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Combating Corruption in Nigeria

By Dr Bukar Usman

 

The problem of corruption in Nigeria is one about which the debate has continued unabated. Nigerians continue to express concern while the Transparency International's ritual yearly rating of the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) reveals the level of corruption in the country is worsening.

      As an official, I felt concerned at criticisms of government inaction way back in 1992. That informed the theme of my address ‘Corruption and National Stability in Nigeria' to a conference in Calabar in October of that year. That address was subsequently published in my book ‘Voices in a Choir: Issues in Democratisation and National Stability in Nigeria' (1999:205). After surveying efforts of the various governments from Balewa to Babangida, I concluded then that ‘An honest assessment of the various cases cited could sufficiently indicate that the various governments have not been sitting idly' (P.213).This statement did not escape the attention of my good friends Lamine Okion Ojigbo and Abubakar Gimba who were kind to review the manuscript. They both violently disagreed with me saying that my position was self -serving, self-exoneration and self- praise; and that I was defending Government. Indeed I was doing so. To put it more bluntly, Ojigbo after drawing my attention to some literature on corruption including the Ikejiani saga of the First Republic remarked I should see that ‘... each government has been as corrupt, if not more so, than the previous one.'

      My optimism then was anchored largely on the wind of ‘privatisation' and ‘liberalisation' which was sweeping the political economy of the country. I earnestly believed  that such populist oriented programmes as Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure(DFRRI),Mass Mobilisation For Self Reliance, Social Justice and Economic Recovery(MAMSER), Better Life, Peoples Banks and Community Banks etc were going to create opportunities to reduce what Vision 20:2020 has now christened as ‘poverty -induced' corruption. The other side of it of course is the ‘rich' or more appropriately ‘greed-induced' which remains very much with us and has alarmingly grown in proportion. It is greed-induced because it is committed by people who are already well off in the society.

      With hind sight and after reviewing subsequent events extending to the Jonathan administration, I must concede that both Ojigbo and Gimba had a point. Their views have been vindicated. Yet to my mind the poser I made then in my conclusion is still relevant. I said then: ‘Various governments in Nigeria have evolved policies aimed at checking this evil. Neither Balewa's exemplary leadership nor Buhari's somewhat ruthless approach to anti-corruption crusade seemed to have paid off eventually. The policies of the last two (Murtala and Buhari) were said to have created so much insecurity of tenure of office that many were driven to take a short-cut in ‘saving ‘ for the rainy day. Gen Obasanjo's austere situation (during his military tenure) merely accentuated the problem. Gen Babangida's soft touch with realism and moral appeal is even being questioned. Where then lays our salvation?'(P. 218).

      Since these views were expressed, we have had the governments of Gen. Sani Abacha, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, Gen Olusegun Obasanjo (as civilian president), Umaru Musa Yar'Adua and currently Goodluck Jonathan. It is true to say that in spite of some flashes of light here and there in tackling corruption by these leaders, the general trend observed by Ojigbo and Gimba still subsists as borne out by the TI annual index reports and what Nigerians experience.

        As observed by Adagbo Onoja, the Media Aide to Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State,'...the only difference between corruption under military dictators such as IBBs and under Obasanjo's civilian rule was that then, it was localised primitive accumulation, whereas under Obasanjo, it was internationalised, with companies incorporated outside the country looming large in it all even as the owners were some ubiquitous Nigerians who managed to capture the engine room of power at the Federal level. The actions of such a cabal regularly got endorsement by the IMF and the World Bank because foreign companies had been incorporated into accessing the Nigerian wealth, unlike in the past when only politicians were helping themselves from the pot' (Sunday Trust, 26/12/2010,P.15).

        The substantial gains made in fighting corruption under Gen Obasanjo as civilian president was tainted by political vendetta. Granted that corruption is a criminal act which requires political will to face the scourge, it was never contemplated that under a civil democratic government crude extra- legal methods as witnessed could be employed. Some may argue that the end justifies the means. However, it was the crude methods and glaring cases of ‘selectivity' that removed the steam from the anti-corruption drive and made right thinking people entertain serious misgivings about the whole show.

