Alleged misappropriation of public funds and task before anti-graft agencies
A particular Nigerian politician popularised the axiom: “If this country does not kill corruption, corruption will kill it.” The axiom gained wider currency as a result of the level of impunity with which public officials fritter funds running into billions, without any serious consequence and the resultant retrogression it foisted on the nation’s development.
The trend of corruption and the failure by Anti-graft Agencies to effectively check the menace, according to an anti-corruption watchdog, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has hampered the ability of government to meet the needs of citizens.
SERAP argued that had the anti-graft agencies recovered the “missing” funds, the money would have helped the government to invest in public goods and services, and improve the living condition of citizens.
In a fresh suit before the Federal High Court in Abuja, SERAP argued that recovering the alleged missing public funds would reduce the pressure on the Federal Government to borrow more money to fund the budget, enable the authorities to meet the country’s constitutional and international obligations, and reduce the growing level of public debts.
The plaintiff, therefore, blamed President Muhammadu Buhari “over his failure to probe allegations that N106 billions of public funds are missing from 149 Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), and to ensure the prosecution of those suspected to be responsible, and the recovery of any missing public funds.”
The suit followed the grim allegations by the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation in its 2018 annual audited report that N105, 662,350,077.46 of public funds are missing, misappropriated or unaccounted for across 149 MDAs.
Similarly, the Senate also uncovered an illegal collection of N76 billion by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigerian Army, Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and others. The funds were said to be drawn by the Agencies from the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, but were never repaid.
This was brought to the fore by the 2015 Auditor General’s report, submitted by the Senate Public Accounts Committee, chaired by Senator Mathew Urhoghide and approved by the upper chamber.
According to reports, N922.4 million was allegedly withdrawn from 25 per cent husked brown rice levy as a loan; N7 billion was collected from the one per cent Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme (CISS) levy as a loan and N10 billion as a loan to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to finance the 2015 elections.
The record revealed that N17.92 billion was released to INEC as a loan on January 12, 2015, but was never repaid. Also, from the 15 per cent wheat grain levy, N31.4 billion was released to the Nigerian Army, National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Revitalisation of Universities Infrastructures Account and Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
From the N31.4 billion, the Nigerian Army allegedly collected N4.7 billion to fund some of its activities; NYSC collected N6.4 billion to also fund its undertakings; Revitalisation of Universities Infrastructures Account collected N10 billion for funding Federal Universities, and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development took N10.2 billion to fund the 2013 dry season farming.
A quick reference to instances of alleged pervasive corruption being perpetrated in the country would buttress the inherent danger it portends to the nation’s socio-economic life.
A global coalition against corruption, Transparency International (TI) had estimated that about US$20 to 40 billion were stolen yearly from developing countries and hidden abroad, and said sometimes a small proportion was successfully confiscated and returned to the country of origin. Today, the scale of corruption from the prism of ordinary Nigerians is higher and above the one being projected by the international group against corruption.
Fifty-five officials of the government, ministers, state governors, public officials, bankers and businessmen were allegedly said to have stolen N1.34 trillion ($6.8 billion) from Nigeria’s public purse over the last seven years, Nigeria’s information minister had once alleged. While these massive lootings were going on at Federal Ministries and Agencies, Governors were allegedly having field days in their various states.Fight Corruption: Save Nigeria Group, a civil society group, in a petition, alleged that a former governor of Abia State received and diverted N383 billion revenue from federation accounts, N55 billion excess crude revenue, N2.3 billion Sure-P, N1.8 billion ecological funds, N10.5 billion loan from First Bank of Nigeria through the Ministry of Chieftaincy and Local Government Affairs, N4 billion loan from Diamond Bank, N12 billion Paris Club refund, N2 billion agricultural loan for farmers and N55 billion Abia State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (ASOPADEC). Abia’s case only represents just an example of what allegedly happens across most states of the Federation, says the anti-graft watchdog.
The big question is: will the nation succumb to the fight against corruption or overcome it? Determined to win the war against the hydra-headed monster, the country had set up a number of anti-graft outfits such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Technical Unit on Governance and anti-corruption reform as well as the regular Police units to check the decadence.
Other bodies with similar mandates to fight corruption include the office of the Auditor General of the federation and the Public Complaint Commission. Despite the presence of these bodies and the enactment of a plethora of laws to tackle graft, corruption still festers and seems intractable.
Of a truth, public perception of the performances of the agencies’ and their commitment to fight corruption is unsatisfactory. This is more so, given that Nigeria has dropped to 146 out of 149 in Transparency International ranking, even though the government had dismissed the rating, describing it “as senseless and baseless”.
However, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) confirm that corruption remains a major problem for Nigeria. Stakeholders and analysts have attributed the poor fight against corruption to several factors. One of such is the lack of a clear institutional framework for the enforcement of the laws against corruption by the relevant agencies.
In an event organised by the ICPC in conjunction with the National Orientation Agency (NOA), the ICPC boss, represented by a member of the National Ethics and Integrity Policy Board, Dr. Grace Chinda, said the country does not lack laws and policies aimed at curbing corruption and indiscipline, but lacks the implementation and effective enforcement based on well designed and implementable procedures.
The Chairman of the EFCC, Abdulrasheed Bawa, had also raised the need for partnership. He had in a function admitted that the EFCC is doing a herculean task. He said that they alone cannot do it. “We have to have partnerships; partnership with the banks and others,” he quipped.
