The controversial Economic Amnesty Bill, which seeks to allow looters of the public treasury to go scot free if they return about 70 percent of the funds they stole to the government, is generating outrage in the country. Sponsored by Linus Okorie (PDP, Ebonyi), the proposed legislation seeking total amnesty for treasury looters was read on the floor of the House of Representatives on June 14. If passed into law, it will empower treasury looters to keep 30 percent of the proceeds of their corruption, without any sanctions at all whatsoever.
The law that will result from this obnoxious bill will vitiate the goal of the ongoing war against corruption in the country. It will make a mockery of the battle against corruption and encourage more public officers to dip their hands into the public till, with the objective of keeping at least 30 percent of whatever they are able to steal. Above all, the ill-conceived legislation will make Nigeria a laughing stock in the comity of nations.
It is, indeed, not surprising that this bill has elicited an uproar and widespread condemnation among enlightened segments of the society, especially the civil rights organisations, lawyers and politicians. Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, former governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, and Vice President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Monday Ubani, have added their voices to others condemning the bill.
Falana described the bill as immoral, discriminatory, unconstitutional, and at variance with the United Nations Convention against Corruption. He averred that it also contravenes Sections 15, 42 and 45 of the 1999 Constitution. It is particularly inconsistent with Section 15 (5) of the constitution, which enjoins the Nigerian state to abolish corrupt practices. Others have also harshly condemned it.
The idea of making a law to set treasury looters free if they return a percentage of stolen funds is lacking in basic common sense. It is nothing but a legitimisation of stealing that will lay the treasury open to thieving public officers who will try to steal as much as they can to increase the amount that they can legally keep, if caught. Rewarding looters with a third of whatever they steal, without any sanctions for the offence, stands reason on its head. The proposal is not worth the paper on which it is written and should be thrown out of the House. The lawmakers should banish the idea even though it has passed the first reading. Allowing this bill to become law will worsen Nigeria’s performance on the Corruption Perception Index of transparency organisations. A bill that will encourage people to steal public funds and legally retain 30 percent thereof deserves no place other than the dustbin. Instead of debating this ludicrous bill, our lawmakers should, as provided for in Section 4 (2) of the 1999 Constitution, concentrate on making laws that will ensure good governance in the country. The bill on amnesty for looters can only encourage stealing by public officials.
It is, indeed, embarrassing that the legislators even gave this bill a first reading. It ought to have attracted nothing but boos, being one of the most absurd bills ever placed before the House. That corruption is the bane of Nigerian politics and development is not in doubt. Any law that will further entrench and legitimise it will be offensive. It is ironical that we are fighting corruption and at the same time introducing a bill that will encourage it.
We remind the lawmakers that the Administration of Justice Act 2015 (270) has already provided for plea bargaining, which may be one of the intendments of the bill. Granting amnesty to looters will be a bastardisation of the concept of plea bargaining. It will not in any way enhance it, as it will only give a licence to treasury looters.
We urge Nigerians to mandate the lawmakers to drop further consideration of this bill. It is insulting to the intelligence of the people and not worth the time of the legislature.