Nigeria @ 57: Why the anti-corruption war drags

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At Nigeria’s 57th independence anniversary, REMI ADEBAYO takes a look at the success and challenges of the Buhari Government’s anti-corruption fight.

At 57, again, Nigerian would be taking stock of its journey into nationhood, reflecting on the nationalists’ voyage of bloodless campaign to independence that later birthed Nigeria as nation as it inhabits the largest Black people in the world.

Aside from the feats recorded by the armies of spirited citizens whose achievements the nation had latched on to substantiate its greatness, but paired side by side in comparison with nations with which it started, Nigeria sadly ranks low at par.

As the largest producers of oil Africa, Nigeria was projected to be ahead as one of the global epicentre of economic growth and infrastructural development, fashioned alongside nations like the United Arab Emirate and Saudi Arabia. These countries, through accountability and prudent management of their oil have diligently deployed the resources to build strong economic base to become the world’s tourist attractions.

But here, Nigeria’s assumed greatness has largely been stagnated by incompetent leadership and years of financial recklessness that global corruption index kept rating the country in the horrible measures.

The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. A country’s score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of 0, which is rated highly corrupt, to 100, adjudged very clean.

Prior to his ascension to power, then retired General Muhammadu Buhari’s posture and lifestyle as icon of probity and accountability; a peerless feat he has lived to be attached with, in fact, that was the strongest currency spent to the masses in bringing him back to power as a civilian president in 2015. The nation was drifting so fast under weight of corruption and someone of with integrity standing must come up to save the nation; good enough, Buhari was available.

So, the stakes were high and the nation was expectant, anticipating a regime with sufficient nerve to launch total offensive against the menace of corruption which had eaten deeply into the foundation of Nigeria.

In that rage, Buhari in one of his trips abroad was quick to admit that corruption had robbed the nation of its reputation.

Speaking at an anti-corruption summit in London last year, former British Prime Minister, David Cameron described Nigeria, alongside Afghanistan as fantastically corrupt nations in a conversation with 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,” Cameron said.

Those waiting for diplomatic faceoff, and perhaps an apology from Cameron as a result of the comment were shocked as the Nigerian leader conceded to the tagging. The president said he would not demand any apology from Cameron from making the comment, saying that he was more interested in the repatriation of stolen assets by Nigerians stashed abroad including the United Kingdom.

But the administration still struggles to restrain the much dreaded monster and this not only from the global corruption index gatekeepers, but also corruption’s excruciating effects on the suffering masses.

It is therefore mind-boggling that in spite of the heated corruption battle by Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria ranked 136 least corrupt nation out of 175 countries, according to the 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International. Corruption Rank in Nigeria averaged 119.14 from 1996 until 2016, reaching an all time high of 152 in 2005 and a record low of 52 in 1997, according to reports from the corruption watchdog.

In reaching that verdict, TI record shows Nigeria as scoring 26 points out of 100 on the 2015 Corruption Perceptions. Corruption Index in Nigeria averaged 19.78 Points from 1996 until 2015, reaching an all time high of 27 Points in 2008 and a record low of 6.90 Points in 1996.

The Index ranks countries and territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived. A country’s score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of 0 – highly corrupt to 100 – very clean. Nigeria scored 28 from the 100 points to be so ranked.

Chairman of the global watchdog, Jose Ugaz, while releasing the 2015 list, observed that corruption remains a blight around the world.

According to TI, the five least corrupt countries in that year are Denmark, Finland, Sweden, New Zealand and Netherlands, while South Sudan, tied with Angola; Sudan, Afghanistan and Somalia, tied with North Korea ranked as five most corrupt countries among the 175 countries examined.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the report disclosed that there was no improvement for Nigeria and South Africa as 40 out of the continent’s 46 countries showed a serious corruption problem.

Worried by these developments, President Buhari who once described corruption as the greatest form of human right violation made determined commitment to fight the battle to the end.

Report gleaned from Wikipedia on Nigeria’s corruption tide indicates that although the government aimed to contain the monster through the enactment of laws and the enforcement of integrity systems, its success has been slow. As at 2012, Nigeria was estimated to have lost over $400 billion to corruption since independence; the figure could be better imagined today, although the nation’s gained 7 step improvement from 143rd to the 136th position in 2014.

Nigeria attracted global attention for mind-boggling graft late 2013, when the former Central Bank Governor, Lamido Sanusi Lamido, now Emir of Kano, raised alarm to former President Goodluck Jonathan that the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, failed to remit US$20 billion of oil revenue.

Heated storms that greeted the disclosure became the hurricane that swept the whistle-blower on alleged mismanagement of the apex bank’s budget. A Senate committee set up on this also found Sanusi’s account to be lacking in substance.

After the conclusion of the NNPC’s account Audit under Jonathan, it was announced in January 2015 that NNPC’s non-remitted revenue is actually US$1.48billion.

But the report released by both auditing firm, PwC and Deloitte, at the twilight of Jonathan’s exit, confirmed that close to $20 billion was indeed missing or misappropriated or spent without appropriation.

As a result, the of the former Nigerian leader indeed opened itself for investigation for several scandals alleged to have been committed by members of his cabinet; among which are the $21billion arms deal scandal involving a former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd); the BMW purchase by the former Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah, $250 million plus security contracts to militants in the Niger Delta, massive corruption and kick backs in the Ministry of Petroleum, Malibu Oil International Scandal, and several scandals involving the Petroleum Ministry including accusations of sweetheart deals with select fronts and business people to divert public wealth.

Serial revelations and forfeiture of properties linked to Minister of Petroleum Resources, Deziani Allinson-Maduaeke and much more.

