To meaningfully tackle Nigeria’s institutionalised corruption, the way forward would include the following: (i) genuine implementation of zero tolerance for corruption; (ii) extensive dissemination and effective implementation of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy; (iii) introduction and implementation of anti-corruption initiatives at the state level; (iv) party finance and political campaign funding reform; and (v) well-functioning special anti-corruption courts.
1.Zero Tolerance for Corruption: Without unambiguous demonstration of zero tolerance for corruption at the apex of the machinery of government (that is, the presidency), battling corruption will prove ineffectual. The two poorly handled cases of corruption within the presidency under president Buhari’s watch – former SGF Lawal and “missing” and “wanted” Maina – have undermined the credibility of his administration’s commitment to zero tolerance for corruption. Can the administration regain the lost credibility? Maybe. The point to stress is the need for whoever becomes president in 2019 to learn to truly practice what zero tolerance for corruption means.
By December 2019, the following would be some good measures of the president’s commitment to zero tolerance for corruption:
*Acknowledgment that fighting corruption is no more than his determination to uphold Section 15 (5) of the 1999 Constitution: “The State shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power”.
*Issuance of clear guidelines for enforcing a crucial anti-corruption provision in the 1999, Constitution, that is, the “Prohibition of foreign accounts” (Fifth Schedule, Code of Conduct for Public Officers.
*Public declaration of his assets and obligation on members of his cabinet and the most senior political appointees across the public sector to do the same within three months.
*Inauguration of the National Council on Procurement as stipulated in the Procurement Act, 2007, so that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) will cease to serve as a weekly session of contract bazaar and concentrate on its principal function of policy making.
2. National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS): The Strategy together with a National Implementation Action Plan that was adopted by FEC in July 2017 covers the main issues commonly found in similar strategies across countries – evidence of solid work by the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC). And the Strategy correctly acknowledges that all three tiers of government (federal, state and local) as well as the private and voluntary sectors need to be involved. However, NACS has not been widely disseminated even though “partnership of the civil society and media” is acknowledged in its Foreword.
The specific activities in NACS’s Implementation Action Plan are crafted around five pillars: prevention of corruption; public engagement; campaign for ethical re-orientation; enforcement and sanctions; and recovery of proceeds of corruption. The ethical re-orientation pillar has a ring of déjà vu: the “ethical revolution” of the Shagari presidency in the early 1980s that yielded no concrete results. Given the same complex cultural architecture of the country, the proposed ethical re-orientation is unlikely to gain traction as a national programme. But it could be implemented, with varying degrees of positive results, within states and within a few of the geo-political zones with shared common cultural orientations.
Regarding the two pillars on prevention of corruption and public enlightenment, I would argue that a crucial starting point that is not mentioned in NACS is its extensive dissemination. An abridged version of the Strategy should be provided for use in secondary schools and this should be translated into main national languages for public enlightenment notably in adult literacy classes and on the radio. Effective enforcement of Freedom of Information (FOI) law guidelines at both the federal and state levels is correctly highlighted as a tool for prevention of corruption. A special dimension to corruption prevention education that needs to be emphasised high public tolerance of corruption as demonstrated in the Nigerian Corruption Survey 2017 published by the National Bureau for Statistics: an overwhelming percentage of Nigerians (about 95%) will accept a bribe when offered or pay a bribe when demanded (Premium Times August 17, 2017 ). The other dimension to be tackled is Nigerians’ entrenched tolerance of corrupt practices by townsmen/women and “sisters” and “brothers” from their respective ethnic groups. The ordinary people must be encouraged to exercise more rigorously and effectively their democratic right to hold corrupt governments to account.
The challenges relating to enforcement and sanctions and the recovery of proceeds of corruption that have persisted since the fight against corruption was first embraced in the early 2000s are addressed in the Implementation Action Plan but they would need to be revised and fine-tuned periodically to make appropriate adjustments based on lessons of implementation experience.
3.Anti-corruption initiatives at the state level: Cascading the fight against corruption to the sub-national level has been missing since the Obasanjo administration first put the subject in the front burner in the early 2000s. Indeed, there were a few states that sought to challenge the applicability of the law establishing the ICPC to their areas of jurisdiction. Notwithstanding the strong argument for simultaneous anti-corruption efforts at the state level, NACS prescription that states should adopt NACS is wrong-headed. The correct approach would be to encourage states to draw on NACS to prepare their own anticorruption strategies with PACAC providing technical assistance whenever it is invited to help.
Kano state was the first to establish an anti-corruption commission in 2017, some months before NACS was adopted by FEC. By April 2018, the state Governor claimed that he had lost a commissioner, some permanent secretaries and an Accountant General who were facing corruption charges in courts (see Punch , April 15th 2018). In other words, more “big fishes” were punished in Kano State within one year than was the case at the federal level within close to three years! The other initiative at the state level to date is the anti-corruption summit organised by Adamawa State in February 2018. For the fight against corruption to gain traction at the state level, anti-corruption initiatives a la Kano State would need to have become functional in at least one-half of the states.
4.Party Finance and Political Campaign Funding Reform: As pointed out in “Understanding Nigeria’s Weak Party System” (Vanguard , March 21st 2018), the detailed constitutional provisions on party finance – Articles 225, 226 and 228, (c) – are more appropriate in the Electoral Law than in a Constitution. When they are transferred to the Electoral Law, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would need to engage appropriate expertise to assist it in articulating mechanisms for ensuring effective enforcement.
Regarding political campaign funding, INEC that is the acknowledged umpire would need to draw on lessons of good practices in Africa and elsewhere to tackle a problem that afflicts, in varying degrees, almost all democracies. Specifically, in the literature on fighting corruption, party finance and campaign funding corruption feature prominently because of the strong evidence that they constitute a major source of corruption in many countries.
5. Special Anti-Corruption Courts
“When you get to the Court of Appeal, when you get to the Supreme Court and when you look at the index of law reports, you’d find that 90 per cent of reported cases coming before our highest courts are all about technicalities and procedure, nothing, absolutely nothing about substantive law.” – Justice Emmanuel Olayinka Ayoola (retd), The Nation , January 2nd 2018.
Reports of failed corruption cases in Nigerian courts, especially in respect of Politically Exposed Persons and judges/justices confirm the above plaintive observation of Justice Ayoola on the focus of the country’s highest courts on “technicalities” and “procedure” and the neglect of “substantive law” and, I would add, substantive crime. Would special courts to handle corruption cases help to ensure that corrupt persons are punished without undue delays? Maybe. In 2017, the National Judicial Council set up the Corruption and Financial Crimes Trial Monitoring Committee (CONTRIMCO). The Committee started work in early 2018. Then, in April, special courts to handle corruption and financial crimes were inaugurated. If the CONTRIMCO diligently undertakes its periodic monitoring and evaluation responsibility in respect of the performance of the judges of the special anti-corruption courts, the country could soon witness the beginning of the end of unpunished corruption. However, an important caveat is that the positive result envisaged will only become reality if the selection of the judges appointed to serve in both the CONTRIMCO and the special courts was based on merit and a track record of incorruptibility.
The fight against corruption must remain in the front burner of governments at all levels in the country for the foreseeable future because persistent high-level corruption is a major explanatory factor for both deepening poverty and poor service delivery.