The recent replacement of the ineffectual head of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission came two years late, reflecting the disarticulation of a government that won election with a clear mandate to crush corruption but often stumbles in execution. While the Muhammadu Buhari administration, by its inexplicable dithering, hobbled its own headline programme, corruption has been fighting back furiously and the ICPC has been one of the weakest links in the arsenal. High hopes are now pinned on Bolaji Owasanoye, the new helmsman, to reposition the anti-graft agency for efficiency.
A professor of law and, until now, executive secretary of the seven-member Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Owasanoye comes to the new post with a track record in civil rights, anti-corruption and good governance advocacy. On him, Nigerians now repose high hopes of invigorating an agency whose performance since its debut has ranged from lacklustre to downright inefficient.
In the 17 years since the creation of the ICPC as a specialised law enforcement agency with sweeping powers to investigate graft, prosecute offenders and engage in public enlightenment, corruption has grown exponentially and brought the country to its knees. Corruption, the illegitimate use of power to benefit a private interest, has, according to Transparency International, the global watchdog, defined Nigeria’s politics, economy and social life. In 2000, TI ranked Nigeria the most corrupt out of 90 countries it surveyed; our ranking of 32nd most corrupt in 2015 out of 168 countries and 40th most corrupt out of 176 surveyed in 2016 demonstrates how little progress the country has made in curbing sleaze.
The ICPC story demonstrates a baffling incoherence by the Muhammadu Buhari government and a lack of strategic thinking. It won the 2015 presidential election with a clear mandate to clean up the rot left behind by the departing Goodluck Jonathan government under which the most egregious corruption flourished. Everyone expected Buhari to hit the ground running immediately he was inaugurated on May 29, 2015. Instead, he left the heads of the ICPC and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on whose watch public and private sector officials had plundered the till with unprecedented impunity, in place.
But while Ibrahim Lamorde was dropped as chairman of the EFCC in November 2015, it remains a mystery why Ekpo Nta, who once agreed with the then president that “stealing is not corruption” and whose five-year term also expired that month, was allowed to continue until his redeployment last week to head the National Salaries and Wages Commission. This is not a result-oriented template. To drive its storied anti-corruption campaign, Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, cast his net wide and poached locals and foreigners to run and advise on key agencies.
Even in the belated reconstitution of the ICPC, the administration stumbled again, naming two persons, now dropped, Saad Alanamu and Maimuna Ali, who are said to be under investigation for alleged corrupt practices. Other tainted nominees to the board should be dropped immediately.
For a government with strategic vision, and to send a signal change, Nta should have been promptly shoved aside on the strength of having served a thoroughly corrupt regime and the dismal performance of the ICPC. While the EFCC could boast of 340 convictions in the first six months of 2017, and 140 convictions in 2016, the ICPC claimed to be “currently prosecuting 303 cases” but secured only 11 convictions. Taking advantage of the novel whistle-blower policy, the EFCC recently recovered N521.81 million, $33 million, £192,890 and €547,730; this is apart from the sensational $43 million, N23 million and £27,000 it found in a luxury apartment in Ikoyi, Lagos in April.
The ICPC needs a massive shake-up: Owasanoye should leverage the confidence reposed in him by Buhari and Osinbajo to root out inefficiency, corruption and indolence, and transform it into a nimble and effective law enforcement agency. The critical factor that has been missing is passion, a virtue that is very much in evidence in the acting chair of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, who, like the pioneer head, Nuhu Ribadu, applies himself to the job with zeal. He sorely needs a formidable back-up as the push-back gathers momentum and high profile accused persons continue to walk free helped by the complicit bar and bench and backed by the political class.
The anti-corruption war urgently needs a formidable strategy. It is said that Singapore’s anti-corruption strategy focuses on four pillars: effective anti-corruption law; effective adjudication to punish and deter those who are prone to corruption; effective administration to reduce opportunities for corruption; and effective enforcement agency. The Buhari government should back the antigraft war with strong political will by providing adequate funds and granting operational autonomy to the main anti-graft agencies. Political appointees must be thoroughly screened to ensure that only those candidates without any taint of corruption or misconduct are allowed to serve.
Owasanoye should promptly forge very close collaboration with the EFCC especially; the Police Special Fraud Unit, now headed by Lamorde; the State Security Service; the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, the Code of Conduct Bureau and the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation. Rivalry among these agencies has denied them the crucial intelligence-sharing input and damaged the war on graft as attested to by a recent US State Department report. Osinbajo should knock heads and compel them to cooperate: the intransigent should be sacked.
The ICPC and the EFCC should demarcate their lines of operations to free each to concentrate on agreed categories rather than duplicate efforts. Owasanoye, for instance, can position ICPC to focus on corruption in the civil service, which Osinbajo once described as “the greatest tragedy that a nation can experience.”
Like Ribadu, Magu and the late Dora Akunyili who, at National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, brought passion and integrity to make the difference, Owasanoye has an opportunity to join the pantheon of patriots. He should not fail.
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