There is no denying that a corrupt judge is worse than an armed robber. Last week’s soft-landing for two judges accused of corruption by the National Judicial Council shows that we are not serious about the fight against corruption.
Even though the NJC had been commended for its action, the action of the NJC deserves no commendation. By recommending two judges — Justice C. E. Archibong of the Federal High Court, Lagos and Justice T.D. Naron of High Court of Justice, Plateau State — whom it found guilty of compromising their sacrosanct offices, for “compulsory retirement”, what the NJC had done was to tell the judges to go home and enjoy the proceeds from their corruption. A corrupt official should be summarily dismissed or recommended for dismissal, not sent on “compulsory retirement.” Retirement presupposes that the judges are entitled to all their benefits after a meritorious service, but dismissal means that their tenure had a question mark.
It was also curious that there was no comment from the NJC that suggested that it planned to report the judges to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission or the police for prosecution. The NJC’s recommendation that the two judges be compulsorily retired by their employers, the Federal Government and the Plateau State Government respectively, was not different from the unpopular fine of N750,000 Justice Abubakir Talba gave to Mr John Yusuf, a self-confessed thief, who admitted to have stolen N2bn of the N27.2 billion of missing police pension fund a few weeks back. In that same case, Justice Talba, who is also being investigated by the NJC, insulted the sensibilities of Nigerians and made us a laughing stock of the world, by that ridiculous judgment.
The action and inaction of Nigerians at all levels show that it pays to be corrupt in Nigeria. And if corruption pays, it is logical that corruption will worsen in Nigeria. Integrity hardly pays here. If it ever does, it pays in trickles. But corruption pays in billions of naira, which are used to make donations to churches, mosques, communities and universities, to “cleanse” the corrupt money and acquire prayers, titles, awards and honours.
Nigerians love to pontificate and lament about corruption but when a person is being tried for corruption or a crime, his people gather around the court premises, sometimes in clothes bearing the accused’s picture and name, and praise him for being a rare gem. Such people claim that their son is being persecuted for his stand against the government. Another comment from such people is: “Is he the only corrupt person? Why haven’t other corrupt people been arrested too?”
Taking it further, it was ridiculous that the House of Representatives and the Senate gave the anti-terrorism bill accelerated hearing, giving a 20-year jail term for a “terrorist”, while not doing anything to strengthen the anti-corruption law. Section 2(c) of the bill defines “act of terrorism” as any act by anyone who is involved in or who causes an attack upon a person’s life which may cause serious bodily harm or death; kidnapping of a person; destruction to a government or public facility, transport system, an infrastructural facility including an information system, a fixed platform located on the continental shelf, public place or private property likely to endanger human life or result in major economic loss. Almost all the states have also passed laws on kidnapping with a capital punishment for the crime. These are commendable steps. But a serious doctor who wants to cure malaria would not focus primarily on headache or fever and discountenance the root cause of the headache and fever: malaria.
It is, therefore, laughable that such laws are being passed in a country where the maximum penalty for stealing billions of public funds is about two years. Just as in the cases of former Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, and former Inspector-General of Police, Mr Tafa Balogun; by the time they were sentenced, they had spent such periods of time in detention, and consequently walked out of detention as free as a bird. Why then would someone in office not steal as much as he can?
It is the same fate that befalls drug traffickers and advance-fee fraudsters in Nigeria: Their sentences are usually less than two years. By the time their cases are done with, they just walk out of detention, because they must have spent up to a year in detention while the case was on. Such a person begins to plan for the next crime, because the punishment for the crime is ridiculous.
In contrast, those who steal a goat worth N5, 000 or a motorcycle worth N30, 000 are sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. Some are even forgotten in detention for over 10 years without any trial. Many of them die in the terrible prisons in the nation.
Rather than speedily passing laws on terrorism and kidnapping, which are indirect products of the monumental corruption in the nation, one would have expected the National Assembly to have amended the laws on corruption, drug trafficking, fraud – three crimes that have made every Nigerian a suspect in all parts of the world – and recommending a minimum of 20 years prison term for such offences with no option of fine. That is still more lenient than the death penalty in countries like China, Indonesia, Malaysia for such crimes. Such heavy sentences will not deter hardened criminals from such crimes, but before anyone decides to embark on such a crime, the person will know that if caught and jailed, chances are that he/she will come out prison in his/her old age.
And this fight against corruption does not stop only with public officers who steal public funds or demand bribes for contracts and appointments; it also involves the private citizens who demand bribes to award contracts to certain companies. It involves the private citizen who collects gratification to continue to use particular suppliers for jobs. It involves the man or woman who will not sign a document on his or her table unless a certain amount of money is made. It involves the pastor that collects money before he can pray for a sick person, or the pastor that does not care how his members make the money they donate to his church; or the journalist that will demand money before he can write a story, or the journalist that will collect money to kill a story; or the lecturer that will demand money or sex to give a student good grades; or the community, church, mosque or university that celebrates a person known to be a criminal; or even the ordinary Nigerian that keeps quiet about the corruption of his or her friend or relative. Corruption is corruption — whether big or small — and it is dangerous to the growth of a nation.
It is contradictory and hypocritical for our people to complain bitterly about corruption in public places, yet when our relative or kinsman gets into any political office, we believe that it is his turn to get rich. And if he leaves office without stupendous wealth, we call him foolish or holier-than-thou. In addition, once our kinsman gets into office, we mount personal and communal pressure on him with a long list of many things he must accomplish for us.
The time has come for us to stop commending any effort that is a mere slap on the wrist of a corrupt person. If we don’t fight corruption with zest, the wealth of this nation will continue to be stolen by a few people, and all efforts to transform this nation will be in vain.