Four consolidated bills before Nigeria’s House Of Representatives seek to further empower the EFCC to fight crime, insulate the anti-graft agency from interference by the Presidency and enhance its financial autonomy.
One of the bills, which was sponsored by a member from Cross River State, Mr. Bassey Ewa, proposes to raise the two-year term for economic and financial crimes offenders to 20 years. The Act currently prescribes a penalty of “not less than two years” for economic and financial crimes. Lawmakers consider this to be “lenient” for the serious crime of stealing public money or other forms of financial crimes.
In the new bill, Section 18 of the Principal Act is amended to prescribe tougher punishments for economic and financial crimes. The new proposal also states that plea bargaining or returning the full amount stolen does not exclude the convict from penalty. Similarly, a company found guilty of economic or financial crimes, will be barred from doing business in Nigeria for 50 years.
Another key amendment seeks to remove the power of appointing the Chairman of the EFCC from the President and to be vested directly in the hands of Nigerians. Under the extant provisions, the President appoints the chairman and forwards the name to the Senate for approval. But in the new amendment, members of the public, through a petition to the National Assembly, are empowered to make the appointments.
David Cameron, the former British Prime Minister recently described Nigeria as fantastically corrupt. The sheer scale of corruption in Nigeria and the number of officials involved in this theft of public funds is staggering. Corrupt public officials do not just steal a few millions in Nigeria, they take the whole safe. The catalogue of allegations of corruption in recent months is bewildering – $153m forfeited by the former petroleum minister Mrs Allison Deziena Madueke; $15m in third party account claimed by the former first lady Mrs Patience Jonathan; $9.7m recovered in cash from the house of former GMD of NNPC, Mr Yakubu; plus billions of naira allegedly found in bank accounts and residences of public officials.
It is nearly two years since the Buhari administration came into office on an anti-corruption platform. Although there have been some success in recovering stolen money, thus far, not one notable public figure is in prison for corruption.
Critics have accused the government of being very selective in the fight against corruption. They cite the way the president handled the allegations of corruption against one of his closest confidants, the Secretary to the Federal Government (SFG), Mr Babachir Lawal. Mr Lawal should have been forced to resign. This would have sent a very powerful message to Nigerians about the president’s resolve to fight corruption, even inside his cabinet.
The DSS report on the Acting Head of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu is equally worrying. No matter the motive of senators, Nigerians ought to be concerned about the associations and integrity of people appointed to critical positions of government.
The campain in the North East revealed so vividly the callous and wicked nature of corruption in Nigeria. Despite the fact that over N900bn was allocated every year to the security budget in the last administration, soldiers were allegedly sent to battle on just one round of ammunition. Many perished in battle for lack of equipment because of the diversion of funds that could have saved their lives.
The four bills passed second reading last week at a session presided over by the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara.