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NTA: How We Are Institutionalising Battle Against Corruption (I)

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ekpo nta

For many years, open bribery at the nation’s international airports have marred the image of the country, attracting the attention of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), which says it has now sanitised the sector. In an interview with journalists in Abuja, ICPC Chairman, Ekpo Nta explains how the feat was achieved. He also restates the goals of the agency in establishing an Academy for corruption research. ABOSEDE MUSARI was reports.

• Our Systems Have Ensured No More Open Bribery At Nation’s Airports

• What We Have In Nigeria Is Opportunistic Corruption

What do you hope to achieve with the Anti Corruption Academy of Nigeria?

TWO years ago, I urged that the tertiary institutions, particularly the universities, must be the leading light of our society. It is from there that we generate ideas and research in any field of human endeavour. And so, we assume that the best brains in the country reside there; and when you want to fight any issue successfully, including corruption, we have to leverage on the best hands and brains that were lying fallow in the various tertiary institutions. As such, we decided that we should do a thorough partnership. 

    Fortunately, this is also an idea of the UNODC. They started a new initiative called the ACAD Initiative, which brings universities in the forefront of designing anti corruption packages in their different parts of the world. We’ve had several meetings on this. I have taken academics from Nigeria to Vienna and Panama, principally the University of Calabar vice chancellor, as well as, Dr. Chike Eke Opara to be part of the world movement. And I’m very delighted that this initiative by ICPC is yielding a lot of fruits.

   Presently, the senate of the University of Calabar has approved the teaching of anti corruption studies at the General Studies (GS) level in first year. It means that every student that is going to the University of Calabar must do a programme in anti corruption. That will impact immediate on the students and they can begin to specialise in anti corruption areas and begin to design software that is relevant everywhere in the world. I’m sure that is the idea that my predecessor had by thinking of setting up an academy for ICPC, which started in 2007. 

   When we came into office in 2011, activities had grounded to a halt as a result of poor funding of the academy. So, we tidied it up and upgraded the place. Last year, we appointed a provost for the academy –– we did not just appoint anybody –– he is a former vice chancellor. He has already lined up programmes and partnerships that promise to be great. 

   What has led to a change of direction for me at the academy is that I have had the privilege of travelling for international meetings and I was dismayed by the number of Nigerians in various parts of the world attending courses and programmes, which we can run in this country.  A number of them come back with very harmful ideas that are totally alien to our society. 

   So, we started thinking that we can reverse this overseas training and use our local experts, particularly when we saw that some so-called experts from outside Nigeria are not better than our staff. They come here, take ideas from our staff and go and mount international programmes. We decided we are going to begin to look at what we have in-house because we have sent our staff all over the world. I’m happy that today, various institutions are the ones coming to ask for our partnership at the Anti Corruption Academy of Nigeria. We expect more universities coming on board to teach anti corruption studies using the syllabus and the curricula designed by the UNODC. 

   In some countries, some universities are even running Ph.D programmes in that sector. Our academy will be a very good place for internship where theory will meet practical. And we intend to have very unique training packages. 

     Recently, we launched the anti corruption initiative in the aviation sector. Where we said that officers must have mandatory ethics and integrity training for staff dealing with local and international passengers because of the image problem they’ve created for the country. We have an MoU to that effect. We cannot leave that kind of training to just anybody because in the final analysis, when we are effecting an arrest, they cannot claim not to have been told what is right. And from the fillers we have been getting from the public, it promises to be very rewarding. I foresee other agencies inviting us like the minister of aviation has done. 

You made mention of University of Calabar adopting anti corruption as a course, what are you doing to get other universities to have a buy in?

    We needed to have a pilot university start so that others will understand that it is for real.  The vice chancellor in the University of Calabar belongs to a committee of vice chancellors; when we are ready to make a move through the committee and the Nigerian Universities Commission, it will be readily accepted. But as I speak to you, the University of Benin was the first university that made contact with us. The late Professor Festus Iyayi, who died in the heat of the ASUU strike was to travel with us the day after he died. We were to travel to Panama, and I had got the UN to pay for his tickets and accommodation for this same programme. 

