Nigerian institutions & the corruption highway

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Buahri

It is indeed foolhardy to expect so much from the government’s anti-graft policy that is founded on sentiments, lacks transparency, and does not have a comprehensive definition of what amounts to corruption.

By Goddy Ikeh

RECENT events and drama on corruption in the country have once again cast doubts on the celebrated fight against corruption by the government. For many Nigerians, the revelations at the ongoing probes of just two public institutions are not unexpected.

The opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, had on Friday, July 24, asked President Muhammadu Buhari to resign over his inability to tackle insecurity in the country and his attempt to cover up massive corruption going on in many institutions under his watch, including the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

Uche Secondus
Uche Secondus

The National Chairman of the PDP, Uche Secondus, told journalists in Abuja that the current insecurity in Nigeria has exposed the poor leadership in both the military and the ruling class.

“What we are witnessing in our country today is a total collapse of the nation, the country is on a ventilator gasping for air, under such circumstance. President Buhari should do the honourable thing required of an elder statesman in situations like this, throw in the towel and save the country from ruins,” Secondus said in his press briefing, entitled “Nigeria on a free fall as corruption, insecurity engulfs our nation.”

Secondus noted that since transparency International said few years ago that the worst corruption was going-on in Nigeria under this regime, the situation has continued to worsen.

According to him, it has now become a bazaar with no pretense about it with all critical agencies of government, including the anti-graft body themselves grossly engulfed in it.

He explained that the Nigerian economy is walking to depression because we are least in recession and it’s being fast-tracked by the widening scope of corruption involving operatives at the high places.

“As we speak, the big corruption cover-up is on-going in critical sectors, the Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, the Maritime Sector, the Customs, the Federal inland Revenue Service, FIRS, Nigeria Social Insurance a Trust Fund, NSITF, North East Development Commission, NNPC crude oil sale to China and the like.”

He observed that nothing brings out the exact character of President Buhari’s administration to corruption than the on-going free-for-all fraud at the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, where the so-called forensic auditors sent in by the president to unearth fraud are themselves becoming visible accomplices to the crime.

“The free for all corruption going on all over the place leaves us with the impression that the country is dying and there has been a scramble for what one can get out of it before the final demise.

“It’s very disheartening that as the looting and the re-looting of the nation’s resources are going on under the watch of the acclaimed anti-corruption President no serious reactions is coming from government that prides itself to be fighting corruption.

“Rather than confront the already exposed corruption cases, the government deliberately takes cautious steps to play it down with a view to protecting their members who are neck-deep in the growing sleaze,” he added.

He lamented that as an opposition party, the PDP has screamed endlessly to high heavens “but it’s becoming very clear to all that the ears we are targeting are deaf as nothing on ground shows that there is a government in this country.

“No attempt is being made from any corner to stem the freighting tide in our land. No effort is being made from any angle to halt the on-going free fall being witnessed in all fronts in the country. Nigerians have become helpless and have come to accept and live like citizens of nations without leader and with no direction,” he said.

Secondus noted that having exhausted their propaganda of winning the war on terrorism only in their press releases, as reality endowed on all, both the military and political leaders are now helpless and confused.

Meanwhile, the reports from the panels probing the EFCC and the NDDC revealed how billions of naira were allegedly misappropriated and diverted to personal use and how recovered loots were stolen under the watch of a government that has anti-corruption as one of its cardinal agenda.

For instance, the new facts showed the re-looting of previously stolen and recovered funds. The reports also allegedly exposed acts of corruption and money laundering against some EFCC officials, including the leadership of the agency.

According to some local media reports, some of the new facts that emerged at the probe included how accumulated interest rates on the recovered N550 billion by the EFCC in the period under review were allegedly re-looted and that the suspended EFCC boss was expected to state the whereabouts of the missing interest funds running into millions of naira.

The reports added that the final report of the Presidential Committee on Audit of Recovered Assets, PCARA, that covered the period of May 29, 2015, to November 22, 2018, had also confirmed the concerns of the public about the contradiction in the recovered funds by Magu. These contradictions include: “For Foreign currency recoveries, EFCC reported a total naira equivalent of N46,038,882,509.87, while the naira equivalent of the foreign currency lodgments was N37,533,764,195.66, representing a shortfall of N8,505,118,314.21.’’

“These inconsistencies cast serious doubt on the accuracy of figures submitted by the EFCC. It is the committee’s view that the EFCC cannot be said to have fully accounted for cash recoveries made by it.’’

“While EFCC reported total Naira recoveries of N504,154,184,744.04, the actual bank lodgments were N543,511,792,863.47. These discrepancies mean that EFCC’s actual lodgment exceeded its reported recoveries by N39,357,608,119.43.’’

The reports noted that about N39 billion discrepancy excludes the missing accrued interest.

With all these, the report suggests that there is an apparent case of manipulation of data in a very brazen and unprofessional manner and has greatly eroded public confidence in the anti-corruption efforts.

The PCARA revealed how the investigative reports on EFCC’s activities by the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, exposed acts of corruption and money laundering against some EFCC officials, including Magu.

