It is no longer news that President Muhammadu Buhari abhors corruption like a plague. He, indeed, made the war against corruption one of the most focal points of his electioneering. At every opportunity, he was telling Nigerians that: “If we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill us”. That, of course, underscores the endemic and institutionalised nature of corruption in our nation. In Nigeria, corruption is worse than any killer disease one can ever think of. From independence till date, corruption has been bad news for our country. It has been recently estimated that over $300bn have either been out rightly stolen or misappropriated by government officials and their collaborators since the advent of the current political dispensation in 1999.
Buhari would have none of that. For him, corruption must die for our nation to live. Now, true to his promise and, perhaps, true to type, Buhari has begun to tackle corruption headlong as evident in the various on-going corruption trials and investigations in the country. Revelations from such investigations, as usual, have been mindboggling. Weird disclosures’ concerning the arms deal scandal, in particular, is quite nauseating. That a group of Nigerians could assertively divert money meant for such vital national needs as purchase of arms for soldiers fighting insurgency to other use, is a reflection of how low we have sunk as a people. It is, therefore, a welcome development that legitimate means are being used to bring perceived culprits in the arms deal saga to book. The only thing that evil needs to thrive in any given society is for evil to constantly go unpunished.
But then, for the President to actually succeed in his war against corruption, he has a big hurdle to cross. This hurdle is called the rule of law. Universally, the rule of law operates on the legal theory that law should govern a nation and not capricious verdicts of “powerful” individuals. The rule of law underlines the power and weight of law within the society, principally as a restraint upon behaviour, including that of public officials. Democracy and the rule of law are mutually interwoven. For democracy to sufficiently thrive in any country, the supremacy of the rule of law must be jealously guarded. The guiding principle behind the rule of law is the prevention of anarchy and the creation of a just society where everyone is equal before the law. The rule of law presupposes that no law breaker must go unpunished.
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From the foregoing, it could be affirmed, at least in theory, that the rule of law provides a legal framework for Buhari to wage his war against corruption. Since supposed looters of the treasury have actually acted in defiance of the law, the law must take its toll on them. But it is not really that simple as the rule of the law equally protects alleged looters of the nation’s economy from arbitrary persecution and prosecution. This is the beauty of the principle of the rule of law. Since offence allegedly committed by the perceived looters is yet to be substantially proven before a competent court of law, they are presumed innocent until proven otherwise.
This, however, is the dilemma of Buhari in his war against corruption. Over the years, corruption has found comfort in the provision of the rule of law to strengthen its evil hold on the nation. So, all it takes for an alleged corrupt individual to escape from or frustrate the wheel of justice is to hire a brilliant legal luminary who understands the strength and weakness of the law and uses same to the full advantage of his client. Since corruption has given the alleged looter enormous access to ill gotten wealth, money is not likely to be a problem in the scheme to subvert justice. On the long run, rather than the law taking care of corruption, corruption takes care of the law. Ultimately, corrupt public officials and individuals become atrociously arrogant as they revel in their above the law status.
Confronted by the enormous wealth and the smart legal backing of corrupt public officials and ‘powerful’ individuals, the law simply becomes a mere paper tiger and a toothless bulldog. Of what use is a properly crafted law that cannot be enforced? This is exactly the reason why many of the high profile corruption cases that have been in court for years remain mostly inconclusive. Majority of the former governors and other prominent political figures whose corruption cases were once widely celebrated in the media are now walking free in the society and equally playing vital roles in the nation’s social-political and economic spheres. This has made many Nigerians to become dispirited about the likely outcome of the current onslaught against corruption. Many believe that, characteristically, corruption would have its way, irrespective of what the law says.
Does it now follow that the law aids corruption? Has corruption become so deeply entrenched in our system that the law has become helpless to hack it down? Though, past experiences point to the fact that the law might no longer be sufficient in the war against corruption, the truth, however, is that corruption is not bigger than the law. There is enough in the law to annihilate corruption from the land. We only need to take decisive steps to reform the administration of justice in the country. The judiciary is, unfortunately, as corrupt as other institutions in the country. Allegations of fraudulent deals and gross misuse of office by judicial officers have continued to increase. Not a few judges have been accused of collaborating with criminals to undermine the judicial process. At every stage in the judicial system, one is confronted with unbelievable monumental acts of corruption. From the Investigating Police Officer, IPO, to other judicial officers involved, at one stage or the other, in a corruption case, one is bound to come face to face with the awesome ingenuity of corruption machinery in the country.
For the war against corruption to be effectively fought and won, we need to do a total overhaul of the nation’s legal institution. Justice cannot be said to be served in a system that allows ‘small’ thieves to rot in prison while ‘big’ ones walk in absolute freedom. Equally important is the need for accelerated hearing of high profile corruption cases at all tiers of Courts. Ordinarily, the trial of such cases ought to be conducted on a daily basis at the Federal High Court, but this is not being strictly adhered to as corruption cases are often adjourned for every flimsy and spurious reason.
Perhaps, more importantly, government prosecuting counsel should brace themselves to dispel the theory that they sometimes conspire with individuals accused of corruption to go scot-free. Constant filing of amendment of charges after the arraignment of the accused, non-appearance in court and unending demands for adjournments are some of the ploys purportedly used by prosecuting lawyers to frustrate high profile cases.
The law is meant to trounce evil and evil doers. In any society where the reverse is the case, injustice would reign supreme. Sadly, this is the path we have treading for years. Obviously, it has led us to nowhere. Now, if we are to move forward, we must change our ways.
Ogunbiyi wrote in from Ikeja, Lagos
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