Abimbola Akosile writes on a novel approach to the fight against corruption in Nigeria, spearheaded mainly by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), where the emphasis is on prevention, rather than the usual sanctions and enforcement
Somebody once swore to this reporter that there was only one way to ‘fight’ corruption in Nigeria. His solution was simple: join the corrupt squad.
The cynic, who had for long been decrying the central government’s ambiguous stance against the scourge of corruption, based his simple remedy on the popular maxim that ‘if you can’t beat them; then join them’.
However, if all solutions were so simple and straightforward, Nigeria would not be at the near bottom of the global corruption perception ladder every year.
Corruption is not new in Nigeria. It has been identified as the greatest setback to the country’s development process and economic well-being. But novel ways of fighting the scourge are springing forth, thanks to combined local and foreign efforts.
The fight against corruption in Nigeria appears unending, seemingly with no solution in sight. To the average citizen, the constant pledge by the Federal Government to fight a scourge that has been described as the greatest setback to the country’s development, can, at best, be described as lip service, and at the worst as simple brain-washing for the masses.
Many citizens struggle to equate government’s avowed promise with the regular display of lax sanctions, plea bargains and presidential pardons for convicted looters who have over the years connived to deny the ordinary citizens of the basic necessities of life and the tools for empowerment and development as a nation.
In 2012, Nigeria was ranked 139 out of the 176 countries surveyed on public sector corruption perception by Transparency International (TI), the global civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption.
From that latest ranking, which was released by the anti-corruption agency in Washington, United States, Nigeria scored 27 marks out of a possible 100, where zero (0) denotes the worst form of corruption perception in the public sector, and 100 signifies the highest form of cleanliness.
The West African giant moved up by four places from its ranking of 143 in 2011 out of the 183 nations surveyed by TI. She was ranked 134th out of 178 surveyed nations in 2010; 130th out of 180 nations in 2009; 121 out of 180 in 2008; 147 out of 180 countries in 2007, and 153 globally out of 180 surveyed nations in 2006.
A ten-week-long training of corruption risk assessors, which began in Obudu Mountain Resort, Cross River State in August 2012, was finalised ironically in Tinapa Resort of the same state in February, this year.
The training, which involved two weeks of physical training and eight weeks of intensive online courses, was organised by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences commission (ICPC), the Technical Unit on Governance and Anti-corruption Reforms (TUGAR) of the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) and the Inter-Agency Task Team (IATT), in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The physical meetings had in attendance several representatives from the concerned agencies, a team of consultants drawn from various professional clusters including the academia, development consulting and legal practice, and select media.
Out of the 100 participants, who were invited to the first-ever training on Corruption Risk Assessment (CRA) in Nigeria, 97 eventually participated.
The trainees, now graduands, were drawn largely from the public sectors in more than 12 states (F.C.T., Niger, Ogun, Sokoto, Rivers, Adamawa, Imo, Benue, Lagos, Kaduna, Delta, Ondo), and comprised 73 males and 27 females across all religious divides.
Their mission was simple and straight-forward: to help deliver Nigeria from the clutches of endemic corruption, and if possible stop corrupt acts – both public and private - before they take place. The focus was on corruption risk and how to assess the trend in public organisations in a bid to minimise corruption in Nigeria. They were united in purpose; a vision of a better Nigeria, for present and future generations.
In the course of the intensive programme, which focused on training of corruption risk assessors, the participants were separated into three classes topped by class leaders, otherwise known as governors, and taught the laws backing up corruption prosecution, how to discover and plug loopholes in public procurement processes, and how to identify and remove corruption risks before the act is committed by a willing or unwilling person.
The nominated, carefully-selected and invited trainees, who all possessed basic educational qualifications, years of working experience and ICT competence, were tutored by local and foreign experts drawn from the ICPC, EFCC, BPP, government ministries, and the civil society sector.
Various tools and aids were employed in the group and plenary sessions and practical cases of official corruption were identified, analysed and reviewed by the lecturers and eager and serious participants.
