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Monday, April 15, 2024

Taking Off the Blindfold: A Time to End Impunity in Nigeria – By Matthew Ma

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“To effectively address the problem of impunity, we need to consider several measures aimed at ensuring that wrongdoers are held responsible for their actions. One of the most crucial steps in this regard is strengthening the legal system by making it more efficient, transparent, and accessible to citizens. This could involve simplifying the legal procedures, ensuring speedy trials, and improving access to legal aid for marginalized communities.”

 

One of the most pressing obstacles that Nigeria has been grappling with for many years is the eradication of impunity among the elites in the country. The Nigerian ruling class has been plagued by deep-rooted corruption, nepotism, and abuse of power, which have significantly impeded the country’s growth. Unfortunately, the elites in Nigeria have been involved in various forms of corrupt practices, such as embezzlement of public funds, bribery, and money laundering. This has resulted in a lack of accountability and transparency in the governance of the country. As a result of the corruption and abuse of power, Nigeria has a widening gap between the rich and the poor. The elites have amassed wealth at the expense of the majority of the population, who continue to live in poverty. The Nigerian government has been making efforts to tackle this problem, but it is a complex issue that requires a sustained and collective effort from all stakeholders. The issue of corruption in Nigeria has affected various sectors of the economy, including education, health, and infrastructure. The diversion of public funds has led to a lack of investment in these critical sectors, leading to a decline in the quality of life for Nigerians. The nation has been grappling with a host of security challenges that threaten the lives and livelihoods of its citizens. One of the most significant threats is the emergence of armed groups, such as Boko Haram, who have been responsible for several devastating attacks across the country. In addition, there has been a rise in the activities of herders, bandits, and kidnappers, whose criminal activities have further complicated the situation. These security challenges have not only created fear and panic among the people, but they have also emboldened the criminals behind these acts, leading to a sense of impunity among them. The lack of accountability and punishment for their actions has made them more confident in carrying out criminal activities, which is a matter of grave concern for the safety and well-being of Nigeria as a whole.

 

Throughout the years, there has been a significant amount of criticism directed towards the Nigerian government for its apparent inability to address impunity effectively. This has resulted in a pervasive sense of despair among citizens and a lack of confidence in the justice system. As a consequence, Nigerians have accused the justice system of being biased, inefficient, and corrupt towards the wealthy and influential, exacerbating the impact of this culture of impunity on the country and its people. The justice system has failed to protect many Nigerians, particularly those who are marginalized and impoverished, leaving them to fend for themselves. This has contributed to a general lack of trust in the judicial system, further eroding the fabric of society and impeding economic growth in Nigeria. Given the widespread impunity and corruption in Nigeria, it is crucial to scrutinize recent instances where individuals who have engaged in such misconduct have not faced the consequences. In a developed nation, these same individuals would likely be incarcerated for their actions. I am fully aware of the gravity and sensitivity of the issue at hand and the potential reactions from Nigerians. I understand that there may be people who have vested interests in specific individuals holding influential positions, and they may not react favorably to the contents of my article. However, as a conscientious and dedicated writer, it is my responsibility to present the truth to Nigerians regardless of any potential backlash or repercussions that may arise. It is my unwavering commitment to always present the facts as they are, without any bias or prejudice, and to ensure the audience read my work with an open mind and devoid of any emotional influence.

 

A few days ago, I came across a video interview of Chief Bode George, a prominent member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and was taken aback by what I heard. Chief George had made some serious accusations against late Access Bank CEO Herbert Wigwe, Tony Elumelu, and Godwin Emefiele. According to reports, these allegations were made just a few hours before news of Wigwe’s tragic helicopter crash broke. Many respected personalities spoke about Wigwe’s contributions to the Nigerian banking industry and how his death was a significant loss to the nation. However, in the viral video, George claimed that the deceased had skeletons in his closet. He alleged that Wigwe and his counterparts, Elumelu and Emefiele, made billions from the corruption in the Nigerian banking industry. According to Chief George, these bank CEOs would receive dollars every month, which they would then sell to Aboki and Black-market vendors, making billions of Naira in personal profits. He claimed that this money never reached the citizens who needed it. It’s puzzling why such serious allegations are not investigated thoroughly in our country. Even if the authorities do attempt to explore, the case often ends up without any concrete conclusions. After viewing the video, I have been pondering whether the allegations made against the Nigerian banking industry are entirely valid. Could the Nigerian bankers be held responsible for the current dollar crisis in Nigeria? Is there a governing body that could account for the exorbitant exchange rates that Nigerians are facing? What distinguishes Wigwe, Elumelu, and Ovia from their counterparts in the US, UK, China, and Switzerland? As I write this article, I am still puzzled as to why Nigerian bankers are among the wealthiest in the world. While banks engage in various activities, their fundamental purpose is to gather deposits from individuals with available funds, consolidate them, and provide loans to those in need of financial assistance. As intermediaries between depositors (who loan funds to the bank) and borrowers (to whom the bank loans funds), banks play a crucial role in facilitating the flow of capital within a community. Yet, accusations have been leveled against Nigerian bankers for their alleged involvement in collecting money from the government at official rates and then selling it to regular Nigerians at exorbitant rates through Bureau de Change and Mallam. There has been speculation as to whether this practice is solely responsible for the continued depreciation of the Naira. While it is true that the practice has contributed significantly to the current economic situation, it is essential to note that there are other factors at play, such as low oil prices, inflation, and a lack of foreign investment.

