The ICPC’s ‘bow and go’ enforcement

EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO'S COLUMN OPINION

By Emmanuel Onwubiko

To begin from a positive note, this writer notes with satisfaction the determination and zeal showed so far by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other related Offences Commission (ICPC) in the prosecution of the director general of the Natural Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Alhaji Modibbo Kawu over alleged #2.5 billion misappropriation of public fund which was reportedly diverted to a private firm.

The fact that the institution of anti-graft set up by law has withstood the avalanche of targeted media mudslinging and campaigns of Calumny to dissuade it from proceeding with the prosecution of the NBC head who ironically is a card carrying member of the ruling All Progressives Congress whilst holding on to a sensitive regulatory job, is a rare display of courage on the part of the management of ICPC. 

The ICPC must ensure that this matter is prosecuted to its logical conclusion as this is the first high profile case that would be used to judge whether they have overcome its initial but prolonged inertia and apparent lethargic dysfunctionality and inherent weakness that have characterized the operation of this body since it was set up around early year 2003 or so by the then president Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration. ICPC’S poor rating in the eyes of the critical members of the public comes from the institutional legal incapacity and landmine embedded in the enabling Act requiring that the panel will not sip moto initiate any investigative findings and subsequent prosecution but has to wait like a zombie for petitioners to file petitions before it would act. It would also seem that the ICPC has never been lucky to have proactive Chairman or Chief executive officer since it was started to an extent that it even became like a body set up to go after petty thieves and local government officials in conflict with the law. 

Although in the earliest period that it was set up, the ICPC under the then president Obasanjo seemed to have enjoyed some free hands going by the top ranking government officials who were arrested and prosecuted including serving ministers and Directors Generals of federal agencies. 

Sadly, we cannot place our hands on any significant convictions recorded by ICPC apart from the routine ‘kobo-kobo’ small time thieves it managed to obtain convictions after wasting billions of tax payers fund in administrative costs. 

It is in the light of this sad tale, that expectations have started rising that if the anti-graft body can indeed and in practice withstand the pressures to proceed with the prosecution of the NBC’s director general and if it can eventually reach a determination or legal finality then the citizens will begin to repose our confidence on this body which now parades a fearless law professor as the chairman, chief executive officer. I must confess that as a federal commissioner of the National Human Rights commission few years back, I have had constructive engagements with the new Chairman of ICPC who is reputable for capacity building trainings for professionals in the Country from the legal perspectives. 

However, ICPC may have relapsed to its old ways of doing things going by the emerging facts around some top ranking cases that it is handling and the manner it has approached these cases can be likened to the thoughtless style of screening and confirmation of the 43 ministerial nominees by the 9th session of the senate.

Has ICPC therefore imbibed and caught the bug and virus of “bow and go” mentality to an extent that it has emerged that the commission reportedly said it caught red-handed a ministerial nominee and erstwhilst senate minority leader and defector from PDP to APC – senator Godswill Akpabio in a scandal that relates to the alleged hoarding of constituency projects. How come this same former Senator was not arrested and prosecuted or is the ICPC ACT meant for the poor and lowly? 

We read that the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) reportedly recovered hospital equipment meant for constituency project on the premises of Mma Obot Foundation.

The Mma Obot Foundation is allegedly owned by Godswill Akpabio, former governor of Akwa Ibom.

In a statement by Rasheedat Okoduwa, ICPC’s spokesperson, the commission said the items were recovered during its ongoing tracking of constituency projects around the country.

“The on-going tracking of constituency projects by the ICPC and its partners through the Constituency Projects Tracking Group (CPTG) initiative has yielded yet another significant result with the recovery of six tractors meant for the use of farmers in six local government areas of Bauchi Central Senatorial District,” the statement read.

“It has so far led to multiple recoveries of items, hospital equipment, vehicles and funds.

“Among the recoveries so far made by the CPTG team are dialysis machine, ECG monitor, oxygen regulator, anesthetic machines, generators and other hospital equipment meant for a cottage hospital in Ukana, Essien Udim Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, from the premises of Mma Obot Foundation, alleged to belong to Senator Godswill Akpabio.”

The commission said it also recovered six tractors from a farm belonging to Isa Misau, a former senator who represented Bauchi central.

According to ICPC, the tractors recovered from Misau were meant for farmers in six local government areas in his senatorial district.

The commission said the tractors, already showing signs of wear and tear, have been handed over to the chairman of Ganjuwa LGA for “safekeeping until further directives”.

“The tractors formed part of the N430m contract for the supply of pumping machines and other agricultural machinery to farmers in the senatorial district, which was awarded in 2015 by the Federal Government as part of the senators’ constituency projects across the nation.

“The CPTG team for Bauchi discovered that N76.6m was paid for the tractors in December 2015 and supplied in March 2016.

“They were supposed to have been distributed for the use of farmers in each of the six local government areas in the senatorial district that included Misau, Dambam, Ningi, Warji, Darazo and Ganjuwa. It was found out that the tractors had obviously not been distributed as required in the terms of the contract.

“In the effort to trace the tractors, Isa Hamman Misau, the then-senator under whose auspices the project was included in the budget to be executed by the MDG (Millennium Development Goals) Office, met with officials of ICPC in Bauchi and in a written statement claimed that the tractors were kept in Yuli village.

