By Yushau A. Shuaib
There is a strong allegation of bribery involving an oil magnet and a prominent member of the panel investigating the fuel subsidy scam in the National Assembly. This new twist will further dent the integrity of the legislative chamber, business community and Nigeria as a whole.
While there are several anti-corruption agencies in the country, there are no clear demarcations on which of them should be responsible for investigating and prosecuting the case as they simply duplicate their mandates. Multiplication of agencies performing similar roles have been drains on nation’s purse.
The cost of governance in Nigeria is one of the highest and most expensive in the world. The dubious duplication of functions, financial recklessness, nepotism and cronyism in recruitments are largely influenced by the establishments of unnecessary agencies, which also promote corrupt practices.
In an effort to address the high cost of governance, a Presidential Committee on the Rationalisation and Restructuring of Federal Government Parastatals was established. Led by former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Steve Oronsaye, the committee has proposed some positive initiatives as well as some controversial suggestions. While the committee recommends far-reaching decisions to reduce the excessive overhead and recurrent expenditures, which in some quarters have been translated to mean retrenchment of workers, the report indeed exposes duplication of responsibilities and schedules of duty among agencies of government.
The committee was able to adhere strictly to its terms of reference which include; to study and review all previous reports/records on the restructuring of Federal Government parastatals and advise on whether they are still relevant, to examine critically the mandates of the existing Federal agencies, parastatals and commissions and to determine areas of overlap or duplication of functions, and make appropriate recommendations to either restructure, merge or scrap the duplicates.
The key recommendations of the report include the abolition of 38 agencies, 52 mergers and reversion of 14 agencies to departments in their relevant ministries. Generally, it suggested that statutory commissions should be reduced from 263 to 161. It further recommends a management audit of 89 agencies to capture biometric features of their employees as well as discontinue government funding of professional bodies and councils. The Committee stated that it found duplications and overlaps in the mandates of many agencies and parastatals, noting that successive administrations established these agencies without regard to existing laws. The report indicated that the Federal Government will be saving about N1 trillion within 3 years of implementation.
It is noteworthy that some agencies could be strengthened with added empowerment through mergers for instance the proposed National Emergency Management and Refugee Commission (NEMAREF) and Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) that may be saddled with fixing salaries of public servants and to takeover functions Fiscal Responsibility Commission (FRC) which was created by former President Olusegun Obasanjo few years ago.
Meanwhile the committee has recommended the merger of the anti-corruption bodies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB). If the government accepts and implements the recommendations, these bodies would serve as department within the larger Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). According to the report; “The establishment of strong departments among others, in the proposed consolidated structure is desirable as they would handle Prosecution, Investigation, Prevention (Advocacy), and Asset declaration/ forfeiture.”
The report also recommends the elevation of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) to Anti-Corruption Tribunal to try all corrupt cases in the country. The recommendation if implemented would ensure that regular courts that are overburden with other cases will no longer try corruption-related matters whether by politicians, civil servants or business persons.
The report clearly states that: “The Code of Conduct Tribunal should be renamed Anti-Corruption Tribunal and upgraded to the status of a Court of Superior Records with the responsibility for handling only corruption cases from the proposed merger of EFCC, ICPC and the Code of Conduct Bureau. Extant anti-corruption laws should be repealed, while a new one is enacted to accommodate the consolidation of EFCC, ICPC and the Code of Conduct Bureau.”
Some of the cases being handled by EFCC, ICPC and others ought to have been brought to the CCT for quick determination. The CCT is a court of summary trial which by law should not waste time in deciding most other cases that are before the other anti-corruption bodies like EFCC, ICPC and CCB. The nation does not need a special court as being advocated in some quarters to deal with the cases of corrupt public officers. As it is presently constituted, the Code of Conduct Tribunal has the power to impose punishments ranging from vacation of office and disqualification from holding any public office by officers found guilty of contravening any of the provisions of the Act, especially on misconduct and corrupt practices. It also has the power to seize and forfeit to the state of any property acquired through abuse or corruption in office.
It is glaring that the regular courts are ineffective in attending to corrupt cases, such that high-profile cases involving politicians drag on for many years without an end in sight. On the other hand the suspects continue to enjoy their loots while their lawyers who are paid hefty fees deliberately prolong litigation endlessly.
It was only lately after the appointment of Justice Umar Danladi as Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal that some corrupt cases like that against the former Governor of Lagos, Ahmed Bola Tinubu were dispensed with within a short period. This demonstrates capacity and ability of the tribunal to expedite actions on cases brought before it.
The proposed Anti-Corruption Tribunal (ACT) from existing Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) should be independent and autonomous with the capacity for repression of corruption acts and observe the principles of expeditiousness, effectiveness and efficiency in the administration of justice. Branches of the tribunal should also be created in each of the six geopolitical zones to facilitate speedy trials and disposal of corruption cases.
The administration of President Goodluck Jonathan should examine the report and implement the worthy recommendations therein. The submission should not be swept under the carpet like the similar past reports on rationalization especially that of Ahmed Joda and Allison Ayida. In ensuring fairness before the implementation of the report, the government should engage the stakeholders, especially the labour and the legislature to iron out grey areas before their endorsement.
Yushau A. Shuaib
Finanace Estate, Wuye, Abuja