By Law MeforIf the fight against corruption in Nigeria will transit meaningfully and gain traction, then, the National Assembly, and indeed other arms of government, must get their acts together and do so quickly too. This is so because the scourge is not receiving the attention it deserves from the nation's officialdom and this posture makes corruption appear to be gaining legitimacy.
It amounts to a sick sense of humour and rather strange judicial instinct if Cybercrime, commonly carried out by people known as Yahoo Boys in Nigeria is what is engaging the attention of the House of Representatives at the moment rather than official corruption, which is ravaging the country and bringing it to its knees. It was reported recently that the House of Representatives has proposed heavy penalties for "Computer misuse and cybercrimes", with fines going for as high as N25m for offenders who have stolen any amount or a jail term as high as 15 years but refusing, curiously, to amend the laws to provide stiff penalties for official corruption.
The penalties against Yahoo Boys are contained in the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code and the Penal Code, one of which was used by Justice Abubakar Talba to free John Yusufu by asking him to pay a paltry N750,000 after stealing over N27bn. The two bills have already passed second reading at the House and are scheduled for public hearing by the House Committee on Justice headed by Mr. Ali Ahmad.
No matter what anybody may say, corruption is the main factor under-developing Nigeria today. The reason being that the marginal funds meant for development end up in private pockets. Worse still, the institutions to preempt, deter and check this monster called corruption are either too weak or none existent and the political will to galvanise them is also ever suspect.
The consensus among concerned watchers, including lawyers is that the extant laws being used to prosecute corruption cases in the country, especially those to be found in the Penal Code (obtaining in the North) and Criminal Code (obtaining in the South), are too weak and provide the loopholes exploited by the corrupt officials to get away easily with both their loot and act. The panacea, they say, remains amending such laws that can allow a man who stole N27bn to pay N750, 000 and keep part of the loot. That is the sad story of the assistant director of the police pensions fund, Yusufu, and Justice Talba of the Abuja High Court who freed him, hiding behind the so-called plea bargain as a global best practice.
The blow that corruption deals on the economy and polity is very severe. With the underdevelopment and abject poverty it has left in its trail, it is evident that if nothing is done quickly against corruption, the nation will ultimately come to grief. For a fact, the nation budgets trillions of naira annually since about 2000, but there is virtually nothing commensurate to show for it.
To be certain, sources including the international monitoring systems, state that possibly up to 70 per cent of the nation's budget is not deployed to public good but to service officials who control the disbursements. That is why the cost of constructing roads and similar projects in Nigeria remains the highest in the world. That is also why a former Minister of Finance, Tony Ani, once said that what the nation has sunk in Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill (some people prefer to call it 'Steal Rolling Milling') could build three in other countries.
The question then is: If the National Assembly truly wants to fight corruption, why is the exercise and resources being deployed to amend the criminal and penal codes to combat 'Yahoo Boys' not directed to amending the same codes to address the stealing of public funds in large lumps by some privileged members of the political elite?
If the lawmakers and indeed other arms of government continue to show a lukewarm attitude towards the fight against corruption by refusing to initiate bills that will harshly deal with corruption in Nigeria, they run the risk of being accused of keeping the laws weak and useless for personal gains.
It is also very crucial to note that the three arms all have roles to play, not just the National Assembly. The judiciary can stop the present slap-on-the-wrist judgments it is handing corrupt government officials even in outrageous cases. For example, the claim that plea bargain made Yusufu to get away with a stern sentence is incurably defective: there is nothing in the law as it exists today that stops Justice Talba from asking Yusufu to pay N750m fine or go to jail if he failed to do so. Or better still, handing him 19 months jail term as a reduced jail term from the maximum of two years that the subsisting weak law allows.
If also the Executive arm wishes to combat corruption, it too ought to have proposed amendments to the archaic criminal and penal codes that the nation operates to give corruption fight the teeth to bite.
Whereas cyber criminals are said to get away easily in Nigeria due to weak legal provisions to punish them, security agencies and anti-graft bodies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission have equally frequently called for stiffer legal provisions to address corruption. For example, the EFCC has repeatedly called for fast track or special courts for corruption. Why is such a noble call not receiving attention but the Yahoo Boys?
Mefor, a forensic psychologist, is National Coordinator, Transform Nigeria Movement, Abuja.