Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, Wednesday, called on Nigerians paying ransom to secure freedom for their abducted loved ones to feel free to approach the courts to compel the federal government to refund same because in his words, the responsibility for protecting lives and properties lies squarely with government.
Falana disclosed this yesterday at the 18th Anti-Corruption Situation Room, ACSR, organized by the HEDA Resource Centre in partnership with the McArthur Foundation.
The senior advocate who was the keynote speaker at the event also flayed anti-graft agencies in the land for what he called the selective prosecution of corrupt cases; a development he stressed, makes winning the fight against corruption difficult.
Speaking on the theme, “Renewing efforts of state and non-state actors in the fight against corruption in Nigeria,” Falana chided President Muhammadu Buhari and top government functionaries for failing to make their asset declaration forms public, adding that in the eyes of the law, there is no such thing as secret asset declaration.
He said: “If a family pays a ransom to secure freedom of their abducted ones; they should approach the courts and demand a refund of the amount paid because the primary responsibility of government is to secure the people.”
He also lampooned the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation which he said has been reduced to a status of a non-governmental organization in the past few years. According to him, the scourge of budget padding is yet to abate because government has not demonstrated sufficient eagerness to tame the trend.
Lamenting the failure to learn from history, Falana said beyond the public presentation of the appropriation bill by the President lies some budgets that are shielded from the public, “to the shame of our nation.
He continued: “The constitution mandates the Auditor General of the Federation Office to submit yearly audited financial reports of government agencies to the National Assembly. Since 1999, reports by the office have not been debated. So, that office is now more or less operating like an NGO.
Government agencies are yet to get tired of budget padding. President Muhammadu Buhari presented a N10. 59 trillion 2020 budget but do you know the budget of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, for the year? It is N1. 3 trillion, about ten per cent of the budget of the country. The National Assembly keep encouraging these agencies to present their budgets and most often, the media is chased away. This is the trend with CBN, Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC.”
That said, the fiery activist also had some hard words for the United States of America and some countries in Europe for the role in warehousing illicit funds laundered by corrupt Nigerians. While noting that over $4 billion have so far been recovered from the late military Head of State, General Sani Abacha, Falana took exception to what he called the insult from the US, when it recently signed agreement to repatriate $308 million to Nigeria.
“The United States and other countries in Europe are the greatest beneficiaries of corruption in Africa. Recently, the US agreed to repatriate another batch of Abacha loot to the country and while signing the agreement, a young man rose up to warn our government that if the money is stolen, it would be paid back. I was shocked that the Attorney General of the Federation did not say anything,” he added.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, has said 32 per cent Nigerians who secured jobs in the nation’s public service in 2019 paid one form of bribe or the other.
Country Representatives of UNODC, Oliver Stolpe, who chaired the ACSR stated this in his welcome address to participants on Wednesday.
Mr. Stolpe noted that unlike the statistics released recently by the Transparency International, TI; findings by UNODC’s figures were not based on perception but on empirical findings backed by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, NBS.
The report also noted that 33 per cent of Nigerians who had contact with the Police IN 2019 paid bribe to secure freedom.
According to the UNODC boss, Nigeria must pay attention to the public service recruitment process adding that the corruption therein was worrisome.
“Given that the prevalence of bribery in relation to the Police has decreased significantly since 2016, this signals that other types of a public official are now extorting bribes in exchange for “looking the other way” more often than before. The prevalence of bribery in relation to several types of public officials has decreased significantly since 2016. The greatest change is in relation to Police officers, meaning that the share of people who paid a bribe to a Police officer prior to the 2019 survey decreased from 46 to 33 per cent,” said the UNODC boss.
The event was attended by top officials of government agencies and non-governmental organizations dedicated to the cause of corruption reduction in the country.