The Laws Are Not to Blame

03 Feb 2013

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John Yakubu  Yusuf

It was another busy week in the lower chamber of the National Assembly. There was outrage   over a court   judgement in which one Mr John Yakubu  Yusuf was sentenced to two years imprisonment with an option of N750,000 fine. This was   after he had  pleaded  guilty to  stealing over  N38 billion when he superintended over the Police Pensions Fund.  Yusuf had  confessed to the  crime of stealing the said sum  and converting same to personal use but,  he  literally escaped going to jail after he negotiated his way out through the plea bargain window.

The House,  on Wednesday asked the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) and the Attorney General of the Federation to urgently appeal the  “lenient” sentence handed out by  Justice Mohammed Talba of the Abuja High Court

The lawmakers  also resolved to set machinery in motion to review the provisions of the Penal and Criminal Codes to provide stricter punishment for criminal breach of trust among public servants and political office holders in Nigeria.

Apparently the ten lawmakers who sponsored a motion on the matter wanted to impress it on the minds of the public that they were the good guys and the judge, the bad guy. They also wanted to further  pass the buck by blaming the law upon which the judgement was given.  However, they  were soon reminded that  neither the law nor the judge was to blame but the law givers sitting in the parliament.
The proponents of the motion  argued that  the sort of  judgement handed out by  Justice Talba  could only serve as an incentive for public officers entrusted with the management of public funds to engage in  more acts of corruption.

Really? So what  would they   say about the law which was the foundation of the judgement?
Some argued that the law did not envisage that a fraud  of this magnitude would arise. So how sharp was  the vision of those who  made  the laws if they did not see beyond two years and N250,000?

Could it be a case of making laws and creating escape routes just  in case the law catches up with us? How blind and fierce was  Justice in this case if the trial judge having heard the enormity of the fraud still exercised discretion in favour of the least punishment? All said and done, it has become obvious that it  is  the human element  behind  the  laws that  are  to blame for the failure of anti-graft war in Nigeria.

As usual, the House rolled out plans for more investigations into various issues in the public domain.
One of them was the alleged squandering of $67 Billion  of Nigeria’s Foreign Reserve and Excess Crude Account. The lawmakers were reacting to an allegation raised by the  former Vice President of the World Bank and former Minister of Education, Mrs  Obiageli  Ezekwesili, during  a recent  convocation lecture she delivered  at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

Ezekwesili    alleged that the Yar’Adua/ Jonathan  regime  mismanaged $45 billion in Foreign Reserves and $22 billion in  Excess Crude Account  inherited from  former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration in 2007.  Minister of Information, Mr Labaran Maku and the Special Adviser to the President on Public Communications, Dr. Doyin Okupe, have debunked the allegations and challenged Ezekwesili to prove them.  These government mouth pieces have  even levelled counter-allegations against her.

The House has therefore mandated its Committees  on Finance and Appropriation to   investigate these  allegations and submit a report in six weeks. An allegation about the “disappearance” of  public funds  under the watch of any  government must not be swept under the carpet, but whether the lawmakers would be able to get to the bottom of it is the million dollar puzzle. This promises to be one of those probes, full of drama but not particularly rich  in substance. It could  be entertaining but might   lead to nowhere.
It is like some not too friendly  neighbours  seeking to mediate in a   family quarrel and gleefully  looking forward to hearing  what  the wife has to say about the husband in a feat of anger.

Bakassi Peninsula
The contentious issue  of  the Bakassi Peninsula re-echoed  in the hallowed  chambers  of the National Assembly during the week with the lawmakers  urging  the Federal Government to initiate the  process of conducting a referrendum for Nigerians on the disputed territory. Since Nigeria failed to seek a review of  the October  2002 judgement of the International Court of Justice which ceded the territory to Cameroon, one would have thought that the case was closed for ever.

But  the House said that the  people of Bakassi deserved  to be given a platform to exercise their right to self determination, an inalienable right provided in Article 1 of the 1966 International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.

