IMMUNITY CLAUSE HINDERS ANTI-GRAFT WAR –EFCC CHIEF

Filed in News by on October 2, 2011

Immunity clause hinders anti-graft war –EFCC chief
From MURPHY GANAGANA, Abuja
Sunday, October 02, 2011

Chief Legal Officer of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Barrister Ike Okonjo, has said the immunity clause in the nation’s Constitution, which shields the President and state governors from prosecution while in office, was an aberration to the dictates of the rule of law, and an obstacle in the war against corruption.

He also expressed concern that core anti-graft agencies in Nigeria such as the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) do not enjoy the desired neutrality and independence in the performance of their statutory duties.

Speaking at a two-day national conference in Abuja with the theme: “Freedom of Information Act 2011 and The Fight Against Corruption and Corporate Fraud in Governance”, which was organized by the Public Administration and Management Development Institute (PAMDI), Okonjo stated that the EFCC, ICPC and other affiliated anti-corruption agencies must feel completely free to investigate and prosecute any person or persons, irrespective of whose ox is gored.

Okonjo, who presented a paper entitled “Strengthening and Winning the Anti-Graft War Under the Freedom of Information Act 2011” at the event, which held at Reiz Continental Hotel in Central District of Abuja, noted that the first thing to understand in any effective fight against corruption is that no one is above the law.

“The rule of law posits that the law is supreme and that anyone found wanting or in breach of the law can be investigated or even prosecuted. And this applies to all persons, including the highest office in the land – the office of the President. A one-time President of the United States of America, the late Richard Nixon, had to resign when it became clear to him that if he did not resign, he would be impeached and disgraced out of office by the Congress. That, to my mind, is the rule of law at work, where even the President’s actions are subject to some form of discipline. Have we seen a situation like this in Nigeria yet? None so far.

“If public officers, no matter how highly placed, know their actions could be investigated thoroughly and possibly even cost them their job, then they would be more cautious in the discharge of their duties. If the EFCC did not worry about stepping on the President’s toe in carrying out its duties, that would definitely make its duties more neutral and effective, and also remove every feeling of bias in favour of certain individuals. Chairmen of anti-graft agencies would not need to worry about picking up a particular individual that could cost him or her job the next day,” Okonjo said.

According to him, politicians kill themselves to get elected because of the prevalent general apathy and feeling of business as usual among the populace, despite considerable progress made in fighting graft since 2004. While expressing optimism that the Freedom of Information Act 2011 would enhance transparency in governance, Okonjo called for stiffer penalties against public officers convicted on charges of corruption.

“Desperate situations require or demand desperate measures. We need to shift away from the present position of asking convicted public officers to return some millions of naira or dollars, or just serving a mere six months in jail, because this creates the feeling among the populace that those officials are being given preferential jail sentences. The penalties meted out to erring public officials must be stiff and disgraceful enough to make other public officers think twice before committing the same or related offence,” he said.

Also presenting a paper at the event, Chairman of Advanced Management and Technology Solutions Limited (AMTS), Dr. Stephen Dike, listed potential challenges facing successful implementation of the FoI Act as lack of political will, inherent bureaucracy and culture of secrecy within the civil service, lack of capacity in information management, limited resources and poor infrastructure.

He therefore, recommended that government should establish Standard Operating Procedures and Guidelines (SOPG) that meet international standards for implementation of the FoI law. He further posited that the SOPG should aim at ensuring constituency and efficiency in implementing the law, and should cover, among others, records management, submission and assessment of requests for information; provision of assistance and documents, schedule of exemption, publication schemes, appeals process, and interpretation of the law.

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