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OPINION

Curious Fight Against Corruption – By Kunle Somorin

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In the early days of his administration, President Muhammadu Buhari hit the nail on the head about how serious a problem corruption had become. “If we don’t kill corruption,” the President said, “corruption will kill the country.”

Yet, not a few well-meaning Nigerians have expressed concern that fifth columnists in his administration and at different levels across the country could be hiding under the anti-corruption war to serve their own selfish interests. Witch-hunt is now being elevated into an art form.

When on February 19 last year, the Governor of Katsina State, Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari requested that his counterpart in Plateau State, Simon Lalong release a particular judge, Hon Justice Mohammed Ibrahim Sirajo, for an assignment to recover looted funds in Katsina, not a few of those indicted by various committees earlier set up smelt a rat. For them, calling on a particular judge, instead of asking the State Chief Judge to nominate someone was the beginning of travesty of justice.

That position was sustained by the Court of Appeal in Kaduna on May 19, this year when the trial judges unequivocally said the fear of bias by those being probed led by the former Governor of Katsina State, Ibrahim Shema was not misplaced. Needless to say the court ordered that the judge should stand down for proceedings in Katsina.

However, without publicly appointing his replacement, the Katsina State Commission of Inquiry weekend submitted a report indicting those on trial along with Ibrahim Shema of pocketing N50.6bn belonging to the State government between May 29, 2007 and May 2015.

It is, therefore, curious that the committee that sat only once, on June 1, came about the report submitted at mid-night on June 2 to Governor Bello Masari. This exposed the hiatus between fighting corruption and understanding due process in the fight against graft.

For many, what transpired in Katsina was symptomatic of the hasty manner investigation and prosecution are carried out in a manner that suggests persecution. It can be the only reason the fight against graft has suffered both in the courts and at the bar of public opinion in recent times.

For instance, many feel that had due diligence been carried out, the sting operations and cases of criminal prosecution carried out by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), Department of State Service (DSS) and the Code of Conduct Tribunal in recent times against the former First Lady Dame Patience Jonathan; former Minister of Niger Delta Godsday Orubebe; senior advocate Mike Ozekhome and the duo of Justice Adeniyi Ademola and his wife would not have embarrassed the Nigerian government.

Many more believe that the State Governors, without clear strategy only use the anti-graft “war” to cloak their incompetence, lack of preparedness for office and shift attention from their own corrupt practices. How else can we explain a situation where a governor who is yet to account for two tranches of bail out and the refund from Paris Club claim to be a champion of the anti-corruption war?

For me, the Katsina graft war is like all others in the other states where incumbent governors are also up in arms against their predecessors with scant regard for fact and due process. Besides the red-herring, these shambolic probes are merely what Shakespeare describes as “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

The story behind the trial is interesting. After spending millions of taxpayers’ money on the kangaroo trial, there are grounds to stop the operationalisation of the controversial conclusions.

Is it not curious that a panel would sit without hearing notice given to all parties? After asking the Chairman to step aside, would it not be fair to explain to the parties how Ado Muhammed Maaji,  emerged as the man to submit the panel report and in what capacity at midnight a day after its ONLY sitting?

Shema’s lawyer, Uyi, who put up a “protest appearance” was neither permitted to cross-examine the witnesses nor any of the over 700-page documents tendered in the one-day trial given to him to peruse and raise questions.

Granted that the notoriety of Nigerian politicians to filibuster criminal trials through legalese is legendary, but a one-sided hearing cannot be a substitute for due process. It would have been fair for the panelists not to believe hook, line and sinker the evidences of witnesses and now appear to be like Caesar’s wife – above board.

There is clearly a need for the National Judicial Council to investigate Masari’s Plateau judge’s interest in the case and establish if it was ethically correct for him to take the brief? I think the day it becomes the prerogative of a governor to appoint a judge over a case he initiates is the day we will kiss goodbye to independence of that respected arm of government, judiciary, which most of us still consider the only hope of the masses.

NJC should also look at the implications of the impunity demonstrated by going ahead with the ‘trial’ when the decision of Court of Appeal and Notice of Appeal to the Supreme Court had been served on the State Government. What is the haste if the government did not have a pre-meditated end to which it intends to put a supposedly predetermined outcome of this matter?

It is equally worrisome that a letter written by Ibrahim Shehu Shema’s lawyer to the Commission of Inquiry, the state Attorney General, and Counsel to the Commission was turned down. It is absurd that both would refuse to accept any letter from Shema’s lawyer.

Worst of these is that the cases forwarded by the state government to the EFCC and ICPC are patently similar to the ones being investigated by the commission of enquiry. It will interest the public to know why the Government of Katsina State would not allow these anti-graft agencies to do their work.

The same government said it is jointly prosecuting Shema with the EFCC. If they have no confidence again in these federal agencies, they could have said so. Or is it like some said the battle for 2019 is now what is veiled as anti-graft war?

I don’t think Shema is a saint. Like most other public office holders, a thorough investigation will expose his excesses while in office. If rooms are left for suspects to escape, so much will people jeer at the lame-duck investigation being conducted on politically- exposed people.

It needs no gainsaying that Singapore was a haven for corruption but Lee Kwan Yew scratched beyond the surface to bring it to its present state of respectability in the comity of nations. Our leaders should learn the rope and come to equity with unsoiled hands.

Lamentations like Minister of Finance did at the building workshop on the use of beneficial ownership information and the recovery of assets in Africa last week when she said the continent lost a whopping $50bn yearly to illicit financial flows, through money laundering, corruption and tax evasion is risible while gripping suspects by the elbows like our anti-graft agencies do only ridicule what should be seen as genuine efforts to reverse the macabre scourge.



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