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The war against corruption: How has Nigeria fared?

By Theo Nkire
Transparency International, the global coalition against corruption, defines corruption as ‘the abuse of entrusted power for private gain’. For the words ‘entruusted power’ the World Bank uses the words ‘public office’.  Its own definition therefore comes out as ‘the abuse of public office for private gain’.

So when a person in authority, in abuse of his powers, takes a decision to benefit self and not the people he is employed to serve, he commits an act of corruption. According to Transparency International, corruption ‘hurts everyone who depends on the integrity of people in a position of authority’.

anti-corruptionIn our statute books, corruption is mainly identified by such economic crimes as embezzlement, bribery, money laundering etc.
One good thing that has happened to mankind in her quest to eradicate corruption from society is that corruption is now measurable.

Every year, Transparency International publishes its annual corruption perceptions index wherein it measures the performance of each country through a number of set criteria on a scale of zero (for the most corrupt) to ten (for the cleanest).  The criteria employed include control of corruption, budget openness, global competiveness, human development, judicial independence, rule of law, Press Freedom, voice and accountability.

In Governance Matters iv: Aggregate and Individual Governance Indicators for 1996-2002, published for the World Bank, Daniel Kauffman, A. Kraay and M. Masruzzi identified monopoly of power, discretion and lack of accountability and transparency as the main drivers of corruption.

Some years ago, I was so perplexed by the problem of corruption in Nigeria that I did an unsolicited Memo to the President.  The title of that document is CORRUPTION: A One Point Agenda for Jonathan.  Much of what I shall say hereafter will be culled from that Memo.

Colours and tentacles
Corruption has grown into an art everywhere in Nigeria; a grand art with many shapes and colours and tentacles spreading in multi-dimensional directions.  Go North, go South; go East, go West; the story is the same: a sordid tale of greed and graft told by every idiot with zest and furry.  Nigeria does not have ten problems.  Nigeria does not have nine problems.  Nigeria does not have eight problems.  Her problems are not seven, six, five or four or three or two.  Nigeria’s problems are one.  And the name of those problems all put together is CORRUPTION!

And so, Nigeria does not need a twenty-point agenda, a ten-point agenda or even a two-point agenda.  Nigeria needs a ONE-POINT AGENDA and the only point that should be on that long list of one is CORRUPTION.
You may wonder why we blame every ill in society on corruption.  The reason is this.  Corruption is the one reason that electricity does not work in Nigeria.

Remove corruption and there will be light everywhere in the country.  Corruption is the reason our roads are in such a sorry state of disrepair.  Remove corruption and there will be roads to everywhere.  Corruption is the reason our schools are in shambles.  Remove corruption and there will be room in our schools for every child.  Corruption is the reason there are no drugs in our hospitals.  Remove corruption and the ‘out of stock’ syndrome will vanish from our hospitals.  Corruption is the one reason there is so much insecurity in the land.

It is because of corruption that the police cannot secure the citizen in his life and property.  Corruption is the reason Boko Haram, the armed robber and the kidnapper are better equipped than the policeman in their chase.  Remove corruption and the citizen can walk about in freedom confident that his life is safe and his property, too.  Corruption is the reason elections are rigged.  Corruption is the reason census figures are disputed.

Corruption is the reason Nigerians do not have clean water to drink.  Corruption is the reason our airspace is unsafe (or was so until recently).   Corruption is the reason our factories are shut and our youths roam our streets everyday in search of work that is nowhere to be found.  Corruption is the one reason the average Nigerian pays more for telephone than people in most other parts of the world.  Corruption is the cause of our numerous ills and it is in its elimination that society can find succor.

The primary purpose of government everywhere is the security and welfare of the citizen.  In Nigeria this principle has been enshrined in Section 14(2)(b) of our Constitution.  Any government therefore, that cannot secure the citizen in his life and property is not, and cannot be, worth the name.  It should lay no claim to the title, government.

This is why it is imperative that our government, and indeed, any government must strive to eliminate corruption from the society it seeks to govern.  In Nigeria therefore, the fight against corruption must be the primary function of government everywhere and at every level – be it federal, state or local – at least, until we reduce it to a minimum.

Today, Nigeria is Number 144 out of the 177 countries surveyed in 2013.  Among our neighbours, Ghana scored 46 to emerge Number 63; Ivory Coast 27 to place Number 136.  South Africa was Number 72 with a score of 42 while the best country in Africa is Botswana which emerged Number 30 with 64 points.

Among the leaders world-wide are Denmark and New Zealand that came first each with 91 points.  Judging by the index, Russia is about the most corrupt among the world leaders.  She came in at 127 with a score of 28.
So Nigeria has not done well on the index in recent years.  From 121 in 2008, Nigeria has moved 23 notches down the ladder to 144 in 2013.  This is not an encouraging story.
Apart from our poor performance on the index, Nigeria has over the years taken bold steps to fight corruption.

In addition to such institutions as the Nigerian Police, the SSS and other security agencies traditionally set up to combat crime, the Nigerian Government has established agencies such as the EFCC (together with the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit), the ICPC, the Code of Conduct Bureau, the Federal Character Commission and the Public Complaints Commission to help in the war.   There are also various other pieces of legislation that help in the war against corruption.  Some of these are:
i.    The Electoral Act 2010
ii.    The Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000
iii.    The Money Laundering [Prohibition] Act, 2004
iv.    The Public Procurement Act, 2007
v.    The Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Act, 2007
vi.    The Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007
vii.    The African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption 2007
viii.    The United Nations Conventions Against Corruption 2007
ix.    The Freedom of Information Act.

