Facing Nigeria’s Goliath through anti-corruption agencies

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Vote for me and corruption will be a thing of the past, there will be stable electricity and free education for all.

These are the words displayed through the media by politicians to psyche the minds of citizens to vote for them.

President Goodluck Jonathan raised the hope of Nigerians when he officially came into power as president in May 2011. More than 16 months on, the cases of corruption, violence and political embezzlement are increasing. Anti-corruption bodies have been reduced to toothless backing dogs.

Former US ambassador to Nigeria, Dr John Campbell, said there are plenty of structures in place to address corruption in Nigeria, but the problem is “the fundamental lack of political will to make them work.”

The major anti-corruption agencies in Nigeria including, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) are said to have failed as they continue to be used as a political tool for the government.

Political counsellor to the commissioner of Canada Nigeria, Alexandra Mackenzie, believes the success of any anti-corruption body around the world depends very much on “political will.”

Observing that Nigerian leaders talk without taking action, Ms Mackenzie said: “At least in terms of statement and political platforms we have seen more of that in the past, but it is time they act and be serious about it.”

Even though President Jonathan has rejected criticism on being “slow in fighting corruption”, Dr Campbell believes Nigeria’s anti-corruption agencies are not productive, “People who run Nigeria do not want them to work because they themselves are deeply involved in corruption at one level or another.”

Economic adviser of Open Societies in West Africa (OSIWA), Dayo Olaide said: 10 EFCCs in a country that retains corruption, will not achieve anything in the fight against corruption.

According to him, for an institution to qualify as a strong disincentive to reduce corruption, four broad criteria must be met.

The first two criteria that hinder the effective fight against corruption according to Mr Olaide are; the institution must be broadly known and people must have confidence that the disincentive would tackle corruption by sanctioning offenders.

EFCC, ICPC and CCB are national disincentives set up by the Nigerian government to tackle corruption. The EFCC is widely known across the world as a major institutional disincentive for corruption in Nigeria, while the ICPC and CCB are not as productive.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) 2011 report stated that the ICPC and the CCB have failed to compliment the efforts of the EFCC. “On paper, both institutions have powers that in some ways outstrip those of the EFCC. Unfortunately, they have been ineffectual relative to their size and statutory power and have displayed little appetite for tackling high-level corruption. They need to be empowered with new leadership and prodded to live up to their mandates and complement the EFCC’s own work,” the report reiterated.

ICPC Act 2000 sets out the duties of the commission to include; receiving and investigating complaints from members of the public on allegations of corrupt practices and in appropriate cases, prosecuting the offenders, examining the practices, systems and procedures of public bodies and where such systems aid corruption, to reducing the likelihood or incidence of bribery, corruption and related offences, to educating the public on and against bribery, corruption and related offences and to enlisting and fostering public support in combating corruption.

The CCB on the other hand, was established to maintain a high standard of public morality in the conduct of government business and to ensure that the actions and behaviour of public officers conform to the highest standard of public morality and accountability.

In response to HRW allegations, the principal executive officer of CCB Abuja, Austin Ebojie, said the leadership of the bureau is not a problem, but the poor commitment of the government to their efforts diminishes the performance.

According to him, “If the government allows anti-corruption agencies to do their work without trying to teach them what to do or how to do it or tell them that some people are untouchable, they will be productive.”

He disclosed that sometimes when the bureau wants to take an official to the court, “the government may come in with one or two suggestions and before you know it, the case will be forgotten. You may not even know what is happening to it.”

As part of its duties, the CCB receive Assets Declarations by public officers; examine the declarations in accordance with the requirements of the code of conduct law, retain custody of such declarations and make them available for inspection by any citizen of  Nigeria on such terms and condition as the National Assembly may prescribe, ensure compliance with and where appropriate enforce the provisions of the code of conduct or any law relating thereto and receive complaints about none compliance with or breach of the provisions of code of conduct or any law relating thereto, investigate complaints and where appropriate refers such cases to the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

Principal Admin officer of CCB Lokoja, Adewuyi Paul, believes that, because they are funded by the government, they are answerable to them. “He who pays the piper dictates his tone,” he noted.

While dismissing the idea of owing allegiance to government because they fund the anti-corruption commissions as a bad excuse, a United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) source said: “Anti-corruption bodies around the world are sponsored by the government but in Africa people think the government is an individual. They cannot say because the government pays me, I can’t do anything against them. No, he has to do his job.”

Recognising that corruption in Nigeria is systemic, he said the only way to reduce corruption in Nigeria is by doing what former Ghana President Jerry Rawlings did. “Clean the country by killing the corrupt politicians. You don’t kill them because you want to kill them but because you are cleaning the system.”

Former Ghanaian president, Rawlings with the support of both the military and civilians, led a coup in June 1979 that ousted the then Supreme Military Council from office and brought the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) to power. The AFRC, under the chairmanship of Rawlings, carried out a much wider “house-cleaning exercise” aimed at purging the armed forces and society at large of corruption and graft as well as restoring a sense of moral responsibility and accountability in public life.

