Corruption is winning

A flurry of activities in recent weeks point unerringly to the conclusion that President Muhammadu Buhari’s avowed anti-corruption campaign is floundering and badly too. The Executive Order the President signed, seeking to preclude access to seized assets by accused persons came shortly after the case against the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, crashed at the Supreme Court, amid instances of repeated failure by the state oil company, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, to fully remit money to the Federation Account. Buhari’s resolve to continue the battle as a “national emergency” will yield positive results only if he adopts a realistic and holistic strategy that can restore public confidence in the war.

Executive Order 6 of 2018, Preservation of Assets Connected with Serious Corruption and Other Related Offences, seeks to sequester assets seized from persons accused of corruption. According to Buhari, the order would restrict dealings in suspicious assets subject to investigations, deny criminals of their use for illicit activities, to pervert or intimidate judicial proceeding, or be deployed for terrorism, kidnapping, economic sabotage, sponsoring of ethnic or sectarian violence and for “acts contributing to the economic adversity” of the country “and against the overall interest of justice and the welfare of the Nigerian state.”

His missive demonstrates a President that is still passionate about removing the stench of corruption that has earned the country much odium worldwide. But the problem is strategy: three years after he upstaged at the polls an incumbent president on whose watch graft reached record levels, the expectations of a traumatised citizenry and the international community of swift retribution for the corrupt have not materialised. Instead, the vigorous pursuit of the corrupt by Ibrahim Magu, the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the main anti-corruption agency, has lost some traction, hobbled by a combination of inter-agency squabbling, judicial setbacks, hostility from within the Presidency and from the National Assembly and the glaring lack of both a well-coordinated strategy and of an identifiable coordinator.

The result is discouraging. Yes, some high profile accused persons have been convicted by the lower courts, the latest being Jolly Nyame, former governor of Taraba State, and his Plateau State counterpart, Joshua Dariye (1999-2007); judges and top military officers, including service chiefs, have also been prosecuted. Many cases have, however, crashed at the lower courts or on appeal before a judiciary that has lost considerable respect. Bala Ngilari, ex-governor of Adamawa State, had his conviction overturned, as have two former heads of the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency.

To give effect to the national emergency declaration, Buhari must review his strategy now. First assignment is do a thorough, honest review of where we are and adopt best practices from elsewhere where corruption has been tamed. As Wole Soyinka, a Nobel laureate, has reminded us, nepotism and sectionalism are also acts of corruption. Stealing is not the only form of corruption. Buhari is, by most accounts, the most sectional head of state Nigeria has had. He should change that style and image. Studies have shown that success in fighting corruption in any country requires a buy-in by the citizenry: where the generality of the people either distrust the government or are willing to tolerate graft, it is an uphill task for crusaders. Both are very active in Nigeria: people neither trust the government and its institutions any more, nor demonstrate strong aversion to graft and its perpetrators. Voters in South Korea, Romania and Brazil have, on their part, taken active and peaceful steps to oppose corruption and have been forcing changes and provoking the prosecution and convictions of top officials.

New legislation is required to shift the onus of proof for unexplained wealth onto the accused rather than the prosecution. Singapore has won plaudits globally for this provision in its vaunted assault on graft. The United Kingdom, the source of our common law, passed into law the Unexplained Wealth Orders, described by Transparency International as “significant in the global fight against corruption as the 2010 Bribery Act.”

From a ranking of 32nd most corrupt in 2015 by Transparency International, Nigeria was the 40th most corrupt country in 2016, but moved 12 steps further backwards in 2017, from 136 on the TI scale the previous year, to 148, signifying the failure of Buhari’s war. Our anti-graft war needs to be coordinated, with the right personnel to drive it. It requires a fervent Attorney-General, Inspector-General of Police and heads of other security agencies working together. Buhari sabotages his own programme by failing to stamp out such in-fighting, protecting Abdulrasheed Maina and the insubordinate Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, Usman Yusuf, whom he reinstated without investigating the weighty allegations of graft that prompted his suspension by the Health Minister, Isaac Adewole, and by his inaction over allegations of graft made against some in his inner circle members.

He will need to find a way to persuade the judiciary to key in to the war on corruption and end their serial throwing out of cases on technical grounds and “lack of diligent prosecution,” a dubious phrase that has provided cover for letting treasury looters off the hook. Above all, Buhari must restore public confidence in his own integrity.



Credit – The Punch