Corruption: National Association of Nigerian Student demonstrating in Abuja over Selective Justice by EFCC in Abuja. Photo by Gbemiga Olamikan

Besides, Government has initiated certain programs aimed at reducing, if not eliminating corruption from the system.  They include the Integrated Personnel Payments Information System (IPPIS); e-payment for all government jobs etc. Many of these programs are of course, new and have been adopted in the main at the federal level.  There is no doubt that by the time these programs are accepted by the States and the private sector, Nigeria’s standing on the Corruption Index will improve tremendously.

The war against corruption can never be an easy war.  It is a war against principalities and powers; a war against the most powerful people in the nation – former Presidents, Governors and former Governors, Senators and Ministers – men of power and of influence and wealth; Chief Executive Officers of the most powerful companies in the Country – of banks and industry.  So it cannot be an easy war.  It must be fought with tact and cunning.

You cannot confront them frontally; they will destroy you.  The noise you make of your successes may be your undoing!  Do not expect too much of an open support from the powers-that-be today.  The men you go after may be their friends and sponsors.  It is enough if they allow you a free hand.

If you consider that UNESCO ranks economic crime the most common crime in Nigeria (followed by drug trafficking and human trafficking in that order) you will better appreciate the enormity of the problem posed by corruption in our society.  It is true that corruption can never be completely eliminated from any society; but its awful effects can at least, be minimized.

On Saturday June 5, 2011 India’s most popular yoga guru, Ramdev, called on his followers to embark on a fast to the death to protest official corruption in India’s public life.  India is nowhere near Nigeria in the list of corrupt nations. Yet a man is ready to lay down his life to ensure corruption is eliminated from India’s public life.  This shows the seriousness of the problem.

Having surveyed the problem in our Country, in Africa and worldwide, what then do we do if Nigeria must be saved.
To my mind, for Nigeria to win the war against corruption, three professions are critical.  The first is the profession of the law to which I belong.  The second is the Computer profession to which you belong and the third is the Accounting profession to which our friends on both sides belong.

While the legal profession will assist the legislature in enacting adequate laws to ensure success, it will be the responsibility of your profession to help provide the necessary technology and software to wage the war and build into our system those programs that will help eliminate corruption. Of course, it will be the responsibility of the Accounting profession, the Accountant and Auditor to ensure those loopholes that fester the nest of corrupt leaders are closed.

It will also be the added responsibility of the legal profession to ensure that the judiciary plays its role by ensuring a quick dispensation of justice to all who come before our Courts on corruption charges.

If we rise from this breakfast and the issues we have raised in this talk can generate further discussion in the days that lie ahead, this morning may have been well spent; and if after this, your profession can initiate a move to bring our three professions together in a joint effort to chart a new course for the war against corruption, then this would have been a glorious morning indeed.

To succeed, emphasis must be on prevention not punishment.  Emphasis is no longer on catching the thief and punishing him.  Emphasis today is on how to make it impossible for the thief to find what to steal.  This is why programs such as the cashless society, electronic payments etc are important to the war on corruption and terrorism.

A reduction in the amount of money a customer can draw across the counter is sure to reduce incidents of corruption such as the one in which a former Minister of Education was involved sometime ago where large amounts of cash were moved in Ghana-must-go bags from across the counter.

Legislations such as the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, the Banks and other Financial Institutions Act, the Failed Banks Act etc are all aimed at curbing corruption.  Besides, we do not need to reinvent the wheel.  Nigeria should approach such countries as Denmark and New Zealand that have virtually eliminated corruption from their public life to borrow the necessary technology and knowhow.

Countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom have been of immense assistance to Nigeria in her war against corruption and terror. Of course, Nigeria’s participation in the global coalition against terrorism and money laundering is already yielding fruit in many ways.

Institutions such as the EFCC, ICPC the police and the various other security agencies that help in the war against corruption are each very important; but their emphasis, no doubt, is in detecting the offender after the event and prosecuting him.  If the Courts find him guilty, he pays the price.  If he is not found guilty he quickly returns to ply his trade with a bigger war chest.

More openness in government will also help. It is for this purpose that the Freedom of Information Act was enacted.  In Brazil for example, all government expenditure must be published online within 24 hours.  This is to ensure accountability and transparency in government business.  The result is that the average citizen can have access and judge for himself whether those in authority have been honest in their dealings and whether the price quoted for goods and services to government are fair.

Everywhere you go in the world today the slogan in fighting corruption and its attendant evil of terror is FOLLOW THE MONEY – the money trail, I mean.  Follow the money wherever it leads you and you can never go wrong;

Indeed, Nigeria has done very well in setting up institutions and programs that tend to block the loopholes which the corrupt official explores in his bid to beat the system.  The virtual elimination of the telephone bill and the NEPA bill (in parts of the country) is a step in the right direction. However, a lot still remains to be done.
So the battle is on, though not won!  The fight must be strengthened if the nation must be saved from the throes of indiscipline and greed.

* Theo Nkire was first Attorney-General of Abia State


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