Government often cites the recovery of huge sums of money as proof of success in the fight against graft. But behind the figures, is a grim picture showing that corruption remains pervasive, writes Tobi Soniyi
Two weeks ago, President Muhammadu Buhari was honoured as the African Union’s Anti-corruption Champion in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The award is in recognition of the president’s commitment to the fight against corruption.
Indeed many voted for him because he promised to be tough on corruption.
Viewed against the administration of his predecessor, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, it is difficult to fault the AU for considering Buhari for the award.
Besides, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), recently said that it recovered about N511.9 billion in 2017.
The acting chairman of the commission, Ibrahim Magu, who disclosed this at his agencyâ€™s budget defence session before the House of Representatives Committee on Financial Crimes said the commission, between January and December 2017, recovered more than N473 billion, $98 million, â‚¬7 million, and Â£294,000 among others.
The anti-graft agency had last year at a conference of the state parties to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption held in Vienna said it recovered N738.9 billion or $2.9 billion between May 2015 and October 20, 2017.
Through the implementation of the Single Treasury Account, (TSA) over N4 trillion of governmentâ€™s money was recovered from more than 17000 accounts in commercial banks.
Adopting Bank Verification Number, (BVN) has made it more difficult for fraudsters to move money around. Also last year, government adopted a whistle blowing policy that led to the recovery of billions of naira.
Government has also been able to stop leakages by fishing out ghost workers.
All these are laudable policies which previous leaders were not bold enough to implement even though they knew that such policies would help greatly in reducing corruption.
But are we winning the anti-corruption war? The answer is no. The reasons are not far-fetched.
In Anti-corruption War Little Things Matter
There is no doubt about it, making sure that public funds are not stolen is a big step in the anti-corruption war. But to many people, corruption is when a policeman collects bribes from you. It is a difficult to persuade such people to believe that the Buhari government is different from the administration it replaced. They see this happening everyday. When government says that electric metres should be given free but no one gets it for free, that is corruption. When officially a driver’s licence officially costs about N15,000 but you have to pay as much as N30,000 to get one, that is corruption.
When you have to pay N40,000 for an international passport which should not cost more than N20,000 that is corruption. A government that can not stop all these or can not punish those involved in these illegal act can not claim to be fighting corruption. The claim by government that people don’t have to pay these bribes does not hold water. Victims are left with no choice. If you need a passport and you refuse to pay the bribe, you don’t get the passport period. You will be a subject of laughter if you go to a police station to report that they asked you to pay more for a driver’s licence or an intentional passport. The question is what is government doing to stop these corrupt acts. The answer is simply nothing. As long as government is unable to protect the poor from exploitation, the perception that corruption remains prevalent will not disappear.
In simple terms, conyism is appointing friends and associates to positions of authority without proper regard to their qualifications. The president appears to have a restrictive meaning of the word ‘corruption’. The appointment of Ahmed Rufai Abubakar as the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency is one of such appointment.
Appointing people into positions they do not merit is laying ground for corruption to thrive. There is no morally justifiable reason for the president to appoint his Chief of Staff into the board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. The job of a chief of staff is so demanding that adding membership of a board to it could only mean one thing: the person making the appointment does not expect optimal performance from his appointee.
Beyond that, it will be difficult to convince the citizens that the government is committed to doing the right thing.
Closely related to the above is nepotism. It means favouring relatives and friends with jobs. Under this government, nepotism appears to be the order of the day. A government as nepotic as this can not win the war against corruption.
What justification does the government have for asking the suspended Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, Prof. Usman Yusuf to resume when the allegations against him have yet to be concluded? That decision alone renders the whole anti-corruption war a joke.
Attacking those who Expose Corruption
A government that will rush to attack those who perform their civic duty by exposing corrupt acts within the government can not win the war against corruption. Take the case of Senator Isah Misau, the senator representing Bauchi Central Senatorial District. After raising weighty allegations against the Inspector General of Police, Abubakar Idris, the government though the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN had to file a ten-count charge against him. The allegations against the police chief were not investigated.
Other people that are not as bold as Misau will keep quiet. A government that is unwilling to investigate allegations of corruption against officials of that government has lost the war against corruption even before it started.
Yet, the federal government expects the public to key into its anti-corruption crusade. It will not happen.
Lack of Transparency
Transparency is one of the key indices for measuring government’s commitment to the fight against corruption.
According to Center for Global Development, efficient, resilient, and accountable governance systems are essential to successfully manage natural resources, provide public services, foster trade, attract private investment, and manage aid relationships.
It said: “Corruption and secrecy are often at odds with such goals. Illicit financial flows, for example, undermine development and governance while secrecy in extractive industries can squander a nationâ€™s wealth and weaken the social contract.”
The federal government, like most of governments in Africa falls short on transparency. Up till now, how much the president spent in the United Kingdom to treat himself remains a mystery. A government that is not ready to make transparency its watchword can not successfully lead a war against corruption.
Lack of Synergy among Anti-corruption Agencies
The Buhari-led government is losing the war against corruption because those leading the fight are working at cross purposes. Even though, Ibrahim Magu, remains the star of the anti-corruption war, his appointment could not be confirmed because the Department of State Security wrote a controversial report against him.
Many believed that if EFCC was carried along in 2016 when the DSS raided judges houses, the investigation would have been better handled. That singular act ensured that the government lost the support of the judiciary in the fight against corruption. Almost three years into the life of this administration, it has been unable to secure high profile convictions.
At a time, EFCC and the minister for justice were locked in a battle of supremacy over the prosecution of high profile cases.
Except the agencies implementing the anti-corruption strategy of the government agree to work together, we may as well forget the war against corruption.
There is also an urgent need for a re-appraisal of the corruption war.
As stated earlier, EFCC was able to recover billions of naira because it adopted a strategy that is working. The commission said it was able to make a lot of recoveries locally using the mechanism of the non-conviction based forfeiture provided under Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act, 2006.
As long as government is unable to protect the poor from exploitation, the perception that corruption remains prevalent will not disappear.