Date Published: 07/14/10
If I Had 1o Billion Naira By Henry N. Ibe
On a visit to the Philippines in 2002, I stumbled on an impressive edifice in the Centennial Building Complex in Quezon City, Metro Manila. On asking, my guide told me it was called the Sandiganbayan. This is a special court where all manner of government-related corruption cases are brought for trial. I also learnt that it was there that, a few months back, the recently ousted President Joseph “Erap” Estrada was docked for plunder and perjury. Estrada had been impeached by the country’s House of Representatives for taking kickbacks, but when the Senate tried to save him, there was a popular uprising (People Power II), and the rest became history. In 2007, the Sandiganbayan found Estrada guilty and sentenced to him to Reclusion perpetua (perpetual confinement).
In Nigeria today, reports have it that the government is about to spend a whooping 10 billion naira or thereabouts to “celebrate” our fifty years of underdevelopment and perennial misrule. Having racked my brain for some time on what I could possibly do for my country with 10 billion naira, I have come up with the idea of a Sandiganbayan. Please bear with me as there are so many other pressing needs that could be met with this colossal sum of money and everyone is free to come up with their own ideas.
By all measures I think the criminal justice system in our country is crying for urgent reforms; on one hand there are too many people who have languished for too long in our prisons “awaiting trial”, whereas on the other hand you have too many people out there in the community who by all accounts belong to the other side of freedom. Amongst our political leaders you have thousands of miscreants and incurably kleptomanic potentates needing to be locked away for the greater good of the nation and its long-suffering people. Since corruption has become a dominant brand in Nigeria, there needs to be an alternative legitimate business model to tackle it headlong.
If I had 10 billion naira, I would lay the foundation for an anti-corruption city modeled on the Philippino experiment, taking it one or two steps higher. I would set up an entirely new city so that everything there revolves around the fight against corruption. Not only would there be a fully-functional court complex dedicated solely to corruption in public places, there would also be a gigantic prison complex of, say, five hundreds rooms/cells, in the first stance. On a radical note, anyone convicted of corruption, and you bet there are many crooks out there, would be charged for the cost of keeping them in the new prison. But one could choose to go to Kirikiri or any of the other “free” prisons under the prevalent conditions, but my guess is that most of them would opt for the “VIP” prison. That way the government derives returns on investment from punishing those who have punished us for too long a time.
Further, the government would get the private sector involved in building new prison blocks as populations increase. The idea here is that we can build an entirely new industry around corruption and a lot of employment opportunities would thereby be created. New hotels will spring up as a lot of “big men” and family would need some lodging to attend the trials of their friends and loved ones. The prosecutors would also need temporary accommodation from time to time. The multiplier effects would be so many – the need for telecommunications services, a lot ‘mama-put’ operators, taxi drivers, drycleaners, and a raft of other businesses. In terms of direct employment, a lot a judges, lawyers, court clerks, interpreters and other ancillary judicial staff would be required. The prison would employ many wardens, cooks, cleaners, etc. The health centre would also bring employment to different categories of workers. What about shops, supermarkets, pharmacies, postal services, and even a library? We only need to lay the foundation and all these other things would fall in place with time. All those employed people would pay income taxes that would, in turn, be used to maintain infrastructure within the city.
The Sandaganbayan ranks in equivalence to the Appeals Courts and I would do the same here - subordinate to only the Supreme Court. I would provide up to 20 separate courts within the complex so that a lot of cases could go on at the time, given the urgent and pandemic nature of the problem at hand. Then I would quadruple the current staff strength of the EFCC to help it cope with the overwhelming number of cases waiting to be dealt with.
For practical purposes I would choose the site of the abandoned Obehie City between Aba and Port Harcourt. Many years ago, the government of Abia State was trumpeting this new city and calling for investors but, like most things Nigerian, the project was abandoned after several millions had be flushed down the drain. Now I must admit that I have not passed that place for about eight years now and do not know what has become of it; but if it is still abandoned, then I would convert it to the proposed city of KASA, SANGO and AMADIOHA. So we would have the KASANGOHA City – The Land of Thunder or the Land of Sango and Amadioha. Now I am employing Sango and Amadioha only in symbolic terms and not as a reflection of my personal religious belief. Nigerians would be free to suggest names and a final decision would be made by popular demand.
I would choose that location mainly because of its proximity to the oil fields of the Niger Delta from where most of the money being stolen is derived. I would make it a law that all political aspirants attend a seminar on corruption held with within the confines of the new city. Then I would go ahead and reintroduce Civics as a compulsory subject in our schools to teach our young ones the tenets of responsible citizenship and the evils of corruption. Excursions would be organized regularly for students to see where those are locked up who impoverished their parents, and where they could end up in the future should they choose to be corrupt.
Now, if 10 billion naira would help me achieve just ten percent of the ideas rolled out in this piece, so long as every kobo is spent judiciously and transparently, then it would have been an amount very well spent. We do not need a golden jubilee celebration as there’s hardly anything to celebrate. I would encourage whoever reads this opinion to think about it and see it they can come up with a list of ten people from their state of origin or from another state whom they would like to see put behind the bars on account of corruption. The new prison might be fully subscribed before one realizes it.
Henry N. Ibe
New South Wales, Australia.