The ‘next level’ strategy of fighting corruption is uninspiring, argues Matthew Ayibakuro
It has been just over a week since the two leading political parties in Nigeria – the PDP and the APC – launched their respective presidential campaigns. Beyond the fanfare and contrivances that overly dominate electioneering times, it is critical to our democratic experience that the promises and plans of candidates and parties are not taken for granted. It is expedient that citizens are able to interrogate proposed strategies in various sectors to establish, in this context, how exactly things will get “working again” or taken to the “next level”.
On anticorruption, it is rather instructive that the campaign strategy document of the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari, provides very negligible information on how the government plans to address corruption going forward, if re-elected. The relevant section of the strategy simply states that “to eliminate the scope of systemic corruption, we will emphasise technology enabled e-Governance”. This is literally all the information on anticorruption found in the strategy.
Beyond this, the president, in his speech at the launch of the campaign, declared that grand scale corruption perpetrated at the highest level of government is now a thing of the past. The president made specific reference to the impact of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) in making it difficult for ministries, departments and agencies to exercise the unrestrained liberties that helped foster an environment conducive to corruption.
However, later in his speech, he conceded that despite the gains made, there is still much to be done to stop systemic corruption. To succeed in this area, he reckoned that moral integrity and conscience must continue to form the dominant character of our nation and its leadership. He therefore reiterated the commitment of his government to deepen its ongoing work of organizing and utilising the country’s assets and resources to do good for the common man.
For any common man interested in grasping the prospects of anticorruption in 2019 and beyond if President Buhari was re-elected, this document provides very little to go on. A singular promise to emphasise the use of technology through e-governance in the whole strategy document as the plan to address corruption does not do justice to the rationale of providing a campaign strategy document for citizens to meaningfully engage an election process.
Even though this keeps with the overall tone of the next level document which is discernibly terse on details, the phrasing of the single plan on anticorruption either underestimates the significance of the document or carries a subtext that is easily lost on anyone who reads the document.
Taken literally, the importance of e-governance and the use of technology to address corruption and improve governance is obviously indispensable in the 21st century. Indeed, all previous administrations have demonstrated an appreciation of this fact, even though positive action taken in furtherance of it has differed. The present government has also taken notable steps in this regard, including the ICT-driven innovations being implemented by the Corporate Affairs Commission, Federal Inland Revenue Service, and the Nigeria Immigration Service, amongst others. The reference to emphasizing e-governance as the main strategy for dealing with corruption in 2019 and beyond is therefore simply commonplace and uninspiring.
The implication of the lack of a discernible strategy in this regard is that Nigerians are left with the choice of forecasting the prospects of anticorruption in 2019 based on the initiatives and actions taken by the current administration. And in this respect, there is no shortage of material. This was after all, a government that rode into power on the wings of “fighting corruption”. Three and a half years later, there is ample evidence to assess what has gone well thus far and what has not. This also provides a basis for estimating what the next level would and should entail.
Whilst there are many who would dispute the assessment of the president that grand corruption is now a thing of the past, there is little doubt that the government has taken obvious bold steps to address corruption. These include signing on to the Open Government Partnership and implementing same, putting in place a National Anticorruption Strategy, establishing the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit by law, recoveries of stolen funds from Switzerland and the UK, and the operation of the TSA initiative and its attendant gains.
In terms of its approach to good governance, the government has, in an appreciable number of cases, demonstrated an encouraging will to work with broad range of stakeholders to ensure transparency and accountability. In the area of asset recovery for instance, the administration made history by including civil society in the process of the recent signing of the MoU between Nigeria and Switzerland for the return of the $322.5 million. The relevant agencies of government have also continued to meaningfully engage civil society organisations led by the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) through the MANTRA Project to monitor the utilisation of the funds in the Cash Transfer Programme of the Federal Government.
These laudable strategic and structural steps notwithstanding, there have also been obvious drawbacks in addressing corruption during the first term of the president. The scandals involving the first Secretary to the Government of the Federation under the current administration, Babachir Lawal and the recent case of the former chairman, Presidential Task Force on Pension Reform, Abdulrasheed Maina are instances that could have been handled more decisively in the context of anticorruption. The apprehension of nepotism in appointments under the Buhari administration also lingers and casts a shadow over the gains made in addressing corruption.
As demonstrated by the poor showing of Nigeria on the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International, the current administration should understand that perception plays a central role, not just in assessing corruption and anticorruption measures, but also in changing social norms and behaviours around corruption.
Hence, the government has to do better in communicating to Nigerians the specific gains of its frontline anticorruption programme, the context of the challenges faced during this first term in office and how it hopes to improve on current efforts going forward. This is what should be contained in a document like the “Next Level” strategy. For instance, how much exactly has the government saved from its anticorruption efforts during its first tenure? In what ways have such savings improved the socio-economic wellbeing of Nigerians? How will this be improved upon if the government is re-elected?
Providing answers to these questions would demonstrate a culture of accountability on the part of the government and afford Nigerians the opportunity to make an informed choice at the polls. This is necessary for Nigeria to move beyond the era of politicians making almost scriptural promises to citizens before elections without providing practical steps on how such promises would be achieved.
In essence, campaign documents and promises have to state, not just the “what” but also the “how”. Regrettably, in the area of anticorruption, the Next Level document is lacking in both. If the government intends to build on the gains of its anticorruption efforts in 2019 and beyond, this document does it a palpable disservice in communicating same. And for civil society looking to engage the current administration on anticorruption as it seeks re-election, the situation of limited information provides an ironic but intriguing opportunity to shape the conversation and gauge the prospects with almost four years’ worth of information.
Ayibakuro is ANEEJ director of research & policy