President Muhammadu Buhari ,last Thursday, declared corruption to be a national emergency. He said Nigerians “must own” the war on corruption, otherwise it would unravel. This is “to reverse the negative culture of pilfering public funds, or risk plunging the country into turmoil”’, Buhari noted. According to the president, “Whilst there are many reasons why Nigeria has been struggling; regrettably, the most unfortunate cause of great disparity between Nigeria’s wealth and its poverty is endemic corruption.” He warned again that “if Nigeria does not kill corruption it will kill Nigeria sooner or later”. He followed up with an Executive Order No. 6 to give bite to the anti corruption fight to “further strengthen institutions for curtailing and restricting illicit activities in the country.” It is “to restrict dealings in suspicious assets subject to investigation or inquiry bordering on corruption in order to preserve such assets from dissipation, and to deprive alleged criminals of the proceeds of their illicit activities which can otherwise be employed to allure, pervert and/or intimidate the investigative and judicial processes. Or for acts of terrorism, financing of terrorism, kidnapping, sponsorship of ethnic or religious violence, economic sabotage and cases of economic and financial crimes, including acts contributing to the economic adversity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and against the overall interest of justice and the welfare of the Nigerian State.”
The purpose of Executive Order 6, as Buhari explained, therefore, is “to re-tool and re-kit” public institutions to fight vices bordering on corruption. The president said available records show “the aggregate value of funds involved in some on-going prosecution of high profile corruption related cases stands at N595,409,838,452.25k. This amount is in excess of the N500 billion approved for Social Investment Programme in the 2018 budget.”
The strongest hint of what Buhari intended to do to strengthen his government’s anti corruption campaign strategy was given when the president received visiting Namibian President Mr.Hage Gengob on July 4 in Abuja. He told his guest that the Nigerian judiciary would be reorganised for an “effective fight against corruption.” Executive Order 6 could not have been a better way to start the reform. We, not least the president, are not surprised that Executive Order 6 has received knocks in the National Assembly and from some lawyers. The lawmakers say the order usurps their power to make laws. The lawyers that oppose the order contend that it takes away the powers of lawmakers and the courts, that it discriminates against some citizens mentioned in the annexure to the order and it is unconstitutional to make the order retroacttive. We have a simple response for the president’s critics. First, the order is not a law enacted by the Executive but a decision to strengthen a government policy. President Buhari has not done a new or strange thing. American presidents issue executive orders from time to time. Secondly, it does not stop courts from entertaining corruption cases; rather, it seeks to stop persons suspected of corruption from using its proceeds to subvert the course of justice. Thirdly, lawyers who oppose Executive Order 6 are rather self serving. The order will stop them from benefitting from the proceeds of corruption. Finally, anyone who is dissatisfied with the order may go to court. Let the court decide whether or not the president is right.