Law News
Ideal anti-corruption framework for Nigeria

The Nigerian citizens obviously yearn for an end to the odious corruption that has retarded the country’s progress for too long. The law will remain complicit in our under-development crises until it is fundamentally restructured to promote, as against stifling, this legitimate yearning. But in what ways can a more profound anti-corruption and legally enforceable framework be formulated for Nigeria if this anti-graft war is ever to be properly conceptualised, fought and won?

Outright theft of public resources, misappropriation, conversion, diversions, the criminally insensitive but dubiously ‘now almost legalised’ irrational pay packages for public officials at the expense of dire public works, contract inflations, bribery, kick-backs, prebend, nepotism and several similar euphemisms, all describe varied shades of corruption by whatever definition we codify it. For Nigeria, it is easy to cite the Criminal Code, Penal Code, Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission Acts, etc as having largely made provisions against some of the corrupt acts covered by the mentioned euphemisms and prescribing prosecution and punishments for same- even if the adequacy of some of the so-called punishments are deeply questionable.

But some of the ways the law itself currently engenders corruption in public life begins with the structure of the 1999 Constitution (even as so far amended), given its rabidly consumerist, prebendal and unproductively unitarian disposition which, pretend as we may, remain a fundamental drag on Nigeria’s development prospects.

To start a genuine anti-corruption war, public office must first be adorned in genuine garbs of probity, prudence and an inspiring modesty that emphasises honest service far above the insatiable material gluttony that currently underlies the habits of the political class. Thus, in addition to the massive looting that has become commonplace, an area that unarguably reflects the legitimation of corruption in public life is the unchecked salaries and allowances the current political class allocate to itself in complete contempt for the miserable quality of life of the people it purports to represent.

Let’s take but only one of the criminally insensitive examples, that is, the much indignantly analysed pay packages of Nigerian legislators which are still, to complicate the assault on the people’s dignity, even shrouded in secrecy. The figures are disparate but there is almost universal consensus that Nigerian legislators are one of (if not) the highest paid in the world. Given that the people they purport to represent are among the poorest of the world, it is beyond debate that it smacks of unprecedented legitimation of corruption to allocate such disproportionately large chunks of scarce resources to irrationally enrich legislators and other public officials who pretend to be representing some of the world’s poorest people. The Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission Act clearly provides for the commission’s powers under Section 6 as follows: “The Commission shall have powers to determine the remuneration appropriate to the holders of the offices as specified in Parts A and B of the First Schedule to this Act”.

Now that we are faced with situations where public officials now create parallel laws across the states and even audaciously make plain administrative decisions to circumvent the powers of the RMAFC, in allocating clearly undeserving rewards to themselves, outside the figures already fixed by the RMAFC in line with powers given to it in Section 6, the law cannot continue to stand helpless in the face of such unbridled desecration of public life.

A simple amendment to Section 6 of the RMAFC Act will immediately water down these circumventions. Or, in addition, an outright enactment of a separate Act, to limit the remuneration to be receivable by all categories of public officials, could also be considered so as to properly spell out the philosophy of service and to also criminalise the festering ideas, and irrational remuneration practices, that have made public office essentially a platform for primitive acquisition in Nigeria.

For instance, an additional phrase, to provide that in the exercise of the powers of the RMAFC under its enabling Act, the commission shall not fix the total salaries, allowances, pensions or other remuneration package by whatever name called, and of any public official of whatever designation, whether serving or retired, including the President and vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, beyond the sum of N30m per annum which value shall, at all times, be determined by the purchasing power and value of N30m as at January of the year 2015 (or something of sort), will be a vital addition to the RMAFC Act.

A provision that it shall be an offence, under the Act, for any public official to earn or draw from the public treasury any further salaries, allowances, pension or other remuneration package by whatever name called, and under whatever guise, beyond the limit provided by the Act, and beyond the limit provided for in the category of the said public official under the relevant guidelines issued from time to time by the commission, will also be essential.

If the maximum limit, per annum, is fixed at the current value of N30m for instance, it will mean the highest paid public official, which is Mr. President, cannot draw beyond N30m per annum, from the public purse for salaries, allowances and other remuneration by whatever name called. That stands to reason that all other public officials down the line, from the Vice-President to ministers to legislators to the councilors at the lowest local government ward levels, will earn lower wages relevant to their service and status.

