By Aminu Tumbuwal
1. I should like to start by expressing my sincere appreciation to the Anti-corruption committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) for assigning me the role of Guest Speaker at this auspicious occasion of the 2013 International Anti-corruption day observance.
2. The subject matter, corruption, is so vast that to attempt to address it generally will take ages. Accordingly, therefore, I have decided to restrict my discussion today to “the role of the legislature as the vanguard for anti corruption crusade in Nigeria”
3. As a phenomenon, corruption is so notorious that it does not require introduction at an occasion or definition in a discussion such as this. The mere fact that corruption has been able to secure a whole day globally set aside for the observance of the prosecution of war against it confirms it’s notoriety beyond doubt. It also establishes the fact that corruption is a global citizen.
4. Nonetheless, for purposes of refreshing our memories, corruption refers to dishonest or illegal behaviour or conduct especially by powerful people. It is the impairment of integrity, virtue or moral principle and a departure from what is pure and correct.
5. Even though the tendency has been to talk of corruption more with reference to persons in position of governmental or managerial authorities, in reality corruption permeates all segments of society and indeed all societies since government and authorities are products of societies. It must be admitted though, that the level of prevalence differs from society to society.
6. For us in Nigeria, the reality that no greater challenge than corruption confronts us as a people is not in controversy. Indeed if the roots of the overwhelming majority of our woes were traced, they are sure to terminate at the doorsteps of corruption. This is a commonplace fact known to all Nigerians and requiring no corroboration. Yet for the avoidance of doubt, it is important to state that in its 2012 Global Corruption Perception Index (CPI) by the global corruption watchdog, Transparency International ranks Nigeria as the 36th most corrupt country globally! Nigeria placed 139th of the 176 countries assessed scoring 27% in contrast with the least corrupt countries; Denmark, Finland and New Zealand which scored 90%.
7. A survey of the social media showed that 98% of Nigerians who commented not only agreed with the country’s corruption ranking but in fact felt Transparency International was too generous to Nigeria. A few of the comments read: “We don’t need a report to tell us what we already know” another “Wow, I taught (sic) we were No.1, I wonder what country (SIC) are before us. We all need prayers and serious fasting for our nation”. The other “to be fair, I always thought Nigeria is the most corrupt country in the world” yet another “Me too… 35th is actually being nice”.
8. A list of manifestation of corruption especially in the public sector of Nigeria is legion ranging from direct diversion of public funds to private pockets, contract over-pricing, bribery, impunity, nepotism, general financial recklessness, fraudulent borrowing and debt management, public assets stripping, electoral fraud, shielding of corrupt public officers among others.
9. It is a well established fact that corruption thrives well in any environment or society where there is community indifference or lack of enforcement policies. Societies with a culture of ritualised gift giving where the line between acceptable and non-acceptable gifts is often hard to draw. Societies in which values have been overthrown by materialism, societies in which laws are observed more in the breach.
10. It would appear that these environmental preconditions are all prevalent in the Nigerian society and no wonder therefore that corruption has found fertile soil to blossom.
11. As noted earlier, corruption is Nigeria’s greatest problem and a cancerous impediment to any development effort planned or envisaged. It follows then that if Nigeria is to witness true development, then corruption must be dealt with decisively and comprehensively. It is a duty requiring will, zeal and passion on the part of the three arms of government and indeed the entire citizenry.
The Role Of The Legislature.
12. The legislature plays three basic functions in a democracy, to wit Legislation, Representation and Oversight. It is within this scope of authority that the legislature can and indeed does impact on governance and can thus participate in the prosecution of the war against corruption in Nigeria .
13. Under the legislative function, Section 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 provides to the effect that the National Assembly shall have the power to make laws for peace, order and good government of the country. More specifically, under Section 15 (5) of the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, it provides, “The state shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of office”. Again in Section 2 (2) (b) and (c)’ government is enjoined to harness the resources of the nation for the common good and to prevent the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of few individuals or of a group.
14. The responsibility of fashioning the legal framework for the fight against corruption and corrupt practices is thereby vested in the legislature.
15. In the exercise of this mandate, the National Assembly has enacted, the Code of Conduct Bureau and Code of Conduct Tribunal, The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act 2002 and The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission Act 2000′ for the purpose of investigating and prosecuting Public Officers and other persons suspected of involvement in corrupt practices. In both legislation, the Commissions are given extensive powers of investigation and prosecution to deal with all cases of corrupt practices and abuse of office that may arise.
