African Union’s Anti-Corruption Day, National Unity and Development: The Case of Nigeria

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By Bola A. Akinterinwa

The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Lagos State Office, marked the 2019 African Union’s Anti-Corruption Day on Thursday, July 11, with two main activities. The first was a public enlightenment short walk from its office in Okotieboh Street to the Falomo round about and back to the office in Ikoyi, Lagos. It was a good exercise for the many old people who participated in the exercise. Leaflets on why corruption must be contained were freely distributed to motorists and passers-by.

The second event was the organisation of a public lecture on how to evolve a common African position on asset recovery. The lecture, entitled ‘Opportunity Cost of Corruption and the Value of Asset Recovery: the Need to Follow the Money by Tracking Constituency Project Implementation as the ICPC is Doing’ was delivered by Mr. Adesina Tosin, of the CODE (Connected Development). The lecture, which was held at the ICPC conference room, attracted various anti-corruption stakeholders, especially the NYSC members from various Community Development Services in Lagos State, Federation of Informal Workers of Nigeria (FIWON), National Anti-Corruption Coalition (NAC) and the Lagos State Chapter of the National Anti-Corruption Volunteer Corps (NAVC).

The NAVC is an important partner of the ICPC. Its establishment was facilitated by the Federal Government. However, the body has had some teething problems, which the ICPC Commissioner/Head for Lagos State, Barrister Shettima Binga, addressed and succeeded in giving it a new life after many years of remissness with the election of a new Executive Committee members, under the leadership of Professor Bola A. Akinterinwa as State Coordinator. The NAVC also has an 18-member Special Advisory Board with Honourable Abike Dabiri-Erewa, former Senior Special Adviser to Mr. President and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria Diaspora Organisation, as Chairperson. The Committee and the Board are to be officially inaugurated by the ICPC at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos, on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. During the inauguration ceremony, awards are scheduled to be given to some anti-corruption crusaders.

With these anti-corruption platforms, how is corruption being addressed by them? What does July 11 as Africa’s anti-corruption day mean to the anti-corruption crusaders? In fact, what really should we understand by corruption and why is it taken as a serious problem by many countries? Without any jot of doubt, corruption is a critical question in international relations to which no one has been able to find a good answer, in terms of how best to contain it. It is a hydra-headed noisome problem and an acknowledged impediment to economic growth and development, particularly in Africa.

As noted in 2004 by the World Bank, ‘corruption is… the single greatest obstacle to economic and social development. Corruption undermines development by distorting the rule of law and weakening the institutional foundation on which economic growth depends.’ More important, the World Bank adds, ‘the harmful effects of corruption are especially severe in the world’s poorest, who are most reliant on the provision of public services and are least capable of paying the extra costs associated with fraud and corruption.’

And true enough, corruption, as a word, means three things: whatever is dishonest or fraudulent; the act or process of changing a word or expression from its original state or form to another; and the process of decay or putrefaction. In other words, if one is talking about anti-corruption, one is necessarily also talking about dishonesty, process of changing order to another order, that is, to a counter-order and to a situation of decay. Most unfortunately, however, Government’s anti-corruption efforts do not appear to have been designed to address the containment of corruption from the angle of the agents of corruption.
In the specific case of Nigeria, Professor J.S. Cookey, Chairman of the Political Bureau, noted in his 1987 Political Bureau’s Report that corruption and indiscipline constituted the major bane of the Nigerian society and that the genesis of the corruption was traceable to 1967. Since 1967, all efforts to suppress corruption have been futile. If truth be told in this regard, year after year, corruption has been deepening and witnessing institutionalisation. Indeed, it has become endemic to the extent that a former British Prime Minister, David Cameron, had to describe Nigeria as ‘fantastically corrupt.’ As he told the Queen, ‘we’ve got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain… Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world…’
It is against this background that the signing of the African Union Convention Against Corruption should not only be understood, but also why setting July 11 aside as African Union’s Anti-corruption Day should be explicated, especially because of the implications for national unity and development. In doing this, what is the position of the African Union Convention on Corruption?

AU Convention Against Corruption

At the Thirty-fourth Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government in June 1998 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, a decision was taken to consider ways and means of removing obstacles to the enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights, including the right against corruption and impunity. The decision was contained in UN Resolution AHG- Dec 126(xxxiv).

