A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Femi Falana; a former governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa; and the Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Monday Ubani, are among Nigerians that have condemned a bill in the House of Representatives seeking amnesty for treasury looters.
Others, who have joined in the condemnation of the bill, are a Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa; the Chairman, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Mr. Debo Adeniran; and the President, Campaign for Democracy, Usman Abdul.
The bill, called the Economic Amnesty Bill, seeks to allow those who loot public treasury to return about 70 per cent of the stolen funds in exchange for total amnesty from prosecution.
The bill, sponsored by Linus Okorie (Peoples Democratic Party, Ebonyi) was read for the first time on the floor of the House on June 14.
Falana described the bill as immoral, discriminatory and unconstitutional.
He said the bill was at variance with the United Nations Convention Against Corruption which has been ratified by the Nigerian government.
“I want to assume that the sponsors of the bill are not aware that Nigeria has ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. The convention has imposed a duty on the Nigerian Government to fight corruption and not to legalise it,” Falana said.
He said the bill, if passed into law, would encourage other forms of crime like kidnapping and armed robbery.
The senior advocate added that the bill was in contravention of sections 15, 42 and 45 of the 1999 Constitution.
Falana added, “The bill is immoral, dangerous, discriminatory, illegal and unconstitutional. It is patently inconsistent with Section 15(5) of the constitution which has imposed a duty on the Nigerian state to abolish corrupt practices.
“It is discriminatory as it is designed to shield looters of our commonwealth alone from prosecution contrary to the letter and spirit of Section 42 of the Constitution. It is dangerous as it is meant to legitimise official corruption and impunity in the country.
“If the bill is signed into law, all criminals who have been convicted and jailed for fraud, stealing, kidnapping and armed robbery are automatically entitled to similar amnesty and pardon.”
Agreeing with Falana, Ubani, who is the Vice-President of the NBA, described the bill as both appalling and immoral, stressing that it contradicts the Federal Government’s anti-corruption stance.
Ubani stated, “What message are we sending to prospective looters; that they can steal, keep some and invest some in the country? It does not send a correct signal; it sends a wrong signal.
“For such a bill, Nigerians must be involved and we must know the intention of the bill before we can even comment. But I think that merely from the title, it sounds appalling rather than appealing. It is clearly immoral and it will not encourage people who want to be upright in public office; rather, it will encourage corruption and I don’t think it is something that should even be contemplated.”
In a similar vein, Balarabe believed the bill would only legitimise corruption.
The ex-Kaduna State governor said in a telephone interview with the News Agency of Nigeria that he was disappointed with the lawmakers for even discussing the bill.
He added, “Honestly, I am terribly disappointed that a bill like that is being discussed at the National Assembly.
“The bill is immoral and it shows the level of moral degeneration the country has attained especially at the leadership level.
“The proposal, to me, is a way of legitimising corruption, because you are telling people to loot and declare maybe part of the loot, then you are set free.
“This is not good for Nigeria, for development and for the fight against corruption.”
Also, CACOL chairman, Mr. Debo Adeniran, said if the bill was allowed to become law, it would encourage corruption with impunity.
Adeniran said what the country needed at this time were laws that would strengthen the anti-corruption war and ensure punishment for looters.
He said, “First and foremost, such a bill must have been sponsored by looters. Before now, there has been a kind of plea bargain arrangement such that looters will face minimum sanction for their sins but not outright discharge from prosecution.
“We are not in support of such a bill that will make a sinner go free. It would amount to cheating for those who decided not to commit crime, because they will be feeling that why did they not commit the same crime if they were not going to be punished?
“At the end, it will still be victory for corruption and that is not good for the development of the country. That bill should not scale through and we are working tooth and nail to oppose it.”
Adeniran believed the plan by the government to publish names of looters would go a long way in discouraging corruption.
Adegboruwa, on his part, described the bill as misconceived, illegal and an effort in futility, pointing out that the National Assembly could not make a law that would pardon looters in the face of already existing laws that criminalise looting.
He stated, “The bill is misconceived. The National Assembly, by Section 4 of the Constitution, is meant to make laws for the order and good governance of the country. The emphasis is on order and good governance. To that extent, the National Assembly is not competent to pass laws that will pardon criminals.
“We already have various laws in place, passed by the National Assembly, that criminalise looting. We have the Criminal Code, the anti-money laundering Act, the EFCC Act, the ICPC Act, which already criminalise looting.
“The Criminal Code was passed by the National Assembly as far back as 1990; so, the National Assembly cannot wake up in 2017 to make a law that will contradict laws that it has already passed. So, it is an effort in futility.”
Adegboruwa added that apart from being illegal, the bill was also “based on total immorality and can never see the light of the day.”
The CD said the amnesty for looters bill would bring impunity to corruption and worsen the looting of the country’s treasury.
The CD President, Abdul, said, “This bill is an opportunity to give a long rope to thieves and looters of the treasury. We should not allow it. It will bring impunity to corruption and disallow the law from taking its course.
“The bill should be properly called amnesty for looters. We will not agree to such bill.”
But another SAN, Mr. Yusuf Ali, said he would support any move to recover the nation’s stolen funds.
He said, “Do we want an eye for an eye or we want stolen money to be recovered? If it is an eye for an eye, how many corrupt people have you been able to catch? How many of them have you been able to recover stolen money from?
“I support any means by which stolen money can be recovered and used for the development of the people.”Punch