Friday, 23 November 2012
Bribery is an all pervasive phenomenon; and most people in the country engage in it one way or another on a regular basis. It is the linchpin of all financial crimes, yet it is a highly elusive concept, so much that countries around the world have struggled to pin it down with any degree of accuracy. The legal logic is pretty simple; you cannot outlaw something you cannot define. It goes without saying, therefore, that the more accurate the definition, the more precise will be the law to deal with it. Most people generally understand bribery to involve an offer or demand from one person to another with the intention of inducing the other to alter their behaviour. Most bribery incidents involve money or some other items of value, and they range, for instance, from the ridiculous, such as giving a N20 note to a police officer on the road, to the gargantuan act of offering millions of dollars to a judge. The end, in both cases, is the same; that is to alter behaviour. Let me first explain why it must be outlawed even more forcefully than it currently is, and then counter that with the reasons why it cannot. I will then make an audacious suggestion at the end on how the incidence of bribery in Nigeria can become so rare that it will begin to resemble that of any advanced nation in the West. It can be done.
According to the World Bank, there is an estimated $1tn of bribe money circulating in the world economy of US$30tn. Difficult to say with precision what percentage of the one trillion dollars emanates from our shores, but it is safe to assume that Nigeria is losing billions of naira annually to bribes and kickbacks. James Ibori alone was alleged to have amassed up to half a billion dollars, Awhile the late Gen. Sani Abacha before him stashed away billions of dollars from bribes in Western banks. So, leaving aside the moral outrage bribery naturally provokes from well-meaning citizens, what does it matter to the real economy? It matters because, first, business deals are stymied as a consequence, and valuable investments lost in the process. The running costs of bribes are inevitably passed on to the customers in higher and higher prices for consumer goods. Apart from this, the main economic case against bribery is that it distorts the allocation of resources. Second, in terms of law and order, bribery induces disrespect for legitimate order if the rule of law can be circumvented at the behest of those willing to offer bribes. This, in itself, encourages a sense of anarchy and a resort to self help. Third, bribery within the administration of government creates cynicism, discontent and alienation of the citizenry from their political leaders. When the only people who enjoy the dividends of democratic governance are those who happen to be well-connected through bribery, then, others will withdraw their support for the system and over time, become totally indifferent to the development of society at large. Now, with the submission made thus far, who would oppose legislation, even a draconian one, to get rid of bribery from the business of our daily national life? Strange as it seems, not even the imposition of the death penalty can make bribery disappear from our midst.
Bribery in everyday life has largely been banished in the advanced industrial economies. Do not get me wrong, bribery still occurs regularly in Western countries, in industries and sometimes in government administration, but such incidents, where they occur, make peak-time news. On the contrary, in Nigeria, no self-respecting editor would devote a column inch to a report of bribery unless it involves more, because incidence of bribery is so pervasive in our midst. Moreover, as the world economy has gradually become intertwined through commerce, bribery in one foreign land, potentially, now has a bearing on business affairs in other countries around the globe, whether it is intended or not. It is precisely for this reason that the United States of America and the United Kingdom have spearheaded the effort to legislate extra-territorially on this issue. The US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act 1977 has been, in the main, the pace-setter in international business compliance. It applies not only to US citizens, but to all businesses anywhere in the world that have a US connection. It applies to private and public officials. The UK updated its legislative effort in this area with the enactment of the Bribery Act 2010. Section 7 of the Act introduces a new strict liability offence of “failing to prevent bribery”. This also applies extra-territorially. Consequently, a bribery occurrence in the remotest village of Nigeria, for instance, could land one in jail if it has the remotest of connection to the UK. Maximum prison sentence is five years and 10 years under the FCPA and the Bribery Act respectively. Despite all this, the real reason why bribery is less prevalent in Western societies than in ours is not about the law per se, but experience. The people in these countries have had a long experience of daily life free of bribery, especially of the kind that blights daily life on our roads, offices, hospitals and businesses. By comparison, since independence, collectively, we have not experienced one day free of bribery in Nigeria, so the will to resist it when it occurs is, ipso-facto, weak.
My proposal, therefore, is this. Let us all shun bribery by setting aside one day; just one day in the month, where no one will either offer or take a bribe. In other words, no givers, and no takers. Let us all feel and share in the rare experience of living in a country free of bribes if only for one day. This could be the first Monday of the month, for example, since Mondays often set the tone for how the rest of the week pans out. One is tempted to call such a day a “bribery-free day”, but that could be construed as a tacit endorsement of the act on the other days. To avoid this, I suggest it is called a “penitence day”, where everybody goes about their daily business secure in the knowledge that they will not be hampered by any act of bribery for the entire day. The referees for the day, of course, will be both the print and broadcast journalists who, I am sure, would love to interview drivers on the road going past police checkpoints without dropping one penny; people collecting their passports without money passing under the desks; customs men doing their diligent duties without lining their pockets; loans in the banks being approved with zero per cent going back to the manager as a “thank you”; people walking through immigration points without fear of having their belongings impounded unjustly; and doctors in hospitals attending to patients neither asking for; nor receiving ex-gratia payments of any kind etc. The penitence day is cost-free, as it is not a public holiday. Nonetheless, to be successful, it has to be coordinated nationally with a prolonged public education campaign prior to its adoption. What a day to remember that would be. A bribery-free Nigeria is not only a matter for legislation alone; it is an atmosphere that must be experienced.
Tuesday, 20 November 2012
The Joint Task Force (JTF) operating in the Niger Delta on Monday described as false and baseless allegations that its personnel were bribed by oil thieves in the area.
Some members of the public had alleged that some personnel of the JTF had been compromised by oil thieves to regain freedom and carry on with their escapades.
Brig.-Gen Tukur Buratai, the Commander, 2 Brigade of the Army and Sector 2 of the JTF, denied the allegation in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Port Harcourt.
Buratai denied the allegation on the sidelines of a 12-kilometre road race organised in the state by the Nigerian Army.
He said soldiers of the JTF had always maintained discipline without any form of prejudice and corrupt practices in carrying out their duty of eliminating illegal bunkering in the region.
``I’m hearing this allegation for the first time; I don’t believe men of the JTF will do that (collect bribes).
``Notwithstanding, since you brought it to my notice, I will investigate; but I don’t believe our Soldiers will do that.
``Anyone (illegal bunkers) that is arrested and brought to my notice, nobody goes free. We take them straight to the court through the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence.”
Buratai called on the public to report anyone involved in oil theft and illegal refining of crude oil to security agencies in the state.