“The Law is an Ass!”

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Our courts get this abuse a lot, especially right after a starving pensioner is jailed for stealing bread, while the convicted civil servant who stole billions in pension funds pays a fine of a hundred thousand naira and drives home. Although our court system has its problems, laws, whether wise or asinine, are not made by courts. Laws are made by ‘We the People’, through our lawmakers in the NASS.

A law that brays in court must have left the National Assembly with a tail and a big head. By implication, we the people are the real asses, when we fail to police our representatives adequately and they make bad laws, or refuse to make good laws. The most monstrous systems in the world, from Nazism to Apartheid, were not established by dictators but by laws that were passed legally while good men sleepwalked and common sense held her tongue. A good example of a monstrous bill currently making its way into Nigerian law is the Economic Amnesty Bill, or the Voluntary Taxable Income Recovery and Amnesty Scheme Bill (to use its official name). It is designed to offer amnesty to treasury looters and those who have acquired funds and assets that they cannot explain.

If this bill ever becomes law, history will look back to that day as the day that Nigeria finally lost its soul.

Let’s say I embezzled a couple of jets from Nigeria Airways back in the ’80s and stashed the proceeds abroad. When the Economic Amnesty bill becomes law, I can take advantage of a three-year window to:

  • declare some of the loot,
  • import it into Nigeria,
  • pay 37.5% to government, and
  • invest 62.5% in my Nigerian business.

Thereafter, I get immunity against prosecution in Nigeria. No one can investigate the source of my money, or charge me to court on any charges under any criminal law in Nigeria. As a bonus, nobody can expose my fraud to earn a 5% whistleblowers’ reward.

In 2015, a law which would have offered Tunisian looters amnesty in return for 100% refund of the loot was abandoned by lawmakers after public demonstrations (It has been resubmitted, and the battle continues). The Nigerian version offers full immunity and protection from investigation and prosecution in return for a tax/surcharge of 37.5% of the loot. An Indonesian amnesty law offers immunity from all tax crimes. The Nigerian version offers immunity from every crime known to Nigerian law. The South African Truth and  It will become law if we are silent.

Here is the proposed law, annotated section-by-section, to make the consequences of the proposed law easier to grasp.

The most important flaws of the Economic Amnesty Bill are that

  • by opening an expressway for looters to legalise assets with zero consequence, it punishes the honest, rewards rampant, violent criminality, and encourages impunity in looting,
  • by banning inquiry and investigation, it does nothing to close the leaks that enabled the looting in the first place,
  • there is nothing to stop the relooting of loot. (The Abacha scandal is a case in point. At least 60 billion naira worth of loot recovered from the Abacha family was immediately relooted by the Nigerian political class operating through the vehicle of the National Security Adviser.)
  • with an Amnesty on its way, there is nothing to stop NNPC and other government agencies from going the way of the moribund Nigeria Airways and Nigerian National Shipping Lines.

Clearly our absolute focus must be on ending corruption and plugging the leaks, which is The Bribecode’s approach, not destroying what is left of Nigeria by attempting to recover 37.5% of lost assets into a leaking basket. The proposer of the Economic Amnesty Bill, Hon. Linus Okorie, argues that the bill is a practical way to address the reality that the current court recovery route is simply not working, so, we compare the Bribecode and the Economic Amnesty Bill as alternative solutions to this reality here.

Today, we can have the option to choose  wisdom and reject another ass from the 8th NASS.

And do spread the word!

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