A Corruption risk assessment (also referred to as a Corruption Audit) is a tool that can be used to detect and assess corruption risk exposures within functional areas and develop mechanisms to mitigate against such risks.
This requires that major corruption risks be identified, their impact be assessed, and the adequacy of the control environment determined. Valuable outcomes that flow from the assessment include the development of a set of recommendations on those activities which have poor controls and are vulnerable to major forms of corruption.
Recommendations may include modifications to an organisation's operational practices, procedures, systems or controls, so that the risk of corruption occurring is reduced to a level acceptable to management.
The CRA approach is unique for a number of reasons. Firstly it is one that can be sustained over time as it ensures that the agencies being assessed participate in and thereby own the process from the beginning. There is also the possibility that in the future legal reforms may lead to CRA becoming a mandatory part of the public sector in Nigeria.
Course on Corruption Studies
Two Nigerian universities, the University of Ibadan and University of Benin, Edo State, are working on a common curriculum that would enable them pilot a course on Corruption Studies, at the prompting of the ICPC.
This was disclosed by the Chairman of ICPC, Mr. Ekpo Nta, after the closing ceremony of the 10-week CRA training programme in Calabar, Cross River State.
Nta said once the curriculum is developed and approved, resources persons and lecturers would be employed to commence the teaching of the course, noting that it has become necessary to introduce the course because Nigerians have a poor knowledge of the consequence of corruption; hence the need to teach it in schools.
“It is a known fact that corruption is our headache. We cannot fold our hands and let this vice eat deep into our social fabric. We can fight it. Corruption can be eradicated. Once corruption becomes a course of study in our tertiary institutions, our children, our future leaders would know how to identify and tackle the malaise”, he said.
He described corruption as the number one problem of Nigeria that has contributed to her stunted growth and bad international image.
On the challenges in fighting corruption in Nigeria, Nta mentioned the inability by Nigerians to speak out as the main challenges since Nigerians unlike other nationals, like to whip up ethnic, political and religious sentiments once a person close to them is arrested for corruption and appealed to rise up against the vice irrespective of ethnic, religious or political affiliations.
Addressing participants of the training, the chairman asked them to brace up for the fight against corruption as all eyes were on them, but he reminded them that they were not corruption investigators but assessors; hence they must restrict themselves to that role once in the field.
One of the provisions of the ICPC law is to “examine the practices, systems and procedures of public bodies and where, in the opinion of the commission, such practices, systems or procedures aid or facilitate fraud or corruption, to direct and supervise a review” stressing that this provision accounts for 50 per cent of the commission’s functions.
He said some of the participants may become consultants to other countries on anti-corruption as he has been inundated with requests from some countries for assistance in establishing similar commissions and helping to train their nationals on how to wage the war against corruption.
“However, only 69 of you have qualified to receive full certification as Corruption Risk Assessors. 13 others will be receiving certification of participation to show that they attended and completed the programme short of full certification having scored less than the 75 per cent pass mark.
“At this point, it is important to stress that a Corruption Risk Assessor is not a criminal investigator, neither is the conduct of a CRA a witch hunting exercise. It is common to hear that corruption is endemic in Nigeria because of the system. The purpose of CRA is to minimise systemic vulnerabilities and strengthen organisational processes and procedures against corruption”, he said.
Speaking on the training, the Head of TUGAR and the main facilitator of the process, Ms. Lillian Ekeanyanwu said, “this is a long and deliberate process. We need to get it right, especially the right foundation. I am happy with the process and the CRAs were carefully selected people with integrity. We aim to carry out assessments of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to fit into the prevention framework. We want to change the focus of anti-corruption fight and put more weight on prevention.”
Many believe the CRA process is crucial for Nigeria to check corruption and improve development and the economy. However, the issue of protecting the eventual assessors from the likely ‘incentives’ or hostility from organisations to be assessed, cannot be wished away.
Nigeria still has a long way to go in the fight against corruption, and the issue of prevention rather than punishment is a crucial aspect of the battle. Kudos to ICPC, TUGAR and UNDP; the battle has just begun, albeit in a new dimension.