“However, the CPTG team did not find any of the tractors there and some of the intended beneficiaries who were interviewed claimed not to have ever seen the tractors in the village as claimed by the senator.

“The tractors, which are already showing signs of dilapidation as a result of usage, with some leaking oil, have been seized by the Commission and handed over to the Chairman, Ganjuwa Local Government Area for safe keep pending further directives.”

The ICPC did nothing even when the same person under whose custody public items were found went ahead to pass senate confirmation here. The former Senator it found tractors in his custody illegally is nowhere near the ICPC’S cells to the best of public knowledge. 

Few days ago, it made another ground-breaking finding whereby the former Committee chairman on anti-graft in the Senate Senator Utazi  was allegedly found concealing items which he ought to have distributed since the life time of the 8th session of the Senate even as we are now in the 9th session. ICPC as usual has harvested media mileage from this finding but this is where it has ended going by the NOW AND GO PROCEDURE adopted by the anti-graft body to tackle this. 

”The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) has again recovered items worth N117,123,375.44 million from the Senator representing Enugu North Senatorial District of Enugu State.

”The items covered by this amount and recovered from the legislator are 168 and 51 numbers of motorcycles and tricycles respectively. They were discovered to be stashed away in a compound in Mkpologu town of Uzo-Nwani Local Government Area, believed to be owned by the Senator.

”The tricycles, motorcycles and grinding machines were meant to be distributed to the lawmaker’s constituents to empower them as part of the Federal Government’s efforts to alleviate poverty.

”Additionally, ICPC recovered 203 grinding machines, 60 motorcycles and 5 transformers in the compound which had been procured under another constituency project. Thereupon the Commission impounded all the items and sealed the Senator’s compound. the statement partly reads.

The ICPC said the contact for the procurement of the items was awarded on January 23, 2018, under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of the Senator’s constituency projects.

The Commission said its investigations showed that four companies were awarded the contracts for the project which includes ”Al-Amir Int. Ltd., Du-Lumac Ltd., Com Technologies System Ltd., and Chumax Agency Ltd.

According to a source from the ICPC, the items had been left abandoned for the past 17 months and were already showing signs of dilapidation.

It added that the senator, who was not present during the seizure, pledged to the commission to distribute the items to beneficiaries on Tuesday.

”He was not on ground when items were seized but his men claimed there are plans to distribute the item this week. Curiously, these items have been under the sun and rain for the past 17 months.

The ICPC said: “its officers will be on the scene to supervise the distribution.”

”While ICPC is investigating circumstances that led to the items being in the possession of the sponsoring legislator rather than the implementing agency, its officers will be on the scene to supervise the distribution

The CPTG assessment reviews constituency projects across Nigeria. It is carried out by the Commission and its partners: Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, Bureau of Public Procurement, Budget Office of the Federation, BudgIT and Udeme.ng.

The project is aimed at ensuring the satisfactory execution of all constituency projects across the country.

It has so far led to multiple recoveries of items, hospital equipment, vehicles, and funds. It has also forced many contractors who hitherto had abandoned projects to return to the site to complete them.

The commission had said about N2 trillion was spent on constituency projects in Nigeria since 2000, without commensurate development at the grassroots. 

Is it part of the law of ICPC to tell alleged big time offenders to go and sin no more? Is now and go the new enforcement strategy of ICPC? Let’s review the functions of the commission as it were and clearly spelt out in the legal framework.  

Section 6 (a-f) of the ICPC Act 2000 sets out the duties of the Commission as paraphrased in the following:

·         To receive and investigate complaints from members of the public on allegations of corrupt practices and in appropriate cases, prosecute the offenders.

·         To examine the practices, systems and procedures of public bodies and where such systems aid corruption, to direct and supervise their review.

·         To instruct, advise and assist any officer, agency, or parastatal on ways by which fraud or corruption may be eliminated or minimized by them.

·         To advise heads of public bodies of any changes in practice, systems or procedures compatible with the effective discharge of the duties of public bodies to reduce the likelihood or incidence of bribery, corruption and related offences.

·         To educate the public on and against bribery, corruption and related offences.

·         To enlist and foster public support in combating corruption.

With respect to the prosecution of cases, the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000 provides that every prosecution for offences under it shall be deemed to be done with the consent of the Attorney-General. 

Furthermore, it is provided that the Chief Judge of a State or the Federal Capital Territory shall designate a court or judge to hear and determine all cases arising under the Act. Presently, there are two such designated Judges in each State of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory.

Conversely, the ICPC main functions are: – to eliminate corruption in the country; – to find and bring to justice any act of corruption; – to investigate, impose, and reconstruct corruption-fighting organizations and procedures in the country; – to prosecute any criminal found guilty of acts of corruption; – to nurture and illuminate the public about corruption and other related crimes with aim of recruiting and encourage public support for the fight against corruption.

Why is ICPC playing and dancing disco music with alleged senatorial and MINISTERIAL suspects or is the law not made for everyone? 

* Emmanuel Onwubiko heads Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and was a Federal Commissioner of the National Human Rights commission of Nigeria (NHRC). He blogs@www.tjenigerianinsidernews.com;www.huriwa.blogspot.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *