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Civic groups rethink strategies for effective anti-corruption crusade

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Ideas and strategies on how to translate the modest gains in the ongoing anti-corruption crusade in Nigeria, into a more organized and resulted-oriented national struggle, formed the focus of a recent two day Training of Trainers workshop at the Elion House Hotel in Lagos. The conversation brought together civil society organizations (CSOs) across the country working on anti-corruption as well as development partners supporting their various interventions.

Organized by the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Office on Crime and Drugs, and the European Union in partnership with the Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), the training provided a platform for civic agencies to rethink strategies and communication approaches with the aim of strengthening anti-corruption engagements. Critical spotlight was also beamed on the states, where little or no action has been apparent with respect to fighting corruption.

To drive home the point about the urgent need for both government and civil society to get back to the drawing board, and place the anti-corruption crusade on a firmer footing, the keynote speaker at the event, Barrister Femi Falana (SAN) drew inference from the judicial losses suffered by the government in recent corruption cases. According to the legal luminary, the sheer incompetence of some key prosecutorial agencies, as well as elite solidarity with the corrupt, were factors responsible for the recent reversals suffered by the Federal Government in recent key cases.

The activist lawyer drew attention of the audience to the four cases involving former Minister of Niger Delta, Elder Goddsday Orubebe, former first lady, Patience Jonathan, senior lawyer, Mike Ozekhome and Justice Adeniyi Ademola, who all got judicial reprieve from the courts, with respect to their cases. Falana strongly canvassed the view that the first three cases were lost as a result of lack of preparation by the legal teams of the government. He therefore urged CSOs, not to be quick in reaching the conclusion that corruption is fighting back, as has been the refrain, but to pressure the government to address these deficiencies.

His words: “I therefore want to submit that out of the cases recently lost by the Federal Government, only the case of Justice Ademola is controversial, the others were lost out of sheer incompetence and lack of proper preparation. So if you are going to join the government in fighting corruption, we must understand the facts, so that we don’t go out of here and start shouting that corruption is fighting back. If we do that, you are engaging in escapism, and the government will lose more cases at the rate they are going. So we must understand that there is a difference between the law and justice. In a country where there is social justice, we can talk about the fact that the attainment of the law is the attainment of justice. In the Nigerian context therefore, we must realise that the court of justice can only be created by the struggle of the Nigerian people.”

In spite of the reversals however, Falana urged support for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which in spite of the hostile political environment has been working to ensure loot recovery, and to bring perpetrators of corruption to justice. He pointed out that in the last one year, the commission had secured over 200 convictions, just as it has recovered billions in stolen monies. He also drew attention to the reality of how stretched the EFCC is currently, given the enormity of the work it has to do to fight corruption. Falana therefore charged civil society organizations to go out and link up with grassroots organizations with the goal of getting the Nigerian people to take ownership of the crusade against corruption.

Other discussants at the meeting noted that in face of these structural and capacity challenges constraining the anti-corruption crusade, there was a serious need for CSOs to innovate, network and support one another to achieve better results. There was therefore unanimity that the attention of CSOs should not focus exclusively on what is happening at the Federal level. The case was made for the states and local governments to come under the spotlight, and the big national narratives should be broken down to simple messages, which the people at the grassroots would easily relate to. It was underscored that for this to happen, there was a need for the advocacy and communication process to connect with the everyday developmental aspirations of the ordinary people. Consequently, the need to change policy, perspectives and attitudes through effective communications and campaigns at the grassroots were suggested.

In line with these aspirations, CSOs working in the area of anti-corruption were urged to address the challenges of leadership and governance from within their own systems to make them smart and agile enough to confront the monster of corruption. This point was abundantly stressed by the UNDP Program Officer, Ms. Kehinde Osotimehin-Olorunleke, who urged that a strategic re-evaluation of models for fighting corruption, needed to be done to chart a new way forward. To this end, she canvassed the view that CSOs must invest time and energy to update themselves, and also rethink the old ways of engaging, so as to achieve better results. In advocacy for example, the point was stressed about the need to eschew finger pointing, to enable CSOs calmly put across their view points to the relevant actors in the space in order to influence, and ultimately change attitudes, both within the government and the grassroots.

Still on the need to rethink strategy in the fight against corruption, Mr. Tunji Lardner of the West Africa NGO Network (WANGONET) provoked an interesting discussion on the level of thinking at which CSOs are trying to tackle corruption. He was also of the view that there was a serious need to move away from the same level of thinking, which created the monster of corruption. He put forward the position that a society cannot solve a problem using the same level of thinking that created it. He therefore urged CSOs to explore the emerging models for tackling corruption, which focus on society, systems, and sanctions.

This model also brought to the fore, what the activist identified as the “three critical wills,” necessary to get Nigeria’s anti-corruption war right. These are the political will on the part of the government, the organizational will of the relevant government institutions, and the public will of the Nigerian people. The prognosis was therefore made that at the moment there is some semblance of political will as would be seen in the personal commitment of the President and the Vice President.

Beyond that however, the organizational will of government agencies has been absent, and that would be gleaned from the fact that that key anti-graft agencies are working at cross purposes. As for the public will, the need for CSOs to do their part to shift public behavior and attitudes was underscored.

But beyond the conversation, CSOs present made commitments towards sharing information with other CSO groups in their respective states. In this regard, Chairman of the Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), Mr. Olarenwaju Suraj, urged participants not to keep the knowledge and perspectives received from the training to themselves. CSOs are encouraged to find entry points, and begin using the insights gleaned from the training to influence the civic space in support of a robust and institutionalized anti-corruption crusade. It was again reiterated that for this to happen, there is a dire need to network, innovative, and build partnerships motivated by the goal of dealing a death blow to corruption.

Armsfree Ajanaku is Media&Civic Engagement Manager at the Resource Centre for Human Rights&Civic Education.


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