      Once President Obasanjo left office, the fight against corruption devolved on President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua and subsequently President Goodluck Jonathan.  Big time corruption cases involving multinationals (Shell, Julius Berger, Siemens euro 17.5m bribe, Halliburton, Snamprogetti, Kellog Brown and Root Inc, Technip, Wilbros etc) and top public officers were uncovered. The handling which cuts across the three governments left much to be desired. While the foreign governments promptly and effectively dealt with their nationals there was foot dragging on our part for obvious reasons. As revealed by the Chairman EFCC, Farida Waziri in a press interview, these cases took place between 1994 and 2004 when even EFCC was not in place and were left hanging ‘no one was courageous enough to even touch it.'  She said EFCC settled for the ‘plea bargain' with payment of amounts which though not comparable to what the erring multinationals paid their home governments for the infractions was preferred to the slow process in our courts. Besides, Nigeria has scored a point which enhances its image in anti-corruption campaign (Leadership, 26/12/2010, P.52).The truth is that this is the superficial explanation.

      What should be acknowledged is that by promptly dealing with their nationals the foreign governments at least demonstrated their zero tolerance of corrupt practices. However, it is known that those governments employed in the process ‘high diplomacy and dialogue' to protect certain interests, including the erring companies and their top executives. Like in the Halliburton case, they easily agreed to promptly pay up heavy amounts in an out of court settlement to avoid further embarrassments. The Dick Cheney factor was the catalyst.

      From Nigeria's viewpoint, in spite of the misgivings and reservations about the whole process, this is at least one case which EFCC image and Nigeria came off well. Nigeria was firm and at the same time demonstrated diplomatic sensitivity and social responsibility. It will be recalled in this regard how Abdulsalami Abubakar, the former Head of State,   was dragged before a foreign court and subjected to prolonged trial without regard to his status and the embarrassment to his person and his country.

      Among other documents, the Nigerian Constitution, Vision 2010 and Vision 20: 2020 all products of the widest possible consultations of our people, are sufficient testimonies to our aspirations to have a corrupt free society. What is lacking is the drive to realise the aspirations. The efforts so far have been chequered and not self-sustaining. There is considerable dissatisfaction with the prevailing situation.

      Vision 2010 which was formulated in 1987 realised that among the major problems affecting the image of the country was ‘high level corruption' (P.137). It was then resolved to ensure 'independent and adequate funding' of the anti corruption agencies including National Human Rights Commission, the Code of Conduct Bureau, Code of Conduct Tribunal, Public Complaints Commission, and the National Orientation Agency (Pp.168-169). The fact that the Vision 2010 was not implemented right from the beginning would not allow me to make a fair assessment of the efforts. However, funding and ‘political independence' of the agencies which survived to this day are issues on the table.

      Vision 20:2020 blueprint which was formulated in 2009 is the current one to be implemented. It sets out to stamp out corruption and improve Nigeria's Corruption Perception index to 60 by 2015 and 40 by the year 2020.It says that previous policies implemented were targeted at addressing the manifestations of the symptoms and enforcement measures to the exclusion of the root causes. The root causes were identified to include ‘social insecurity and over-centralisation of activities in the Federal Government' as well as undue focus on the public sector to the neglect of the private sector. Among the array of measures outlined to be taken to achieve the objectives are: tackle the poverty induced measures by creating employment opportunities, provide social security to the millions below the poverty bench mark, teach core values to the young from the elementary school and address the legislative inhibitions. The legislative measures are to include granting ‘political and financial autonomy ‘for the anti-corruption agencies, enacting stringent laws on financial transparency, reviewing the 1999 immunity clause, enacting the Freedom of Information Bill, reviewing the provisions for the establishment, use and oversight of Security Vote', domesticating the UN Covenant Against Corruption, and strengthening partnership between government, civil society, media and the public in fighting corruption, (P.74).