    That delayed the take off of that programme at the University of Benin, but I know they are still interested. I also know that the University of Ibadan will come up too. One of their lecturers, Dr. David Ewerenmadu, was also in Vienna with us to witness what is going on. 

   Incidentally, I have made him the coordinator of ensuring that the programme will be sold to universities in Nigeria. He is presently doing sabbatical with ICPC, something that is probably never heard of before –– somebody from the academic wanting to do sabbatical with an anti corruption agency. That shows how serious the systems are beginning to take us. He is spending one year with us. He has actually written and launched an internationally accepted book on corruption and so he is eminently positioned to be an interface and coordinator of the programme we are trying to have with other universities.

You did systems study review in three universities, what’s your plan to do the same in other universities; and what successes have you recorded so far?

   Systems study is very expensive. We used three universities in the pilot study of the university system; and another three as sample check. We discovered the same trend in the systems. Sexual harassment is same in all the universities. And because we made a whole lot of noise on sexual harassment, young girls are still calling till date to report cases. 

   We just finished from Ambrose Alli University, a girl was kept there for 12 years. And she petitioned the school senate but it wasn’t effective. So, ICPC got involved and she was graduated last December after 12 years. I had to send a few of our staff there to ensure nobody harassed her. 

   At the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, a young man was kept there for eight years. He was admitted to do Vet Medicine, he wanted to change to human medicine and gave money to a senior officer. One year later it didn’t work and he asked for his money back. The man didn’t give him, so the young man went to the vice chancellor who compelled the officer to return the money. The man became embittered and told him he would not graduate. So, he used his office to block him. He was there for eight years. He could not find his scripts, he changed course but the problem remained. 

   When he heard we were doing universities systems study, he wrote us. We sent an investigation team. When they heard that an investigation team was coming, they suddenly found the papers and quickly graduated him.  He has finished his youth service but what has held me back a bit is that he was the one who initiated the act of bribery. 

According to the provost, the academy is to be made the centre of research, how can you achieve this feat considering the cost of research?

  You cannot have good practice without theoretical framework that you can defend anywhere in the world. This is actually the best time to start that research, because when we keep shouting corruption and do not situate it squarely within the context of our environment, we pay attention only when it hits us and you forget it until it hits you again.  Is there any sector of the Nigerian economy or any part of the world that has not claimed that they could have done better but for corruption? If you know that corruption plays a significant part in not allowing you achieve certain objectives, why don’t you take time to study it in order to understand the responses.

   When we had HIV, it was not enough to shout it, we had to take practical steps to show it had been well researched and these are the findings. And using these findings, these are the practices that we must adopt. We didn’t leave the issue of HIV and AIDS entirely to the ministry of Health. We had NACA at the national level to coordinate research and the fight against HIV and AIDS.  We had SACA at the state level. But corruption is subsumed under the general criminal activities. We must study to understand why people are doing this, what are the institutions helping them? What is the culture helping them to do things and get away with them? By the time you come up with your research findings, you begin to address those things. 

    I am delighted that quite a number of students in various institutions are beginning to do their research in corruption related areas. We are even assisting one who is doing his Ph.D at the University of Benin. We’ve been assisting him for the past two years. He comes here to get materials. And our staff who go on training programmes with the Institute of Security Studies (ISS), which is run by the Department of State Security are also doing their research in corruption related areas. I’ve been reading their research work and theses. And they are building up good materials, which help us now to address certain issues. 

    I’ve seen two great publications from two of my staff; one from Sule Yahaya, the other one from Bako Nathan. We are going to help them publish it. They’ve done extensive work in the field of research in corruption and let nobody deceive you; research is the basis of the success of the ‘First World’ and those who are highly rated by Transparency International. And that’s why as I speak to you, the UNODC has given us a software package and hardware to go with it. The software is Gocase, you feed in materials such as names of suspects, the offences, banks and your investigation as you progress. And that software now becomes like a management consultant. The chairman can access that programme any time from any where in the world. It gives all statistics, the trend of criminal acts. 