 

Towards the end of 2023, an investigation into the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) by Special Investigator Jim Obazee revealed that the CBN, under the leadership of Godwin Emefiele, had opened 593 bank accounts in the United States, United Kingdom, and China without authorization from the bank’s Board and Investment Committee. The investigation also uncovered alleged financial misconduct, including the unauthorized withdrawal of $6.23 million (about N2.9 billion) and the theft of billions of naira by Mr. Emefiele and other officials. The Special Investigator recommended the prosecution of Mr. Emefiele and at least 13 different individuals, including his deputy governors, for their alleged involvement in these offenses. The investigation also revealed that Mr. Emefiele had kept 543.4 million Pounds in fixed deposit accounts in the UK, manipulated the Naira exchange rate, and committed fraud in the CBN’s e-Naira project. The investigation also named Margaret Emefiele, the spouse of former Central Bank of Nigeria Governor Godwin Emefiele, along with three others, for their alleged money laundering activities. According to BusinessDay, Margret Emefiele, Eric Odoh, Anita Omoile, and her husband, Jonathan Omoile, are being sought for their alleged involvement in the conversion of substantial amounts of funds belonging to the Federal Government of Nigeria. The EFCC has released a mugshot portrait of the four suspects and disclosed details regarding the alleged money laundering offenses. The quartet of Eric Odoh, Margaret Emefiele, Anita Omoile, and Jonathan Omoile have been explicitly identified as wanted by the EFCC for offenses related to economic and financial crimes. The EFCC has requested anyone with information regarding their whereabouts to report to the nearest EFCC Command or police station. I am trying to comprehend how Mr. Emefiele managed to execute such deeds without detection. It is perplexing why this corruption remained concealed for so long.

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Recently, the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, testified in the ongoing trial of former CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, at the Maitama High Court in Abuja. Mr. Mustapha revealed that his signature, along with that of former President Muhammadu Buhari, was forged in order to withdraw $6,230,000 from the apex bank’s vault on February 8, 2023. He clarified that he was not aware of any correspondence that led to the withdrawal and that he did not participate in the process. Mr. Mustapha also denied ever receiving any amount from the withdrawn money. He insisted that the documents authorizing the withdrawal did not come from his office or the presidency. Furthermore, he stated that it was not the responsibility of the SGF or the federal government to request funds from the CBN for the payment of foreign election observers. Mr. Mustapha emphasized that the responsibility of liaising with such observers belongs to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Throughout his tenure as SGF, he claimed to have never come across these documents. According to reports, the Nigerian government has requested assistance from Interpol in capturing three individuals who stole $6.2m (£4.9m) from the central bank by using the forged signature of former President Muhammadu Buhari. The authorities suspect that the accused worked with Nigeria’s former central bank chief, Godwin Emefiele, who is currently on trial for illegal receipt of the $6.2m. Mr. Emefiele has rejected all allegations and is currently out on bail. He is the most prominent former official to be accused of corruption since President Bola Tinubu took office in May 2023. The prosecution claims that Mr. Emefiele illicitly authorized the release of the funds from the central bank vault. However, Mr. Emefiele denied the accusations as “outright lies told by the investigator to advance his evil motives. According to the News Agency of Nigeria, Adamu Abubakar, Imam Abubakar, and Odoh Ocheme, a former central bank employee, have been identified as Mr. Emefiele’s alleged accomplices. The suspects are thought to have fled Nigeria, necessitating the authorities to ask Interpol for assistance in apprehending and deporting them. Unfortunately, we find ourselves in such a time where individuals may escape justice despite their actions. What is even more concerning is that some of these individuals may even rise to positions of power and hold influential positions in our society. It is not uncommon to hear stories of people who have been accused of serious crimes such as these, yet they go scot-free and even end up being elected as governors or presidents. This is a worrying trend that casts doubts on the effectiveness of our justice system and the integrity of our political institutions.