This is fair enough for the long-oppressed Nigerian people to drastically cut their leaders’ untenable appetite for earning in ways that mock the extreme poverty already inflicted on the majority of citizens. If the United States President, despite sitting on the largest government budget on earth, and being in charge of the world’s biggest economy, still earns a maximum annual income of $400, 000 (approximately N80m) by law; no President of Nigeria, in its current state, deserves to earn beyond a maximum annual income of $150,000 (approximately N30m) in view of the wretched state of the average Nigerian citizen. How much will be saved from such drastic cuts in public officials’ pay will be almost unimaginable.

More so, the revolutionary impact of such drastic reforms, in dismantling the psychology and perception of public office as the place to earn undeserved wages, will be phenomenal.

To immediately render sterile the irrational aspects of various pension laws for former governors and other public officials that have been surreptitiously passed across the states, the RMAFC Act and other reformatory Acts that may be pushed for enactment need to fundamentally provide that where there is any conflict between the state laws and the reformatory Acts and guidelines, the state laws, to the extent of their inconsistency, must stay void. We should also have a provision that shall make it mandatory, for any relevant body, to make available to the public, on request, any details about what any public official receives as salaries, emoluments, pensions and benefits by whatever name called.

There are some finer legal and economic details to be worked out beyond this article, of course. But the bottom line is that public service must be urgently rid of its current obscene ostentation that continues to push recurrent expenditure to unsustainable limits thereby making it almost impossible to develop critical human capital and material infrastructure without which we are headed nowhere.

The current racket going on in the name of ‘jumbo’ pay is festering because there is no consequence for such and the law probably never envisaged such a rapacious bunch. But now that we are faced with such embarrassing legalisation of corruption, the law must wade in since persuasions and criticisms have apparently achieved nothing so far.

Anybody guilty of contravening the limits set by the law should be liable on conviction to fines double whatever extra amounts drawn, in addition to mandatory jail terms of not less than 15 to 20 years. Such laws will no doubt be swords in the hands of a truly anti-corruption government to activate its anti-graft agencies, to impartially prosecute the hundreds of members of the political class who had no business aspiring to public office in the first place.

Other corruption-prone laxities being promoted by law include the patronage system of the 1999 Constitution, and the supporting laws that continue to create a bloated and pointless bureaucracy. An example is Section 147 (3) of the 1999 Constitution which provides for appointment of ministers from every state of the federation. The provisions in many enabling Acts and regulations, to the effect that appointments into boards, parastatals, even judicial appointments, and others must have representative from every state or region of the federation, also promote the corruption of public life in disguised ways. A society founded on patronage above rational merit cannot be corruption-free.

Singapore was a nation riddled with corruption at about the period of Nigeria’s independence but not again. Different fundamentals have been attributed to why that country moved from having corruption as a way of life (as Nigeria currently is) into dislodging it almost totally from its public life. The foundation was political will which is obviously currently lacking in Nigeria. Other fundamentals include proactive and firm anti-corruption laws, an effective and impartial anti-corruption agency, a judiciary that supports the anti-corruption movement with well reflective jurisprudence and of course, an effective government that delivers on its service responsibilities to the citizens.

On corruption, our Evidence Act and jurisprudence have to dilute the absolute burden of full presumption of innocence in such instances where public or private citizens come into sudden wealth without rational explanation. The state should be empowered to wade in to satisfy itself, through an impartial judicial system, that the wealth is product of honest earnings, failing which same should be liable to forfeiture. The Singapore model, of course with necessary modifications if need be, is highly recommended for Nigeria. Indeed, aside the statutory provisions, there are strictly enforced codes of transparency and accountability for every public officer in Singapore and the private sector is also not spared of the stringent anti-corruption battle. And with political will as the sub-structure, it has so far worked to the extent that Singapore, a once rabidly corrupt country like Nigeria, is now one of the least corrupt countries in the world.

All said, if our development is not to remain a mere lousy wish, the need to frontally attack, and dismantle corruption; long entrenched in our public and private governance, is one of the fundamental questions that should determine the outcome of Nigeria’s 2015 presidential election. Whatever the provisions of the law or the adoption or modification of our prescriptions here, if enforcement is lax and a deficit in political will remains prevalent, the law framers and thinkers would only have laboured in vain.

Iwilade, a legal practitioner, wrote in from Lagos.

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