Delegates at the National Conference, had observed that reported cases of corruption in Nigeria had somewhat marred the country’s image and reputation.
They argued that although corruption is a global phenomenon, Nigeria, as the most populous country in Africa, ought to step up the fight against corruption.
They noted that stakeholders should evolve pragmatic measures to establish a virile mechanism, aimed at tackling corruption headlong.
The concerned citizens also observed that corruption has continued to thrive in Nigeria because of the absence of severe penalty for corruption-related offences.
They cited the arraignment of Mr John Yusuf, a former Assistant Director in the Police Pension Office, and six other officials of the agency by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for the embezzlement of N23.3 billion as an instance.
They recalled with dismay that Justice Mohammed Talba of the FCT High Court convicted and sentenced Yusuf to two years’ imprisonment, with the option of N750, 000 fine, in spite of the gravity of the offence.
The judgment, which generated a lot of controversy, elicited the attention of the House of Representatives, which asked the EFCC and the Attorney-General of the Federation to appeal against the judgment, with a view to securing a stricter punishment.
However, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) exonerated the judge of any wrongdoing and blamed the weak sentence on the existing laws of the country.
In a reaction to the controversy, the House urged the National Assembly to review the provisions of the penal and criminal codes to provide stricter punishment for acts of corruption.
Observers, however, underscore the need for the adoption of a more holistic approach to fighting corruption by putting in place stringent penalties for corruption offences.
They are, nonetheless, optimistic that with decision of the National Conference to make the provision of more stringent anti-corruption laws a priority, the war against corruption will soon be quite effective.
Reviewing the level of corruption in the country, the national confab’s delegates stressed that corruption was a major problem which should be tackled frontally in efforts to fast-track ensure Nigeria’s development.
Alhaji Magaji Dambatta, a delegate representing the North West geopolitical zone, underscored the need for Nigeria to be proactive in the campaign against corruption, describing it as the root of the country’s problems.
The conference, therefore, adopted the report of the Committee on Civil Society, Labour, Youth and Sports, chaired by Mrs Bola Ogunrinade, which recommended life imprisonment without an option of fine for anyone who embezzles public funds.
It also approved the recommendation that any judicial officer, who was convicted of corruption or perversion of justice, should be liable to 50 years’ imprisonment and the loss of all official entitlements, including gratuity and pensions, without an option of fine.
Ogunrinade said that the recommendations were based on the laws of some Asian countries where the enactment of such laws had restored sanity, reduced corruption and abuse of office.
In addition to this, the conference also adopted the report of its Committee on Economy, Trade and Investment, led by Hajiya Bola Shagaya, which recommended the removal of the immunity clause for public office holders as a way of fighting corruption.
The immunity clause, as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, protects the President, Vice President, state governors and their deputies from prosecution, as long as they remain in office.
The committee said that the removal of the immunity clause from the constitution would also encourage accountability among those managing the country’s economy.
Welcoming the recommendations, Mr Adetokunbo Mumuni, the Executive Director of Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, a rights advocacy group, said that the group would support any law aimed at intensifying the fight against corruption.
He, nonetheless, stressed that the recommendations must be properly enforced when they were ratified.
“The problem of Nigeria is not lack of laws but lack of the political will to enforce the laws,’’ he said.
In the same vein, Mr Fred Agbaje, a human rights lawyer, noted that the adoption of the national conference’s recommendations was desirable, as they would certainly reduce corruption in the country.
Agbaje noted that corruption was even a capital offence in some countries.
However, due to the fact that the death penalty is going out of practice, the recommendation of life imprisonment for corrupt officers is more acceptable,’’ he said.
Mr Adebamigbe Omole, a former Chairman of Ikeja chapter of NBA said: “Except Nigeria begins to adopt stringent measures, corruption will continue to be an endemic problem in the country.
“In fact, I would have recommended death penalty because those sentenced to life imprisonment can be pardoned in future to enjoy their ill-gotten wealth, to the detriment of the nation,’’ he added.
All in all, the consensus of opinion at the national conference is that corruption breeds poverty, underdevelopment, insecurity and unemployment, among others.
The delegates, therefore, agreed that the adoption of their recommendations will aid the fulfilment of the war against corruption, which is viewed by Transparency International as a crime against society.