 

The Labor Party, previously regarded as a formidable opposition force in Nigeria, is currently facing a credibility crisis. This has been brought to light following allegations of corruption against the party’s top leadership. Recently, Mrs. Oluchi Oparah, the National Treasurer, demanded that the National Chairman, Julius Abure, provide a detailed account of party funds exceeding N3.5 billion collected through various fundraisers for the 2023 general elections. Oparah expressed frustration that the National Chairman had prevented her from carrying out her constitutionally assigned role of managing the party’s accounts during a briefing held in Abuja. Furthermore, she alleged that Mr. Abure had ignored all requests to open the party’s account books for scrutiny since the sale of nomination forms closed. Oparah publicly addressed the media about the financial mismanagement and corruption plaguing the Labor Party under Mr. Julius Abure’s leadership. As a concerned Nigerian citizen, she believes that the party’s internal mechanisms have failed to hold Mr. Abure accountable for his abuse of office and misappropriation of party funds. These allegations against the National Chairman of the party have caused significant harm to the party’s once-beacon-of-hope reputation. In light of these corruption charges, the party’s commitment to maintaining ethical and transparent governance is now in doubt. The credibility of the party has been thrown into question, and it remains unclear how the party plans to respond to these allegations and restore the trust of the people. It is yet to be seen whether the party will take concrete steps to address these accusations and reaffirm its commitment to accountability and good governance.

 

The case studies cited are deeply concerning due to their involvement of prominent figures who have been accused of severe criminal wrongdoing yet have not yet been held accountable for their actions. These instances represent clear violations of the law and must be investigated with the utmost diligence to ensure that justice is served. It is disquieting, however, to acknowledge that no action will be taken in these cases. The reasons for this lack of action are often unclear, but political considerations may be a contributing factor. The lack of political will to investigate cases of impunity in Nigeria can be attributed to various factors, including potential backlash or conflicts of interest. In some instances, influential individuals or groups can exert undue influence over the investigative process, making it difficult to hold them accountable for their actions. Additionally, resource constraints and bureaucratic red tape often hinder the investigation, making it challenging for investigators to gather the necessary information and evidence. These obstacles create a complex environment for those seeking justice and accountability, leading to a culture of impunity in which influential individuals act without fear of repercussions. Moreover, some cases require significant expertise, time, and resources to conduct a thorough investigation, which are only sometimes readily available due to their complexity and sensitivity.

 

The second reason why there is a lack of investigation in cases of impunity in Nigeria is corruption. For many years, Nigeria has been consistently ranked as one of the most corrupt nations in the world, along with other countries, such as Somalia, Syria, North Korea, South Sudan, Yemen, Venezuela, Burundi, Haiti, and Libya. This pervasive corruption has infiltrated all sectors of society, including law enforcement and the justice system. As a result, those who commit crimes and act with impunity are often able to avoid punishment due to bribery, nepotism, and other corrupt practices. This has led to a culture of impunity in Nigeria, where individuals are able to engage in criminal behavior without fear of being held accountable. The consequences of this are dire, as it undermines the rule of law and erodes public trust in the justice system. Despite efforts to curb corruption, it remains a pervasive problem in the country. In contemporary times, regrettably, a number of officials tend to prioritize their personal interests above the greater good. This, in turn, has resulted in a lack of accountability and hindered the effective investigation and prosecution of cases pertaining to impunity. Furthermore, there are instances where corrupt officials collude with those who engage in such acts, making it challenging to conduct a comprehensive investigation and ensure that justice is served. This situation has led to a pervasive sense of impunity among those who engage in corrupt activities, thereby perpetuating a cycle of lawlessness and impunity within Nigeria.

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Another significant reason why impunity cases go uninvestigated in Nigeria is the inadequate availability of resources. This is an issue that urgently needs to be addressed as the current system is plagued by insufficient resources to prosecute impunity cases. The lack of resources is not due to the country’s inability to purchase the necessary resources but rather because some influential elites have embezzled the funds that were meant to provide for the system. As a result, impunity cases are not given the attention they deserve, which is a worrying situation as it allows perpetrators of heinous crimes to go unpunished. The second reason for this is the shortage of not only financial and material resources but also the need for more human resources and expertise to carry out thorough investigations. With adequate resources, law enforcement agencies and judicial bodies can conduct comprehensive investigations that involve gathering and analyzing evidence, interviewing witnesses, and pursuing leads. However, the lack of resources has led to delays in the investigation process, which further undermines the chances of justice being served. Governments and other relevant organizations must allocate sufficient resources to ensure that impunity cases are adequately investigated and that perpetrators are brought to justice. Urgent steps must be taken to address this issue and guarantee that the necessary resources are made available to prosecute impunity cases. By doing so, we can create a just and fair society where no one is above the law.