Allison-Madueke, alongside her associate, Mr. Jide Omokore, together with his companies, Atlantic Energy Brass Development Limited and Atlantic Energy Drilling Concepts Limited and a former Managing Director of the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, Victor Briggs; a former Group Executive Director, Exploration and Production of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Abiye Membere; and a former Manager, Planning and Commercial of the NNPC, David Mbanefo have been having days with the courts on corruptions charges involved in oil theft and diversion of public funds.

While all these continue, the fight campaign has at different times met with brick walls; first is the allegation of political witch-hunt by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. The party had claimed that the ruling party singled it out to be persecuted, even when its former members who now belong to the ruling party and previously accused of same offense were being shielded by anti-corruption agencies.

But in the midst of these, government believed those opposing the corruption fight for whatever reasons are agents of darkness and should have a change of mind or get caught along its path.

However, it could be understood if the storm gathering against the crusade is just from outside of the government, but the in-fighting among government officials and its agencies is believed to have telling effects on that agenda that touch the president most. In fact, the success or otherwise of the Buhari Administration will mostly be measured by how well he succeeds or fails in its effort at curtailing the menace.

One of these stumbling blocks standing on the way is the refusal, for the second time, by the Senate to confirm Ibrahim Magu as substantive chairman of the anti-corruption Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

The Upper legislative chamber hung to a report dated March 14, from the Department of State Services, DSS, to deny Magu confirmation.

Senate restated Magu’s rejection for lacking integrity to lead the country’s anti-corruption agency; “In the light of the foregoing, Magu has failed the integrity test and will eventually constitute a liability to the anti-corruption stand of the current government,” the SSS report, read by Senator Dino Melaye, on the floor of the Senate stated.

The report was perceived by some analysts as disquieting signs that all was not well in the government circle; with a puzzle that the president and agencies headed by his appointees could not be singing discordant tunes on the subject of corruption.

To many, Senate only found a leeway by holding on to the report. The Muslim Rights Concern, MURIC, for instance, speaking through its director, Ishaq Akintola, accused some senators of having different motives different from fight corruption.

His words; “Senate has shown that it is not fighting corruption. On the contrary, it is fighting for corruption by rejecting a firebrand anti-graft boss, it has exposed itself as an institution with skeletons in its cupboard.”

However, the depressing stunt came when Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami accused the EFCC’s boss, Magu, of frustrating the anti-corruption war.

Malami said Magu and the EFCC he leads had manipulated and misused intelligence to the detriment of the fight against corruption and financial crimes in Nigeria; saying further that they are working to prevent the lifting of the country’s suspension by Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units (Egmont Group) to make sure the country was formally expulsed from the body.

The Egmont Group is made up of 156 Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs), representing 156 countries and it serves as a platform for exchange expertise and financial intelligence to combat money laundering and terrorist financing and functions as the operational arm of the international anti-money laundering and counter financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) apparatus.

Nigeria is represented by the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit on the body but was suspended on June 1, 2007 because the NFIU lacks independence and was subject to the control of the EFCC via the provision of the Section 1(2)(c) of the EFCC Act.

The group demanded autonomy for NFIU as a condition for the country’s readmission or risk expulsion.

In a statement by his spokesman, Othman Isah, the Minister came tough on Magu’s hard stance on the issue and noted that the uncooperative attitude of EFCC’s leadership could encourage the Egmont Group to carry out its threat to expel the country.

“This has to stop if it must conform to the new thinking and global best practice. Nigeria cannot be an island of its own. It cannot fight corruption in isolation,” Malami said.

But while responding to the faceoff between the duo, Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in an interview on Channels TV, said the Buhari was investigating the feud between the duo; noting that there was no need to worry over their misunderstanding since they both share the vision of the president and have the nation at heart.

“The fact that the AGF and the EFCC chairman do not see eye to eye on the methods or the approach does not mean that both of them do not believe in the ultimate which is that corruption must be addressed.

“If they disagree on approach, then the president will look into the matter and make his pronouncement. He will ask why the AGF is taking such a position and why the EFCC chairman is taking another position.

“This, to me, is a purely administrative matter and if it is not, Mr President will take appropriate action. The President is aware and is investigating it. He is the employer of both of them,” the Minister had said.

While the Minister tried to play down on this all important development, pundits said members of the executive who should line up behind the president to rid the nation of the vice cannot afford to display open disregard for internal conflict resolution without exposing government as unserious about the whole project.

Those who spoke to Montage Africa believed that much more needed be done by the President in whipping his appointees to align with his thoughts towards the anti-graft war if he intends to win the battle.

They are of the opinion that until agencies and managers spearheading the fight build administrative synergy, not only would they frustrate the campaign but would similarly dampen the spirit of the president in pressing ahead.

Others hoped that the government should not limit its anti-corruption solution and methods only to these agencies alone but calling for multi-disciplinary approach to it; by sensitizing citizens on the dangers of embracing corruption or be sympathetic to corrupt individuals and a campaign to promote accountability, and patriotism.

This class of people is of the opinion that the concept of corruption should be broaden not only to highlight the areas of monetary areas but also nepotism and procedural abuses which are also branches of corruption.

As Nigeria clocks 57, it is essential for government to reflect on the imperatives of strengthening the anti-graft agencies, which include the Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission, ICPC, EFCC, and other security agencies.  And in the same vein, brave efforts must be made to ensure that civil servants are paid living wages as at when due to discourage corruption while government continues building lasting and sustainable institutions that can uphold the fight.

Until these are done, it is feared that the little gains already achieved in the fight could be short-lived as corruption has a way of not only fighting back but equally come back with a bigger bang.