Additionally, there were the decisions of the 37th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the OAU, held in Lusaka, Zambia, in July 2001 and the Declaration of the First Session of the Assembly of the Union held in Durban, South Africa, in July 2002 on the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), both of which have called for a coordinated mechanism to combat corruption more effectively.
In this regard, the African Union’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption was adopted by the Second Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Union in Maputo, on 11 July, 2003. The adoption of the convention was informed by various considerations: concerns about the negative effects of corruption and impunity in the political, economic, social and cultural stability of African States; an acknowledgement of the fact that corruption undermines accountability and transparency in the management of public affairs, as well as socio-economic development on the continent; recognition of the need to address the root causes of corruption in Africa; the need for a penal policy with the ultimate objective of protecting the society against the scourge of corruption; determination to build partnerships, better governments and all segments of the civil society.

The Convention has five main objectives and five main principles. The first and relevant objective for our purpose here is Article 2 (1) which is to “promote and strengthen the development in Africa by each State Party, of mechanisms required to prevent, detect, punish and eradicate corruption and related offences in the public and private sectors”. Article 2 (3) talks about coordination and harmonisation of policies and legislation between State Parties for the purpose of prevention, detection, punishment and eradication of corruption on the continent.

As regards principles, Article 3 (3) underscores “transparency and accountability in the management of public affairs” while Article 3 (5) emphasises the condemnation and rejection of acts of corruption, related offences and impunity”. What is noteworthy about corruption, as provided in the Convention, is the extent of scope of application. It covers the solicitation or acceptance of goods, directly or indirectly by public officials or any other monetary value, other benefit like gift or favour in exchange for any act or omission in the performances of one’s functions. It is important to note that here, it is not only public officials, but “any other person” who are targeted. “Any other person” is ill-defined, meaning that the provision cannot but apply to everyone.

The offering or granting of any goods, as well as the solicitation or acceptance, directly or indirectly, by a public official or any other person of any goods of monetary value, or other benefit, such as a gift, favour, promise or advantage for himself or herself or for another person or entity, in exchange for any act or omission in the performance of his or her public functions, constitutes an offence.

Besides, any act or omission in the discharge of duties, with the objective of illicitly obtaining benefits, diversion of any property belonging to the state or its agencies, “to any independent agency or to an individual, that such official has received by virtue of his or her position”, illicit enrichments, the use or concealment of proceeds derived for acts of corruption, improvement in whatever manner in the commission or attempted commission of, or in collaboration to commit any act of corruption, are all ingredients of corruption for which severe punishment has been provided.

And perhaps more interestingly, the private sector is not exempted from the provisions of the Convention. Paragraphs (e) and (f) of Article 4 provide that the “offering or giving, promising, solicitation or acceptance, directly or indirectly, of any undue advantage to or by any person who directs or works for, in any capacity, a private sector entity…” (…) or the offering, giving, solicitation of undue advantage by any person who asserts or confirms that “he or she is able to exert any improper influence over the decision making of any persons performing functions in the public or private sector, are all covered under the scope of application of the convention.

It is crystal clear from the foregoing provision that both the giver and receiver of corrupt money, as well as their accomplices, both in terms of observation, neglect, omission and by mere having a share of the corruption dividend, are all under the search light of the AU Convention. In this regard, to what extent has the Convention been able to impact on the containment of corruption in Africa? Admittedly, corruption has been adjudged as a major impediment to national economic development. And true enough again, the adoption of a convention with the objective of promoting socio-economic development by removing obstacles to the enjoyment of political, economic, social and cultural rights, is one thing. It is an aspiration. However, the environmental conditioning for the enablement of the aspiration is completely different another thing. In fact, in the context of Nigeria, corruption has been at the root of political governance in Nigeria since 1967.

Put differently, government and people of Nigeria define corruption from a reactive stand point and unnecessary technicalities. Corruption, simply put, is a manifestation of dishonesty in all ramifications. Instead of seeking to sanction all forms or manifestations of dishonesty in the governance of the country, corruption is condemned but condoned. It is fought at the level of the Politically Exposed People (PEP), hence a top-bottom approach. At the bottom-top level, corruption is allowed to thrive and this has been threatening the political stability of the country.

This observation not only raises the question of how the Government of Nigeria has been dealing with the scourge of corruption, but also how corruption is driving an anti-Nigeria war, as a result of misconception and misunderstanding of the notion of corruption at the level of the grass root.

