How to Win the Anti-Graft War

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GUEST COLUMNIST BY BUKOLA SARAKI

A couple of years ago, I read an interesting article in The Economist that tried to argue that there is direct correlations between corruption and development. I thought this was pretty obvious. What set me thinking more about the subject however was the graphics. The writer tried to show that countries with Higher Development Index, measured in health, wealth and education, also ranked higher in the Corruption Perception Index and conversely, countries that have the worst human development indices also performed worst in corruption perception ranking.

In other words, the richer countries are also the less corrupt; while poorer countries tend to be more corrupt. What got me thinking was the chicken and egg puzzle that that statement immediately raises. Do countries become more corrupt because the people are poor or are the people poor because their country is corrupt? We may never be able to answer this question to everybody’s satisfaction.

However, what the article made clear is the direct correlation between corruption and development. If the purpose of government is to improve the quality of lives of its people, then any conversation about corruption must focus primarily on how it affects human development, whether it is health, wealth or education.

I admit it is early days yet, but one area I believe we have made remarkable progress in the past two years of the Buhari-led administration is that corruption has been forced back to the top of our national political agenda. Every single day, you read the newspapers, you listen to the radio, you go on the internet, you watch the television, the people are talking about it. The people are demanding more openness, more accountability and more convictions. Those of us in government are also responding, joining the conversation and accepting that the basis of our legitimacy as a government is our manifest accountability to the people. We acknowledge that if we want Nigerians to trust their government again, then government at all levels must demonstrate that we are not in office for the pursuit of private gains, but to make our people happier by helping them to meet their legitimate aspirations and achieve a higher quality of life.

What all these mean is that despite all that we have experienced over the years, Nigeria and Nigerians have not accepted corruption as a normal way of life; that we recognize it as a problem; that we are determined to make a break with our past and live by different rules. And, to borrow from the title of the book that we are launching today, that we are determined to find antidotes for this disease that has almost rendered our country prostrate.

And talking about antidotes, I am convinced that we must return to that very basic medical axiom that prevention is better than cure. Perhaps, the reason our fight against corruption has met with rather limited success is that we appeared to have favoured punishment over deterrence. The problem with that approach however, is that the justice system in any democracy is primarily inclined to protect the fundamental rights of citizens. Therefore, it continues to presume every accused as innocent until proven guilty. Most often, it is difficult to establish guilt beyond all reasonable doubts as required by our laws. It requires months, if not years of painstaking investigations. It requires highly experienced and technically sound investigation and forensic officers. It requires anti-corruption agents and agencies that are truly independent and manifestly insulated from political interference and manipulation. We must admit that we are still far from meeting these standards.

Most often therefore, because our anti-corruption agencies are under pressure to justify their existence and show that they are working, they often tend to prefer the show over the substance. However, while the show might provide momentary excitement or even elicit public applause, it does not substitute for painstaking investigation that can guarantee convictions.

I reiterate therefore, that we must review our approaches in favour of building systems that make it a lot more difficult to carry out corrupt acts or to find a safe haven for corruption proceeds within our borders. In doing this, we must continue to strengthen accountability, significantly limit discretion in public spending, and promote greater openness. We in the National Assembly last week took the first major step in this direction towards greater openness. For the first time in our political history, the budget of the National Assembly changed from a one-line item to a 34-paged document that shows details of how we plan to utilize the public funds that we appropriate to ourselves. This is a very significant step forward and we are very proud of it.
In addition to this, we are ensuring that the fight against corruption is taking the center-stage in our legislative activities. At the moment, we are considering for passage into law the following bills:

1. The Whistleblower Protection bill, which I am confident will be passed not later than July 2017.
2. The Proceeds of Crime bill
3. The Special Anti-Corruption Court, which would be done through constitutional amendment and;
4. The Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill.

In all these, the National Assembly is driven by the saying that “whoever comes to equity must come with clean hands.” Having demonstrated our commitment to transparency and a more open legislature, we will be operating on a higher moral ground in carrying out our oversight duties as prescribed by the constitution. I believe that the National Assembly, working with the Executive Arm of government can continue to explore creative ways to make corrupt practices difficult and the hiding of corruption proceeds even more difficult still. For instance, if our banking regulations placed the burden on the banks to disclose suspicious lodgment, it will make it more difficult, if not outright impossible for banks to warehouse stolen money. At the moment, there are still too many places to hide stolen funds in the banks.

