Wednesday 18 November 2015

Corruption: The Elephant In The Room

You Can Stop Corruption
by: Emmanuel Nwachukwu

Mention Nigeria to an external observer and the dominant image of the country is that of corruption. Corruption has dogged this great country from our emergence as a nation, and plagued all attempts to improve the lives of citizens. 

The sums allegedly stolen through corruption in Nigeria can be mind-boggling. This monster pervades all walks of lives, including the police and the judiciary; it abodes in the civil service, aided and abetted by politicians; it lurks in our universities and schools; even the private sector and our religious establishments have not been spared the contagion of corruption. Paradoxically, we are all under siege from this monster we invited to dinner.

Fela Anikulakpo-Kuti bewailed its menace in his songs in the 1970s; Prof. Ayodele Awojobi of the blessed memory lamented its scourge in the 1980s, and Gani Fawehinmi led a crusade against corruption up until his death in 2009. Regrettably, the previous administration elevated corruption to pandemic proportions, almost legitimising it. Former President Goodluck Jonathan even sought to redefine corruption in a pathetic attempt to excuse it.

Sadly, corruption in Nigeria is not just the preserve of politicians and the high and mighty; we are all involved in it, one way or another, either giving or receiving; from the security personnel at the gate to the “oga at the top.” If President Muhammadu Buhari was to lock up every corrupt official in Nigeria, there would be no one left in some ministries. Corruption has become a culture in Nigeria – a way of life. It is that hamper you have under your desk; it is that bag of rice you have in your boot; it is that job you’re doing now because some “big man” put your name forward; it is that truckload of rams reportedly rejected by the President as Sallah gift. They all have the label “corruption” on them. This pandemic is now so deep-rooted that it will require nothing short of a major surgery to curb it.

Corruption has wreaked havoc on this nation. It is responsible for the death of millions of our people that would have lived if hospitals had adequate funding. It is responsible for our lack of power and the poor state of public infrastructure. It is responsible for the flight of thousands of our youths to voluntary servitude in Europe, many of whom have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. Corruption is responsible for the mass poverty in Nigeria due to lack of opportunities. It is responsible for the abysmal loss of internal revenue that would have gone into providing public services and building vital infrastructure. It has deprived our children of that quality education the rich now seek in Ghana and that hospital treatment we travel thousands of miles to obtain in India. Notwithstanding the fall in oil prices, corruption has been responsible for the bankruptcy of most state governments and their inability to pay pensions and salaries. In the times of plenty when they would have invested in the development of their states and the creation of sustainable jobs, they chose to “share the money.” They were content to lead an impoverished people who scrambled for crumbs from their tables. The collateral effects are the current spate of crime, kidnappings and insecurity in the country.

The President quite rightly identified the scourge of corruption as Nigeria’s number one enemy. Whilst the current drive of going after those who have looted the nation’s treasury is commendable, it is important to first address the structures that make this theft possible. The fight against corruption in Nigeria must start with the “game keepers”, those whom we have charged with the responsibility of combating corruption. We need to satisfy ourselves first that these institutions are doing their job.

Before the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, appeared before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, most Nigerians would not have heard of this body or indeed the Code of Conduct Bureau. They have suddenly become active. Even the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has seemingly woken up from its stupor. These institutions owe Nigerians an explanation for their docility. We are where we are because of the failure of our institutions to do their job properly. If we are to succeed in the fight against corruption, the government must start with the sanitisation and the strengthening of these institutions to make them fit for purpose. The government must resource and fund them adequately to carry out their mandate and then tie their budgets to the achievement of set deliverables.

We need to look again at the adequacy of current measures for tackling corruption in the country which is centred upon prosecuting offenders after they have committed the crime. We must explore other measures aimed at prevention, including education and public campaigns targeted at changing attitudes. Government must look into the root causes of corruption and adopt measures to address systemic corruption, such as the new directive on the single treasury account.

The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Crimes Commission and the EFCC cannot be everywhere, so state governors and ministers must take responsibility for tackling corruption in their states/ ministries. They should have clear policies and procedures for tackling corruption, underpinned by enforceable sanctions that are communicated to all staff. The policies should place limits on the gifts that can be accepted by public officials – both in cash and in kind. As much as is practicable, processes should be automated to reduce human interface. Given the immense damage corruption has done to Nigeria, it should be a standing item in the meeting agenda of the Federal Executive Council, with a requirement for ministers to report periodically to cabinet on their progress in tacking corruption in their respective ministries.

The choice of the Attorney-General of the Federation will be very crucial in this fight. The battle against corruption will not be won without the full commitment of the judiciary and the AGF. Nigeria has suffered over the years from attorneys general who have been reluctant to prosecute crime, and by default have encouraged impunity. We have in effect outsourced our judiciary to the UK, as evidenced from the James Ibori and Diezani Alison-Madueke cases because of the incompetence of our prosecutors and a corrupt judiciary system. So shameful!

The ICPC and the EFCC are believed to have prosecutions that have been gridlocked in court for over 10years – incredible! Our judicial and penal justice system must be reformed to speed up prosecutions. Speedy successful convictions are the biggest deterrent to corruption. The government should consider having a dedicated court to try corruption cases. It is now over three years since the Otedola/Lawan $600,000 bribery scandal hit our newsstands. The facts of the case suggested that this would have been a relatively easy prosecution, but the case is still on, courtesy of a rotten judicial system. We cannot continue like this.

In the words of Mr. President, “If we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria’. Buhari now has the mandate of the electorate to dislodge this elephant in the room and build a new Nigeria that is free from this menace.

- Emmanuel Nwachukwu is an international business specialist

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