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Amnesty Taken Too Far



A bill that seeks to take treasury looters out of the reach of the law has passed its first reading in the Senate.

By the provisions of the bill, Nigerians and residents, who have any money or assets outside the system or have acquired such money or assets illegally (looted or any variant of the cliché) are to come forward, within a set time frame, to declare same, pay tax/surcharge and compulsorily invest the funds in any sector of the Nigerian economy; and be granted full amnesty from inquiry or prosecution. The draft law that is about to enter the second reading covers all assets whether held in Nigeria or outside the country.

Tagged Economic Amnesty, Section 4 of it provides for a 30 percent tax and additional surcharge of 25 percent of such tax. It goes on to stipulate that the proposed tax will be remitted to the federation account for distribution to all tiers of government while the surcharge is to be remitted directly to specific agencies towards agricultural and infrastructural development of the nation.

This, indeed, is money laundry by other means and to make it even cleaner it is planned to be a scheme to be managed by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). For effect, the proposed law also exempts all declarations made from further assessment/taxation by any tax authority within Nigeria, outside the tax and surcharge provided therein. It also tied the hands of the Federal Government which by its provision has powers to make consequential “orders not inconsistent with the Scheme to remove any difficulties” that may arise in the course of implementation.

The import of this bill, if it is eventually passed into law, is that public officers have been licenced to loot the treasury at will provided the will be ready and willing to pay tax on it. The promoters of this bill must have under-studied government’s handling of the Scania Bus scandal of the 1970’s. Those involved were allowed to go because they paid tax on the proceeds of the scam. They all emerged later in the Second Republic as high net worth political figures. It is no surprise that that democratic experiment failed and gave the military a good reason to re-emerge on the scene.

The civilian government of the Fourth Republic that took over from the military, in an effort to recover what they claimed Abacha’s government stole, were more interested in what was stolen than the act of stealing. Now, in this administration, we have heard about plea bargain which means admit guilt, return part of what you stole and you are free to go.

Now the Senate is extending it further by, to all intents and purposes, putting a stamp of legality on kleptocracy. It is a brazen abuse of legislative process, an unconscionable legitimising of corruption that will twist, in a very dangerous way, the moral fibre of the nation. Compare this law in the making with how official misconduct of that nature is treated in other climes. In China, for instance, stealing public money carries a death penalty. In Europe and America, it is inconceivable for any political office holder to think along the line of fraudulently going near the public treasury. For a ‘minor’ offence like tax evasion, a political career can come crashing. It happened to Spiro Agnew, United States’ Vice President in the Nixon administration. He was shown the way out and was replaced by Gerald Ford. Here, tax evaders are given waivers.

That proposed law, we are told, intends to devote the proceeds of the unwholesome act to good cause instead of putting the perpetrators into jail. The paltry percentages of such loot will be used to provide infrastructure and enhance the agricultural sector. Imagine the impact the whole money can have on the economy if it is not stolen at all! Robin Hood robbed the rich to help the poor. Did that make robbery less illegal? Drug lords in the Americas take care of the less privileged in their societies from the vast proceeds of the drug trade. Does that make drug business a clean business? The political class in Nigeria has a way of blatantly calling the rest of us fools.

In our opinion, it is like the proverbial rat that ate a child’s corn and threw its chaff in the child’s face. Intolerable. Unacceptable. Nigerians must rise as one against this bill that will put the nation’s treasury in greater danger. Worse still, it will expose Nigeria in bad light in the comity of nations. This bill must die. It is offensive to all that is decent. It ridicules the concept of amnesty.