It must come up with a piece of legislation that imposes heavy fines on banks that fail to report cash deposits that they should have reasonable grounds to suspect. If banks know that they stand to lose more in heavy penalties than they stand to gain by accepting corruption money, we would have shifted the responsibility for due diligence on the banks. By realizing that there would be no place to hide their loot, corrupt officials would naturally be less inclined to steal. In talking about prevention, this is one legislation that would go a long way, as the evidence from most developed countries with similar legislations has shown.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, you would have noticed that each time we talk about corruption, we tend to focus almost exclusively on high profile political corruption. While these tend to be of high impact and high drama, I suspect that they are not even as debilitating as what is often referred to as systemic corruption. Corruption by middle level and junior level government officials who pinch from the system and demand gratifications to do their ordinarily routine duties. From experience, this form of corruption ultimately turns out to be as grievous as the high level corruption that readily comes to mind.

Again, this recommends to us the need to strengthen our system for prevention. We need to simplify our bureaucracy and administrative procedures. Because it is in the complexity and red-tapes that corrupt officials profit. However, I also strongly suspect, while not justifying anything, that majority of these low level corruption are largely powered more by need even more than greed. If I am right in this assessment, then it would seem to me that if we are able to provide much of what the people truly need, we would have gone a long way in minimizing some of these corrupt behaviours.

If we are able to build a quality public education system, especially at the basic and secondary level, which would not require parents to pray through their noses for their children’s education; if we are able to build an efficient public health system that provides insurance covers to ordinary citizens so that when they fall sick, they can access quality healthcare without running from pillar to post looking for money; if we are able to build a system that guarantees food and shelter to everyone; if we are able to do all these, we would have gone a long way in removing much of the driving force for corruption at this level.

If we return to The Economist article that I mentioned at the beginning, I suspect quite strongly that most of the OECD countries referenced in the article are less prone to corruption because in addition to all other things, they have also been able to guarantee most of these basic necessities of life for their citizens.

My last point is on the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI). It is important to note that the CPI always generates controversy each year it is released. This is so because, most often governments and countries tend to believe that the year-on-year report does not fully reflect or account for the progress being made in the fight against corruption. I believe the key challenge here is also because ‘perception’ is largely subjective. And it is so easy for perception to degenerate into stereotype. Therefore, while relying on perception, I think it is important for TI and other such organisations to improve on their methodology by developing more robust parameters that reflect the progress that some countries are making in respect to corruption.

• Saraki is President of the Senate

  • OLUAYE

    hmmmn. After antidote to corruption by Dino Melaiye, now it is How to win the Anti Graft war by Saraki. What a mockery of intellectualism. Sad!

  • Mystic mallam

    We are now hearing from the Masters!!! Dino Melaye, Sola Saraki, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Rotimi Amaechi, Rochas Okorocha, Ahmed Yerima,,,,,,,,list goes on and on. Masters of what? Your guess is as good as mine.

  • duleno

    Read all about corruption in Nigeria by reading a new book, The Green Island Conspiracy by Dulen Sampson Ogbari at amazon.com

  • obinnna77

    This deserves a departure from the strictures of normal grammar. ‘Laff wan kill me, o’.

    • American Abroad

      Our itinerant anti-corruption gladiators: Saraki, Melaye, Fani-Kayode, Abati…. can Badeh, Tafa Balogun and Orji Kalu be that far behind?

  • Jon West

    Look who’s talking. Only in Nigeria!! This serial destroyer of the efforts of hardworking folk and the biggest thieving son of a now dead thieving father, spewing platitudes about corruption? What a land of hypocrites, Pharisees and Saducees, whited sepulchers and shameless thieves. To hell with Nigeria!!!

  • John Paul

    Honor and Credibility are words that contemporary Nigerian politicians do not seem to understand.

    Once a man looses his credibility he has lost everything. No one will believe him. Even his family. That is why in countries that Nigeria aspires to be like, once a politician or public figure is fingered for having their hands in the cookie jar, they resign and remove themselves from the public glare

    They do so because they not want their credibility deficit to affect the institution that they are in charge of. But in Nigeria, politicians do not get it. For many of them – like Saraki – the public office that they occupy is like oxygen. Without it, they have no identity. They believe that their life is worthless.

