Facing down corruption in Nigeria…

Corruption is dishonesty or criminal activity undertaken by a person or organization entrusted with a position of authority, often to acquire illicit benefit. Referencing the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), published annually by Transparency International (TI), which ranks countries “by their perceived levels of public sector corruption as determined from the informed views of business people, experts and analysts in countries around the world,” there is no corruption-free country.
Corruption occurs on different scales – from small favours between a small number of people (petty corruption) to the corruption that affects the government on a large scale (grand corruption), and corruption that is so prevalent that it is part of the everyday structure of society (systemic corruption).
Common features of societies rife with corruption include disorder, conflicts, insecurity and underdevelopment. Victims of corruption are usually society’s poor and marginalized individuals. The vulnerable. Nigeria, currently, belongs to the category where corruption is and remains a significant threat and impediment to the nation, particularly in establishing democratic institutions and attaining sustainable development goals.
The situation in Nigeria is exacerbated by the pervasiveness of the rot – government/public sector corruption, political corruption, police corruption, army corruption, judicial corruption, corruption in the education system, corruption in religion, corruption within trade unions, corporate corruption, etc. – and the different forms it assumes: bribery, embezzlement, theft, fraud, influence peddling, extortion and blackmail, abuse of office, illegal contracts, impunity, favouritism, nepotism and clientelism, etc.
Curiously, many Nigerians do not like the issue to be brought up in the public domain. Yet, discussions about it will help with finding solutions. When President Muhammadu Buhari stated on the world stage that Nigeria is a corrupt country, and if corruption is not tackled, it will kill Nigeria, he was simply seeking solutions, being aware of the negative impact of corruption on the fabric of the nation, its devastating effect on democracy and development and its hampering of people’s ability to come out of poverty.
Everywhere are glaring examples of the ills of corruption in Nigeria. The consequences manifest in the form of weak governance, weak institutions and political prostitution – maladies that indirectly erode democratic values, whittle freedom of expression and encourage a clampdown on civil society organisations.
On the international scene, corruption has damaged the image and reputation of Nigeria and her citizens. It has weakened citizens’ sense of patriotism, with some readily betraying national interests for a fistful of naira or foreign currencies.
The country today is under the siege of armed robbery, kidnapping, and terrorism, just as recurrent civil strife between ethnic and religious groups in the country has become a norm. There seems to be an epidemic of general lack of conscience. All these maladies are traceable to corruption.
It has fostered quackery everywhere – fake diplomas and degrees, fake medical consultants, phoney engineers, false teachers and ghost workers – leading to a culture of mediocrity.
Today, there is a distrust of the security services (especially the Police), the judiciary and the political class, all because of corrupt practices.
The looting of the treasury and subsequent transfer of the funds out of the country has led to a vicious cycle of lack of resources to undertake major development projects that will benefit and uplift the citizenry. As a result, the country suffers from infrastructural decay with attendant widespread of underdevelopment, which scares off investors.
Corruption is the reason the country is in shambles: electric power crisis, poor drainage systems, poor sanitation, lack of potable water, bad road network, and lack of access to quality education, good health services or judicial services.
Nigerians have demonstrated extraordinary intellectual and creative capabilities, but corruption has robbed them of human, technological and economic development – rendering capacity building a topic for talk shops.
More importantly, it is the reason for the country’s poverty. Roughly 80% of Nigerians – about 144 million people – are living in abject poverty, and the country has been recently crowned the poverty capital of the world by British Prime Minister Theresa May. Her predecessor, David Cameron had called Nigeria “fantastically corrupt.” Both PMs linked the country’s pervasive poverty to grand corruption.
There are incidences of people dying daily from poor medical service and dodgy practices. Those who can afford it travel abroad for medical care. They send their children to schools outside Nigeria. When they need stress-free rest, they travel out of the country. The rest simply MILT (manage it like that) in Nigeria with the self-consolatory remark that “It is well.”
Yet corruption can be tackled, going by the experience of other countries with corruption problems like Nigeria. The transformations in Rwanda (by enforcement of compliance to leadership code), Cape Verde (by the promotion of institutional transparency) and Botswana (by mainstreaming of anti-corruption across ministries) show that corruption is manageable with well-sustained, long-term anti-corruption investments.
These countries learned what works best in their communities and pursued these tactics with commitment. Cote d’Ivoire passed a law on the prevention and repression of corruption; and set up a national anti-corruption authority. Similarly, Senegal put in place a Ministry of Good Governance and National Office against Fraud and Corruption (OFNAC) and re-instituted Senegal’s court for the Repression of Illicit Enrichment (CREI), among other measures. Since then, the governments followed through to ensure proper facilitation and functionality of these institutions.
Nigeria has anti-corruption laws and institutions like her Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in place long before the aforementioned countries started putting together their anti-corruption strategies. However, Nigeria did not conceive a strategy or approach or tactic that will work best in her case. The other major weakness is the lack of political will that is consistently committed to anti-corruption and thus reinforced the anti-graft institution and hence, ensures the implementation of the laws to deliver corruption-free services to her citizens.