It was  argued that it would  be wrong to throw the matter into  the dustbin of history because    several referenda have been held across the globe at different times for the purpose of protecting the Fundamental Human Rights of the peoples.
A referendum was  held from January  9-15, 2011 in Southern Sudan where the Republic of Southern Sudan opted out of the then Sudan. There were also  similar exercises  in Egypt and Switzerland  last year to resolve issues affecting different  nationalities in those countries.

Article (15)(2) of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1984 states that ‘no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of nationality or denied the right to change his nationality.’

As a corollary,  Article 3 of the Green Tree Agreement recognises the right of the Bakassi people when it said that Cameroon after the transfer of authority to it by Nigeria shall guarantee Nigerian nationals living in Bakassi Peninsula the exercise of their Fundamental Rights and Freedom as enshrined in the International Human Rights Law and other relevant provisions of International Law.

The  concern of the lawmakers was that  in spite of these provisions, the Bakassi people have suffered incessant and blatant violations, frequent extra-judicial killings and incaceration in the hand of the Cameroonian authorities and therefore deserved the assistance of the National Assembly in their pursuit of   self determination and a better future  in their homeland.

Constitution Review
Last but not the least, the much awaited report of  the Peoples Public Sessions on the review of the 1999 Constitution could not be presented to the public.

The programme ran into some troubled waters amidst speculations that the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) was uncomfortable with the report and  had infiltrated the ranks of the lawmakers to scuttle it.

There were also speculations of infighting within the House Adhoc Committee on Constitution Review.
However, the official reason given for the postponement of the release of the report was that some lawmakers were yet to see it and ascertain if it tallied with the position of their constituencies.
The report contains the collated results of the special public hearings  conducted by the House of Representatives last year  across the  360 federal constituencies of the country.

The exercise was a pseudo-referendum  geared towards getting the views of the people at the grassroots on aspects of the 1999 Constitution proposed for amendment by the National Assembly.

The “arrested”  report contains the voting pattern as well as the verdict of Nigerians on the  autonomy for local government councils, independence of the state legislature, desirability of the state electoral commissions and a host of other issues on the constitution review  template. Whatever may be the obstacle, may the genuine  wishes and aspirations of the Nigerian people prevail at the end of the day.

The First Ladies Mission Building 4bn Budget
The 1970 spirit of petrol-dollars appears to be haunting the nation again. The age of petrol-dollars was the moment of oil boom in Nigeria when Nigeria made big bucks from crude oil. In an attempt to describe the constant flow of money in the 70’s, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd.) reportedly said, “Money is not our problem, but how to spend it.”

However, last week in the Senate, even though Nigeria is not known to be witnessing another era of oil boom, perception that Nigerian leadership still lacks insight on how money should be spent came to the fore. The issue under consideration at the plenary was 2013 Appropriation Bill for Federal Capital Territory (FCT), which was presented by Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba. While opening debate on the bill, the Senate Leader had implored his colleagues to support the N253 Appropriation Bill for FCT in the 2013 fiscal year. The budget contained N155 billion for capital expenditure, N49 billion as overhead cost and N48 billion as personnel cost. Giving a breakdown of the budget, Ndoma-Egba listed N4 billion appropriation for the construction of First Ladies Mission Building in Abuja, N7.5 billion for the building of Abuja city gates as well as N150 million for the renovation of Vice President Namadi Sambo’s Guest House in Asokoro, Abuja.

These triple sub heads instantly generated anger among the senators who described them as misplaced, unnecessary and unacceptable. For senators who opposed the allocations, appropriating such a whopping sum for the Office of First Lady that is not recognised by the constitution was an aberration and another show of wasteful spending. They argued that such should be thrown out.

