1. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (“UNCAC”). Since its adoption in 2003, the Convention Against Corruption has achieved near-universal status with 186 States including Nigeria signing up to the Convention. 09 December of every year is observed across the globe as the International Anti-Corruption Day (“IACD”) with the aim of raising public awareness of corruption and igniting discourse on, amongst others, required measures for tackling corruption. The Nigerian Bar Association (“NBA”) joins the International Community to mark todayas the International Anti-Corruption Day.
2. Corruption is multi-faceted even though deserved attention is mostly focused on financial and economic corrupt practices. The conducts that qualify as corruption actually extend beyond financial and economic practices and encompass fraud, embezzlement, illicit financial flows, administrative malfeasance, mismanagement of public resources, political non-accountability, absence of transparency and impunity in public service. The United Nation Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres obviously had this wider definition of corruption when he stated that “corruption begets corruption and fosters a corrosive culture of impunity. The United Nations Convention Against Corruption is among our primary tools for advancing the fight. Sustainable Development Goal 16 and its targets also offer a template for action”.
3. The deleterious consequences of corruption stare us in the face in Nigeria. We see it in the uncompleted developmental projects that dot our landscape, in all the nooks and crannies of this country, even though the costs of and consideration for those projects had in a number of cases been paid out, sometimes, in full; we see the consequences of corruption in the lack of basic necessities that our citizens should take for granted such as but not limited to potable water particularly given the wealth of Nigeria; we see it in the decay in and of our institutions – educational, infrastructure, health, literally all our institutions – notwithstanding the enormous material and human resources that the Almighty has blessed us with. We see the effects and consequences of corruption in the suffocating poverty amongst our people and indeed, in the pervasive insecurity of lives and property. Recently, the Brookings Institution released a report that shows that Nigeria, with an estimated population of 200 million people has overtaken India with a population of 1,324 billion people, as the nation with the highest number of extremely poor people. That, indeed, should worry all of us.
4. It is gratifying that President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFRhas consistently made it the credo of his government to fight corruption, right from its inauguration almost four years ago. That is commendable. The fight must however not be selective or discriminatory in nature; it must not even be perceived to be selective or discriminatory. The trial of persons for corrupt practices must itself not be tainted with corruption. Media trial of persons charged with corrupt practices, for example, amount to corruption itself. Indeed, those orchestrated media trials degrade and corrupt the justice administration system quite apart from the incalculable (but obviously intended) damage that it does to persons who may ultimately be discharged and acquitted. In point of fact, it is corrupt practice to use as license or hide under the cover of the fight against corruption to recklessly destroy the names, characters and reputations of persons who have not been found guilty of corrupt practices by competent courts and who may ultimately be pronounced innocent of such charges. Furthermore, the trials of persons for corrupt practices must be speedy and must not howsoever be used or perceived to be used as excuse or basis for trampling upon the fundamental rights of citizens including but not limited to their rights to fair hearing.
5. We must also draw attention to the need for proactive strategies in fighting corruption, particularly of the economic and financial genre. As earlier mentioned in this Statement, corruption includes administrative malfeasance, political non-accountability, absence of transparency and impunity in public service. More often than not, these genres of corruption give birth to financial and economic corruption. In other words, financial and economic corruption thrive where there is lack of transparency, impunity in public service, political non-accountability and pervasiveness of administrative malfeasance. The NBA advises government to beam the searchlight on these corrosive and corrupt practices as a proactive measure in the fight against financial and economic corruption. Impunity in public service must be abhorred and so must political non-accountability and a lack of transparency in public administration and the management of our affairs.
6. As ordinary citizens of Nigeria, we must also all stand up against corruption. We must refuse to give bribes for favors. We must blow whistles on bribe-takers and the practitioners ofother forms of corruption,to wit, impunity in public service, administrative malfeasance, political non-accountability and a lack of transparency in our country’s administration and management. The fight against corruption must not be left to or for our governments alone. We must, as individuals and citizens, also take our stand against corruption in all its ramifications. Only then can we begin to reap the rewards and benefits of our abundant wealth, both in human and material resources. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria. God bless the Nigerian Bar Association.
Paul Usoro, SAN