The missing link in the fight against corruption
“…corruption in this country is wealthy, powerful, influential, and it is in practically all institutions including religious institutions.” – Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, The Nation, February 10, 2017.
Recession, insecurity, and varying levels of poverty across the country are incontrovertibly inter-linked and they are also linked, in varying degrees, separately as well as in combination, to the problem of corruption. I am confident that the patterns of these linkages as well as appropriate remedial measures will be made explicit during this two-day dialogue. As a prelude to my brief exposition of the “Missing Link” that I have identified – the need for a coalition approach to the fight against corruption – I will make an observation on the mind-boggling looting of our commonwealth exposed since June 2015.
In 1996-1997, I participated in crafting the World Bank Strategy for fighting corruption – Helping Countries Combat corruption. The Role of the World Bank (1997). Then, a year later, I accepted an external assignment to an African country where combating corruption featured prominently in the country’s development strategy that the bank had agreed to support. I was the lead bank staffer through whom the bank’s support to the anti-corruption agency was channelled. The country’s anti-corruption czar was very committed to the task and welcomed bank’s support enthusiastically. Within 12 months, he was exposing and prosecuting, with some success, persons accused of both “small” and “grand corruption.” Then, some well-connected political officials became frightened and a couple or so among them whispered to the president that the anti-corruption czar was aiming to “get him.” The president invited the anti-corruption to a discreet location to confront him. Although he re-assured the president that the allegation was false, that encounter marked the beginning of the end of the president’s support for the fight against corruption in the country.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s unquestioned integrity is the explanatory factor for the progress made to date in exposing the frightening dimensions of recent corrupt practices in the country; there is no danger that he can be distracted because of a “get him” whisper.
Pillar One: President as anti-corruption champion
I would argue that in a real sense PMB as the country’s anti-corruption champion constitutes an important pillar of the anti-corruption coalition that the country needs to energise the fight against corruption. As the examples of countries that have succeeded in significantly reducing corruption in developing countries across the continents demonstrate (for example, Botswana in Africa and Singapore in Asia), having a president with unquestioned integrity as the anti-corruption champion is a necessary condition. Yes, it is not a sufficient condition, but it constitutes an important pillar for the coalition approach that is required for scaling up the on-going anti-corruption war.
The two other pillars for the anti-corruption coalition that I regard as the missing link in the on-going fight against corruption are: (i) the provisions in the 1999 Constitution that mandate fighting corruption and (ii) a National Anti-Corruption Strategy that needs to be adopted through a participatory process involving all three tiers of government, the private sector, civil society organisations and concerned citizens.
Pillar Two: Constitutional provisions that mandate fighting corruption
Regarding the constitutional provisions summarised below, all arms of government (executive, judiciary and legislature) should be united in enforcing Section 15 (5). Indeed, all citizens should be committed to their enforcement.
Pillar Two:Constitutional provisions related to combating corruption
Section 15 (5)” “The State shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power”.
Section 140 (1): “A person elected to the office of President shall not begin to perform the functions of that office until he has declared his assets and liabilities…”
Section 149: “A minister of the Government of the Federation shall not enter upon the duties of his office, unless he has declared his assets and liabilities…”
Section 152: “A person appointed as a Special Adviser… shall not begin to perform the functions of his office unless he has declared his assets and liabilities…”
Section 185 (1): “A person elected to the office of the Governor of a State shall not begin to perform the functions of that office until he has declared his assets and liabilities…”
Section 194: “A Commissioner of the Government of a State shall not enter upon the duties of his office, unless he has declared his assets and liabilities…”
Section 196 (4): “A person appointed as a Special Adviser… shall not begin to perform the functions of the office unless he has declared his assets and liabilities…”
Concretely, then, PMB’s commitment to fighting corruption is no more than a constitutional duty.
There is also an important anti-corruption provision in the Constitution that PMB is yet to enforce: the “Prohibition of foreign accounts” (Fifth Schedule, Code of Conduct for Public Officers): “The president, vice-president, governor, deputy governor, ministers of the government of the federation and commissioners of the governments of states, members of the National Assembly and of the Houses of Assembly of the states, and such other public officers or persons as the National Assembly may by law prescribe shall not maintain or operate a bank account in any country outside Nigeria.” To ensure effective enforcement, any of the officers who has an existing account should be required to freeze it for the period of his/her service with public declaration of the amount in the account at the time of assumption of office.