National Unity and Development

Without scintilla of doubt, the ICPC has consistently been adopting various means and techniques in fighting corruption. One method is the physical and mental preparedness. On Saturday, April 13, 2019 the first edition of the Commission’s fortnightly jogging/aerobic exercise took place. The exercise is henceforth to be in addition to the monthly Federation of Public Service Games (FEPSGA) jogging exercise. The physical exercises are designed to be a catalytic agent of increasing mental alertness, which is required as an instrumental weapon in the war against corruption.

Another method is the establishment of a sub-committee on Reward and Motivation, headed by Honourable Justice Adamu Bello (rtd). The objective of seeking to reward and motivating staff is to secure their patriotism, loyalty and sustained dint of hard work. By rewarding staff who put up their best in their services to the nation, is also preventing them from engaging in sharp practices.
Apparently, in an attempt to also prevent sharp practices, the ICPC Chairman, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, has not only inaugurated a Tax Fraud and Illicit Financial Flow Group in the Commission, the ICPC Board has also decided, in the words of Femi Gold, ‘to digitalise the libraries at the ICPC headquarters and at the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria (ACAN).

In the quest to find a lasting solution to the problem of corruption, Anti-Corruption
and Transparency Units (ACTUs) have also been set up in the Ministries, Departments and Agencies. Thus, the government of Nigeria has largely been complying with the obligations provided for in the AU Convention. In this regard, an additional measure required by the African Union in the fight against corruption is the requirement under Article 7 (1) of the AU Convention according to which all State Parties to the Convention should ensure that all or designated public officials “declare their assets at the time of assumption of office, during, and after their term of office in the public service. The Government has been doing this even before the negotiation and signing of the AU Convention against Corruption.

In the same vein, Article 7 (2) requires the creation of “an internal committee or a similar body mandated to establish a code of conduct and to monitor its implementation, and sensitise and train public officials on matters of ethics,” while Article 7 (3) requires all the State Parties to “develop disciplinary measures and investigation procedures in corruption and related … with a view to keeping up with technology and increase the efficiency of those responsible in this regard.

Apart from the proscription of the use of funds acquired through illegal and corrupt practices to finance political parties, Article 10 (9), there is also the requirement to “establish mechanisms to encourage participation by the private sector in the fight against unfair competition, respect of the Gender procedures and property rights,” (Art 11(21). There is nothing to suggest any effective implementation of this requirement by Government.

What seems to have largely constituted attitudinal ineptitude of the larger society of Nigeria is especially the little involvement of the civil society and the media in it the struggle against corruption. Whereas Article 12 of the AU Convention provides in its Paragraph 1 that “state parties undertake to be fully engaged in the fight against corruption and related offences and popularisation of this Convention with the full participation of the Media and civil society at large”.

This provision is quite important from two stand points: the need to popularise the AU Convention and the requirement of the full participation of the Media and civil society organisations. In this regard, what is the extent of coverage of the AU Convention? What does the convention mean to even the Nigerian elite, not to mention the ordinary people who also engage in acts of corruption with impunity? In the same vein, what is the extent of involvement of the Media and the civil society organisations.

To a great extent, their involvement, in Africa, is little and also little appreciated. It is therefore not much to be written about. This explains, in part, why July 11 had to be set aside in 2017 as an African Union Anti-Corruption Day, so that the Convention can be better popularised and that the opportunity can also be given to the civil society organisations and the media to play an active part in the fight against corruption. The Government really needs to act fast, because it is dishonesty that breeds corruption, which has been the major foundation of political governance in Nigeria. And most unfortunately too, national unity and development is currently under threat in the country. At the bottom of this deepening threats is corruption. The celebration of the African Union’s Anti-Corruption Day is therefore appropriate a time to discuss the corruption-driven challenges of national unity and development.

One good illustration of this observation is apt here. Adesina Tosin, in the concluding parts of his lecture, suggested how to contain corruption: citizens should not ‘vote for corrupt politicians in elections’; not ‘accept gifts during election,’ should ‘elect the most deserving candidate,’ should not pay bribe for getting their work done, and ‘must collect evidence for the illegal income of … government officials and report to ICPC, EFCC or Police.’

As good as these recommendations may be, corruption in Nigeria is systemic, institutional and, therefore, has very little to do with the integrity and competence of contesting candidates. When elections are rigged or when courts of competent jurisdiction give judgments on election petitions on the basis of technicalities, rather than on the basis of issues raised, or need for fairness and justice, the goodness of a candidate is lost. The loss is a dynamic of more corruption. This is why the approach to the problem of corruption in Nigeria requires further special methodological inquiry. This is the challenge for Professor Bolaji Owasanoye as Chairman of the ICPC.