Corruption and The Rule of Law

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To curb corruption, there is need to overhaul the nation’s legal system, argues Tayo Ogunbiyi

In Nigeria, corruption is worse than any killer disease. From independence till date, corruption has been bad news for our dear country. It was recently estimated that over $300bn have either been stolen outright or misappropriated by government officials and their collaborators since the advent of the current political dispensation in 1999.

In 2001, Nigeria was ranked second most corrupt nation in the world after Bangladesh out of 91 countries that were surveyed by Transparency International. In 2003, Nigeria, again, was the second most corrupt country in the world. The 2004- corruption exercise showed a slight progress as we ranked the third most corrupt country in the world, performing better than Bangladesh and Haiti which came first and second respectively.

It is quite clear that if Nigeria must live, corruption must die. But then, for corruption to really expire in the country there is a big hurdle to cross. This hurdle is called the rule of law. Plato and Aristotle were Greek philosophers who both developed important ideas about the rule of law. According to them, chaos occurs when people are allowed to become lawless in a given society. The rule of law operates on the 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 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.

Thus, it could be affirmed, at least theoretically, that the rule of law provides a legal framework to wage 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 then, in reality, it is not really that simple as the rule of the law equally protects alleged looters of the nation’s wealth as they are presumed innocent until proven otherwise.
This, in essence, is the dilemma in the 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 or institution to escape from or frustrate the wheel of justice is to hire a group of very brilliant legal luminaries who understand the strength and weakness of the law, and use same to the full advantage of their 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 high profile corruption cases that have been in court for years remain mostly inconclusive. Most prominent figures whose corruption cases were once widely celebrated in the media now walk freely in the society. So, Nigerians are dispirited about the success of any war against corruption. There is now a despondent feeling that, characteristically, corruption would always have its way, no matter 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? 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.

Unfortunately, the judiciary, which ought to be the temple of justice, is 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 and corrupt individuals 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, a total overhaul of the nation’s legal institution is urgently needed. Judicial officials who undermine the judicial process must be fished out and punished appropriately. It amounts to sheer desecration of justice for unjust individuals to superintend over the justice system. Justice cannot be said to be served in a system that allows men and women with flawed value system unhindered space in the judicial process. 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 been treading for years. Obviously, it has led us nowhere. If we are to move forward, we must change our ways.
––Tayo Ogunbiyi wrote from Ikeja, Lagos