Pillar Three: National anti-corruption strategy
Although PMB promised to present an anti-corruption strategy to the public during his first three months in office, this did not happen. By the time he made the commitment, Nigeria already had a draft “National Anti-Corruption Strategy” (NACS) midwifed by the Federal Ministry of Justice in 2013. However, NACS was produced in order to comply with an obligation under UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a signatory and it was almost certainly only intended to serve that formal purpose. Although there was some degree of public participation in the preparation of NACS, the new NACS that would constitute a strong pillar for the anti-corruption coalition that I advocate needs to emerge through a broader and deeper public participation.
I am aware that PMB administration has a new draft strategy that draws on the old draft but has been enriched by the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption (PACAC). The following are what I consider as desirable next steps towards the emergence of a NACS that would help make it a strong pillar in the anti-corruption coalition that I advocate:
Broad and deep participatory approach
The existing draft strategy should be subjected to extensive public debate before a final draft is formally adopted in a National Anti-Corruption Forum.
The adopted strategy should then be sent to the Federal Executive Council for consideration and approval. The proposed pre-National Anti-corruption Forum debate could be organised through volunteer written contributions (memoranda) and debates on radio and television and via social media to be collated by PACAC. The volunteer contributors should be requested to, among others, address the following question: What has worked and what has not worked in the fight against corruption in the country from 1999 to date? Participants at the Forum should include representatives of existing anti-corruption institutions (notably ICPC and EFCC), some of the volunteer contributors, selected anti-corruption civil society groups and the notable champion of anti-corruption in the private sector, the Convention for Business Integrity (CBI).
Contents of the strategy
The contents of the strategy should take into account the lessons learned from the limited impact of the anti-corruption efforts in the country since the early 2000s especially in respect of both anti-corruption education and the punishment of corrupt officials.
Regarding extant laws, the use of plea bargaining in the country (first introduced in 2005) would need to be revisited. Because it has been largely abused to date, I would recommend that it should be abolished. Instead, I would recommend an amendment to the criminal code that would presume public officials to be guilty of committing a crime if they fail to give a clear account of the sources of their wealth. Such unknown sources of wealth would be presumed to be the proceeds of corruption. The UN, Singapore, the UK, Hong Kong and Malaysia have adopted similar regulations. Another issue that should be addressed in the Strategy (if it is not already covered)is a critical review of political campaign finance law/regulation and associated corruption with the objective of enhancing both transparency and enforceability, drawing on international good practices on the subject. (See, Punch, Editorial, “Toxic influence of money on Nigerian elections,” February 20, 2017).
The critical interface between the country’s anti-corruption strategy and existing strategies focused on public service reform and judicial sector reform will need to be explicated in the strategy with a view to ensuring synergy and complementarity. For example, there is a National Strategy for Public Service Reform that the in-coming administration will inherit and modify as appropriate. The strategy’s component on public financial management reform includes actions focused on reducing corruption. And the strategy’s component on civil service administration reform includes some measures for enhancing ethical standards in public service. Similarly, on-going reform efforts in the judicial sector include actions focused on reducing corruption at the levels of lawyers and judges.
Finally, the anti-corruption strategy must have an implementation plan. I would suggest that the plan should comprise decentralised implementation responsibilities at the level of the key anti-corruption agencies (notably ICPC and EFCC) and a small coordinating secretariat in the presidency. The secretariat should be responsible for producing quarterly or bi-annual and annual reports on the results achieved in the fight against corruption, using benchmarks articulated in the strategy. And for obvious reasons, the financial resources and human capacities for assuring effective implementation should be addressed in the implementation plan.
The anti-corruption coalition that I advocate, supported by the three pillars highlighted above (adirometakii ye), is intended to ensure the engagement of as many stakeholders as possible in the fight against corruption. Regarding Pillar Two on the anti-corruption provisions in the Constitution, there is need for continuous public enlightenment on the constitutional mandate for all public officials across the tiers of government: “The State shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power.” This might help to progressively eradicate the disturbingly widespread habit of citizens who excuse/condone blatant corrupt practices on the grounds of community, ethnic and/or religious solidarities. Pillar Three on a National Anti-corruption Strategy, produced through a participatory process, is the most effective instrument for broadening the coalition and assuring its sustainability through future periodic reviews and updating of the strategy.
Prof. Adamolekun, NNOM, Independent Scholar, Iju, Akure North, Ondo State.