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Magu’s probe: The perversity of fighting corruption with corruption in Nigeria

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Ibrahim Magu released
Ibrahim Magu

By Rotimi Fasan

NO country is inherently immune to corruption. What makes the difference between a more corrupt country and a less corrupt one is the incentive structure of their anti-corruption institutions and the integrity of those running them. As the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, rightly says, “Corruption is a failure of institutions.” That institutional failure is what engenders endemic corruption in Nigeria.

I mean, look around. You will not see what sociologists call “pillars of integrity”, credible institutions that can act as a powerful countervailing force against corruption. If in doubt, just cast your mind back to Dasukigate, the $2.1bn arms purchase scandal that broke out in 2015.

Which state or civil society organisation in Nigeria was untainted by the scandal? None! Even the traditional institutions, religious groups and the media – those that Marcus Felson, the sociologist, called ”intimate handlers” or “guardians”, because they could influence the behaviours of others – allegedly benefited from the loot!

Over the past few years, there have been iconic images, transmitted around the world, of how grand, political and administrative corruption flows from the top in Nigeria. They are images of a fish that rots from the head down, of institutional decay!

The most recent of these images is the suspension and investigation of Ibrahim Magu, the acting head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on various corruption allegations. In 2017, the image of the then-Senate President Bukola Saraki was shown worldwide sitting in a dock at the Code of Conduct Tribunal looking flummoxed as he faced a 13-count of false asset-declaration and corruption. He was later acquitted, but the State believes he still has a case to answer.

Or who can forget the removal from office last year of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, on allegations of corruption? What about the jailing of a former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun, in 2005, for the large sums of illicit money traced to his account or the arrest in 2017 of the head of the National Intelligence Agency, Ayo Oke, for the unexplained $43 million in his possession? One could go on!

Of course, if the heads of a country’s anti-corruption body, legislature, judiciary, police and intelligence service could be arrested and charged with corruption, one interpretation is that the country is seriously tackling corruption. That’s the presidency’s take on the Magu case. In a statement dripping with spin-doctor’s sophistry, Garba Shehu, President Buhari’s senior media assistant, said “there is no better indication that the fight against corruption is real and active”!

But there is a less generous interpretation. Surely, if the heads of Nigeria’s anti-corruption body, legislature, judiciary, police, intelligence service and similar institutions of governance are corrupt, then one must wonder how winnable its anti-graft war is. Can you really fight corruption with corrupt institutions and leaders?

Winning the war against corruption begins with having a credible national integrity system, irreproachable anti-graft bodies and officials. But Nigeria lacks such critical bulwarks against graft. In a recent letter to the South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, current chairman of the African Union, President Buhari, writing as the AU’s Anti-Corruption Champion on the occasion of the “Africa Anti-Corruption Day” on July 11, said: “The massive corruption being perpetrated across our national governments has created a huge governance deficit”.

READ ALSO: Magu released from detention

True, but Buhari must also accept his fault. Despite his undisputed personal integrity, he has failed to exercise good judgement in fighting corruption in Nigeria.

Think of it: Buhari said in 2015 when running for president that, if elected, “the corrupt will not be appointed into my administration”. Yet, some of the serious allegations of corruption over the past five years have been made against his political appointees, including a secretary to the government, who had to resign. Leadership is about exercising sound judgement in decision-making. Buhari hasn’t done so in relation to some of his appointments.

Take Magu. Most of the allegations against him are not new. As long ago as 2016, the Department of State Services, DSS, indicted him on serious corruption allegations. The Senate rejected his confirmation twice and passed a resolution calling for his removal as acting head of the EFCC. But in 2017, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, acting for the president, said: “Magu will be EFCC chairman as long as Buhari and I remain in office.” Talk of giving a hostage to fortune. So, what changed?

Truth is, Magu’s indictment by the DSS cast a shadow over his suitability as head of such a key anti-corruption body. But President Buhari has a tendency to stand by his favoured, if tainted, appointees until doing so becomes untenable. As it did with Magu! Which is why the presidency’s attempt to use Magu’s suspension to burnish Buhari’s anti-graft reputation stretches credulity!

But the fundamental question remains: why is Nigeria not winning the war on corruption? The United Nations Convention Against Corruption and the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combatting Corruption recommend that states should establish anti-corruption bodies.

Under President Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria created the EFCC, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, and the Code of Conduct Bureau. So, why, despite the existence of these bodies, is corruption deeply institutionalised and systemic in Nigeria?

Well, the answer is simple: All the institutions lack the ingredients for success. They lack integrity, operational independence, expertise, resources, transparency, accountability, inter-agency coordination and public trust. No anti-corruption agencies can be effective without these attributes. Yet, for instance, neither the EFCC nor the ICPC has published audited accounts for years.

Can Nigeria tackle corruption without a robust audit system? Or with a judiciary that lacks specialism in corruption offences and is itself prone to corruption?

Above all, even at their most effective, Nigeria’s anti-corruption institutions can only tackle the symptoms rather the root causes of corruption. Without systemic reforms, without political restructuring, with appropriate checks and balances, Nigeria will simply be “fighting” corruption with corrupt institutions and systems! A losing battle!


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