There is no question at all that corruption is our nation’s single greatest challenge. Indeed the notion that security was a more serious challenge was exploded, when in the last administration, it became clear that the escalation of the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast was on account of the fact that billions of dollars allotted to the purchase of arms for our military, was cynically embezzled by senior military and civilian government officials.
The reason why Nigeria built no major new roads or no new infrastructure in the last 6 years, despite earnings from oil in excess of $100 dollars a barrel, is largely because of corruption. In the last administration, two weeks before the elections, cash in excess of N100billion and over $250 million, was released in a few days ostensibly for security purposes. The aggregate sum released was more than some States earned in a whole year. That is the enormity of the embezzlement that we are talking about.
Corruption threatens our security, health, education and even our corporate existence. GAVI, the global fund for provision of vaccines for the poorest in developing countries, stopped providing funds to Nigeria for alleged mismanagement of funds by the Ministry of Health officials between 2011 and 2013. Nigeria had to refund $2.2million. These were vaccines and drugs meant to fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, amongst the poorest of the poor of our country.
The enormous resources in the hands of perpetrators today is used to subvert justice, to bribe pliable senior government officials, to bribe in some cases judicial officers, to subvert the legislative process and, of course, even to subvert the press. The problem with corruption is that it is a cancer. It may be terminal if not checked. The failure of African States, civil wars and destruction of lives and livelihoods, is the result of failure of institutions largely caused by endemic systemic corruption.
It is because of the existential nature of the threat of corruption, that collaboration between the Judiciary, the Executive and of course the Legislature is imperative.
In working together, all of us in these institutions, the Judiciary, Executive and Legislature, are mindful that by the nature of systemic corruption all institutions are affected one way or the other. But we must come together and we are coming together, as a patriotic gesture to rescue our nation from looming disaster.
At the swearing in of the last batch of Senior Advocates, His Lordship, the Chief Justice of the Federation, announced one of the most far reaching plans by the judiciary to effectively and promptly try corruption cases. First, his Lordship directed all courts in Nigeria to designate courts to exclusively hear and determine corruption and financial crime cases expeditiously.
And secondly, the constitution of the Corruption and Financial Crime Cases Monitoring Committee headed by the Honourable Justice Salami, and deservedly his Lordship was commended both locally and internationally.
That plan is a crucial component of the anti-corruption agenda, proposed by the executive because impunity seems magnified when the trial of alleged perpetrators of corruption never seems to end. That such individuals can afford the best legal assistance only deepens the sense of hopelessness that the corrupt will never be punished.
With the Chief Justice’s new initiatives, alongside the earlier practice directions issued by the Supreme Court and those issued by the Court of Appeal, and the Administration of Justice Act, and again, the recent Supreme Court decision which stopped the dilatory tactic of staying proceedings in criminal cases on account of interlocutory applications, there is certainly great hope that corruption cases will be concluded and concluded promptly.
All nations that have successfully confronted corruption did one thing in common: the administration of the justice system changed its attitude to the investigation and trial of corruption cases. And this is important because it is not just about the Judiciary, clearly not. Investigations must be conducted properly and thoroughly before cases go to court. When cases go to court, what is presented is the best case the prosecution can present.
But most of the countries that have successfully dealt with corruption have had to dispense with needless technicality and focused on the offence. In the case of public officers, they recognized that there can be no real explanation for a public officer, whose pay is public knowledge, to have cash and assets several times more than his earning, let alone his savings. And the reason why people can never understand the way that cases are decided sometimes, is because it goes contrary to common sense. If somebody earns in excess of what he should possibly even safe in several life times, freeing him by technicality can never make sense. It will always seem as if something has gone wrong with the system.
I think what most nations recognise, what most judiciaries, and what most administration of justices systems recognise is that even the whole process of the decision-making process, must make sense. If it doesn’t make sense, then we undermine the very fundament of the judiciary and justice, and if this undermined, then everything is undermined.
Why should terrorism or homicide cases be more strictly viewed than corruption cases? Clearly the misery and loss of lives on account of corruption far exceeds that of any other single crime. There is no question at all that if you look at the extent of damage caused by corruption, it surely is a crime against humanity without a doubt. If you look at the sheer loss of lives on account of what we’ve seen even in our own country, there is no question at all that it is possibly the worst sort of crime that can be committed. So it must be taken seriously.
This seminar is one which, clearly, is a step in the right direction, and just as my Lordship, the Chief Justice has said, the timing is exactly right, we are re-jigging the entire system. The Chief Justice has laid down the rules and has encouraged everyone to follow suit. There is no question at all, that this is the time for us to open a new page in the entire anti-corruption fight.
I am extremely pleased to see that their Lordships are all on board, everyone is on board, and the Executive is determined to support in every way, whatever it is that is required we will provide to ensure that all of the cases that need to be heard and investigations that need to be done are done. This is the collaboration of all of us; the Executive, the Judiciary and the Legislature must see this as a fight for the soul of our nation.
Thank you very much, may I therefore, with his words, declare this conference open.
Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media & Publicity)
Office of the Vice President
25 October, 2017