According to reports by the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, the former EFCC boss was being interrogated by the rtd. Justice Ayo Salami-led Presidential Probe Panel over allegations bordering on mismanagement and lack of transparency in managing recovered assets by EFCC.

It noted that the final report of the Presidential Investigation Committee on the Federal Government Recovered Assets and Finances by the EFCC from May 2015 to May 2020 seriously indicted and implicated Magu on various allegations levelled against him.

However, the probe panel was mandated to do among others:

‘’Investigate, verify and review the recommendations of the Presidential Committee on Audit of Recovered Assets as it relates to the EFCC, with a view to ascertaining the complicity or otherwise of the Ag. Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, in the mismanagement of the assets recovered by the Commission.’’

‘’Identify Avenues through which the recovered assets are dissipated and seized, recovered, forfeited (Interim and Final) assets are valued, managed, disposed and/or mismanaged with a view to ascertaining compliance or otherwise with extant laws, regulations, processes and procedures.’’

‘’Review the existing procedures on the Management of the seized, recovered and Forfeited assets (interim and final) and proffer Standard Operational Procedures for the management of seized, recovered and forfeited assets.’’

‘’Determine whether assets recovered during his tenure, whether locally in Nigeria or abroad, are being kept safely in a manner as to preserve their original value and determine: –

Whether all the assets could be properly accounted for by the Ag. Chairman.

To confirm if any of the assets have been diverted to the benefit of the Ag. Chairman, his family, relation, friends, or favoured staff.

To recover any such diverted assets and return back to the EFCC or appropriate government agency.

It was to audit the Assets and Finances of the EFCC as a legal entity from 2015-2020, with a view to establishing compliance or otherwise with procurement procedures of the EFCC in line with the provisions of the Procurement Act.

Although Magu has been released from police detention, Nigerians are anxiously awaiting the result of the presidential panel investigating him and some of the key officials of the agency.

Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei
Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei

Meanwhile, there are disturbing revelations on the level of corruption in the ongoing N40 billion probe of the NDDC, by the House of Representatives Committee on the NDDC. In order to douse the rising tension at the probe panel, the Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, empathised on Monday, July 20 with the acting managing director of NDDC, Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei, following his collapse at the venue.

He said that the documents submitted by the ailing acting managing director should be used to carry out further investigations, while assuring that the investigation was about fact finding and that the facts must come out for the good of the Niger Delta people.

The Senate Committee on the NDDC, which had completed its probe of the Commission, recommended the refund of over $4 billion by the interim board of the Commission and the dissolution of the board and the appointment of a new management board for the NDDC.

But while Nigerians are still pondering on the revelations from these probes, some members of the civil society organisations decided recently to x-ray the anti-corruption campaign of the government.

Auwal Rafsanjani
Auwal Rafsanjani

The resolutions of the groups, which were put together by Nigeria’s Head of Transparency International, Auwal Rafsanjani; Director of Centre for Public Policy and Research, Sam Amadi, and a former Country Representative of Transparency International, Major General Ishola Williams and made available to the media, said that the anti-graft policy of the government “was founded upon sentiments, lacked transparency and did not have a comprehensive definition of what amounts to corruption”.

The report by ThisDay said that groups resolved that the Whistle Blowing Act should be enacted and the Proceeds of Crime Bill should be assented to, while the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission should be merged, among others, to the country’s anti-corruption fight.

The report quoted Amadi as saying in his note that the major problem with Buhari’s policy “is lack of clarity. He does not have a comprehensive definition of corruption. The programme suffers from lack of good diagnostics. You do not solve a problem if you do not have a good diagnosis.”

According to Amadi, Buhari’s administration failed to understand that Nigeria’s endemic corruption is a problem of institutions – norms and processes that encourage breach of rules of public governance.

“The change agenda failed to change those institutions and create institutions of openness and accountability,” he said.

Rafsanjani buttressed Amadi’s observation, identifying lack of transparency and haphazard investigation of grand corruption and confiscation of assets, which appeared to be politically motivated, as the albatross of Buhari’s anti-corruption fight.

With multi-dimensional problems that shrouded Buhari’s anti-graft war between 2015 and 2020, Rafsanjani canvassed crucial legal reforms as one of the measures to revitalise or strengthen the country’s anti-corruption regimes.

Major General Ishola Williams
Major General Ishola Williams

Williams, also Founder of Pan African Strategic and Policy Research Group, observed that Buhari’s anti-corruption war “has suffered acute integrity deficiency syndrome and acute intellectual dependency syndrome,” which he ascribed to undue imitation of western policies and practices.

Recommending reforms to be carried out to strengthen the anti-corruption campaign, Williams advocated the merger of EFCC and ICPC with “a director-general and directors recruited or headhunted within and in the diaspora.”

Besides merging the EFCC and ICPC, the retired army general pointed out that the engagement of the director-general and other directors in the anti-corruption institution “must be by a separate non-executive board with a chairman as it is done in South Africa by the public.”

