Can people power clean up Nigeria?

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On October 1 Nigerians and analysts around the world will gather to lament or celebrate the achievements of their country as it mark its 53nd anniversary of independence. Some believe their country cannot possibly fulfill its potentials until it tackles the systemic corruption that ridicules the oil-rich nation.

 Nigeria, with a population of over 162 million people, is the most populous country in Africa. At the time of its political independence in 1960, Nigeria was known for its exports of agricultural products including groundnut, palm oil, cocoa, cotton, beans, timber, and hides and skins. Then, during the oil boom period of the 70s Nigeria made headlines with her oil wealth as the country is richly endowed with oil and natural gas resources capable of financing a number of important projects to meet basic consumption and development needs with a per capita income of around $1100 during the late 1970s. Since then Nigeria has been rarely off the world press, but mostly due to notoriety rather than fame.

Tunji Lardner, chief executive officer of West Africa NGO Network (WANGONET), struggles to find a way out of the vicious circle that has the country in its grip.

 Nigerians desperately turn to forces such as the judiciary to clean up the system but find the very institutions that could rescue them are themselves caught up in the web of corruption and patronage, he pointed out.

 Mr Lardner believes the nation cannot be transformed without the collective will of the Nigerian citizenry and is challenging them to exert their ‘people power’ over the governing elite.

 He said: “Unless they begin to understand the dynamics and the dimensions of corruption and how it affects their own quality of life, we will continue to complain about corruption and point fingers at individuals. The people leading us do not care and it is so pathetic that the citizens are not rising up to challenge them.”

 He lamented: “We are arriving at the time when eventually the system will collapse under the weight of the constitution. Unless citizens become directly engaged and understand that there is a direct link between all the money that is been stolen and their own continuing poverty and they decide to act things may never change.”

 He is concerned that some Nigerian citizens are now directing their frustration by using violence against perceived injustices in the country but, in the process are killing innocent Nigerians.

 The most recent of such violence is the rise of Boko Haram, an Islamic sect that believes politics in northern Nigeria has been seized by a group of corrupt, false Muslims. It wants to wage a war against them and the Federal Republic of Nigeria generally to create a “pure” Islamic state ruled by Sharia law.

 Since August 2011 the group has planted bombs almost weekly in public or in churches in Northern regions especially at the country’s Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The group has also broadened its targets to include setting fire to schools. In March 2012, 12 public schools in Maiduguri were burned down during the night, and as many as 10,000 pupils were forced out of school as a result.

 Nigerians now live in perpetual fear of the unknown. Nowhere is safe. Report says over 20,000 Christians have fled Maiduguri to neighbouring states and countries like Niger, Chad and Cameroun and no fewer than 30 churches have been closed down in Maiduguri, even as the sect members have changed tactics to house-to-house search for those to slaughter.

 The exact death toll is unknown but reports claim 1,000 people have been killed and many more brutally injured.

 Dayo Olaide, economic governance manager for Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) Senegal, connected the rise of Boko Haram to the bad governance of Nigeria.

 Mr Olaide who headed OSIWA’s anti-corruption office in Nigeria until January said the sect uses “Boko Haram as a platform to express their anger against the Nigerian state for the failure to provide good government that allows them to lift themselves out of poverty or even to access basic needs and services that could be provided by the state.”

 Mr Lardner argued that societies that fail do so as a result of failure to hold their leaders accountable. Nigeria now ranks among the top 10 failed states in Africa and 14th in the world, a global body, the Fund For Peace (FFP) declared in its 2012 annual Index Data released in June.

 “It’s either we act or we die. We are already seeing fractions in the state, such as the Boko Haram thing, and people are calling for the division of Nigeria. A country evolves when their leaders hear from the people,” Mr Lardner stressed.

 He believes Nigeria may survive corruption but through a brutal experience. “I think corruption is one of the catalysts that could keep the system on its toes. And maybe from the aftermath of that upheaval they might learn something and think about redesigning the future of this country otherwise we’ll just be another failed state.

 “Nigerians keep complaining and nobody is willing to do anything about it. What do you expect? That somebody is going to come from outside and do something about it? No. In a situation where the country rewards the guilty and punishes the innocent, only Nigerians can decide that they want to change it,” he added.

 Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Nigeria have launched strategic campaigns to educate citizens through the media on their potential part in combating corruption.

 A stakeholders meeting which brought together representatives from about 100 institutions around Nigeria was organised in July by WANGONET to discuss the way forward for the fight against corruption.

 Mr Lardner believes if the institutions work effectively through practically avoiding corrupt practices, it will go a long way in reducing the epidemic.

 As part of its effort, WANGONET in collaboration with OSIWA has set up an Anti-Corruption Internet Database (ACID) to create a platform to enable citizens and civil societies to tackle the scourge of corruption in Nigeria.

 The site which serves as a repository for all corruption related issues in Nigeria provides news relating to corruption, gives room for citizens to report corruption, deliver information on corrupt officials and educate the public on the dangers of bribery and corruption.

 On the progress of Acid, Lardner said the website was just commissioned but they have great ideas of corruption advocacy battle that would include active citizens’ participation.

 This type of anti-graft effort is believed to have paved way for more advocacies in some parts of the world.

 A glaring example of creating medium for citizens to actively join in the fight against corruption is India Against Corruption (IAC), a grassroots movement formed to demand comprehensive reforms of anti-corruption system in India and the enactment of Jan Lokpal Bill.

 The movement became very pronounced when social worker, Anna Hazare began a definite fast aimed at persuading the Indian government to introduce and enact the Jan Lokpal Bill in place of the government’s own proposed Lokpal bill. On 5 April 2011, people across India came together in support of Hazare’s indefinite fast, with millions of people joining his fast for a day, and pledging ongoing support for the fight against corruption.

 The Jan Lokpal Bill provides strong efficient and independent institutions, the Lokpal and the Lokayuktas for investigation of corruption charges against public officials and politicians.

 Mr Lardner believes the innovation will work in Nigeria by recasting civil society organisations and vast number of citizens as active demanders and suppliers of transparency thereby quickening the pace at which the goal of accountability will be reached.

 Another country where active citizen participation made impact is “I paid a bribe” in Kenya, a unique initiative to tackle corruption by harnessing the collective energy of citizens. It was designed to allow citizens report on the nature, number, pattern, types, location, frequency and values of actual corrupt acts on its website. As of August, about 25,271,042 cases of bribery and corruption have been reported.

 Other countries where this form of check is used include; India, Philippines, Indonesia, Zimbabwe and Mongolia.

 Speaking on the challenges faced by the organisation in combating corruption, Mr Lardner said: “People have a particular narrative about corruption and they’ve just given up hope that anything can be done about it. They shut their doors to new ideas. The present generation has grown to believe that this is the way the Nigerian world works.”

 He added: “The law must be reformed to the point where it upholds the rule of law and defends the interest of the common man. It is only when these things are done that we can now think of trusting anti-corruption bodies to function properly.”

 Executive director of Independent Advocacy Project (IAP), Adedeji Adeleye agrees laws needs to be reformed to reduce avenues for corruption.

 The NGO which is Nigeria’s leading anti-corruption independent monitoring organisation promotes through advocacy, coalition building, research, publications and information sharing, the respect for good governance. IAP brings individuals, groups and organisations together within and outside Nigeria, building partnerships and sharing information on ways to promote participation, accountability and effectiveness at all levels.

 The advocacy group concentrates on practical project based policies in combating corruption, some of which include; judicial corruption sponsored by OSIWA and measuring corruption in Nigeria through Nigeria Corruption Index (NCI).

 The Nigeria Corruption Index is a survey which collates and analyses responses from ordinary Nigerians on their daily encounters with various forms of corrupt practices at different levels. Rather than perception of the degree of corruption, the survey approximates the magnitude of corrupt practices and provides benchmarks of integrity based on actual incidences. 

 The Nigerian Police topped the league table of the most corrupt institutions with incidences of reported bribery standing at 96 per cent. Next was the Power Holding Corporation of Nigeria (formerly National Electric Power Authority, NEPA), and the Customs and Excise Department which posted 83 and 65 per cents respectively.

 The World Bank Report in August stated that corruption was endemic in Nigeria and that the Nigeria Police Force and the Power Holding Company of Nigeria were the two most corrupt institutions in Nigeria.

