Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Immunity for President, Govs hampers anti-graft war – EFCC

ABUJA — The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has disclosed that the immunity clause in the nation’s constitution which shields the President and state governors from prosecution while in office was an aberration to the dictates of the 
rule of law and an obstacle in the war against corruption.
Making the disclosure, weekend, a chief legal officer in the EFCC, Mr. Ike Okonjo, also expressed concern that core anti-graft agencies in Nigeria, such as the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offenses Commission, ICPC, had not enjoyed the desired neutrality and independence in the performance of their statutory duties.
Speaking at a two-day national conference in Abuja with the theme, “Freedom of Information Act 2011 and the fight against corruption and corporate fraud in governance,” organised by the Public Administration and Management Development Institute, PAMDI, Okonjo said the EFCC, ICPC and other affiliated ant-corruption agencies must feel completely free to investigate and prosecute any person or persons, irrespective of whose ox was gored.
In a paper entitled, “Strengthening and winning the anti-graft war under the Freedom of Information Act 2011,” Okonjo noted that the first thing to understand in any effective fight against corruption was that no one was above the law.
His words: “The rule of law posits that the law is supreme and that anyone found wanting or in breach of the law can be investigated or even prosecuted. And this applies to all persons including the highest office in the land –the office of the President.
On his part, a Lagos-based lawyer and civil rights activist, Mr Mike Ubani, expressed fears that the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, Act appeared to be contradictory with the provisions of the FoI Act which makes access to information mandatory.
He said contrary to the Freedom of Information Act, the CCB had maintained that members of the public might not have access to details of assets declared by state governors or other public office holders on the ground that the document contained personal information.
“We are in for a big trouble with this kind of attitude. We all know instances where elected political office holders declare in advance what they set out to steal in office, in their assets declaration forms. They declare homes in America , UK , France , Bahamas , etc, that they are yet to acquire by future stealing”.
“We also know they steal and use their spouses and children’s names to acquire assets and properties. Yet, somebody will tell me that it is a private information for which the public is entitled, not to have the information,” he lamented.
Ubani noted that vigorous advocacy, consistent demand for observance of the FoI law, perseverance by the Nigerian populace for transparency and accountability in governance was the panacea for full and due implementation of the FoI law which he described as the first step in enthroning transparency in governance in Nigeria.

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