ICPC/NAVC’s Anti-Corruption Strategy: addressing Poverty and ‘Technicality’ in Political Governance

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By Bola A. Akinterinwa

ICPC is the acronym for Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, while the NAVC means the National Anti-Corruption Volunteers Corps. The ICPC was established by the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000 which was done on 13th June 2000. Its cardinal aim is to ‘prohibit and prescribe punishment for corrupt practices and other related offences,’ as well as investigate and prosecute offenders. And more interestingly, the ICPC has the responsibility to give protection to ‘anybody who gives information to the Commission in respect of an offence committed or likely to be committed by any other person. In the eyes of the Act, the notion of corruption cannot be ambiguous and also cannot be limited in scope. In this regard, corruption is about ‘bribery, fraud and other related offences.’ But what are these related offences? They are all dishonesty-driven: accepting or giving gratification directly or indirectly; fraudulent acquisition of property; fraudulent reception of property; use of office or position for gratification; failure to report bribery transactions; dealing with property acquired through gratification; making any false or misleading information to the ICPC; etc.

The meaning of gratification is also simple and not far-fetched. Section 8 of the ICPC Act has it that gratification by an official is ‘any person who corruptly a) asks for, receives or obtains any property or benefit of any kind for himself or for any other person; or b) agrees or attempts to receive or obtain any property or benefit of any kind for himself or for any other person, on account of anything already shown to any person by himself in the discharge of his official duties or in relation to any matter connected with the functions, affairs or business of a government department, or corporate body or other organisation or institution in which he is serving as an official…’

Three points are noteworthy from the foregoing definition of gratification. The first is the emphasis on property and benefit. Property has both a tangible and an intangible character, while benefit is necessarily and generally intangible, even though property, as we have noted earlier, can be abstract or concrete. For instance, intellectual property is about ideas, innovation, creativity and originality of efforts all of which may not take a concrete form.

The second point of note is the role of the giver and receiver of a property or benefit. The point is that, whether the act of giving or receiving a benefit or property is consciously or unconsciously done, the act must not be a resultant from the discharge of official duties if it is not to fall under corrupt practices. In other words, official position must not be a direct instrument for the determination of the offence.

Thirdly, and perhaps more interestingly, the benefit must not be considered within the framework of government alone because of the mentioning of a corporate body or organisation or institution in which an individual may be serving as an official. The general implication of this is that offenders may be public or private persons, that is, they may be officials of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of Government, they may also be from the private sector. Consequently, everyone is required to take all necessary steps to avoid engaging in any act capable of being considered as corrupt. It is in this regard that the relevance of the NAVC should be understood and explained.

The NAVC of today, unlike that of yesterday, whose leaders deviated from the ideals of the corps, is not set up as another paramilitary organisation. In the words of Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, the ICPC Chairman, the newly branded NAVC ‘is no longer for all comers. Among other requirements, to be eligible for membership, an applicant must be gainfully employed with verifiable source of income and must be literate and must have a minimum of Senior School Certificate. The applicant must be up to date in payment of taxes and all other statutory obligations.’ These requirements for membership of the NAVC clearly suggest that whoever wants to fight corruption must also have a clean record of decency, compliance with the rule of law and must have clean hands in his or her quest for justice. Room will no longer be given to people to use the platform of the NAVC to engage in corruption which the same NAVC is required to fight.

Ekpo Nta, former ICPC Chairman, noted in his foreword to the 2015 Operational Guidelines for the NAVC, that ‘the ICPC was compelled to suspend the activities of NAVC nationwide in 2014, because of flagrant abuses and truncation of the noble ideals and objectives of the Corps. It was so bad that the Commission had to arraign the NAVC Coordinators of some States to court for criminal activities, including arrest, interrogation and detention of citizens, powers that can only be exercised by the ICPC.’

In his remarks at the official inauguration of the new Executive Committee of the NAVC, Lagos State Chapter, at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island, Lagos, Professor Owasanoye has it further that ‘everybody agrees that Nigeria is rich, both in human and material resources. Everybody also agrees that corruption is the main reason Nigeria is poor and backward, while other countries have left us far behind.’ This statement is noteworthy. Nigeria is poor and backward because of corruption. Other countries are far ahead of Nigeria because the problem of corruption has been largely contained in such countries. Consequently, there is the need to similarly show the required patriotism in fighting corruption to standstill in Nigeria. It is in light of this that the NAVC members who have accepted to wage war against corruption are considered to ‘have taken the most patriotic decision any Nigerian can take.’

