Right Activists Giving Fresh Impetus To War Against Corruption | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Right Activists Giving Fresh Impetus To War Against Corruption

Posted: Oct 28, 2016 at 3:36 am   /   by   /   comments (0)




 EJIKEME OMENAZU – LAGOS  — A human rights group, the Crusade for Justice, on Tuesday, October 25, 2016 held its 14th anniversary lecture, with the theme, “Towards A Corruption-free And Egalitarian Society: The Change Starts With The Leadership.” The event, held at Sheraton Hotels and Towers, Ikeja, Lagos, attracted a large group of lawyers and human rights activists. Although most of the special guests could not make it, while some sent in representatives, the two speakers at the event did justice to the two topics slated for the day.

The first paper was delivered by a legal luminary, Abiodun Okonkwo (SAN), who spoke on “The Role of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), and Other Agencies In the Fight Against Corruption In Nigeria.” The second paper was handled by an environmental expert and lawyer, Dr. Theodore Okonkwo, Who spoke on “Combating Environmental Degradation In The Niger Delta Region of Nigeria, Through Justice And Judicial Activism: Options Open To a Responsive Government.”

Although Professor Itse Sagay (SAN), Chairman of the Presidential Committee on the Anti-Corruption Crusade, could not make it to the event, Hon. Babatunde Ogala, an eminent lawyer, who stood in for him, did justice to the position. In his opening remarks, Ogala stated that the lecture came at an appropriate time. According to him, “For the Crusade for Justice to sustain the lecture for 14 years, was no mean feat.

He also described the topic as relevant considering what he termed “some events which took place that have changed the face of the war against corruption.” Hon. Ogala maintained that no one could have imagined that the anti-graft war would catch up with the judiciary the way it did. He stressed that corruption has become one of the crimes against national security.

On the second topic, Ogala maintained that the subject of militancy has become topical due to the neglect of the Niger Delta over the years. He stressed that environmental degradation is due to the neglect; hence the Niger Delta crisis has been in the front burner. He linked the neglect to the massive corruption in the oil industry, even as maintained that the oil industry has been a beehive of corruption, leading to the neglect and degradation of the environment.

In his paper which dwelt on the role of the EFCC, ICPC and other agencies in the fight against corruption, Barrister Owonikoko maintained that nobody foresaw the recent arrest of judges on October 7, 2016, although it was expected. He maintained that while the judiciary has become the whipping boy today, the judiciary has continued to give incisive rulings on corruption.

He stressed that such rulings had given teeth to the war against corruption, by making corruption, not a civil crime, but a crime against national security, hence it fall on the federal government to fight corruption.

Barrister Richard Nwankwo, the President and Founder of the Crusade for Justice, in his welcome address, maintained that “in our nation today, the issue of corruption is on everybody’s lips. The discussion is universal, the condemnation is relentless and reverberating, the outcome of all discussions and pontifications in our personal lives, remain exceedingly minimal and of questionable moral import and impact.

He maintained: “Fighting corruption is not an economic policy. Fighting corruption while at the same time desecrating loudly, and with shocking impunity, the provisions of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and the ideals of constitutional democracy, is the highest form of corruption known to man.” He also maintained that giving impetus to the killings by herdsmen without taking steps to protect lives and properties in utter and brutal negation of the provisions of Chapter 2 of the constitution is another form of corruption.

Nwankwo added: “Allowing incompetent hands to preside over government departments and agencies in the name of exercise of discretion is the zenith of nepotism, peak of cronyism and an unpardonable breach of the social contract existing between a nation and its citizens. This is digital corruption.” He called for a stoppage of fighting corruption on the pages of newspapers, tackling corruption at its roots and stoppage of wastages of national resources.

He called for the setting up of dedicated courts to fast track the trial of suspects and all those accused and are facing corruption charges, adding, the last and the most important would be leadership by example.

Owonikoko stressed: “Corruption has evil effects on the economy. It causes inflation, affects national policies, affects the national economy and has wiped out the middle class.” He stressed that the nation has been grounded and rendered prostrate by corruption.

The legal luminary maintained that inflation is a by-product of corruption, even as he noted that the current recession has adversely affected salary earners and businesses, describing the situation in the nation now as a calamity.

He stressed that to combat corruption needs extraordinary solution, warning that this must not translate to arbitrariness or excessiveness. He maintained that in combating corruption, it must be noted that financial crime is global and as such, the country must legislate itself into reckoning to ensure that the nation is a safe place for investment.

Thus, he stressed that the government must bring the nation into conformity with global expectations. Owonikoko maintained that corruption should not be combated through media trials, but by ensuring that corruption is nipped at the bud before it is committed.

According to him, “The agencies fighting corruption do not nip it at the bud, but wait at the end. The Public Procurement Act is not followed. There is no Procurement Council in place. Thus, there is nobody to superintend the enforcement of the Act. Corruption is in all stream of the government. IT is in the Executive, which is the upstream or source. It is in the Legislature, which is the middle stream, and it is in the Judiciary, which is the downstream. If we want to stop corruption, e must start from the Executive.”

Owonikoko maintained that the Executive is deeply enmeshed in corruption due to its roles in the award of contracts while the Legislature engage in corruption through Constituency projects and oversight functions. In the Judicial arm of government, Owonikoko, stressed that corruption is by way of settlement of judges.

He asked: “Why does EFCC have to wait until money is stolen before they swing into action? Prosecution of cases is only one function.

Why not nip corruption in the bud before the moneys are stolen and are invested in properties?” he stated that the massive corruption through the arms deal was possible because such purchases do not go through the Public Procurement Council. He however urged the anti-graft agencies to be transparent in carrying out their duties.

On the arrest of the judges, Owonikoko stated: “I am not holding brief for any judge. Some of them are indeed corrupt. But, we must be careful, especially those of us who are lawyers, so that the Judiciary is not brought into disrepute.

In introducing his lecture, Dr Okonkwo maintained that the environmental degradation in the Niger Delta is real, even as the entire area is polluted through pipeline vandalisation and gas flaring over the years. He stressed that the green vegetation in the area is no more, no pure and drinking water, no fish to harvest and the people cannot engage in meaningful farming.

He also said that the pollution comes with its health challenges, while people live in shackles and are very poor and frustrated.

Okonkwo, in his conclusion, maintained that Nigerian has good laws, stressing that the problems are on implementation. He accused lawyers of being the problem in the fight against corruption, even as he noted that President Muhammadu Buhari had earlier warned that the judiciary was riddled with corruption.