“If we do not kill corruption, corruption will kill us.”Apt and sharp like a razor, the above Presidential statement will continue to resonate for various reasons: It captured the mood of the nation and rightly placed anti-corruption at the centre of national survival.
On another note, it does something not too obvious: It clearly identified the subtle nature of the fight: It is a fight against portent and desperate enemies who have conspired against the State, with a view to capturing and decimating her people.
A careful review of all the major corruption cases, past and present, point inexorably to one fact: those who steal public money are not ordinary people. They are usually people in high position of power, authority and trust. They are always very enlightened people. They are usually wealthy and very class conscious. Though a small minority, when compared to the teeming majority they lord over, they stand out, because of their power of wealth and propaganda.
Their unique taste and consumption styles are quite eye catching. Their political philosophy is usually market oriented. They celebrate classical capitalism, in which the “haves” are privileged to have more, and the ‟have-nots” are grouped as disposable people. In fact, they feel happier when the “have-nots” lose even the little they have to the aggressive, deregulated market in which the conspirators dominate.
Winning Strategy: Grand alliance with the oppressed
To win the war against corruption would require a President that identifies with the oppressed majority, the “have-nots”, who have been dispossessed by the corrupt elites. In President Buhari, we see an austere President who has what it takes to lead a successful fight against the “caterpillars of our common wealth”. Judging from the president’s utterances, demeanor and action since his inauguration it could be stated that there is now a strong political will for fighting corruption in Nigeria.
For the fight against corruption to succeed, however, this strong political will must translate to coordinated and effective legislative actions that upgrade the current institutional framework and empowers a grand coalition of the people in order to lay solid bedrock for decapitating chronic corruption and the impunity that goes with it.
The best weapon for victory, therefore, is the very weapon that the conspirators despise: regulation. The conspirators favour deregulation that consigns the role of government to that of a “night watchman”, so that they can muzzle the poor and whip them into slavish submission. They fear regulation because it would expose their corrupt practices, recover their loot and deny them their cherished liberty for epicurean profligacy.
Institutional pathway is a regulatory, pro-people strategy. Institutions are critical because they set the rules of the game, without which we cannot separate corrupt from non-corrupt, neither can we trace and recover proceeds of corrupt acts. We can spend the whole year analyzing causative and historical antecedents and peering through the crystal balls to see whether the unprecedented stealing of public funds is a result of our nature or nurture, but we will make no progress until we take the pragmatic institutional steps to stop it.
The first institutional challenge is to ensure that EFCC and ICPC, the key anti- corruption bodies do not have overlapping and conflicting duties. The argument for merger or non-merger of the institutions may not be as powerful as taking a second look at their roles to ensure that issues of duplication are settled. There is nothing wrong with fighting a dreaded enemy with two or multiple hands, provided that each weapon thrown at the enemy achieves a clearly defined and desired role. No weapon should be allowed to be redundant in the face of a dreaded foe.
A major task here is to interrogate who is doing what and come up with clearly delineated functions for each of the anti-corruption institution. There is a strong case to be made that the lumping of investigatory, prosecutorial and asset tracing role on one institution cannot be justified especially as it flies in the face of international best practice. To that end, a focused legislative action is required in order to review the EFCC and ICPC laws, with a view to reforming and refocusing the agencies to achieve better results.
Insulating the agencies from political interference will also require a constitutional effort. In South Africa, certain institutions are constitutionally insulated from interference, by securing their independence and financial
autonomy. A key criticism of the anti-corruption efforts in Nigeria has often revolved around “witch-hunting” of political enemies. Although such criticisms could be a ploy by the conspirators to distract attention, it is important to note that perception is critical here as every serious student of justice knows that wrong perception could be fatal to the course of justice.