And without whiff of doubt, the NAVC was established in 2008 to assist the ICPC in its efforts at mobilisation, education and creation of public awareness on corruption at all levels of political governance in Nigeria. The NAVC is conceived to be a vanguard for the enthronement of good governance and as an instrument of support for the ICPC in its crusade against corruption.

And true, the NAVC guidelines are clear on this: the NAVC has five specific mandates to execute: engagement in advocacy and sensitisation of the public against corruption; fostering public support in the anti-corruption crusade through rallies and other means; assisting the ICPC in the acquisition and dissemination of information; observing the level of integrity in the society; and reporting acts of corrupt practices to the Commission.

With these mandates, there is little or no problem with any form of engagement in advocacy and sensitisation of the public on the implications of corruption for nation building. However, what really does corruption mean to the market women and to the elite? Is corruption at the motor parks the same as it is at the levels of Permanent Secretaries and Directors in the public service?

If it is agreed that corruption in the form of gratification is essentially about bribe giving, what about bribe giving at the grass root levels? If there is no simplified explication of corruption at the grass root level, there is no way it will not be difficult for the NAVC to acquire and disseminate information. In other words, acquisition of information cannot but be predicated on what is perceived to be corruption. Without a first clear understanding and acceptance of the observation that corruption is a manifestation of dishonesty, corruption is not likely to have an end. Talking about bribe is only talking about the means of corruption. Bribe giving is nothing more than a manifestation of one form of corruption, but corruption itself is an act of dishonesty, ill intention, societal ill and destruction.

Perhaps more importantly, it is generally argued that corruption is an impediment to development and particularly to nation building. One major dynamic of corruption is poverty. Another is technicality that has come to characterise political governance in Nigeria. In this regard, how does the ICPC strategy or that of the NAVC impact on poverty alleviation or prevent technicality in political governance from being an obstacle to nation building? How can the NAVC or ICPC strategy stop the spread of poverty or politics of technicality in political governance?

Strategy versus Poverty and Technicality

The first and most important anti-corruption strategy is the establishment and empowerment of the ICPC to fight corruption. The empowerment is to the extent that the ICPC can determine how best to take the war to the door steps of all agents of corruption. The fighting strategy is essentially to identify a possible act of corruption, receive complaints about it, investigate it, and prosecute it where necessary (vide section 6 on the duties of the ICPC). In this regard, as noted above, an act of corruption is synonymous with bribe giving asnd bribe can be by gratification, and gratification can be by demand or by offer, by acquisition of property or by reception of it, by conscious frustration of investigations by the ICPC, by assisting bribe giving or by mere concealing an act of corruption, by attempting to engage in it or by abetment.

ICPC strategy also includes investigation, arrest and search, forceful entry of premises of corruption suspects when a court order is procured. The ICPC can attach any movable property of suspects and also make suspects submit their international travel documents. And more significantly, the strategy criminalises an attempt to engage in an act of corruption, having knowledge of an act and concealing it, as well as obstructing in whatever manner the investigation of a suspected act of corruption. Consequently, the ICPC strategy appears to be consciously designed to allow and enable every citizen, patriotic or not, to be proactive in the war against corruption. The crusade is the business of everyone, a collective responsibility.

At the level of the NAVC, the strategy is necessarily to support that of the ICPC through organisation of public awareness programmes, public rallies, procurement of information and dissemination of ICPC information. In an attempt to also nip corruption in the bud at the level of the NAVC, funding of NAVC activities is not only made voluntary, the sources must also be approved by the ICPC. Only one account, called NAVC Integrity Funds Account, can be opened. In fact, the signatories to the account are to be determined by the ICPC Management and Board.

These strategies are good, but not good enough to be able to suppress corruption for three obvious reasons. First, in Nigeria, the very people who are given the responsibility for good governance are also the same people engaging in sharp practices. Many of them are in government. This makes a beautiful nonsense of an anti-corruption war commanded by President Muhammadu Buhari. Secondly, the poverty level in Nigeria is nothing to write home about. By international rating, 91,885,874 million Nigerians are extremely poor. This figure is based on the consideration that they are earning less than $1.90, that is, N693.5 per day. In fact, the World Poverty Clock, as reported by the Sahara Reporters on June 5, 2019, extreme poverty has the potential to increase considerably in 2030. The Bloomberg.com adds that six people fall into extreme poverty in Nigeria every minute.

