Nigerian Senate re-enacts Italian ’94
Back in '94 an Italian contractor went into a government office in Milan to bid for a small supply job worth about $4000. The head of the department asked him for a small kickback.
The contractor was pissed off. Times were hard for him and he had had enough of the demand for kickbacks in the system. So he went to a judge to report the matter. The judge asked him to play along and attached an investigator with marked money to him. The government official was charged to court for corruption.
Little did anyone know that what started as a small flame was going to become a national inferno. The indicted government official told investigators that he was not going to go down alone. He started to sing. Like a chain reaction, some of the people he implicated turned around to implicate another round of government officials. At the last count, those implicated and arrested included party officials, politicians, members’ of parliament, judges, law enforcement officers, journalists and clergymen. Many resigned their appointments and a few committed suicide!
But just before the trials went into full gear, the Italian parliament came up with a proposal that would grant a blanket amnesty to its members that got caught in the whirlwind of corruption.
As the proposal was being debated in the hallowed chambers of the parliament, Italians expressed their frustration and gradually become angrier.
Spontaneously, people besieged the premises of the parliament on a daily basis. When things became somewhat riotous, law enforcement agents built a barricade around the parliament building. But that did not stop the crowd which was becoming bigger by the day. They demanded that parliament members should stop the proposed amnesty and face the music like everyone else or the barricade would be breached and parliament building brought down on its not-so-distinguished members.
At last, reason prevailed and the people won the battle. Rather than the self-serving proposal, parliament came up with new laws that will tighten the ease of corrupt practices in the country.
I recalled this story when I heard that members of the Senate resumed sitting last week with a brilliant idea to amend the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, and Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) of 2015 laws. The CCT law has been in the books for years but basically unused. But for reasons widely known, it was pulled from the morgue to try turncoat Senator Bukola Saraki.
An even more daring move is the attempt to also tamper with the provisions of the ACJA, one of the best piece of legal instrument that came from the last administration.
The Act prescribed a new and stringent procedure for the trial of high profile corruption/criminal cases. Before the Act, corruption cases took forever to crawl through the legal system. Most were usually abandoned by a cash strapped EFCC. But the ACJA, became the answer to containing the excesses of corruption bigwigs who often got away easily on the wings of time.
Such trials unlike before have become a day to day affair, eliminating the possibility of what Professor Itse Sagay called "Persecution Fatigue". You can then understand why the Supreme Court came under heavy criticism when it granted Saraki's application for stay of proceedings. That ruling was considered ultra vires.
Therefore, once a case starts, it runs without unnecessary adjournments. If there must be adjournments they cannot last more than two weeks and such adjournments cannot be more than five times or so in the lifetime of the case. All taken, in just about two years, a corruption case would have been concluded at the Supreme Court. Appeals and objections can no longer stop any case at the trial court level.
It is this grueling legal procedure that the political class wants to extricate itself from as far as the Code of Conduct Tribunal is concerned.
The speed with which the Senate is going about this amendment displays the survival instinct of the political class. It also shows that basically, politicians will be politicians irrespective of which country they find themselves.
There are several laws in our books that are useless but have remained there since the beginning of time. There are laws that also need to urgently come to life in view of some of our recent chaotic experience. For instance, the 2015 elections proved that the Electoral Act as it is will not stand the heat of the 2019 elections. Given the lives lost and the hanging chad or inconclusive elections in some of the states, it was widely expected that members of the National Assembly will get to work as soon as they were inaugurated. That has not been the case.
From all indications, the National Assembly might just be one of the Achilles Heels of this administration. Members should not forget that Nigerians are keenly watching their game and that the Assembly is a very slippery place with high turnover.