In the arena of corruption, especially at the grand level where billions of dollars are stolen as a rule of thumb, secrecy and cover-ups are two of the most dominant factors. Many of the world’s great scandals relating to corruption are found out by mistake or whistle-blowing. Once in a while trifling investigations into some minor malfeasance or routine crime ends up unexpectedly uncovering some case of grand corruption. A peripheral component of major corruption may seem frivolous by those who choose to see it so, but how about the main act?
Investigators into corruption in Nigeria will emphatically affirm that nobody wants an investigation because there are too many can of worms to open no matter how trivial the initial petition is. Let us say, a N1 million theft is to be investigated. By the time the investigation gets half way it becomes very clear that too much money has gone missing in that government agency because to prove the N1 million theft one has look at all the relevant books. A petition of a missing official jeep can end up uncovering misappropriated billions. What some Nigerian senators, especially gubernatocrats, are claiming to be “frivolous petitions” into corruption worthy of legislation are actually small windows into mighty acts of corruption.
Bala Ibn Na’Allah unreasonably argues that the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act of 2011 has created a governmental structure in Nigeria by which all “business of government” has become “transparent”. Foolishness in high places has never expressed itself any better. In spite, of the FOI Act since it was instituted, the Nigerian political economy has riddled with countless cases of stolen billions and continuing. If not for the thinly veiled witch-hunt against Col Sambo Dasuki, his case and its appendages would have remained unknown regardless of the FOI Act. According to Amitai Etzioni, voluntary or spontaneous transparency in governments or markets is not possible; you need societal morality foster it and the hand of government to enforce it.
Evidence, no matter how small, of financial political largesse, gross over-payments, missing money, diverted money, unaccounted for expenditure, over-inflated contracts, unreceived payments, ghost budgets etc. can be frivolous. Even when irrefutable evidence of major corruption is presented to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) there is so much “leg dragging” involved often to the point of expiration. Those who manage public funds must always be ready to be held to account. How about the teeming cases of electoral fraud that is responsible for the sending of national legislators “back home”? Where was the FOI Act transparency on election results?
Frivolous by definition means “not having any serious purpose or value.” It is now a truism that the biggest obstacle economic growth, development or prosperity in Nigeria is corruption. Corruption is not a frivolous phenomenon especially in a developing nation like Nigeria that is underemployed, under-fuelled, under-powered, under-watered, under-educated and underfed. One can see the repressiveness and backwardness of the intentions of the proposed “Frivolous Petition Prohibition” bill that extends to social media expression.
However, we have “frivolous litigation” and “frivolous petition” which are simply lawsuits or complaints that have no merit and no chance of standing up in court or to investigation, respectively. Grounds for frivolous petitions are very clear and are fairly easy to determine by experienced lawyers who usually provide sound advice to petitioners before cases of corruption are tendered to the EFCC and other anti-corruption bodies. There are numerous civil society groups around funded to provide such advice in Nigeria.
One can confidently state that the Frivolous Petitions Prohibition bill is one piece of democratic legislation inspired and exacted by those who know the explosive implications of investigations into minor and major corruption petitions tendered. Even if the bill has gone into reversal we all know it is bad democracy in practice.