FCT Public Hearing
Still on FCT, the joint committees of the Senate and House of Representatives on FCT held a public hearing on Monday, January 28 and Tuesday January 29 with the aim of securing the contributions of stakeholders on the Bill for an Act to Establish a Board of Internal Revenue Service and Property Tax for the Federal Capital Territory. Chairman, Senate Committee on FCT, Senator Smart Adeyemi, described the bill as necessary in view of his perception that despite its over 36 years of existence, the FCT is still crawling having been unable to get its priority right and fly with the vision to make the FCT as not only Nigeria’s centre of unity but also a place of Nigeria’s pride.

Adeyemi believes that establishing the board will fill the vacuum often created by irregular release of funds for infrastructural development in the capital city. He was supported by the Speaker of House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, who emphasised the need for FCT to have tax structures that are similar to the ones existing in the 36 states of the federation. He also said the FCT Property Tax Bill, when it becomes law, would facilitate the expansion of FCT revenue base and also create new sources of funds for the territory. But Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), which has been the sole body collecting revenues in the FCT, opposed the bill because it will ultimately strip it of its responsibilities in FCT. The last has not been heard of the bill though.

Between Senators Adokwe and Adetumbi
Events in the Senate last week have shown that there are yet many rivers to cross in the ongoing constitution amendment process. The Senate Committee on Constitution Review headed by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu during that week in a media session to deliberate on ongoing efforts to amend the 1999 Constitution, while deliberating on the report, two senators - Suleiman Adokwe (Nasarawa South) and Olubunmi Adetumbi (Ekiti North)- openly disagreed on the twin issues of local government autonomy and state creation. The Ekweremadu Committee had listed the two issues as part of issues being proposed for amendment. No fewer than 56 requests have been sent to the National Assembly on state creation.

While Adokwe believes that for effective service delivery at the grassroots, there is the need for delegation of authority, which he said local government autonomy could guarantee, Adetunmbi disagrees, saying there is no federal system in the world where local government exists as a third tier of government.

According to Adokwe, when local governments obtain autonomy, they will be empowered to handle minor issues such communal clashes and all forms of conflicts at the local level while state governments will cease to devote much of their time to mundane issues, which he said ordinarily local councils could handle if only they possess required autonomy to run their affairs.

But Adetumbi said granting autonomy to local councils would amount to stripping state governments of their inalienable rights. Both senators also disagreed on state create creation. While Adokwe said state creation would break the perceived jinx that civil rule cannot create states and as well as address the plights of the minority, Adetumbi opposed it, saying Nigeria with 36 states now is worse than Nigeria with 12 states.

No Respite Yet for Dana
Less than a month after Dana Airline resumed operations following the suspension of its activities in June 2012, there is yet no respite for the embattled airline. For the second time, the Senate demanded for the revocation of the airline’s licence and the sack and prosecution of the Director-General of Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren and NCAA Inspector, Mr. Suleiman Akwuh, saying their alleged negligence led to the crash of Dana aircraft, MD 83, on June 3, 2012.

The demand followed the presentation of the report of the joint committees on aviation of both the Senate and House of Representatives on the floor of the Senate. The lawmakers also demanded the immediate prosecution of Dana Air for avoidable destruction of innocent lives in the tragedy.

The committee listed its findings to include non-compliance of NCAA with the procedure for issuance of air operations’ certificate (AOC) to Dana as stipulated in NCAA 2009 Aviation Regulations; incompetence of Akwuh, the engineer who cleared Dana MD 83 for the flight on that fateful day. Akwuh didn’t possess the licence to inspect the model of the crashed aircraft, the committee said. It also said the tenure of Demuren expired three months before the crash.

The committee also reported an alleged diversion of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) N35.5 billion intervention fund obtained by the Chairman of Air Nigeria, Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim, to real estate development, among others.

While adopting recommendations of the committee, the senators resolved that management and operations of NCAA should remain autonomous while the CBN should recover N35.5 billion aviation intervention fund diverted to other uses by Jimoh Ibrahim and disbursed by United Bank for Africa (UBA).

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