Corruption is one of the most widely discussed issues in Nigeria. It is topical, on the lips of the president, lawmakers, the judiciary and the citizen on the street. The religious talk about it very often on Fridays and Sundays and Nigerians are convinced that we need to eliminate corruption if our country is to join the comity of developed and civilised nations. Our politicians are therefore compelled to make promises on how they intend to fight corruption whilst those in office are expected to give account of their stewardship on the subject matter.
The Buhari administration declared the fight against corruption as one of its priorities. It almost declared a state of emergency on corruption. Various studies and assessments by different organisations give a picture of the progress so far made on corruption. The yearly Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International seems to be the flagship and Nigerians wait eagerly for it. Incidentally, the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index has just been released and it came on the heels of the declaration by African leaders of 2018 as the African Year of Anti-Corruption. This declaration was virtually led by President Muhammadu Buhari who talks about the fight against corruption as if his life depends on it. The 2018 CPI shows that Seychelles scored 66 out of 100, to put it at the top in sub-Saharan Africa, followed by Botswana and Cape Verde, with scores of 61 and 57 respectively. Somalia occupied the bottom of the Index with a score of 10 points, followed by South Sudan (13) to round off the lowest score in sub-Saharan Africa. The average score in sub-Saharan Africa is 32 which is the lowest scoring region on the index and it is followed closely by Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with an average score of 35.
Nigeria scored 27 out of 100 available points and this is lower than the sub-Saharan Africa average of 32. By all measures, 27/100 is not a pass mark; it is not even a “let my people go” score which would amount to a weak pass. It is total failure and a condition for the repetition of a class or a re-sit at the tertiary institution level. The CPI states about Nigeria as follows: “With a score of 27, Nigeria remained unchanged on the CPI since 2017. Corruption was one of the biggest topics leading up to the 2015 elections and it is expected to remain high on the agenda as the country prepares for this year’s presidential election taking place in February. Nigeria’s Buhari administration took a number of positive steps in the past three years, including the establishment of a presidential advisory committee against corruption, the improvement of the anti-corruption legal and policy framework in areas like public procurement and asset declaration, and the development of a national anti-corruption strategy, among others. However, these efforts have clearly not yielded the desired results. At least, not yet”.
This article highlights a few policies and legal reforms that will lead to real improvements in the struggle against corruption by proactively nipping it in the bud or alternatively, providing opportunities for the society to identify, punish and block future corrupt acts. The first is the issue of asset declaration mentioned in the CPI. It is not in the public knowledge that the Buhari administration has taken any step to improve the asset declaration regime beyond the recent controversy of exposing the assets of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, as a basis to get him suspended from office. Asset declarations are still not in the public domain whilst many public officers have yet to comply with the law. Not less than five million Nigerians are bound to declare their assets, from the cleaner to the President. The reform should come in the form of an online asset declaration portal which would be publicly available to all Nigerians to cross-check the declarations of their public servants. Yes, a few issues that border on the privacy of public officers can be removed from the publicly available information. This will provide the opportunity for every Nigeria to engage the Code of Conduct Bureau with any information on hidden or over-declared assets. A new law in accordance with the Third Schedule, Part 1 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 will solve this riddle.
The mention of procurement reforms by the CPI is surprising considering that since 2007 when the Public Procurement Act became law, the National Council on Public Procurement has not been inaugurated. Things have not changed since 2015. Putting this council in place and ensuring the full activation of open contracting as demanded by the country’s Open Government Partnership commitments is the way to go.Open contracting makes comprehensive, timely and relevant information and data available to citizens to positively interrogate the expenditure of public resources. As such, it will promote greater accountability, transparency, value for money, professionalism and competition in the procurement system.
Another area of reform is in providing a public register of beneficial owners of all companies in Nigeria which is also part of Nigeria’s Open Government Partnership commitment. This will provide information in the public domain about the actual owners or persons who control and direct companies which are artificial persons. This will reduce conflict of interest situations, corruption, tax evasion, money laundering and terrorist financing. A situation where the real owners are hidden as we had in the past led Nigerian oil ministers to award oil fields to companies which they fully or partially owned; contracts have been awarded by ministries to companies where the permanent secretaries or directors fully or partially owned, against the conflict of interest rules contained in the Public Procurement Act. We may also follow the United Kingdom’s example of providing a publicly available register of beneficial owners of all landed property in the country. This will also facilitate the fight against corruption as illicitly acquired houses and land will be made known and the authorities can follow up with the right actions.
Also, the constitution amendment process should lead to the separation of the office of the Attorney-General and the Minister of Justice. While the Attorney-General will be a thorough-bred legal technocrat, of the highest ethics and learning, the Minister of Justice can continue with his politics. Nigeria must get to the point where prosecutions are done across board and beyond party labels. It is also imperative that reforms on delays in the administration of justice be pursued with vigour. The current efforts do not seem to be yielding the right results as many criminal cases are still unduly delayed.
It is clear that the CPI 2018 confirms what many Nigerians feel about the ongoing fight against corruption. It is a lot of motion without movement and at best, it is movement in a barber’s chair which leaves one at the same point in which one started. There is a lot of noise but without impact. The struggle is not structured to produce beneficial results for society. It seems that a popular national struggle for the survival of the country has been hijacked and turned into a vehicle for vain-glorification and narrow personal and partisan purposes.
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