By Kassim Afegbua
I have watched with very keen interest the anti-corruption fight as shouldered by the relevant agencies namely the ICPC, EFCC and NDLEA amongst others. I have seen through my binoculars several contradictions and inadequacies in the whole fight to address the prevalence of corruption in our Nigerian society.
In my careful assessment of all the manifest irregularities that have informed the anti-corruption crusade, I discovered that weak institutions and favouritism have badly affected the crusade in a manner that would undermine the achievements of the struggle. It does appear tellingly defeatist that as much as we intensify the crusade for anti-corruption, the more we record bare-faced cases of corruption in high and low places.
Then the question that stares one in the face is; does it mean there is no meaningful impact to underpin the whole crusade against corruption or has it become so deep-rooted that we find it difficult to uproot?
So far, there are two spectators in the fight against corruption. One is the motley crowd that usually accompany the suspect to the court room in such a manner that tends to dramatize and in most cases trivialize the whole essence of the arrest.
Two, is the anti-corruption agencies; EFCC and ICPC that could easily be dubbed the foot soldiers that are working to stamp out corruption in our society. While the accused persons are usually celebrated by members of the society through upbeat media campaigns, the accusers often appear unpopular in their bid to make a meaning out of the allegations being levied against the accused.
From Lagos to Kano, from Maiduguri to Port Harcourt, the pattern of handling anti-corruption cases has not been rudimentally grounded in the principles of anti-corruption crusade world-wide. I will advance my reasons later in this piece.
The point I am making is that there are so many contradictions in our collective anti-corruption fight that often times; one feels the EFCC is just playing to the gallery to score cheap political points in its effort to reduce the incidences of corruption. It is insipid to think that an anti-corruption agency should be branded as being political with decisions. It is the very first stigma that would not sustain a concentric argument about anti-corruption.
Let me state it categorically that an anti-corruption agency is expected to be insulated from the apron strings of the executive arm of government. In our own case, the President of the country often plays the role of Spokesman to the anti-corruption agency. This is an anomaly.
The strength of an anti-corruption fight derives from how much independence it is granted either by the law setting it up or the operative environment under which it carries out its stated assignment. From an anti-corruption perspective, it will suit the public if we take off from the standpoint that everybody is corrupt, except the agency. Therefore, the responsibility is vested on the agency to improvise methods and ways that fit into best practices for organizations to take a cue from.
The agency will then be expected to set standards and prescribe same for organizations be it public or private to adopt in their respective operations. In all the literatures about anti-corruption fight in Nigeria that I have read, I have not seen any published audited report of the EFCC either during the Ribadu or Farida Waziri era. I have also not seen where its annual budget is published for public scrutiny.
In anti-corruption studies, there is what is called cost analysis when you intend to embark on any anti-corruption crusade. Such analysis will help one to rationalize whether it is plausible to spend one million naira chasing a man who is suspected to have stolen N100,000 or whether it is justifiable to spend bogus budget in the name of anti-corruption without commensurate returns to the treasury. In Nigeria, I have not seen any published budget for EFCC nor have I seen anywhere that salaries of EFCC and ICPC staff are stated for public good.
The first step to addressing anti-corruption discourse is that of disclosure. That is why the role of whistle blowers is key to the success of any anti-corruption campaign. The laws in Nigeria do not protect a whistle-blower, hence not much is gotten from that segment. Again, so much has been said and written about cultural inhibitions that tend to militate against a clear-cut fight on corruption. It is the same cultural consideration that makes an appointed EFCC and ICPC chairperson to be subservient to the powers-that-be, taking dictates and allowing itself to be used as a tool in the hands of an errant President, as was the case with Chief Obasanjo.
It is this cultural nonsense that makes accused persons to be driven to court premises into the waiting hands of political hangers-on clapping and hailing them for allegedly stealing public money. One is disturbed often times to see tumultuous crowd waiting around court premises to shower praises on a man who is being accused of stealing their collective till.
You then wonder aloud; of what benefit is an anti-corruption crusade if it could parade so many supportive spectators for an accused? We are living witnesses to all the broad day drama that were orchestrated in the crusade against corruption; the Patricia Eteh saga, Dimeji Bankole, the former Governors, Ministers, Heads of agencies, Banks Executives and their gang of stealing fawns.
Let us look at the recoveries from those who are often arrested and made to enter into plea bargain in order to extract a pound of flesh from them. How much of such recoveries do we hear about? EFCC and ICPC are supposed to publish such recoveries for public consumption.
