By Remi Oyeyemi
The hydra-headed monster called corruption seems to be waxing strong so far. It does not seem to be affected in any manner despite the conscious efforts to bring it to its knees. As a debased moral value, it is amazing how its apostles are arrogant and shameless in their scandalous behaviours, its foot soldiers stomping like a terminal disease through the system and across the land. Shrouded in moral paralysis, corrupt elements demonstrate a brazen bravery, unabashed in their hope of never having to retreat in the war to further entrench corruption. Perceptively and evidentially, this remains a paradox in a society achingly seeking systemic integrity.
It is like, the more Nigerians talk about this and try to fight it, the worse the situation is getting. The culture of genuinely exposing acts of corruption as a duty to the country has not really taken any root among Nigerians. Rather, exposing acts of corruption still manifests as periodic acts of vendetta against any form of enemy, perceived or real. In addition, the political, social and economic system prevailing in the country seemed to preserve corruption rather than checkmate it..
To this extent, the present Chairman of the Commission, Barrister Ekpo Nta seems to posit that he has answer to this issue of systemic incubation of corruption. He is espousing the view that the system is twisted as far as the fight for corruption is concerned. He insists that for the fight against corruption to be any meaningful, the system that preserves that culture has to be frontally and fruitfully engaged. He appears to have concluded that rather than engage in endless battles against the symptoms of the systemic derangement, it is the systems itself with its embedded causal variables that have to be confronted and annihilated.
While not totally discountenancing the psycho-social necessity and impact of going after the symptoms as in isolating corrupt elements, investigating, indicting and trying them where necessary, Chairman Nta seems convinced that undue belligerence could and would always lead to missing out on some relevant systemic challenges that have helped and continue to sustain the incubation of corruption. Thus, his calm and calculated approach to isolate these systemic challenges, evaluate them and put in systemic corrective mechanisms that would serve as incorrigible obstacles to embedded variable acts of corruption is worthy of being evaluated.
As I found out, the mantra for Chairman Nta’s philosophy of approach is “prevention is better than cure.” Designing a new and effective approach to the fight against corruption seems to be the starting point for the present leadership of the ICPC. It presupposes that for the anti-graft commission to gain some credibility in the discharge of its constitutional responsibilities, it must tap on its past experiences, both good and ugly to make good its mandate by evolving this new approach.
The ICPC thus seems to have consummated conscious and relentless efforts to take the ICPC and the fight against corruption to the next level, starting with institution of preventive mechanism, anchored largely on effective monitoring of the Nigerian Systems with a view to plucking all loopholes which had hitherto been exploited by public officers to perpetrate acts of corruption. It is examining, reviewing and enforcing the correction of corruption prone systems and procedures of public bodies.
Instituting what he called System Review is first on the list of such preventive mechanism. For instance over the past few years, the ICPC had silently conducted system studies and reviews on different public and private institutions and had successfully blocked avenues for officers to engage in acts of corruption. For instance, the ICPC conducted system study and review on the 2012 budgetary allocation and expenditure profile on personnel cost of 234 Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
In the process, it recovered a total of N24.8 Billion in cash, “being irregular payments from MDAs paid to Sub treasury of the Federation (STF).” In the same vein, a total sum of N14. 4 billion was returned to the STF by MDAS in 2012 as unspent balances on personnel costs with a directive from ICPC. More interesting was the intervention of ICPC in the payment of civil servants salaries direct from the Central Bank of NIgeria (CBN). Through this the commission has removed the temptation of physical cash left in the ministries that can be shared the end of the year.”
Records show that the ICPC conducted System Review on the Universities in Nigeria. It did so in collaboration with the National Universities Commission (NUC). In the process, it discovered a gamut of absurdities in the operations of many of the tertiary institutions. “The Review exposed appalling illegalities in the University system in which case fake universities were ran with impunity by some proprietors while they issued fake certificates to unsuspecting students. 21 illegal universities were closed down while many of those arrested are currently facing prosecution.”
Results were not much different when the ICPC conducted System Review on the Pension Funds. It succeeded in “closing down illegal bank accounts used in siphoning Pension Funds through 40 banks, with lodgements of the sum of N23 billion. The ICPC also discovered the sum of N469, 325, 25 accrued interests in the Pension Accounts, and had since remitted that to the STF.”
The Nta led ICPC also launched a Corruption Risk Assessment initiative in collaboration with TUGAR, UNDP and Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP). “The Commission gathered 69 corruption Risk Assessors drawn from the Federal, State, Public services as well as from the Civil Society Organisations.” In 2013, the Assessors conducted Corruption Risk Assessment in the Nigerian Ports with a view to discovering old and new avenues for perpetration of acts of corruption, while plugging them completely in the process.