The UNODC official said another way to tackle corruption is through prevention and public procurement. “If you want to curb corruption in a country like Nigeria, we have to prevent and block every source of corruption.”

A statement signed by Ezeh Emeka director general of the Bureau for Public Procurement says; Nigeria’s development over the years has been stalled by a corrupt procurement and expenditure management framework. The culture of waste and non-performance of capital projects are usually the result of selection of contractors through a non-transparent procurement process. Usually the contractors do not have the technical competence or capital base to deliver on the project.

To prevent officials from siphoning wealth in Nigeria through public procurement, UNODC provides legal and institutional frameworks as well as professional capacity for public procurement in Nigeria. Therefore, BPP ensures efficient and integrity-based monitoring of the implementation of all federal government capital projects.

They are also creating a Public Procurement Review Software (goPRS) that would address the monitoring and oversight of public procurement in Nigeria, IT capacity building, handover and sustainability from 2012 through 2014.

On the second criteria which states that; for an institutional disincentive to be effective, the public must have confidence that it would punish offenders, Mr Olaide said EFCC has failed woefully.

 

HRW 2011 report also stated that since its inception, the EFCC has arraigned 30 nationally prominent political figures on corruption charges and has recovered some US$11 billion through its efforts. But many of the corruption cases against the political elite have made little progress in the courts: there have been only four convictions to date and those convicted have faced relatively little or no prison time. Not a single politician was serving prison time for any of these alleged crimes.

 

Despite its promise, the “EFCC has fallen far short of its potential and eight years after its inception is left with a battered reputation and an uncertain record of accomplishment,” the report added.

 

Responding, Nigeria’s renowned prosecutor, Godwin Obla, said: “It’s the system of law we have, an accused person has the freedom to employ any means possible to truncate his trials. It’s a battle, the accused person is battling for his life and liberty and he’ll use every means possible to fight it.” He stressed that the way out of this is to make and implement laws that would hasten the conviction process.

 

“It’s better to follow Lagos state, which as a result of the fight people employ they have amended their laws to remove all these loopholes that delay proceedings,” he added.

 

Lagos state judiciary in 2011 reviewed the High Court of Lagos State civil Procedure Rules 2004 in a bid to facilitate total quality justice delivery in the state, as well as restore public confidence in the judiciary. The review was done according to Section 274 of the 1999 constitution, which guarantees independence of the judiciary.

 

The courts can also be an obstacle to accountability. In some EFCC cases, the appearance of judicial impropriety has also been striking. When the EFCC brought 170 criminal counts against former governor James Ibori, a judge sitting in Ibori’s home state threw out every single count, including evidence that Ibori paid EFCC officials $15 million in an attempt to influence the outcome of the investigation.

Explaining that the EFCC contributes to the delay, Barrister Obla said “the judiciary is not a messiah”, He said Ibori’s case was not well investigated in Nigeria. “I am a prosecutor and I read the case. Nuhu Ribadu the EFCC chairman at the time claims Ibori gave $15 million to somebody to bring him and that person never wrote any statement till today. Ribadu himself only wrote a statement three months after Ibori has been charged to court.”

James Ibori, who is an ex-governor of the oil-rich Delta state, Nigeria was convicted in April at Southwark Court London and is currently serving a 13-years prison term in England for money laundering and embezzling government funds.

On how to cleanse the system from corruption, Barrister Obla said: “We as a people need to change our attitude, from the leaders to the followers. Unless we decide to change our attitude, we are all doomed in it. It has terminated every sector and we need to change but the biggest percentage of change has to come from the leadership. It has to be selfless, honest, transparent, accountable and we must show zero tolerance to corruption.”

On empowering the anti-graft efforts in Nigeria, the UNODC source said: “You cannot fight corruption by thinking EFCC, ICPC or CCB can stop corruption in the country.” He said: “The anti-corruption bodies have to work well. The parliament has to work well. Judges have to work well, private individuals and institutions has to work effectively too and civil societies.” If any of these groups are weak, then you cannot fight corruption,” he added.

 

The third and fourth criteria for an institutional disincentive to be effective, according to the OSIWA adviser, are: it must be evoked by everybody and must have minimum political bottleneck. This implies that even the public can report cases of corruption that would be taken seriously by the institution.

He argued that these two criteria poses threat to politicians and corrupt officials as such they will do all they can to avoid empowering anti-corruption bodies to serve as a proper disincentive to corruption. He pointed out that in order to make EFCC effective, Nigeria must make the institution trusted by the public, open to the public, and allow minimum political intrusion.

Observing that making anti-corruption bodies effective will not necessarily translate to radical reduction in corruption, Mr Olaide said: “We can make these anti-corruption commissions effective so that it can contribute to a reduction in corruption, but it doesn’t mean that it will bring corruption down to a minimum. For corruption to be reduced, a number of complementary interventions or events must also happen alongside.”

