• Insist war selective, sensational
• Whistle-blower Protection Bill ready July
From Fred Itua, Abuja
Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, yesterday, took the Federal Government to the cleaners over its anti-corruption war.
While Saraki claimed the anti-graft war was sensational and selective, Dogara insisted the war was only “dealing with the symptoms of corruption.”
The two National Assembly leaders spoke in Abuja, at the public presentation of Senator Dino Melaye’s book, “Antidotes For Corruption: The Nigerian Story.”
Saraki particularly came hard on anti-corruption agencies, alleging that they were under pressure to justify their existence and show that they were working.
He said this led to media trials of suspects by anti-corruption agencies, noting that the agencies left the substance of anti-corruption war, but focused on the show.
He said: “Let us imagine a society today in Nigeria where all the proceeds of corruption are well utilized rather than the one minute or five-minute sensation that we see in the fight against corruption. It is my view that we must fight corruption with sincerity.
“We must aim to go to the root of the problems. We need to strengthen our institutions. We should not base the anti-corruption war on individuals.
“People who are corrupt are patient. They can wait for four or eight years or 12 years. That is why it cannot be based on individuals. We must ensure that we do our best.
“I am convinced that we must return to that very basic medical axiom that prevention is better than cure.
“Perhaps, the reason our fight against corruption has met with rather limited success is that we appeared to have favoured punishment over deterrence.
“We must review our approaches in favour of building systems that make it a lot more difficult to carry out corrupt acts or to find a safe haven for corruption proceeds within our borders.
“In doing this, we must continue to strengthen accountability, significantly limit discretion in public spending, and promote greater openness.
“We in the National Assembly last week took the first major step in this direction towards greater openness.
“For the first time in our political history, the budget of the National Assembly changed from a one-line item to a 34-page document that shows details of how we plan to utilize the public funds that we appropriate to ourselves.
“One area I believe we have made remarkable progress in the past two years of the President Buhari-led administration is that corruption has been forced back to the top of our national political agenda.
“Every single day, you read the newspapers, you listen to the radio, you go on the internet, you watch the television, the people are talking about it. The people are demanding more openness, more accountability and more convictions.
“Those of us in government are also responding, joining the conversation and accepting that the basis of our legitimacy as government is our manifest accountability to the people.
“At the moment, we are considering for passage into law the following bills: The Whistleblower Protection Bill, which I am confident will be passed not later than July 2017; The Proceeds of Crime Bill; The Special Anti-Corruption Court, which would be done through constitutional amendment and; The Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill.
“If we are able to build a quality public education system, especially at the basic and secondary level, which would not require parents to pay through their nose for their children’s education.
“If we are able to build an efficient public health system that provides insurance cover to ordinary citizens so that when they fall sick, they can access quality healthcare without running from pillar to post looking for money; if we are able to build a system that guarantees food and shelter to everyone; if we are able to do all these, we would have gone a long way in removing much of the driving force for corruption at this level.”
To drive home his point, Dogara said: “Corruption, for those who are farmers, is like a tree that grows vigorously. If you end up pruning the trees and not attacking the roots, there is no way you will deal with that thing.
“So, when those who celebrate the successes of the fight against corruption in terms of the high profile investigation, high profile prosecution and even detention, they are missing the point because that is dealing with the symptoms of corruption. That is punishing corruption. But how are we developing remedies that we can apply to ensure that the tree dies?
“Recently, we went for May Day and some of us were nearly held hostage. You can’t blame the workers. While they were agitating for their rights, agitating for minimum wage, some of us are talking about living wage. The workers control, perhaps, about 96 percent of the budget.
“In the National Assembly, we have about 92 percent, judiciary and the rest. So, if you don’t make the environment conducive for those who administer this money not to want to be corrupt, you will end up jailing people.”
He said unless and until strong institutions were built and strengthened, Nigeria might end up punishing corruption but not fighting corruption.
He said for the war against corruption to succeed, there must be institutional reforms that would help put in place measures, which would make it near impossible for people to engage in corrupt acts.
“As a country, we ran into a situation where corruption was becoming the norm, there was this moral cult that we had created that celebrated corruption.
“The motivation was always there for corruption, but now what is important is not just fighting the old corrupt system. Really, if we must make progress, our focus should be to replace the old order that was corrupt with a new order that makes corruption near impossible to take place.”
On Melaye, Dogara said he would not be surprised by the avalanche of criticisms likely to follow, because “Dino himself is a combination of so many things. He is highly opinionated, often pugnacious. Obviously, he will be a magnet for opinionated criticism as well, he will not escape that.”
In his remarks, Melaye said: “Corruption also exists in low places. Tomato sellers, panel beaters and fuel attendants, are all corrupt.
“What we practice in the country is not democracy, but government of the greedy, by the greedy and for the greedy.”