 Mr Adeleye a human rights activist who worked as an economist in Fortune Xtra Limited Nigeria, for 16 years said “the structure of the police force for example is created to protect the leaders against the governed.”

 The primary role of police is policing, securing compliance with existing laws and conformity with precepts of social order. Policing has always been necessary in all societies for the preservation of order, safety and social relations. Widespread corruption in the Nigeria Police Force is fuelling abuses against ordinary citizens and severely undermining the rule of law in Nigeria. On a daily basis, countless ordinary Nigerians are accosted by armed police officers who demand bribes and extort money.

 They cause traffic on Nigerian roads all to harangue sum of N20 less than (5p) from every driver a sort of bribe to evade vehicle check.

 Other abuses range from arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention to threats and acts of violence, including sexual assault, torture, and even extrajudicial killings. Police also routinely extort money from victims of crimes to initiate investigations and demand bribes from suspects to drop investigations, according to Human Rights Watch.

 Nigeria’s national anti-corruption commissions, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences (ICPC) set up by the government is believed to be used as a political tool and therefore needs revitalisation for meaningful progress to be made . 

 Mr Adeleye said: “The current anti-corruption bodies can work if their structure is reformed. They have to create independence for the agencies. They don’t have to be an appendage of the executives. Their appointment should be done by the parliament. They must be made autonomous. They must be made independent of the executives and their funding must be independent too. But I doubt if the current government will allow that.”

 He knows the chances are slim but said the IAP was receiving United Nations help to research into issues of democracy accountability and transparency of the government.

 “We also network with other NGOs because we know that we cannot engage in advocacy alone. We have to work with NGOs to create a collaborative effort by which we team up together as well as Nigerian media to make an impact on government. Unless we do that, there is no way we can engage government meaningfully,” he stressed.

 He lamented that even though the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill was passed May 28, 2011, 11 years after the FOI bill was first submitted to Nigeria’s National Assembly in 1999, agencies/institutions reports and data of information on the activities of the government and the other state apparatus are not readily available.

 The bill guarantees the right of access to information held by public institutions, irrespective of the form in which it is kept and is applicable to private institutions where they utilise public funds, perform public functions or provide public services. “There is so much brick wall coming from the government and Nigerian ministries,” he added.

 One of the pending efforts of the advocacy group is to campaign for a single term tenure amendment to the constitution. The group believes since 2003 most governors and other political office holders work effectively during the first term but do nothing in the second term.

 “They use the second term to amass wealth for themselves. The best option is to have a single term of five years,” he concluded.

 

Former boss of Action Aid Nigeria, Dr Otive Igbuzor believes any attempt to combat corruption will require a holistic approach.

 “In Nigeria there has been too much emphasis on anti-corruption agencies but a holistic approach will require components of education, law and systems and mechanisms. When you reform the financial system, then the tendencies for corruption will be low and of course finally enforcement of laws,” he said.

 According to him, this approach is important as the anti-corruption crusade can only touch the tips of the iceberg as it focuses on a few cases to serve as deterrent.

 Igbuzor believes: “The government should be able to ensure there is a kind of anti-corruption education. Several agencies of the government can lead them such as the National Orientation Agency, the Ministry of Information, even anti-corruption bodies and as a matter of fact, that can be incorporated into the school curriculum so that we can catch them young.”

 He also challenged Nigerian citizens to advocate and act as watchdogs: “raise awareness and make demands from the government.”

 Corruption can undermine democratic institutions, retard economic development and contribute to instability. NGOs can play a major role in fighting corruption, not only by acting as watchdogs for governments but also by supporting governments in providing services to all citizens in a transparent and democratic manner.

 To enable African organisations to contribute to combating corruption across the region, Open Society Initiative for West Africa was set up in 2000 to collaborate with members in African states to share a commitment to work for an “open society”. 

 The Open Society work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. To achieve this mission, the society seeks to shape public policies that assure greater fairness in political, legal, and economic systems and safeguard fundamental rights.

 On a local level, the society implements a range of initiatives to advance justice, education, public health, and independent media. At the same time, they build alliances across borders and continents on corruption and freedom of information. It places a high priority on protecting and improving the lives of people in marginalised communities.

 Member states of OSIWA include Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

 Mr Olaide, Senegal boss, believes Nigerian government has demonstrated a complete lack of capacity to curb corruption.

