By Tobi Soniyi
Despite repeated avowals of his commitment to a fight against corruption, the United States Department of State has said there is a climate of impunity in the President Muhammadu Buhari government that allows officials to engage in corrupt practices with a sense of exemption from punishment. The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, in its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2018, said Nigeria had made little progress in efforts to limit corruption in its public service.
The US Congress mandates the executive to produce a report on the state of human rights worldwide every year. For Nigeria, the findings in the 2018 Human Rights Report, released Thursday, were largely similar to those of the previous year’s report, indicating lack of real progress in the government’s anti-corruption war.
A copy of the report obtained by THISDAY said, “Although the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
“Massive, widespread, and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government and the security services. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.”
The report stated that the country’s two key anti-corruption agencies, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), had broad powers to prosecute corruption, but rarely applied such powers to conscientiously and logically prosecute corruption cases.
It stated, “The EFCC writ extends only to financial and economic crimes. The ICPC secured 14 convictions during the year. In 2016 the EFCC had 66 corruption cases pending in court, had secured 13 convictions during the year, and had 598 open investigations.
“Although ICPC and EFCC anti-corruption efforts remained largely focused on low and mid-level government officials, following the 2015 presidential election, both organisations started investigations into and brought indictments against various active and former high-level government officials. Many of these cases were pending in court. According to both ICPC and EFCC, the delays were the result of a lack of judges and the widespread practice of filing for and granting multiple adjournments.
“EFCC arrests and indictments of politicians continued throughout the year, implicating a significant number of opposition political figures and leading to allegations of partisan motivations on the part of the EFCC. In October the EFCC arrested and indicted former governor of Ekiti State Ayo Fayose on 11 counts, including conspiracy and money laundering amounting to 2.2 billion naira ($6 million). After a Federal High Court ruling, Fayose was out on 50 million naira ($137,500) bail.”
On financial disclosure, the report noted the constitutional requirement under the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act (CCBTA) for public officials, including the president, vice president, governors, deputy governors, cabinet ministers, and legislators (at both federal and state levels), to declare their assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) before assuming and after leaving office. The constitution calls for the CCB to “make declarations available for inspection by any citizen of the country on such terms and conditions as the National Assembly may prescribe,” said the report. “The law does not address the publication of asset information. Violators risk prosecution, but cases rarely reached conclusion.”
Perhaps, more chilling was the finding that arbitrary deprivation of life and unlawful killings were prevalent in Nigeria in 2018. The report cited several examples.
It said, “There were several reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. The national police, army, and other security services used lethal and excessive force to disperse protesters and apprehend criminals and suspects and committed other extrajudicial killings.
“Authorities generally did not hold police, military, or other security force personnel accountable for the use of excessive or deadly force or for the deaths of persons in custody.
“State and federal panels of inquiry investigating suspicious deaths generally did not make their findings public.
“In August 2017 the acting president convened a civilian-led presidential investigative panel to review compliance of the armed forces with human rights obligations and rules of engagement, and the panel submitted its findings in February. As of November no portions of the report had been made public.
“As of September there were no reports of the federal government further investigating or holding individuals accountable for the 2015 killing and subsequent mass burial of members of the Shia group, Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), and other civilians by Nigerian Army (NA) forces in Zaria, Kaduna State. “
The report noted the 2016 nonbinding report of the Kaduna State government’s judicial commission, which found that the Nigerian Army (NA) used “excessive and disproportionate” force during the 2015 altercations in which 348 members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) and one soldier died.
It said, “The commission recommended the federal government conduct an independent investigation and prosecute anyone found to have acted unlawfully. It also called for the proscription of the IMN and the monitoring of its members and their activities.
“In 2016 the government of Kaduna State published a white paper that included acceptance of the commission’s recommendation to investigate and prosecute allegations of excessive and disproportionate use of force by the NA.
“As of September, however, there was no indication that authorities had held any members of the NA accountable for the events in Zaria. It also accepted the recommendation to hold IMN leader Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky responsible for all illegal acts committed by IMN members during the altercations and in the preceding 30 years. In 2016 a federal court declared the continued detention without charge of Zakzaky and his wife illegal and unconstitutional.
“The court ordered their release by January 2017. The federal government did not comply with this order, and Zakzaky, his spouse, and other IMN members remained in detention. In April the Kaduna State government charged Zakzaky in state court with multiple felonies stemming from the death of the soldier at Zaria. The charges include culpable homicide, which can carry the death penalty. As of December the case was pending. In July a Kaduna High Court dismissed charges of aiding and abetting culpable homicide against more than 80 IMN members. As of September the Kaduna State government had appealed the ruling. Approximately 100 additional IMN members remained in detention.
“In October security forces killed 45 IMN members that were participating in processions and protests, according to Amnesty International (AI).”
The report recalled the January 2017 bombing of an informal internally displaced persons (IDPs) settlement in Rann, Borno State, by the Nigerian Air Force, which resulted in the killing and injuring of more than 100 civilians and aid workers.
It said, “The government and military leaders publicly assumed responsibility for the strike and launched an investigation. The air force conducted its own internal investigation, but as of December the government had not made public its findings. No air force or army personnel were known to have been held accountable for their roles in the event. There were reports of arbitrary and unlawful killings related to internal conflicts in the North-east and other areas.”
The report identified the following human rights issues in Nigeria: unlawful and arbitrary killings by both government and non-state actors; forced disappearances by both government and non-state actors; torture by both government and non-state actors; and prolonged arbitrary detention in life-threatening conditions, particularly, in government detention facilities. Others are harsh and life threatening prison conditions, including civilian detentions in military facilities, often based on flimsy or no evidence; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, in particular for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and refoulement of refugees.
The report also identified as human rights abuse corruption; progress to formally separate child soldiers previously associated with the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF); lack of accountability concerning violence against women, including female genital mutilation/cutting, in part due to government inaction/negligence; trafficking in persons, including sexual exploitation and abuse by security officials; crimes involving violence targeting LGBTI persons and the criminalisation of status and same-sex sexual conduct based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and forced and bonded labour.
The report, however, noted that the government took steps to investigate alleged abuses but took fewer steps to prosecute officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government.
“Impunity remained widespread at all levels of government. The government did not adequately investigate or prosecute most of the major outstanding allegations of human rights violations by the security forces or the majority of cases of police or military extortion or other abuse of power,” the report added.