It is not a secret document or undertaking. An anti-corruption agency cannot operate like a secret agency. Once there is a consciousness that the people will know how much a governor plundered a state, then it prescribes caution for the in-office officer.
Probing further, one is wondering why anti-corruption agencies should operate under regular courts. The slow administration of justice cannot help dispense justice at the nick of time. Often times, you hear of all manners of adjournments, appeals and plea bargains.
There should exist special courts for the trials of suspects and delivery of judgments, and most of all these should be done with measured timing, otherwise, a case may wear out with time or the agency may get easily overwhelmed if cases are not quickly dispensed with. This is the virus that has been eating deep into the operations of EFCC and ICPC in Nigeria.
There are cases that have been left unattended to in the last three years and which perhaps may not be heard of again. The growing cynicism against the activities of the anti-corruption agencies calls for worry. You hear people say, ha, what the heck about EFCC; I can steal 3billion, fight my way with 1billion, and get away with 2billion. Who cares! This thinking, which is gaining currency, is entirely bad for the EFCC and ICPC.
One missing link in the fight against corruption in Nigeria is the fact that EFCC and ICPC are not doing much to reduce the enormous powers which Chief Executives wield in their different agencies or departments.
The universal definition of corruption is Monopoly plus Discretion minus Accountability. It is the monopoly power of an individual that makes him abuse his discretionary powers which ultimately leads to lack of accountability. And where there is no accountability, corruption breeds better in such environment.
What the anti-corruption agencies should be doing is to come up with laws and provisions that would tend to reduce the monopoly powers of individuals in different government or private establishments. Once you make it a point of duty that only a man’s signature is required to seal a deal, then you have created platform for such a man to abuse his powers.
What anti-corruption studies advocate is that checks and balances should be created to make it difficult for an individual to wield enormous powers, so that he does not subject it to abuse. If you ordinarily allow individuals certain space, be sure they would ask for additional space, that is why it is instructive for EFCC and ICPC to build platforms that would mitigate the abuse of individual’s discretionary power. Take this example; why must the signature of the FCT Minister alone convey the right to own a land in the FCT?
It was such enormous powers in the hands of such a Minister that makes him to abuse his discretionary powers, pulling down houses and structures, and damning all to go to hell. That in itself, within the purview of anti-corruption studies, is corruption itself, especially following revelations at the National Assembly probe panel. This is a major issue that must be looked into critically.
Let us now come to the issue of disclosure. How many Nigerians are aware of the take home pay of the EFCC and ICPC chairmen and other categories of staff? How many Nigerians have seen their audited reports over the years? How many Nigerians can boastfully declare the budget details of both the EFCC and ICPC? Why do people lobby to get appointed into the EFCC and ICPC?
Why do people collect notes and referrals to get employment into EFCC and ICPC? Why has EFCC and ICPC not invited the big boys in the Presidential Villa to answer to questions of sleaze and grand acquisition since the EFCC and ICPC started?
Why does the fight against corruption stop at the doorstep of the Legislature and Judiciary, and not the Executive arm of government? Who says the President cannot be invited for questioning over allegations of corruption if any is levied against him or his wife? Why must the EFCC be the one to come out to clear the name of the First Lady when it was alleged that she had a case to answer with EFCC?
How is EFCC funded? After the 2011 elections, I expected the EFCC and ICPC to invite the elected President to answer to questions of over spending at the elections. Nobody is saying anything about the monumental financial expenses of the PDP campaign and its Presidential Candidate, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. We are all keeping suspicious mum. Too bad.
The above questions will do the anti-corruption agencies a great deal of good if they are actually serious about the anti-corruption crusade. Providing answers to them will also help the public to understand the modus operandi of the anti-corruption agencies so that it could stand on a moral high-ground to bring offenders to book.
The issue of morality will be called to question if a man who has not published his audited accounts is accusing others of not doing same. It takes away a lot from the process. We must begin to apply the basic rules of anti-corruption and trying in the process to fry the big fishes in a manner that is not selective.
The anti-corruption agencies must re-focus and get the people properly sensitized so that those armies of supporters of corruption that we usually see around court premises would be reduced. Until something drastic is done to address a number of these concerns, we will continue to rotate on the same axis, year in year out. The society must get it registered in its consciousness that corruption is bad and must be treated as such.