Corruption and Underdevelopment

Not enough law to combat corruption in Nigeria — Prof Osunbor

•CSO tasks government on laws to protect whistleblowers

By Paul Michael, Abuja

A former Governor of Edo state, Professor Oserheimen Osunbor, weekend, said there are not enough laws to fight corruption in Nigeria.

Prof Osunbor stated this during a colloquium organised by a Civil Society Organisation (CSO), the Corruption Observatory (CO) in Abuja with the aim of finding a common definition of corruption for Nigeria, The Trumpet gathered.

He added that whatever conduct that needs to criminalise must be defined in a law passed by the National Assembly, noting that corruption on its own is not a crime.

He said, “If you ask virtually every Nigerian, they will say corruption is bad and we must fight corruption; it is harmful to society. But, it ends there. So, that is why I mentioned even in my own presentation that we must do more than just talking about it. It’s okay to talk about it and arouse the consciousness of people that corruption is bad, but you can’t change society just by only talking. You must do as they say, walk the talk because, sometimes, it’s not everything you can regard as immoral conduct that you can describe as corruption.

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“What kind of unpleasant or unwholesome conduct do we define as corruption? If we are able to achieve that, in today’s colloquium, then it will be a concrete step forward in the battle and in the fight against corruption in Nigeria, over and above merely sermonising and talking about corruption.

“Corruption itself is not an offence, it is not a crime. It is immoral conduct and it is reprehensible. It does a lot of damage to society. But, corruption is not defined in law as a criminal offence. What is defined as criminal offences must be by way of legislation? Like bribery is a criminal offence under the ICPC Act; receiving gratification, the Code of Conduct Act also prohibits certain conduct like you being a public servant and operating a foreign bank account, that is unwholesome and those are defined by law.

“So, if we are to condemn something and be able to punish conduct that we disapprove of, then it must be prohibited by law. That is where the legislature comes in, either by the National Assembly or by the House of Assembly of the states, or through sub subsidiary legislation or other instruments. The reason for this is that section 36, subsection 12 of our constitution says that nobody can be convicted of a criminal offence except that offence has been so defined in the law, and the penalty for that offence is prescribed by the law.

“Who are those who passed the law? It is the legislators either at the federal level, the National Assembly or the State Assembly. There’s a good reason why the constitution makes this provision. So, I think whatever conduct we need to criminalise must be defined in a law passed by the National Assembly or House of Assembly otherwise, the person will go through the court and can not be convicted.

“The way forward is that those aspects of corruption that have been criminalised, there should be more diligence in the investigation. You know, many people say that sometimes people are taken to court but they are set free because the court will say that the offences were not properly investigated. The prosecution didn’t do its homework well, so we can achieve better results through the diligence of those that are charged with the responsibility of making this law work.”

On his part, the Executive Director of Corruption Observatory, Ovie Richard, while stating that corruption in Nigeria is endemic and cannot be wholly eradicated at all levels, advised that government should put in place protection laws for whistleblowers, in a bid to fight corruption.

“We need to subscribe to international standards. Standards about whistleblowing. Imagine a country of close to 200 million people. With corruption being endemic, we don’t have a whistleblower protection law in place. So, if you blow the whistle, the whistle can actually blow you out.

“This government came and we were all happy but after a few months, you know you can see where we are at the moment but there are a number of things that should be done. One thing I would advise the government to do is to put in place a Whistleblower Protection Act so that people are free to raise concerns and express themselves around and report when they want to report without fear of being victimised.

“You will remember that when Buhari was military head of state, there’s this programme called war against discipline. Now, that programme went around the nook and cranny of the country. Even a primary school child would not just come out and begin to urinate outside. Alright, but now we have a higher, much more bloated economy and all of that, and expectedly we should have had something much more versatile and effective than the military era. But that’s not the case right now,” he said.

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