    So they “fart on the dinner table”, without having the decency to excuse themselves. The most effective thing that Saraki can do today, to further the FGN’s war against corruption, is to resign.

    Any one of the recent scandals that Saraki has faced in the last 24 months is enough reason for Saraki to resign. Let us take the Mossack Fonseca scandal as an example. There were consequences from the Mossack Fonseca scandal in countries that want to protect their institutions:

    1. France raided and searched the offices of Societe General;
    2. The Argentine President was investigated;
    3. Swiss authorities raided and searched UEFA offices;
    4. FIFA ethics judge, Juan Pedro Damiani, resigned;
    5. The Prime Minister of Iceland, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, resigned;
    6. The head of Transparency International in Chile, Gonzalo Delaveau, resigned, etc, etc

    But in Nigeria, Saraki sat still as president of the Senate. It did not occur to him to resign on account of his involvement in the Panama Papers, alongside his case with the CCB. His plan is muscle through all of our institutions, win all of his cases, and remain the president of the senate, even if it will make Nigeria a much weaker nation

    By the way, Nigerians that are calling for restructuring everyday, should start calling for a more achievable goal, in the short run: a complete abandonment of the zoning formula, in both of our major political parties, especially for the post of the Presidency of the Federal Nigeria

    In 1999, Alex Ekwueme was arguably the most qualified candidate but PDP zoned the presidency to the West and OBJ go the ticket. In 2007 there were many qualified candidates but PDP zoned the presidential ticket to the North and we got the sickly Yar’ Adua.

    Our zoning convention is illogical. It almost guarantees that the best man does not get the job. In basketball, you always pass the ball to the “hot hand”. In football, you pass the ball the best scorer. You do so because “hot hands” do not last forever

    So if PMB is not able to run for office in 2019, Osibanjo, Ngige, or whoever has the “hot hand” at time, irrespective of their zone, should be able to lay a legitimate claim to APC’s ticket for the Presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

  • Curious One

    Excellent piece Dr Saraki. In addition, I think that the corruption word has been misused, narrowed and used to deceive Nigerians. To say that stealing of public funds is corruption but that using your position to skew the employment of DSS staff in favour of your state is not, amount to mocking the word corruption.

  • lookman

    Charity begins at home. If only Saraki can practise what he preaches right from his constituency the better. Kwara state remain one of d poorest States in the federation. The civil servants are one of d poorest paid while Saraki enjoyed and still enjoys at the detriment of the state and the masees. The 8th Senate has been clueless and ineffective due to selfishness and ambitions. There is no doubt that Saraki is smart, brilliant and ambitious but needs to be selfless and less corrupt.

  • “Korede

    And I quote “If I am right in this assessment, then it would seem to me that if we are able to provide much of what the people truly need, we would have gone a long way in minimizing some of these corrupt behaviours.”

    Your excellence, the senate president, I will be happy if you can follow up your intervention here with a sponsored bill that will make it possible for government workers at all level and that of private organisations to earn a living wage.

    We all know what the minimum wage can be in this country in order to allow people have “basic life”. This is a good intervention and I believe that it will help in the prevention. We can then add death penalty for corrupt people after getting the above done. There are great inequalities in incomes in this country and that should be corrected as well in the new intervention.

    I am waiting to see the move from your senate even if it will not be completed in your term.

  • Temitayo Adelaja

    Listen! “If we are able to…” but why can’t you do it. What is stopping development of this great nation. Saraki or whoever learn from MR DEATH

  • Curtx Maccido

    Shameless moron…what a Height of insult…the same guy who was accused of under and over declaration of assets, who collected salaries and allowances as a serving governor and pensions as a former governor while a senator, the same guy who collided with ikeremadu to forged the senate rules to become senate president….among other corrupt practices he represented, now he’s advocating deterrent against punitive corruption program – he’s simply taking the country for a ride, this guy should’ve been jailed or executed for all he’s done to this country and particularly kwara state. Punishment will force deterrent and will shall continue to apply punishment until we get ride of your like….Arrogant, mouthy rogue!