Corruption in Nigeria
Mobolaji E. Aluko [December 5, 2004]
Code of Conduct of Public Officers (1999 Constitution)