In a way, President Buhari has taken the fight to corruption. Corruption is fighting back. Looking at the publicized high-profile cases of economic crimes in Nigeria, most of the individuals involved have at one time or the other headed government (national or state level), ministries, commissions, government agencies, regulatory bodies and parastatals. Powerful individuals by Nigerian standards, and seen as role models.
Clearly, it is not sufficient to investigate, prosecute and jail the wrongdoers; that will not stop corruption, partly because not all wrongdoers will be caught and partly because the up-and-coming generation is waiting their turn to engage in established corrupt practices to acquire illicit benefits.
An effective anti-corruption strategy would adopt and adapt what worked elsewhere, such as Cape Verde’s promotion of institutional transparency, Rwanda’s enforcement of compliance to leadership code, and Botswana’s mainstreaming of anti-corruption across seats of government, ministries, commissions, government agencies, regulatory bodies and parastatals – add to the strategies, non-political Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Authority (GGACA), non-political and a reinforced EFCC and special courts or tribunals that expedite corruption cases.
Considerations for a sustained anti-corruption fight might include a sustained promotion of transparency and accountability as well as the enactment of laws that focus on disclosure/access to information of public interest – this will reduce opportunities for corruption as it will allow interested parties to identify patterns of corrupt conduct more efficiently.
More ground would be gained against graft with an enhanced and enforced legislation against corrupt financial practices, including freezing, confiscation and seizure of the proceeds of corruption.
Grit should be added to the effort by appointing as heads of anti-corruption agencies individuals with integrity, without criminal records, with no political, tribal or religious bias – on a term of six years. Loyal only to the cause and country.
Other measures include:
• Established routine of investigating all allegations of corruption throughout various government ministries, commissions, agencies and parastatals as well as punishing wrongdoers to end impunity.
• Proactive disclosure of relevant public interest information in open data formats – Public Procurement, Tenders & Contracts, Company Ownership, Government Budgets and Political Party finances – as a way of ending the secrecy that enables corruption.
• Endorsement of minimum standards and guidelines for transparent and accountable procurement and the pursuit of value for money, and continually and publicly monitor progress towards implementation of the minimum standards agreed. This will help reduce misappropriation of funds in the procurement process and hence plug the loss of resources dedicated to development.
• Promoting across all sectors the adoption of the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) and the Open Contracting Principles – established in 2014 – to help facilitate the standardized disclosure of data and clarify documents applicable to the contracting process. This will strengthen procurement systems and stimulate economic growth via capability building.
• Requiring bidders for public contracts to undergo due diligence procedures to verify the background of the company, JV partners, its senior officers, majority shareholders and ultimate beneficial owners, as well as disclose the identity of beneficiaries.
• Investment in training and resources for law enforcement and supervisory personnel working on complex tax evasion, grand corruption and money laundering crimes and the recovery of stolen assets.
•Improved coordination and communication among law enforcement agencies will help curb illicit financial flows and aid recovery of stolen assets.
• Developing a Nigeria database of public information on companies and individuals charged and penalized for corruption, financial crimes and money laundering.
• Creating mechanisms to collect citizens’ complaints and strengthening whistle-blower protection.
• Sustained radio and TV adverts or short video documentary sensitizing the public about the various corrupt practices, the impact on the society and consequences for perpetrators. Make it a doctrine to be remembered, observed and followed.
• Sustained investment in the formation, education, orientation and culture of the future generations to value hard work and integrity and shun all forms of illegal and corrupt practices.
An alignment towards anti-corruption principles and practice at the government level will result in compliance in the non-governmental, private sectors and the civil society.
It will not be easy, but it must be done to save Nigeria. The mind-set of the citizenry must be rewired to arrest corruption, so future generations will not continue the foibles of past generations who rather than take positive action were busy “binding and casting” poverty in the vain hope that it will not be their portion.

 

DR EMMANUEL OKOROAFOR

Dr OKOROAFOR writes from Southampton, UK, via [email protected]

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