      The Freedom of Information Bill, the Immunity Clause, funding of the anti corruption agencies and their political autonomy are areas the speedy attendance of which will demonstrate the seriousness of Government. The anti corruption agencies are yet to shake of political control. Clear evidence is timing of certain pronouncements and rise in tempo of investigative activities which tends to coincide with some major political events in the country. Certain individuals who freely walk the streets in full glare are all of a sudden declared wanted simply because they had fallen out of favour with incoming government. The principle which guides the practice in crime fighting is that it is a twenty four hour duty and the law should be applied fairly uniformly as it applies to members of the society.

        The Chairman ICPC, Justice Emmanuel Ayoola complains of new tricks in committal of theft of public funds, starvation of funds to his 10year old agency and frustration in prosecution. He expressed concern at not only the ‘slowness' in court of process but also of ‘occasional strange decisions.' He said because of heavy calendar/number cases ‘no matter how hard the Supreme Court works, you cannot get the decision within three years.' He wants our institutions to become ‘healthy in terms of their integrity and procedure,' (Sunday Trust, August 1, 2010, P.55).

        The above views of a retired Supreme Court Judge of repute, Justice Ayoola, should be taken as fairly representative of what obtains in other similar agencies. Indeed the Chairman EFCC, Farida Waziri in the press interview earlier referred to bared her mind; she stated that the slow judicial process was one of the main reasons EFCC settled for the ‘plea bargain' in the several cases of multinationals involved in the bribery cases concluded on December 10/11, 20120. She acknowledges with appreciation some encouragements by President Jonathan whose administration approved insurance scheme, new salary structure, hazard allowance for EFCC staff, and the construction of a befitting headquarters with a world- class laboratory for the agency. Unfortunately, and to her disappointment, the bill for special courts was thrown out by the National Assembly on the grounds that there were too many courts in the country. Whereas Ghana and South Africa, among other countries, have such courts and it was noteworthy that Madoffs case was concluded in the United States of America within one year (Leadership, 26/12/2010, Pp. 52-53).

      Indeed, what is required to fight corruption is not a complicated legislation. The Maitama Sule formula simply suggests that a tribunal be established whereby the policy of, ‘How did you come by it?' would be applied (Sunday Sun, January 2, 2011, P. 31). Likewise, the colonial administrators who kept corruption in check asked those who ‘appeared to live beyond their legitimate means' to explain themselves under a simple rule provided in the General Orders and effectively enforced.

        It is also pertinent to state that should chief executives observe the letter and spirit of the rules governing the establishment of the security vote which has existed since colonial times, there is no problem with the vote. The explanations made by Jerome Udoji the foremost administrator in his memoirs: Under Three Masters (meaning he served under colonial, civilian and military), are quite instructive.

      Citing the practice in the former Eastern Region, Udoji went into details to explain with documentary evidence. He said   ‘The first document tendered was the Cabinet Paper which contained the guidelines for the control of the Vote. The guidelines were enunciated at a time British officials, Colonel Alderton and Christopher Forgaty, were both the Secretary to the Premier and the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance respectively. The second document was the legislative approval of the Vote by the House of Assembly. According to the guidelines, the account was to be kept by whoever was Chief Secretary to the Government. The Premier, through a designated person, would make withdrawals from the Vote. No questions should be asked as to the purposes for which the money was applied, nor should a receipt be demanded at the time of withdrawal. However, at the end of the financial year, the chief Secretary should present to the Premier, the details of the money withdrawn for his acknowledgement. This acknowledgement will be lodged with the Director of Audit and that would discharge the Chief Secretary of any responsibility for the Vote.'(P. 92).

      Jerome Oputa Udoji who started his civil service career under the colonial service as a clerk in 1948 left the service in 1966.                                             

      I can confirm that Udoji's explanations about the Security Vote accords substantially with what obtains at the federal level to date. A review of the laws may be undertaken as intended under the Vision but the essential thing about the existence and operation of the Vote is a question of understanding and abiding by the philosophy behind it. More enlightenment and self restraint of the operators are required and not stringent rules which may defeat its purpose and flexibility in administrative application and intent.

 

18/01/2011

 

 

 

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