Civil Society Practitioners Dissect Problems with Buhari’s Anti-Graft War

  • Ask the president to merge EFCC, ICPC
  • Seeks enactment of whistleblowing law

Gboyega Akinsanmi

The anti-corruption war of President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday came under scrutiny as leading civil society actors said his anti graft policy was founded upon sentiments, lacked transparency and did not have a comprehensive definition of what amounts to corruption.

The actors recommended the enactment of Whistle Blowing Act; the Proceeds of Crime Bill be assented to and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission be merged, among others, to the country’s anti-corruption fight.

The proposals were canvassed in separate notes Nigeria’s Head of Transparency International, Mr. Auwal Rafsanjani; Director of Centre for Public Policy and Research, Dr. Sam Amadi and a former Country Representative of Transparency International, Major General Ishola Williams sent to THISDAY.

Dissecting the country’s anti-corruption war, Amadi said the major problem with Buhari’s policy “is lack of clarity. He does not have a comprehensive definition of corruption. The program suffers from lack of good diagnostics. You do not solve a problem if you do not have a good diagnosis.”

According to him, Buhari’s administration failed to understand that Nigeria’s endemic corruption is a problem of institutions – norms and processes that encourage breach of rules of public governance.

He said: “The change agenda failed to change those institutions and create institutions of openness and accountability.”

Rafsanjani buttressed Amadi’s observation, identifying lack of transparency and haphazard investigation of grand corruption and confiscation of assets, which appeared to be politically motivated, as the albatross of Buhari’s anti-corruption fight.

With multi-dimensional problems that shrouded Buhari’s anti-graft war between 2015 and 2020, Rafsanjani canvassed crucial legal reforms as one of the measures to revitalise or strengthen the country’s anti-corruption regimes.

Williams, also Founder of Pan African Strategic and Policy Research Group, observed that Buhari’s anti-corruption war “has suffered acute integrity deficiency syndrome and acute intellectual dependency syndrome,” which he ascribed to undue imitation of western policies and practices.

Recommending reforms to be carried out to strengthen the anti-corruption campaign, Williams advocated the merger of EFCC and ICPC with “a director general and directors recruited or headhunted within and in the diaspora.”

Besides merging the EFCC and ICPC, the retired army general pointed out that the engagement of the director general and other directors in the anti-corruption institution “must be by a separate non-executive board with a chairman as it is done in South Africa by the public.”

He further recommended that the board “cannot be disbanded but impeached by public petitions. The board submits reports to the National Assembly not the president. The reports must be audited by a private firm after a tender to the board with advice from the Auditor General.”

Williams warned against appointing police personnel “to serve in the anti-corruption institution or be at the helms of its affairs. The engagement of the helmsman in such an institution must not be by mere appointment subjected to the approval of the Senate, but a separate board.”

Williams urged the National Assembly “to hold a public hearing on a new Federal Anti-Corruption Commission (FACC) Bill to include cybercrimes with memos from experts and the public.”

He justified the rationales for the establishment of the Special Anti-Corruption Tribunals, recommending that a similar tribunal should be created for all matters related to elections and tasking the executive and legislature to separate the Office of Attorney General from the Ministry of Justice.

With the separation, Williams suggested that the office of the Attorney General “automatically becomes the Public Defender as it is in South Africa. In South Africa, the Public Defender can only be impeached.”

After completing the process, Williams noted that there would be one single Federal Prosecution Agency with a Prosecutor General working with the Public Defender.

He, also, recommended that the Nigeria Police should be split into three separate organisations with a new National Crime Intelligence and Criminal Investigation Agency (NACICIA), which will collaborate with FACC.

It recommended that the Code of Conduct Bureau and Public Complaints Commission be merged to become the Office of the Federal Ombudsman (OFO) with the power of a high court and that the same approach be replicated at the state level.

On the long run, Williams canvassed comprehensive constitutional amendments, which according to him, should be completed with a referendum within the period of 18 months.

He recommended that the process of constitutional amendments should begin with the report of the Nasir el-Rufai Committee on restructuring and end with a presidential cum parliamentary system as in South Africa.

He, equally, recommended that each state of the federation should enact its own state constitution and each local government its own charter.

In addition to Williams’ far-reaching recommendations, Rafsanjani explained the need for the president to assent to the Proceeds of Crime Bill 2020, which the two chambers of the National Assembly had simultaneously passed.

He, similarly, said the whistleblowing policy had not been enacted while the oil sector had not been provided with a legal framework, which according to him, was key to promoting accountability and transparency.

Rafsanjani, also Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), urged the presidency to create the checks and balances mechanism, which he argued would shape the conduct of government businesses.

He, thus, observed that the Office of the Auditor General “still does not have any effective legal framework,” which according to him, suggested that ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) failed in reporting their financial audits.

Rafsanjani said the heads of anti-corruption agencies “have to be appointed based on merits and not on political affiliation. Civil society and independent analysts need to be listened to while conducting anti-corruption reforms.”

He said the mandates of anti-corruption agencies should be clearly demarcated citing undue rivalry and unclear responsibilities, which according to him, often resorted to fight over resources and influence as a result of this factor, the anti-corruption agenda suffers as a result.

Adding to recommendations by Williams and Rafsanjani, Amadi urged the Buhari administration “to refocus efforts at understanding the pathology of corruption. In Nigeria corruption is mainly a result of lack of openness and following the rules.”

Amadi, a former Chairman of the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), lamented the federal government’s reluctance to abide by rules and regulations,” thereby recommending the need to commit to the rule of law and public accountability in the fight against corruption

He urged the president “to dramatise his commitment by sacking all ministers, who have had serious and probable allegations of corruption. The president needs to establish a clear code of conduct and process of decision making and abiding himself.

“The president’s style of privilege and prerogatives undermines the notion of accountability and probity. Again, we need to emphasize public education, open systems and democratic governance as drivers of anti corruption.”

He described corruption as a principle of reciprocity and collective action, arguing that as long as president’s aides “are not showing the highest level of probity and accountability in public leadership the message of anti corruption will fall to the ground.”

Like Williams suggested, Amadi urged the president “to step away from appointing police officers as heads of EFCC. Elsewhere, heads of anti corruption agencies are very smart and policy driven and honest professionals. We need the likes of Luis Ocampo who cleansed Argentina”