According to him, the interventions must include political will, as well as Nigeria’s commitment to support the work of anti-corruption agency. “If we do not have a president that is willing to fight corruption, there is no way anti-corruption efforts can be strengthened,” he said.

Under President Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime, the impression was that EFCC was making a lot of giant strides in Nigeria. Anti-corruption was declared the number one policy of his administration which was motivated by a genuine desire to correct Nigeria’s frequent appearance at the top of Transparency International’s (TI) ranking of the world’s most corrupt nations.

Former Nigerian president Obasanjo’s first move towards combating corruption was the creation of specialised anti-corruption agencies, the ICPC in September 2000 and the EFCC in April 2003, to investigate and prosecute corrupt individuals.

 

Before long, the activities of the EFCC became known worldwide. Its efforts at combating corruption were highly reported in international media across the world.

 

Even though the same president began to use the anti-corruption body as a political tool, Chandu Krishnan, executive director of TI, believes the most important thing to consider is that Obasanjo took visible steps towards combating corruption.

 

Mr Chaudu, however, added that the lessons to be drawn from former president Obasanjo approach to corruption is that the problem is not that “the institutions are weak, the framework are there but it is a situation of ensuring the institution is not politicised and that it is given the resources, the freedom and independence to function properly.”

 

Dr Christine Cheng, Bennett Boskey Fellow in Politics and International Relations and Post-Doc at Oxford University said anti-corruption bodies are only as good as the political backing they get from their leaders.

 

“Anti-corruption bodies are not going to succeed if the political leaders don’t want them to succeed and that’s the end of story. There is nothing about anti-corruption commissions itself that will decrease the level of corruption in any particular country if it doesn’t have the support of the people that have put it in place,” she stressed.

 

For these anti-corruption bodies to have maximum output in tackling corruption, Mr Krishnan said: “The executive branch obviously should not interfere both in terms of appointment, investigation and prosecution. All other branches of government should respect the independence of these bodies especially the EFCC and allow it to function properly. The EFCC also need to have the full support of the judiciary.”

To reduce political intrusion in the affairs of anti-corruption bodies, the UNODC source said, instead of the president appointed them, they should be voted in by the national assembly or the senate. “The National Assembly should have the list of all persons who think they can run anti-corruption agencies. Let them compete and talk about their ideas and how they intend to run the country and the national assembly will vote based on merit.”

He added that there is need for a special criminal court and judges should be appointed and trained in order to avoid judicial delays.

Human Rights Watch Nigerian Researcher Eric Guttschuss reiterated the need to address the lack of security of tenure by the EFCC chairperson. “When they are going after very high profile cases of corruption, the EFCC chairperson can be removed at any time and at the will of the president and having the history of both Nuhu Ribadu and Farida Waziri been removed in the middle of their terms, undermines the independence of the EFCC,” he said.

In this regards, he added that President Jonathan and the national assembly could seek to amend the EFCC Act in line with the ICPC where the chairperson can only be removed with essentially two thirds vote by the senate to provide a little more independence to the EFCC chairperson hoping it could prevent and help insulate the EFCC chairperson from political influence.

Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Establishment Act 2004 Section 2(3) states: “The Chairman and members of the Commission other than ex-officio members shall be appointed by the President and appointment shall be subject to the confirmation of the Senate”.

Section 3(2) on the other hand deals with removal and it states: “A member of the Commission may at any time be removed by the president for inability to discharge the functions of his office (whether arising from infirmity of mind or body or any other cause) or for misconduct or if the President is satisfied that it is not in the interest of the Commission or the interest of the public that the member should continue in office”.

In eight years of establishment of the EFCC there have been three chairpersons two of whom were removed by the president.

Ribadu was forced from office in 2007 just two weeks after he tried to prosecute powerful former Delta state governor James Ibori, a close associate of former president Umaru Yar’Adua. Farida Waziri, took over in 2008. In November 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan sacked Waziri saying that her removal was to “revitalise the fight against corruption.” She was immediately replaced by the current chairperson, Ibrahim Lamorde.

Stating that politicians will do anything to preserve power, Dr Dan Hough, interim director of Sussex Centre for the Study of Corruption at Sussex University believes “in the real world of hard and fast politics you have to get ways of moving things forward slowly, you have to negotiate with politicians and other actors involved in the process and until you do that things won’t change.” He added that for a significant change to occur, anti-corruption commissions have to work with people not against them by persuading individuals that they are not a threat to them.

According to him, it’s more useful to things that could help tackle corruption in the long run such as useful freedom of information act, improving the rule of law quite frankly as a country that operates with the rule of law could be less corrupt.

On the best way to strengthen anti-corruption efforts he said: “Genuine independence and transparency can help anti-corruption system function properly in dealing with corrupt practices but it’s not tangible. It’s not something you can measure in six months or 12 months. It’s a long process.”

 

 

 

 

 

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