 

The next reason why impunity often goes unpunished is the presence of ineffective legal systems that suffer from various issues, such as inadequate laws, poor enforcement mechanisms, and corrupt practices. In Nigeria, the ineffectiveness of the legal system is a cause for concern as it frequently fails to deliver justice to victims of impunity. Members of the judiciary, who are expected to be impartial adjudicators, have been known to accept bribes when cases of impunity are presented before them. This corrupt practice undermines the integrity of the justice system and erodes public trust, resulting in an impunity culture that perpetuates violence and human rights abuses. In such systems, laws and regulations are not adequately enforced, and legal authorities responsible for maintaining law and order often lack accountability. As a result, criminals and offenders can easily evade justice and continue to operate with impunity, which can further aggravate the situation when corruption within the legal system hinders the delivery of justice, allowing criminals and offenders to go free. Furthermore, inadequate resources and infrastructure have also contributed to ineffective legal systems, making it more challenging for authorities to investigate and prosecute cases of impunity. Regardless of the reasons, it is alarming that these instances of impunity persist, as they undermine the rule of law and erode public trust in the justice system. When those accused of severe crimes escape accountability, it sends a message that the powerful can act with impunity and that the law does not apply equally to everyone. This is especially concerning because it fosters a culture of impunity, where individuals believe they can engage in illegal activities without fear of consequences. Such a culture can have significant negative impacts on society and long-term effects on the well-being of the population. Therefore, it is crucial that these cases of impunity are thoroughly investigated and those responsible are held accountable for their actions.

 

In light of these events, a critical question arises – how can we put an end to the culture of impunity that is prevalent in our society? What measures can be set in place to ensure that those who break the law are held accountable for their actions? To effectively address the problem of impunity, we need to consider several measures aimed at ensuring that wrongdoers are held responsible for their actions. One of the most crucial steps in this regard is strengthening the legal system by making it more efficient, transparent, and accessible to citizens. This could involve simplifying the legal procedures, ensuring speedy trials, and improving access to legal aid for marginalized communities. Apart from this, we also need to impose more stringent punishments for those who engage in illegal activities. This could include increasing the severity of penalties for crimes such as corruption, fraud, and human trafficking, as well as ensuring that those who commit such offenses are brought to justice. Another critical aspect of addressing impunity is improving law enforcement agencies. This could be achieved by providing them with ample resources, including personnel, equipment, and technology, as well as offering training programs to enhance their skills and knowledge. It is also essential to promote transparency and accountability within law enforcement agencies and hold them responsible for any misconduct or abuse of power. Additionally, we must cultivate a cultural shift in our approach to responsibility and accountability. This involves creating a society where individuals take responsibility for their behavior and are encouraged to report any wrongdoing they witness. It means promoting a sense of civic duty and responsibility where everyone plays an active role in upholding the law and maintaining a just society. Ultimately, we must take decisive action to address this pressing issue and create a fairer, more equitable society for all. This requires a comprehensive approach that entails not just changes to the legal system and law enforcement but also a shift in cultural attitudes and values. Through collective effort, we can create a society where justice is served equally to everyone and everyone is held accountable for their actions.

 

In order to put an end to impunity, the government, civil society organizations, and citizens of Nigeria must come together and establish a society rooted in upholding the rule of law and respecting human rights. This collaborative effort involves creating a fair, transparent, and accountable system of governance that safeguards citizens’ rights. It also requires strengthening the country’s legal framework and institutions to tackle social, economic, and political issues effectively. Empowering citizens to play an active role in shaping their future and holding leaders accountable is equally vital. Education, civic engagement, and the promotion of democratic values can pave the way for an inclusive, just, and equitable society for all. The pervasive lack of accountability that plagues Nigeria has significant consequences for every citizen. It calls for a united effort to establish a society that values the rule of law and human rights. Only by collaborating to create a fair and just society can Nigerians find relief. Achieving this requires the joint efforts of every citizen to ensure that individuals’ rights are upheld and justice is served. We cannot allow any person or group to evade accountability for their actions that violate the rule of law and disrespect human rights. Only through a collective effort can we build a society devoid of impunity and guarantee that justice is served to all. We must persist in advocating for the protection of human rights and urge the government to implement policies and regulations that facilitate this goal. It is by working together that we can create a society where everyone enjoys equal rights, and justice is served to all.

 

 

Rev. Ma, S.J, is a Jesuit Catholic priest and PhD candidate in public and social policy at St. Louis University in the state of Missouri, USA.

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