Whistle-blowers

A major straw that broke the camel’s back of the 16-year rule of the Peoples Democratic Party in the 2015 general elections is corruption. Nigerians voiced their frustrations with a vote for the All Progressives Congress presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, who promised to fight corruption, defeat terrorism and fix the economy. Notwithstanding his ascendancy to the power, corruption remains a major setback to the provision of democratic goods for the masses.

The pioneer chairman of the EFCC, Nuhu Ribadu, in 2007 stated that corruption gulped $140bn yearly in Nigeria. By now, this figure has tripled more so if one adds the revelation by Prof Itse Sagay that 55 top officials and their collaborators diverted the sum of N1.3tn between 2006 and 2013 from government coffers for personal uses. Between 2010 and 2016, Nigeria’s best ranking on global public perception on corruption has been 136 out of the 176 countries evaluated in the Global Corruption Perception Index. This “snoring giant” has struggled with or at best treated public sector corruption cosmetically. While there have been superficial efforts to check the menace, corruption as an edifice has yet to crumble.

While former President Olusegun Obasanjo kick-started a battle against corruption with the creation of anti-corruption agencies specifically the EFCC and ICPC, the Buhari administration in 2015 would later show a more “committed” fight against public sector corruption with the compulsory Biometric Verification Number for all bank account holders, consolidation of accounts of government agencies into one single account (Treasury Single Account and in 2016 they capped it with the Whistle Blowing Policy.

Democratic governance has suffered in Africa owing to the daring and largely successful pro-corruption structure. This structure has tentacles society-wide such that there are more actors-for than actors-against corruption. Corruption is at the heart of the dearth of good roads, potable water, power, unemployment, comatose education, sickly health institutions, and dead industrial sector. In terms of scale, it may not be out of place to reckon that corruption has killed, albeit indirectly, more Nigerians than Boko Haram. While the cost of preventing crisis is much smaller, our leadership waits for corruption to blossom before taking steps. This line of action makes the associated costs more punitive. Worried by this development, the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) in partnership with the United Nations Office of West Africa and the Sahel funded the convergence of African researchers, policy actors and practitioners in Mali in October 2017 to discuss the intersection between “Money, security and Democratic Governance in Africa” where yours sincerely presented a full version of this piece. The conference agreed that cosmetic treatment of corruption creates security crisis which impacts negatively on democratic governance on the continent. However, while corruption tactics are changing, the policies to tame it on the continent have been static and relatively less innovative including the Whistle-blowing policy.

The symbolism of the whistle in a football match is to ensure that the match is under the control of a just referee who deploys the whistle to signal the beginning and the end of a match; issues warning to erring players; and administers the red card in the event of grievous infractions. However, the referee can also be biased against a team he does not like; even when it is obvious that there is an infraction, the chief referee may ignore calls from the spectators and tell them to ‘play on’. I see the ‘mainarism’ of the ‘Lion King’ as that of a Chief Referee’s complacency which is denting the anti-corruption crusade. It implies that the ‘Lion king’ only issues verbal warning to inner caucus corruption as against red card to ‘outsiders’.

My analysis of newspaper coverage of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war shows that many recoveries were made in the first four months of the introduction of the WBP. This was made possible with the receipt of 2,351 tips. Recall the case of a $131m, $15m, N7bn and another N1bn found in some fictitious accounts in banks and later forfeited by the looters when they could not provide tangible explanation of the sources of the monies. You could not have forgotten the N49m abandoned at the Kaduna airport, the huge cash in an Ikoyi apartment; and the $37.5m from Lagos mansion of Alison Maduekwe. The EFCC boss, Ibrahim Magu, reportedly said the agency recovered N17bn to from whistle-blowing policy alone.

What is crucial are the innovative strategies of keeping looted funds. Looters are shunning formal banking, using fictitious accounts and evolving new strategies by informalising money-keeping. These include, keeping monies at home, in septic tanks, abandoned market stalls, abandoned houses, and cemeteries among others. These are done to keep their looted funds from being traced through formal mechanisms such as the BVN. But with the introduction of incentives of between 2.5 per cent and five per cent on recovered looted funds, people did not only turn referees but looked out to report large loot in order to get larger incentives. I argue that people whistle-blow not because they want the country changed but because of the incentives attached to it. These “incentivised-patriots” had previously looked away but saw opportunities in the new policy and keyed into it. The problem now is that looters are now shutting out “insiders” who supplied information to the state. The majority of those who contributed to recovered monies were bankers, gatemen, housemaids, business partners, relatives among others. In other words, insiders are crucial to the winning of the anti-corruption war. The insiders are at both ends: within law enforcement agencies and within inner caucus of looters.

No war against corruption can be won if both the citizens and the President are complacent. We need to vary our policies and approaches in line with the innovative strategies of looters. As it is, only informal strategies can be used to get looters since they are shunning formal banking or using fictitious identities. Consequently, there is reduced public notification of recoveries. While this is not an implication that illicit acquisition has stopped or that people are no longer blowing the whistle, it underscores adaptation on the part of looters through innovative strategies to beat the current WBP. Beyond recoveries and forfeiture, prosecution of looters must be done to award punishment commensurate to the crimes committed. By so doing, messages of deterrence can then hinder future offenders by compelling a more careful weighing of the cost and benefit of engaging in corrupt practices.

Dr Tade, a sociologist, sent in this piece via dotad2003@yahoo.com

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