The new leadership has also inspired the cleaning up of the abuses in the processing of visa applications in different embassies in Nigeria by agents and desperate intending travelers. In 2013, it arrested 33 people in connection with visa scams and other fraudulent practices ranging from falsification and forgeries of visa and accompanying documents, including fake Note Verbale. The collaboration and cooperation between the Embassies and ICPC, in this regard, seems to be rewarding.
ICPC is also educating and enlightening the public on and against corruption and related offences with a view to “enlisting and fostering public support for the fight against corruption”. It has placed jingles on Radio Stations across the 36 state of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory. Similar jingles are also in 12 Television stations across the geo-political zones of the federation.
The Commission is also flaunting about 4,000 hits on Facebook, 400 on Twitter and almost 600,000 visitors on its website as at December 2013. It is showcasing its engagement with the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) on public enlightenment as well as with secondary schools who it has been engaging in the art of reporting and general fight against corruption. Evidences are available that the Commission is also in cahoots with professional bodies such as the National Union of Teachers, Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), National Anti-Corruption Coalition, the Anglo-Phone West African Youths Integrity Group, with members drawn from Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Gambia, and many more.
Added to the above is the ICPC grassroots programme that has given birth to a coordinated volunteerism. Founding and nurturing the National Anti Corruption Volunteers Corps (NAVC) across the 36 states of the federation has served the objectives of the ICPC very well as members of the corps had assisted severally in bursting corruption related crimes in different organisations leading to the arrest of culprits.
ICPC staffs across the federation are well enlightened, having been exposed to training and re-training programmes. While collaborating with international organisations such as UNDP, UNODC, DFID, J4A to improve and bring its work process to international best practices, “the Commission is convinced that before long, the rest of Nigeria will fully align with the initiatives it had put in place for taming the incubus of corruption in the country.”
The strategy of prevention adopted by the Commission with the objective of killing corruption before it grows has obviously met with some success, but it is still too early to roll out the drums. Evidences which abound in the public domain indicate that ICPC is not only being re-engineered and operationally restructured to fulfill its statutory mandate but has continued to create appropriate systemic mechanisms and synergies with other relevant agencies to entrench new fraud-proof modalities as well as moral values in the consciousness of millions of Nigerians. Currently the ICPC is involved in the drafting of a National Policy on integrity and ethics for the country.
It is also important to note that the Commission’s proactive strategy in fighting corruption necessitated the new plan to adopt surveillance approach, as a step to reducing time spent on investigation, in the fight against corruption. This is coming along with planned strengthening of the Commission’s Asset Tracing and Monitoring Unit (ATMU) as well as training of senior officers who will head its Anti-Corruption and Transparency Units (ACTUs) in the MDAs. The cost – benefit analysis of this approach is not only encouraging, it is very rewarding. It saves time, energy and money. The results coming in are great while much is still being expected.
According to available and verifiable records, as at December 2013, ICPC received a total of 872 petitions from across the states of Nigeria and Abuja, while 434 (about 50%) of such petitions were already being investigated. From the lot, investigations had been concluded on 176 (about 20%) of the petitions. Only 4% of this 20% has resulted in convictions in the Courts of law. While one is not advocating unfair persecution of innocent Nigerians, the conviction rate by the Commission is too discouraging given the prevalence of acts of corruption in our polity.
Though, it is also possible that this might be a reflection of a thorough investigation to ensure that the innocent was not punished, the ICPC, should not consider aggressive prosecution where it is germane, essentially frivolous or shallow adventures that could only result in “Pyrrhic victory”. The Commission should be able to “walk and chew” at the same time. Relentless pursuit of the “prevention is better than cure” philosophy should not be causality for value reduction of aggressive prosecution. Suffice to say that under the present leadership, focus has been on systemic re-evaluations and corrections, but as pointed out earlier, the psycho-social value and impact of prosecutions and convictions where tenable should not be underestimated as part of societal philosophy of deterrence.
It is reassuring that the ICPC is recognizing that fighting corruption is a war that requires depth of understanding, anatomical analysis, comprehensive accost and gradual but unhindered annihilation of the insidious debased moral value, its prowling apostles and its cavernously ensconced soldiers. The device of appropriate mechanisms and operational modalities will help in closing in on more of those corrupt elements in the public sector; checkmate them before they inflict any damage while amassing enough evidence to bring them to justice. Eventually, this will pan out to permeate the private sectors and other facets of our political, social, economic and religious spectrum.