Thirdly, the factor of technicality is increasingly not only gaining ground in the political governance of Nigeria, but also unnecessarily aiding and abetting corruption. While most, if not all the people of Nigeria appreciated and commended the gallant efforts of the Nigerian military in the war against the Boko Haramists, the Government has neutralised the people’s support and efforts by information mismanagement.

Government told Nigerians that the Boko Haram had been ‘technically defeated’ by believing that, by pushing away the terrorists and taking over the territory they initially occupied, the war is partially won. This evaluation is most unfortunate. Battle and war do not have the same meaning in polemology. Battle is only one of the pillars of war. War is holistic in nature and character. Battle is one of the characteristics and it is essentially about shooting war. Like the French under General Charles de Gaulle argued that they never lost the war but the battle, so have the Nigerian military inversely won the battle but not the war. By telling Nigerians that the battle had been won unnecessarily sent a wrong signal to the people that they could stay calm and that their further support may no longer be necessary. Whereas, the ideal strategy is to ensure uninterrupted support of the general public even if the defeat had been manifest.

Put differently, there is no good basis to talk about any defeat of whatever kind for various reasons: the killing and kidnapping was not and is yet to abate. In 2014 alone, at least 6,600 are on record to have been killed by the Boko Haram. After the Chibok saga came the Dapchi imbroglio. These cases are not as serious as Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram leader’s pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which led to its rebranding as Islamic State in West Africa. On July 31, 2019 Government still insisted that the Boko Haram has been degraded and defeated but admitted the existence of some threats from some international jihadists. The implication of this is simply that the war is not really against the Boko Haram but against the international jihadists. And if we admit the war is not simply against the boko haramists but also against the international jihadists, and if we also admit that the international jihadists still constitute serious threats to Nigeria’s national security, then the notion of degrading or defeating, technically or otherwise, cannot be tenable. Such argument is, at best, self-serving.

Apart from this, there is also the argument of judicial technicality in the case of the gubernatorial election dispute between the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Mr. Gboyega Oyetola, and the People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP’s) standard bearer, Senator Ademola Adeleke, in Osun State. The APC candidate was declared winner of the controversial governorship but the PDP candidate contested the victory at the election petition tribunal, and his prayers were upheld. The APC candidate took the matter to the Court of Appeal. In the judgment of the court, it was the argument of technicality that was held on to, rather than the quest for justice.

Put differently, the Osun State election petition tribunal declared the PDP’s candidate, Adeleke, the winner of the September 2018 election, on the basis of his 254,698 votes against 253,452 votes obtained by Oyetola of the APC. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) considered the election inconclusive because of seven polling units that were yet to hold their elections. The main election took place on February 22, while the supplementary and conclusive election eventually took place on September 27, 2018. The INEC gave the victory to the APC. The PDP candidate insisted that he won the election and therefore still asked the Election Petition Tribunal for Osun State to declare him winner on the basis of his highest number of votes.

The tribunal considered that the INEC was not right to have organised a rerun election and for not complying with its own guidelines on the results from the 17 polling units. The tribunal did not only remove the results of both candidates from the INEC-declared overall results, but also made it clear that, with or without the invalidation of the results of the affected 17 polling units, the PDP still won the election.

The APC candidate appealed against the judgment. The appellate court considered in its own judgment in May 2018 that ‘the tribunal was in patent error when it set aside the rerun.’ It therefore gave victory to the APC. The PDP candidate referred his dissatisfaction with the judgment of the appellate court to the Supreme Court for final determination. The final judgment of the Supreme Court was largely predicated on the consideration that Peter Obiora, the judge who gave the majority decision at the tribunal, was absent on February 6, 2019 when the question of non-compliance was tabled before the tribunal, implying that there was no way Peter Obiora would have had a good understanding of the matter at the time of judgment of the court. Thus technicality is a major problem closely related to corruption.

The essential observation being made here is that corruption reigns in government, and more in government than amongst the people. Efforts being made by the ICPC and the NAVC have the potential to amount to nought in the long run because people with questionable integrity are in government and the international community is raising questions about corruption at the level of the Government of Nigeria. In this regard, how far can the ICPC and the NAVC go with their mandates in the extermination of corruption? Is taking a bow at the National Assembly not an expression of corruption in another form? What really is the purpose of screening of ministerial nominees? Whatever is the case, corruption has been institutionalised, and therefore, has to be completely de-institutionalised before corruption can be neutralised. Corruption fighting must go beyond bribing and gratification. The factors of poverty and technicality in political governance must also be addressed, bearing in mind that the essence of what the people of Nigeria want is fairness, justice, and good governance.