On corruption and the laws against it

House of Representatives

Except for the indecorous manner in which the words were traded, the accusation and counter-accusation between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the National Assembly over allegations of corruption should be seen as a healthy development for the polity if all are convinced that the war against the scourge must be won by Nigeria. To carry out the fight against corruption in this manner, the abuse of privileges, positions and the instruments of justice, such as the perpetual injunction, which courts grant to plaintiff or accused, needs to be addressed. Which is why the plea by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), to amend the EFCC Act to extricate the commission from restriction imposed by perpetual injunction, is a step in right direction.

The import of that altercation between members of the House of Representatives and Obasanjo is not about who is more corrupt than the other, but about the fact that corruption is so serious a problem that those who know how infectiously damaging and pestilential it is to the polity have treated, and are still treating, it with kids’ gloves. Rather than attack corruption from its roots, they are pruning its branches, whilst the monstrosity continues to grow and become firmly rooted.

At the root of curbing corruption is not the making of new laws, for it is said that a society is in jeopardy that creates too many laws. The problem of tackling corruption is in the enforcement of the extant laws, the enforcement of which is laden with legal obstacles.

Indeed anyone who so wishes to secure a perpetual injunction has a right to do so. As the Duhaime Law Dictionary puts it: “Where a plaintiff has established his legal right and the fact of its violation he is in general entitled as of course to a perpetual injunction to prevent the recurrence of the wrong, unless there be something special in the circumstances of the case.” But contrary to the belief that a perpetual injunction is an injunction that cannot be dissolved, the law dictionary posits inter alia: “Both perpetual and also interlocutory and interim injunctions may at any time be dissolved by the court by which they were granted, should it become appropriate to do so.”Whilst we acknowledge the noble intention of this legal principle to safeguard the right and integrity of a person, and thereby effect justice, it is observable that in practice, perpetual injunction is susceptible to abuse and dubious manipulation as a convenient device to shield criminality. It is, therefore, pitiable that some lawyers and jurists have converted it into a political device for corruption. This is highly disturbing, for it questions the quality of people who have made it their professional engagement to promote justice.

It is for this reason that the Senate should be encouraged to amend the EFCC Act in a manner that strengthens it against perpetual injunction. Strengthening the EFCC Act against perpetual injunction would enlighten Nigerians about the impermanent nature of the injunction. A perpetual injunction is not unconditional. It can be revisited because entailed in the explanation of the term is a condition that spells out the transient nature of that ruling – that it may be dissolved at any time.
It would also re-educate the ‘learned’ men and women about the ontological basis and purpose of law: morality and justice respectively. Justice is a moral category, for it is the principle that balances the society’s gauge of right and wrong. It is at the centre of individual moral action. Justice, therefore, by its very nature is antithetical to corruption. An action that promotes corruption cannot undeniably be said to be a just one. That an action is construed as corrupt and just at the same time stands on a warped sense of morality.

Whilst the House of Representatives should be commended for raising the five ad-hoc committees to combat corruption in ministries, departments and agencies, it is important for the House to purge itself of the same cankerworm. It is also the conviction of all Nigerians that the endemic nature of corruption demands a revolutionary approach beyond routine duties. Nigerians must begin to respect the law as the culmination of the ideas that seek to preserve the good and shun evil. The sacrosanct nature of the law is a reason for the reverence accorded to the law.

As Thomas Aquinas, the erudite medieval scholar and natural law theorist, aptly captures it, the law is a dictate of right reason promulgated by a constituted authority for the common good. No law viewed in this light finds its personification in any human being. No one who acknowledges the wisdom in the dictates of right reason, respects constituted authorities (even if he or she be a part), and seeks to serve the common good, would blatantly scheme to obviate the law.
The problem with the implementation of laws of the land is that Nigeria’s leaders, improperly, confuse their custodianship of, and duty to protect, the law as sitting over and above the law. Corruption thrives because perpetrators of corrupt practices are not only in power, they do not think they are accountable under the law, and when they are caught in breach of the law, they do not get punished.They do not get punished because of the absence of diligent prosecution and deliberate obstruction of the course of justice by legal obstacles. All these exist because there are many who live the talk that “the law is an ass” to be exploited to one’s advantage.

Whether in the form of over-exaggerated self-importance in government or society, or in the form of abused court injunction, any privilege, position or status that confers a larger-than-the-nation image on an individual is corruption. This is self-seeking and inimical to the public good. It is unacceptable.

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