16. With respect to the specific objective of injecting transparency and accountability in the management of the resources of the nation, the National Assembly enacted the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007 and the Public Procurement Act 2007. Both legislations make copious provisions aimed at engendering transparency and accountability in the public space.
17. I make bold to say that if the provisions of these legislation and indeed others were diligently enforced, significant milestones would have been accomplished in the fight against corruption and corrupt practices in Nigeria. Sadly however these Legislations are observed more in the breach by the majority including government and government agencies.
18. I am pleased to report that the House of Representatives is currently working on some proposals for the reform of these laws with a view to reinforcing the independence of the agencies administering these laws including their mode of constitution and disbandment. I wish therefore to call on members of the NBA and indeed all Nigerians to prepare to buy into these reforms by making their inputs now or when the time comes for Public Hearings.
19. One other area which has been of great concern is the culture of undue secrecy that surrounded the operation of government. Whereas our Constitution enjoins in its Section 14 (2) (c) that ” the participation of the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution” government business tended to be run like secret societies to the exclusion of the citizenry. It was clear that this tended and was indeed intended to aid the concealment of corruption such that even in times of suspicion, members of the public including gentlemen of the fourth realm could not access public information.
20. The National Assembly has passed the Freedom of Information Act 2011 to enhance the right of access to public records and information about public institutions. This is one Legislation that attracted massive public interest and it is my expectation that Nigerians will make maximum use of the right created under this legislation in order to defeat the culture of undue secrecy in the running of government business.
21. The other function of the legislature is oversight of the other arms of government. Section 88 mandates the National Assembly to investigate the conduct of affairs of any person, authority, ministry or government department charged or intended to be charged with the duty of or responsibility for
i) Executing or administering laws enacted by the National Assembly or
ii) Disbursing or administering moneys appropriated or to be appropriated by the National Assembly
The main object of investigation according to sub section 2 (a) and (b) of Section 88 is for law reform and to expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws or administration or disbursement of public funds. Similar provision is made in Section 128 of the constitution for legislatures at the sub-national levels.
22. Another critical role of the Legislature is the provision of adequate funding for Anti Corruption Agencies through appropriation. Unfortunately efforts to exercise this function by the legislature is often misconstrued by the executive arm and even some members of the public. Yet without adequate funding the anti corruption agencies can not execute their functions satisfactorily. I wish to call on the other arms of government and indeed the general public to corroborate with us in the exercise of this mandate .
23.It is in exercise of this mandate that the House of Representatives and indeed the National Assembly has been carrying out oversight of government agencies and series of investigations or probes over allegations of corruption and corrupt practices. As you are all aware, the legislature has over the years exposed several cases of corruption.
24. It is important for me to stress once again at this stage that the mandate of the legislature is to expose corruption. It does not have further mandate to prosecute. That mandate of prosecution lies with the Executive and Judiciary. I have heard public comments to the effect that the public is tired of investigation by the legislature since the people indicted in their findings are never prosecuted and sanctioned.
25. Let me reiterate that the Legislature will not abdicate its responsibilities on the account of inaction or negligence of another arm of government. If nothing else we will at least continue to name and shame. As noted earlier, the war against corruption is the responsibility of all and I call on the citizens of this great nation to rise in the exercise of their constitutional power to insist on the prosecution and sanctioning of persons indicted by the Legislature or by any agency whether public or private concerned in the fight against corruption.
26. In the exercise of the mandate of oversight the legislature is able to audit both pre and post expenditure of agencies of government and to give appropriate direction on the administration and disbursement of funds and execution of programs and projects under the Appropriation Act. Indeed the Public Accounts Committee of both the House and Senate has the specific mandate to review the disbursement and administration of public funds by ministries, Departments and Agencies.
27. As representatives of the people, Legislators will continue to be for all Nigerians their eyes to see, ears to hear and mouth to speak out against corruption anywhere and at anytime it rears its ugly head.
28. The task may appear daunting but I wish to assure that wit will, zeal, passion and determination we shall eventually overcome this hydraheaded dragon. Only let us be single minded that it’s a task that must be done in order to preserve the country for posterity.
Thank you all for your attention and God bless Nigeria.
*Tambuwal, speaker, House of Representatives (Nigeria) presented the address at the 2013 International Anti-corruption Day organised by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Abuja.