    All facts you need are given in minutes. It also helps with your analysis. Using the data, you don’t have to wait for people to send petitions. The programme gives you an advanced warning system. It’s a database that is interactive; not just an ordinary database. It gives you management information. It is connected to all states and to the Internet. 

   We are also working on getting a forensic laboratory from UNODC, which will partly be used for teaching purposes of our staff. 

Aside UNODC, what other international affiliations do you have for the academy?

   I used to do a lot of travelling and with each travelling, I try to kill many birds with one stone. I was invited for an award ceremony in Germany by members of Nigerians In Diaspora Organisation (NIDO). I had them investigated to know if they were real before I took off. They were real.  But I did not spend taxpayers’ money just to go and pick up an award. I had a programme in Vienna, Austria, which is next door to Germany and less than an hour. So, I seized that opportunity to stop over in Germany. 

   First I insisted that we must have a town hall meeting with Nigerians in Hamburg, where the award was to take place. They called back to say the response to the invitations was overwhelming. We said we would support them to get a bigger hall for the town hall meeting. The first question that was raised at the meeting was on corruption at the international airports. 

   I agreed it was a major problem, but I also pointed at ways that those coming into the country and those going out have been aiding the menace. Quite a number of them are the ones driving that corruption. Internationally, it is pasted everywhere that travelers should not take more than 10mls of liquid on the flight. But when they travel from Nigeria, before the customs officials interrogate them, because they are carrying one jerry can of palm oil, they slip him $100. The official allows them to pass. 

  So, I told them that next time they come, because the official is already used to collecting $100 from you, he begins to ask for inducement even if the passenger is not carrying anything. Who started that process? And so that means it only soothes you to shout corruption because others are shouting. You did not know that what you were doing that time was corruption. 

   By the time I took time to explain the processes to them; they discovered that they had been willing partners in a way. They said they were ready to change. Because corruption will not thrive where people speak out. If you shout when you are asked for money at the airport, the official will be scared and will look around to see how many people have heard it. And I told them to do that and see if anybody will come near them next time.

  Do proper documentation. Don’t carry any illegal thing and nobody will harass you. If they do, go after them. At that point, they now keyed into the anti corruption fight. And I told them I have a problem with our publicity at ICPC, we don’t have enough funding given the commercial rates of the media to do adverts. And there and then, quite a number of private organisations volunteered to assist us. 

   So, we have a ready partnership waiting for us in Germany, in terms of providing equipment for our publicity. We have a recording studio in ICPC, so they promised to give us some equipment. That is the kind of partnership we are looking for, no strings attached.

   The academy is also working out an MoU with Middlesex University in the United Kingdom on research and teaching and exchange of ideas on anti corruption. And then we have the GTC, it’s a major training conglomerate known the world over. They do a lot of training for Nigerian bodies. They came to Nigeria last month to hold further discussions with us. We envisage a lot of partnerships coming up and of course, we’ve been talking to UNDP here in Nigeria, they have assisted in the past and I know they will continue to assist us.

The provost said that the academy has commenced operation and some of your staff have undergone some training. When will the academy commence training with the ACTUs and postgraduate programmes?

   ACTU is a baby of the ICPC and the Head of Civil Service of the Federation. The whole objectives and expectations are clearly within our mandate. In the past, all manner of training bodies and persons; some deal directly with MDAs and talk about issues that are not related to the ACTU mandate. That’s because they want to exhaust the training vote.  I said I was going to stop all that so that we can get value from experts who set up the programme and know what it is. ACTU is a representative of the ICPC in all the MDAs so that there is no doubt about their powers and activities. 

    To show how serious some international bodies take our ACTU, the DFID of the UK, through its training component, J4All, has been actively involved in the training of ACTU and they have said they are delighted with the programmes at the academy.



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