By Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
Chairman of the Independent Corrupt and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, Ekpo Nta yesterday in Bayelsa State declared that corruption was not only physical stealing of money, but also includes any action leading to abuse of office.
Nta, who visited Governor Seriake Dickson and later attended the Bayelsa Anti-corruption summit at the Diepreye Alamieyeseigha Memorial Banquet Hall, also kicked against plea bargain for persons who defraud pensioners of their entitlements.
He said it was unacceptable for government officials to literally kill pensioners and then enter into plea bargain with the anti-corruption agencies.
Nta questioned the rationality behind stealing from innocent retirees, arguing that it was unimaginable that some people would want to be patted on the back and exempted from thorough prosecution, when their actions have sent people to their early graves.
He maintained that work done on the popular East-west road, which he said he plied while on his way to Bayelsa, was not commensurate with the quantum of money expended.
He said: “I went through the East-west road and I am fully aware that money had been budgeted for this road. And I ask myself if the work done is commensurate with the quantum of money. That is why when we were called to investigate those responsible. I didn’t waste time seizing their personal property.
“We have to make corruption very unprofitable. Even if they are arrested and charged to court, will it not be better if we had found someone with the fear of God to monitor that project. Even if they are jailed for 50 years, will that bring back those who have died on that road?
“What about the babies trapped on the road because their mothers could not get to the hospital on time? These are some of the things that irritate me when they come and say ‘let us beg the ICPC chairman, if there’s anything he can do about it.’
He noted that his mission was to change the perception of Nigeria as a corruption haven by the international community by ensuring heavy sanctions for criminals and by deploying the preventive approach.
On the efforts of the Bayelsa government to rid the state of stealth, Nta urged Dickson not to relent, adding that the commission was aware of the robust measures put in place by the government which had checked sharp practices in the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies.
“I am very happy with what I have seen and heard. Bayelsa State is the first to apply to have the ICPC in their state and this underscores the importance the government attaches to the issue of fighting corruption”, he said.
Nta promised to send a template of ICPC’s verification forms to assist the task of the various teams instituted by the government to fight corruption.
In his remarks, Governor Dickson expressed the willingness of his government to partner the commission to give more bite to its anti-corruption campaign in Bayelsa State.
“When we came on board, there were a few things as a state that we wanted to move away from. We took deliberate steps to reposition our state. The first bill we sent to the house of assembly was the Bayelsa transparency law.
“That law says that if a governor does not render account of what comes into the state and how it is disbursed, for three months, it can constitute gross misconduct.
Since 2012, we have been rendering accounts every month on all receipts and take questions.
“That has resulted in majority of our people understanding what is happening. The issue of transparency is taken very seriously by this government. We have set up the state anti-corruption body and we wrote three years ago to the commission for partnership.
“We are of the view that states should create similar institutions. The burden of fighting corruption shouldn’t be left only for the federal government. I have given clear instructions that any time investigative agencies are in the state looking at matters and they need documents, nobody should come to me for authorisation. That authorisation is automatic”, the governor said.
Earlier, the Speaker of the State Assembly, Konbowei Benson, said the Transparency Law initiated by the government had brought about public trust as Bayelsans now religiously follow the state’s income and expenditure profiles.
On her part, the state’s Chief Judge, Justice Kate Abiri noted that the judiciary was truly independent in the state, which had made it effectively carry out its duties without any interference.
“We are blessed with a governor who is concerned with the independence of the judiciary and its institutions. Corruption is not only in finances. Anything that is wrong to do is corruption”, she said.