Corruption Without The Immunity Clause

One of the most infuriating things about politics is the

effort expended by politicians, pundits and partisans to hide very simple

premises under layers and layers of self-serving bull crap. The government

immunity nonsense is no different, and while I’d urge you to annul and call

your Senators to review this clause, I’d also like to take a moment to point

out that this entire battle is over something that is so patently ridiculous

that it’s a national damn embarrassment is even calamitous. On 23rd January,

2008, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua announced in Davos, Switzerland that he

fully supports the removal of the immunity from prosecution conferred on the

President, Vice President, State Governors and Deputy Governors by the 1999

Constitution.

There is established law for how, when necessary, to conduct

whistle blowing on Nigerians misappropriation. There are provisions for

conducting critical, emergency surveillance without a prior arrest warrant.

None of this is complicated; the only complication is when the Yar’Adua

administration decided, long before the EFCC, that they did not want to make

even a token effort at either following those laws or seeking modifications to

those law. Instead, they went to the Anti-graft to seek cooperation for simply violating

the law outright, in order to accomplish the broad domestic surveillance

programs that they had been longing for before they ever gained office. And

except for one reason all the other governors went along with the illegal

activity.

That’s fine. Whatever. Hardly surprising, at this point,

that the Yar’Adua administration would seek to act illegally, and would request

the cooperation of an industry in order to do it. But what is surprising

is this audacious notion that, once the illegal acts were exposed, all involved

parties should simply receive blanket immunity for doing it.While the Nigerian

federal government has taken some steps toward greater transparency in its

accounting and spending its budget, the report said, it has had far more

limited success in encouraging similar practices by state and local governments

which are largely responsible for the administration of primary health care and

education.

In the past, local governments lacked

sufficient resources to fund even these basic programmes, sharp increases in

the price of oil — combined with a general increase in state and local funding

since the return to civilian rule in 1999 — have swollen the coffers of

Nigeria’s local governments. Those states from which the oil is pumped have

benefited the most. Under the law, state governments receive 13 percent of the

revenue generated from the oil pumped from their territory by the federal

government. At 1.3 billion dollars, Rivers state government, in 2006, had Nigeria‘s largest budget to see to

the welfare of its five million people. By comparison, the entire budget of Senegal, a country of nearly 12 million people,

and one of West Africa‘s wealthier nations,

was only slightly larger at 1.7 billion dollars.

Budgeting is no longer viewed as an exclusive exercise that is carried out by

ministries of finance, but rather a process that entails aligning national

development plans and goals and human rights commitments with budget policies

in a transparent and coherent manner. When that information is unavailable, or

difficult to obtain, the resulting graft can lead to an abdication of

governments’ responsibility to comply with social and economic rights to the

best of their ability, according to the report. Under Nigerian law, the federal

government is responsible for the development of general health policies, and

for monitoring and evaluating health facilities. The responsibilities of

building facilities, providing medicines, and paying salaries, however, are all

left to the local governments.

And while the federal government has intervened and sometimes stripped local

governments of the responsibility of paying primary school teachers, local

governments in Rivers state continue to fall short in providing classrooms, textbooks,

and desks, according to the report.

Instead, the report claims, local governments in the states have been investing

in “frivolous” construction projects that are often abandoned before

they are finished. Mind you, they don’t have to cooperate with

the investigations. They don’t have to outline the extent of what was done.

They can continue to even flatly refuse to say what it is they did that

was illegal — and at the same time, demand blanket immunity for doing it.

Whatever it was. They can continue to block the lawsuits under

“secrecy” and “executive privilege” claims that under the

Yar’Adua administration have expanded from the Oval Office into every

administrative body, corporate group and cowpile that anyone who once shook

ex-president Obasanjo’s hand at a fundraiser now is supposedly protected by.

They can continue, in fact, to break whatever laws it is that they broke. But

they at the same time want the House and Senate to pass a bill providing

blanket immunity for those still-abstract and unspecified acts to an entire

government functionaries — and the Congress is prepared to go along with

it because…well, why exactly?

What level of lobbying does it take in order to convince our

lawmakers that breaking the law should be penalized? If you put enough

corporate clout behind it when you do it? That the Senate should intervene

preemptively in lawsuits against them, for anything they have done, and

that they do not even have to tell Senate what that “anything” even

is?

Despite its new wealth, however, the money allocated to

Rivers state does not appear to be getting to most of its citizens. You would

have expected that [the increase in revenue] would have translated into a

qualitative improvement in health and human welfare, and it just hasn’t worked

out that way. There is tremendous leakage, to use a very charitable word, with

state and local governments — a lack of accountability. To ascertain how the

state’s money was spent portrayed a task proved extremely difficult. While

local governments are required to produce detailed reports for its receipts and

expenditures, the looters caused these documents to appear as something

generally treated as tightly guarded secrets. The report on the need for

reliable budgetary information reflects a growing trend in monitoring human

rights performance by governments, particularly their compliance with economic

and social rights, such as health, housing and education.

There’s only one constituency in this country that wants this absurdly broad

and transparently asinine immunity legislation: the people who broke the law.

And lo and behold, I imagine every person and citizens in Nigeria would

love to have an after-the-fact declaration of immunity for whatever they’ve

done that was illegal. Former military Administrators…ex-governor and past

council mayors…… the list could be endless. But in nearly all cases, we’re

not stupid enough to give it to them: we recognize laws exist for a reason, and

recognize the even more audacious notion that laws should actually still exist

even for the powerful among us.

Why can’t figure this out implies nothing but pandering and

corruption. Why other members of our party are not standing more forcefully

with some accused to denounce this obvious abuse is similarly insulting.

It is offensive in the extreme that we are having to battle

our own government and members of our own party , who inexplicably has tried to

shove this immunity-laden bill down the Senate’s throat for some time now —

over this very simple premise. You don’t pass legislation that says illegal

acts are legal if you’re “important” enough, or “connected”

enough, or have enough lobbyists.

The purpose of some “frivolous” construction

projects is to siphon money to contractors, and, when the money stops, so does

the project. While the state government is required to monitor the local

government’s performance to prevent such abuses, evidence exposed that it not only fails to do

so, but commits similar abuses, as well. One of the biggest questions in the

coming months is whether people will have the opportunity to put someone in

there who has an interest in trying to meet their responsibilities. Some of

those perpetrating violence on behalf of the candidates were allegedly funded

with money embezzled from state and local coffers.

I understand why the ruling party continues to push these

premises — as the party dedicated towards doing whatever the most powerful

figures want, good or bad, it’s predictable behavior. But the opposition party

should at least pretend at a higher sense of integrity. It’s shameful

and embarrassing, from Ahmadu Bello to all the others, and all involved parties

should pick themselves up and figure out where their basic sense of national

ethics has gone. If you’re not willing to stand up for the most central

principles of constitutional government — the rule of law applies equally to

all parties — at least have the common decency not to actively thwart

it on the behalf of those that may agitate for that.

Written by
L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu
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