 He said: “It has shown a complete disdain for due process, a complete disdain for relevant laws, guiding the management of public resources and natural resources, a complete politicisation of governance processes and what makes it worst is a citizenry at complete loss of how to respond to the situation in the country. This level of corruption is not sustainable anywhere in the world.”

 Transparency International’s latest ranking placed Nigeria below African Countries like Uganda, Ghana, Egypt, Botswana, South Africa, Cape-Verde, Seychelles, Zambia, Mali, Senegal, Algeria and Morocco. The corruption index listed Botswana, South Africa, Mauritius, Cape-Verde and Seychelles as the top five countries in the continent with less corruption profile. Botswana was ranked 32st among the more than 50 countries rated with 6.1 score while Somalia came overall last with 1.1 score.

 Transparency International’s report on Nigeria’s corruption profile over the years has always been on the negative. In spite of perceived efforts by former president Olusegun Obasanjo to fight corruption, the ratings of Nigeria on the corruption perception index are still high.

 Olusegun Obasanjo was the first democratically elected civilian president in Nigeria who made effort to curb corruption through the creation of anti-corruption bodies but was later accused of using the agencies as a tool to attack his political opponents.

 Speaking passionately about the issue, Mr Olaide argued that every country that is developed has developed by putting down laws to guide governance and the citizens.

 He said: “To bring a change, whether it is in form of bringing an end to corruption or in terms of ensuring that corrupt people are punished, what Nigeria needs to do is to start enforcing its laws. Nigeria needs to start improving their laws, so that we will move from this current state of jungle justice where the most powerful rule in the land irrespective of what the practice says.”

 Nigerian civil societies are also at the fore front of combating corruption in Nigeria. United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and the African Union Convention Against Corruption imposed obligation on Nigeria to ensure the participation of civil society in the fight against corruption.

 The UNCAC article 5 states, each state party shall in accordance with the fundamental principle of its legal system or maintain effective, coordinated anti-corruption policies that promotes the participation of society and reflect the principles of rule of law, proper management of public affairs and public property, integrity, transparency and accountability.

 The Zero Corruption Coalition (ZCC) is a Nigerian coalition of over 150 civil society organisations and dozens of individuals working to enthrone transparency, accountability, probity and commitment to the fight against corruption.

 National Secretary of ZCC, Babatunde Oluajo said one of the hindrances to combating corruption in Nigeria is the lack of “political will”.

 He stressed that till date the current President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan has not announced corruption as a major priority in his administration. “Nigeria needs a clear cut strategy to combat corruption,” he added.

 As part of the coalition’s effort to curb corruption, it works at the national level as well as state and local government to push for more transparency and accountability by public officials as well as selected representatives.                                                     

 Mr Oluajo believes that curbing corruption at the national level and exempting local level will not result to full victory.

 The access to information is a major challenge for the coalition as Mr Oluajo disclosed that citizens as well as some directors and secretaries in state ministries hardly see the annual budget allocations. He believes a large chunk of money is stolen through public procurement which accounts for the failure of the government to make budget reports public.

 Nigeria’s public procurement system is reportedly prone to corrupt practices, with more than two out of five companies surveyed in the World Bank Enterprise Surveys reporting that they give gifts to public officials in order to secure a government contract. Business executives surveyed by the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 2011-2012 says that government officials in Nigeria frequently favour well-connected companies and individuals when deciding upon policies and contracts.

 The government enacted the Public Procurement Act (PPA) in 2007, creating a more transparent and competitive procedure for awarding public contracts and introducing a debarment procedure for corrupt companies, allowing the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) to debar companies for no less than five years and impose fines. However, Global Integrity 2010 reports that public procurement regulations are not effectively enforced in practice, as companies guilty of major violations of procurement regulations are not always blacklisted

 Mr Oluajo believes Nigerian citizen’s push can lead to greater transparency, openness and responsiveness on the part of the government and public officials. He said the only way to curb corruption is to balance power in favour of the people such that the decisions and votes of the electorate will count significantly.

 “The citizens must be empowered such that they feel they have the power not only to demand accountability but to enforce accountability such that if they demand and response does not come, they can move forward to recall the electoral representative or to demand for a removal of the public official,” he concluded.

 


 



 

 

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