Some industry analysts have proposed to the EFCC to explore multilateral technical cooperation on corruption. The Anti-graft body was also advised to develop a mechanism that will minimise opportunities for stealing of public funds and to develop an anti-corruption war that relies on forensic evidence, well-trained personnel, and freedom from unnecessary controversies.
Legal experts also identified genuine synergy and cooperation with the Banks as part of the ways to curb the large-scale corruption among government officials. They are also of the view that Nigerian leaders must be willing and capable to demonstrate personal commitment to the war against graft, not only in words but in deeds.
Others recommend that the EFCC should adopt a multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary and knowledge-driven approach. They argued that such would assist all institutions of government in re-establishing norms and standards of governance, assist the public, and even the legislature in monitoring compliance with set standards.
An Abuja-based lawyer, Idoko Abah charged the EFCC to endeavour to effectively utilise the provisions of the Act establishing it. Abah said Part III, section 12, subsection 1(c) and subsection (2) of the EFCC Act provides for the establishment of a research unit and committees to assist the Commission. “These are avenues the EFCC should explore to raise its fight against graft at par with global best practices,” he said.He said as an institution responsible for leading the war against corruption, EFCC should remodel its strategies for prosecuting accused persons. “Situations such as slamming 100-count charges on a person accused of being corrupt while in public office without being able to establish any of them, should be jettisoned with a fact-based process of prosecution, where the Commission gets its solid facts before charging the accused persons to court,” he stressed.
Oludayo Tade of the University of Ibadan explained that a mechanism must be put in place to reduce opportunities for corruption. In his article, titled: “Why Buhari is losing the anti-corruption war,” Tade argued that the more direct contact between government officials and members of the public, the higher the culture of bribe-taking and giving. He, therefore, suggested that the Government should adopt the use of technology to reduce direct contact between government officials and the public.
According to Tade, the fight against corruption also requires strong institutions that would not acquiesce to the whims of politicians. He stated that such institutions must be free from undue executive, legislative and judiciary interferences. The EFCC, he said, needs more teeth. “A starting point would be to increase its budget. This would enable the Commission to hire more personnel. It must also be freed from political interference to allow it to fight corruption without fear or favour. This is important because of the role politically exposed persons play in festering corruption in the country,” he said.
Tade suggested the creation of specialised anti-corruption courts to hasten the trial of corruption cases. His idea is that judges that would be engaged in such specialised courts must be properly motivated to mitigate abuse of office and corruption. Again, he suggested that punishment for corruption must be certain for all offenders and should be proportionate to the magnitude of the offence committed.
Allen Sowore, also a lawyer, said success in the performances of the agencies should be considered based on the number of infractions discovered, prosecuted and convicted. He stated that if the anti-graft agencies carry out their duties diligently and effectively according to the law, the level of corruption being uncovered at the National Assembly today would have been reduced.
According to him, there is no proper record of offenders, who have been successfully prosecuted and convicted. Otherwise, many of them will not be able to still resurface during election periods to vie for offices. What the anti-graft agencies do, he noted, is media trial, which according to Sowore does not deter other corrupt politicians and public servants.
He suggested that public office holders and other politically exposed persons, who are not covered by the immunity clause, should be regularly investigated and tried, where there is sufficient evidence to do so. “Although the governors are covered by an immunity clause while in office, the immunity does not extend to the offices of the Accountant-Generals and Commissioners in States,” he pointed out.
However, another lawyer, Pius Danba, believes that the Anti-graft agencies are doing their best in the fight against corruption. Danba commended the efforts of the Anti-graft agencies, saying they can only operate within their capacity. “The volume of monumental corruption going on at the Local Government, State Governments and the Federal Government levels, is far beyond the capacity of all our Anti-graft agencies at the Federal level to handle,” he argued.
He said: “Given their limited staff strength and resources, it is scientifically impossible for them to monitor all local governments in Nigeria, all state governments and their agencies as well as the Federal Government and its agencies. There is a need for State Governments to key into the fight against corruption.”
He further argued that since the creation of states, no state government has taken the fight against corruption seriously. “We have not seen the various Attorney-General’s prosecuting state government officials or local government officials within their states for corruption,” he pointed out.
Danba declared that state governments are condoning corruption, such that it has become a norm. According to him, only in a few cases when whistle blowers petition Anti-graft agencies at the Federal level that officials of state governments are called to offer some explanations.
He said: “If we must get it right, every state government must take ownership, responsibility and be proactive in the combat against graft. Citizens must also develop the habit of reporting to Anti-graft agencies cases of corruption for investigation and be willing to assist in investigation activities until the prosecution is completed,” he advised.
Also, an Abuja based legal practitioner, George Agbaminoja believes that the anti-graft agencies are not doing badly. According to him, to appreciate the level of work put in by them, one has to look at their pre-2015 operations. Agbaminoja noted that though the level of insecurity and nepotism are high in the current Federal administration, looting of public funds cannot be compared to the previous administration.
He, however, called for the strengthening of the relevant anti-graft agencies for efficient performance. He also noted the need for proper documentation of anti-corruption matters executed by the current administration so that Nigerians will appreciate its efforts in curbing corruption.