He further recommended that the board “cannot be disbanded, but impeached by public petitions. The board submits reports to the National Assembly not the president. The reports must be audited by a private firm after a tender to the board with advice from the Auditor General.”

Williams warned against appointing police personnel “to serve in the anti-corruption institution or be at the helms of its affairs. The engagement of the helmsman in such an institution must not be by mere appointment subjected to the approval of the Senate, but a separate board.”

On the long run, Williams canvassed comprehensive constitutional amendments, which according to him, should be completed with a referendum within the period of 18 months.

He recommended that the process of constitutional amendments should begin with the report of the Nasir el-Rufai Committee on restructuring and end with a presidential cum parliamentary system as in South Africa.

He also recommended that each state of the federation should enact its own state constitution and each local government its own charter.

In addition to Williams’ far-reaching recommendations, Rafsanjani stressed the need for the president to assent to the Proceeds of Crime Bill 2020, which the two chambers of the National Assembly had simultaneously passed.

He, similarly, said the whistleblowing policy had not been enacted, while the oil sector had not been provided with a legal framework, which according to him, was key to promoting accountability and transparency.

Rafsanjani, also Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), urged the Presidency to create the checks and balances mechanism, which he argued, would shape the conduct of government businesses.

He, thus, observed that the Office of the Auditor General “still does not have any effective legal framework,” which according to him, suggested that ministries, departments and agencies, MDAs, failed in reporting their financial audits.

Rafsanjani said the heads of anti-corruption agencies “have to be appointed based on merits and not on political affiliation. Civil society and independent analysts need to be listened to while conducting anti-corruption reforms.”

He said the mandates of anti-corruption agencies should be clearly demarcated, citing undue rivalry and unclear responsibilities, which according to him, often resorted to fight over resources and influence as a result of this factor, the anti-corruption agenda suffers as a result.

Speaking in the same vein, Amadi urged the Buhari administration “to refocus efforts at understanding the pathology of corruption. In Nigeria corruption is mainly a result of lack of openness and following the rules.”

Amadi, a former Chairman of the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), lamented the federal government’s reluctance to abide by rules and regulations,” thereby recommending the need to commit to the rule of law and public accountability in the fight against corruption

He urged the president “to dramatise his commitment by sacking all ministers, who have had serious and probable allegations of corruption. The president needs to establish a clear code of conduct and process of decision making and abiding himself.

“The president’s style of privilege and prerogatives undermines the notion of accountability and probity. Again, we need to emphasize public education, open systems and democratic governance as drivers of anti-corruption.”

He described corruption as a principle of reciprocity and collective action, arguing that as long as president’s aides “are not showing the highest level of probity and accountability in public leadership the message of anti-corruption will fall to the ground”.

Amadi urged the president “to step away from appointing police officers as heads of EFCC. Elsewhere, heads of anti-corruption agencies are very smart and policy driven and honest professionals. We need the likes of Luis Ocampo who cleansed Argentina.”

Jude Ilo
Jude Ilo

For Jude Ilo, Nigeria Country Officer, Open Society Initiative for West Africa, OSIWA, the APC rode on the plank of anti-corruption crusade and that since the inauguration of the Buhari led government in 2015, its anti-corruption effort has been equally controversial and divisive. Every side of the aisle has a notion of what the motive behind the anti-corruption effort is. It has been called vindictive, selective, and insincere. Many Nigerians though believe that it is an effort that should be supported.

Ilo, however, noted that the fact that there is this level of resistance only goes to show that “we are dealing not just with a crime here, but a deep-rooted social malaise. Hence the effort to win the war against corruption and rally as many Nigerians as possible to support the effort must be multifaceted”.

According to him, history has shown that when you make majority of your citizens part of a cause, it rarely fails. Anti-corruption efforts would always be resisted. Many of our politicians made a living out of it.

“Sadly our political life is rooted in corruption, driven by corruption and sustained by corruption.

“This chain of corruption cannot be broken so easily. While our politicians enjoy the spoils of their illicit conquest, they convince us that anything done to fight corruption is selective or motivated by every other thing, but their culpability. Given the reality of our context, government must push back not only in seizing the narrative of corruption in Nigeria, but also in agitating Nigerians enough to come together on a common purpose of fighting corruption,” he said.

Ilo concluded that the cost of corruption on the average Nigerian is huge and that it is the duty of government to help Nigerians understand that cost without necessarily blaming it on any group. “While corruption cannot be eradicated on moral appeals and public enlightenment, it helps to let citizens know the damage it has done – the insane high cost of living in Nigeria that is sustained by corruption and the inability of Nigerians to have a decent life.

“Government is about people, corruption destroys people and therefore government cannot be for the people if it does not fight corruption effectively. The people must also be an integral part of that effort for it to work. Nigeria is presented a unique opportunity to make a break from the past,” he said.

There is no doubt a government that does not see anything wrong in pursuing its skewed appointment policy and putting forward candidates with doubtful credentials and character for elective offices and appointments can be in a hurry to see corruption disappear so soon in Nigeria.

– Jul, 25|2020 @ 14:15GMT |

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