EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde
Abimbola Akosile writes on efforts by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) to nip corruption in the bud in Nigeria for the collective good
The atmosphere was cool and serene, but the topic was burning hot. Corruption and corruption risks in Nigeria are hardly befitting topics for such a rarefied environment in the clouds of remote Obudu Mountain Resort in Obanliku LGA of Cross River State.
But the 100 participants invited to the first-ever training on Corruption Risk Assessment (CRA) in Nigeria, who trudged into the mountainous venue in groups and singles in late August, had a look of serious business about them. 97 eventually participated.
The trainees, including this reporter, all thought and believed they were in Obudu to answer a national call; a call to help deliver Nigeria from the clutches of endemic corruption, and if possible stop corrupt acts – both public and private - before they take place.
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), the participants, who comprised 73 males and 27 females across all religious divides, were united in purpose; a vision of a better Nigeria, for the present generation and those yet unborn.
Somebody once told this reporter that corruption, which is a criminal act in most developed societies, has been turned to an art in Nigeria, a fact which, according to him, is buttressed by the nation’s affinity for materialism and corrupt enrichment.
But other citizens have also insisted that it is not over and done with for Nigeria in the case of corruption, which has assumed a larger-than-life dimension in every sphere of life and the society.
To this second group, all it takes is a committed leader and some brave followers who can make the anti-corruption struggle work, despite the alleged politicisation of the various anti-corruption agencies in the country.
However, a third school of thought equally believes that if the risk of corruption is effectively minimised and eventually eliminated, especially in the public sector, Nigeria would be a better place, and the desired development would occur rapidly across all sectors. The training programme in Obudu and the participants fell into this third and last category.
The intensive programme, which focused on training of corruption risk assessor, was jointly organised by: the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), the Technical Unit on Governance and Anti-corruption Reforms (TUGAR), the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Inter-Agency Task Team (IATT), in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The participants, who were separated into three classes topped by class leaders, otherwise known as governors, were, over the course of a week, led through the labyrinth of corruption risks, 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 focus was on corruption risk and how to assess the trend in public organisations in a bid to minimise corruption in Nigeria.
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 participants; all of these backed by good food from the nearby mountain restaurant.
Corruption Risk Assessment
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.
Normally this requires that major corruption risks be identified, their impact be assessed, and the adequacy of the control environment determined.
A CRA seeks the answer to the question “what are the causes of corruption in a given organisation/system of organisations?” This basic question needs to be answered in order for the organisation to be able to design specific, working responses, which will reduce opportunities for corruption.
In order to do so, it is critical to analyse the causes for corruption at several different levels. (E.g. environmental/broader societal level and individual level respectively).
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.
It is also driven by a curriculum and institutions that can run with the curriculum as well as certified consultants and funding to take it forward. 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.
Lessons from Obudu
The Obudu, training programme, which was the first part of a three-pronged approach involving two weeks of physical learning and eight weeks of online training, brought up some interesting factors.
One intriguing factor was that as big as the corruption problem is in Nigeria, it can still be tackled and removed with concerted efforts. Corruption is not peculiar to this country and necessity, they say, is the mother of invention.
So, it is believed the issue can be addressed right from the top, if all the loopholes are identified and plugged by concerned parties; in this case the budding assessors and other government agencies and partners.
Secondly, what emerged from the training was the fact that corrupt acts do not occur in isolation; they are linked to circumstances, societal pressures, unbridled display of wealth by public officials who enriched themselves through corrupt processes.
Another lesson from the training was that most corrupt acts and corruption risks can be found in public procurement processes, right from drafting of contracts to the bidding process to the actual implementation of the contracts in the public sector.
Most corruption loopholes can also be found in the procurement process, and the laws guiding procurement like the Public Procurement Act of 2007 are handy in this regard to tackle such loopholes.
One very interesting issue that emerged from the confines of Obudu Mountain resort was the fact that even in Nigeria, as bad as it is, it is better to prevent corruption than to punish corrupt acts; a classic case of prevention is better than cure.
The thinking among the training faculty, which comprised experts like former Chairman of the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) Prof. Assisi Asobie; Director of Education in ICPC, Mrs. Rasheedat Okoduwa, and coordinator of TUGAR, Ms. Lillian Ekeanyanwu, was that focusing on minimising corruption risks would go a long way to curb actual corruption.
According to the expert Obudu resource persons like Director of Legal in ICPC, Mrs. Onuogu; Mr. Costa Palicarsky, Dr. Kabiru Mato, Mr. Chinedum Nwoko, Mr. Phil Matsheza, Mrs. Ezinwa Okoroafor, Dr. Uyim Akpabio, Mr. Abel Omoyola, and Dr. James Akanmu, the CRA process may be long, arduous and painstaking, but the benefits to the economy are enormous if the corruption loopholes are plugged.
Lastly, a major lesson from the training session in Obudu was the fact that no matter the tribal or religious differences, corruption in Nigeria is a binding factor. The way the participants bonded on such a unifying topic showed that the citizens of this country can overcome their differences to unite against a common enemy.
In the words of Ekeanyanwu, “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.”
An EFCC official, Mr. Chile Okoronma, who was also a resource person at the Obudu training added, “This (training) is a step in the right direction. I have come to understand the importance and significance of prevention, coming from the enforcement line myself. There is so much to do in the line of prevention”.
Obudu has come and gone, with treasured memories and vital lessons. But the recurring tip from the mountain-top is simple: corruption can be surmounted and prevention is better than cure. Nigeria will surely get around to that line of thought one day soon. Then the dividends of democracy will really flow.