How to Address Recidivist Corruption in Nigeria

By Bola A. Akinterinwa

On the basis of the 1987 report of the Political Bureau chaired by Professor J.S. Cookey, institutionalised corruption can be dated back to 1967. This means that, out of the 57 years of sovereign existence so far, Nigeria and Nigerians have had a chronic corruption lifestyle for 50 years. It can also be rightly argued that chronic corruption began with the outbreak of Nigeria’s war of national unity but the extent to which corruption was a major dynamic of the war is yet to be scientifically determined. However, there is no disputing the fact that fears of unfairness, injustice, domination, and regional interests contributed in no small measure to the outbreak of the war and the emergence of corruption in national life.

Put differently, the critical problem since 1967 has been the unending corruption, which has now grown to the extent of seriously threatening the main foundations of a united and virile Nigeria. The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), was set up on September 29, 2000 to deal precisely with all the problems associated with corruption and indiscipline in the society. But the Commission had several inadequacies, which prompted the establishment of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2004.

The mandate of the EFCC, as provided in its 2004 Act establishing it, is that the EFCC should investigate, prevent, prosecute and penalise economic and financial crimes, including Money Laundering and Advance Fee Fraud (419). In the same vein, the ICPC is to receive and investigate public complaints on corrupt practices and prosecute offenders; examine corrupt practices; to assist governmental agencies in reducing fraud and corrupt practices; advise heads of public institutions on changes in practice; educate the public on and against bribery, corruption and related offences; and to enlist and foster public support in combating corruption. In essence, the ICPC is required to prohibit and prescribe punishment for corrupt practices and other related offences.

From the foregoing, impression is given that economic and financial crimes are necessarily different from corruption offences. If they are not considered differently, there would not have been the need to have different bodies dealing with them. What would have been simply required is to further empower the ICPC, rather than putting in place the EFCC. The problem about the existence of the two bodies is not only rivalry but also the belief that the ICPC has not been up and doing to the extent that the editorial of The Punch of last August 8 on “ICPC: Why Owasanoye Must Not Fail,” has to note that ‘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… The ICPC story demonstrates a baffling incoherence by the Muhammadu Buhari government and a lack of strategic thinking.’

In this regard, the editorial not only argued that the anti-corruption war urgently needs a formidable strategy that may draw from the experience of Singapore, whose 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 editorial also advised that 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.’

What is particularly interesting and noteworthy about the advice of the editorial is that ‘the Buhari government should back the anti-graft war with strong political will by providing adequate funds and granting operational autonomy to the main anti-graft agencies.’ This advice is interesting from the perspective of the need for a ‘strong political will:’ where will the ‘political will’, not to talk of a ‘strong political will,’ will come from? Can it be rightly argued that, because the government is currently running after or prosecuting some corruption suspects that there is political will to do or not to do?

In the context of scientific arguments, it is not right to predicate a theory on just one empirical case study. However, in the context of an anti-graft fight, one case study can help in understanding the direction of a policy attitude. We do not believe that the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) has any sincere political will to nip corruption and financial crimes in the bud on a permanent basis. If it has political will, its implementation strategy cannot but be very faulty. And if the strategy is not faulty, there cannot but be an urgent need for a special national review of the strategic efforts so far, especially in the light of the experiences of other countries, to determine how best to address corruption as a national challenge. The foregoing observation is largely informed by the experiences from the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos.

But before the exegesis of the NIIA case, two points are noteworthy at this juncture. First, corruption, as a virus is not peculiar to Nigeria alone. It also runs in the blood vessels of most countries of the world. The difference between corruption in Nigeria and elsewhere is that the leaders in other countries fight corruption tooth and nail and at all levels. In Nigeria, corruption is only fought at the level of the elite. The bottom level of corruption is neglected, consciously or otherwise, thus allowing corruption to continue to grow, and by so doing, also waiting for it to be addressed at the time the young corrupt people will become members of the elite to be identified and prosecuted.

Without a jot of doubt, the seriousness of corruption as a problem in international relations has prompted the adoption of an anti-corruption regional programme, an initiative of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. The programme was prepared in collaboration with the African Union Consultative Council on Corruption (AUCCC). The AUCCC was given the mandate to step up the fight against corruption in Africa and make the continent free from corruption, better governed, and prosperous at the economic level.
Additionally, the programme was largely predicated on the 2003 United Nations Convention against Corruption and the 2003 African Union Convention on the Prevention and Fight Against Corruption. The Convention is aimed at strengthening political stability and good governance in fighting corruption. The programme currently covers the period from 2011 to 2016.

As explained in a document by the UNECA and the Governance and Public Administration (GPAD), the programme adopts a strategic methodology at different levels, which includes strategic research and analyses, training and capacity building, information exchange and peer review, political dialogue and anti-corruption activities. In essence, at the national, sub-regional, and regional levels, the programme is designed to assist national institutions in fighting against corruption and, in this regard, non-governmental actors of the civil society, the media, and the private sector are integrated in the programme.

As the UNECA further explained it, corruption remains the most ‘indisputable challenge to good governance, enduring economic growth, peace, stability and development of Africa. According to various enquiries and corruption indicators, Africa is seen as the most corrupt region in the world, the least developed and the most backward.’ As observed by the UN Secretary General, Ban-KI Moon on 2nd September, 2010, ‘chaque année, plus de un trillion de dollar américain est volé ou perdu – argent nécessaire à la réalisation des objectifs du millénaire pour le développement… Bien qu’elle soit un phénomène mondial, l’impact de la corruption se fait plus sentir au niveau des pays pauvres et moins développés où les ressources destinées au développement sont indûment détournées par des individus, ce qui aggrave la pauvreté’ (every year, more than a US 1 trillion dollars is stolen or lost – money required for the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals… Even though it is a global phenomenon, the impact of corruption is felt more at the level of the poor and the less developed countries, where resources meant for development are unduly diverted by individuals, and which aggravates poverty).
In this context, how do we explain the fact that Africa is the most corrupt region of the world? Why is Africa the most backward region of the world? Is colonialism again responsible for this? In the specific context of Nigeria, how do we explain the fact that, only seven years after the independence of Nigeria, corruption began to rear its ugly head, and yet, as at today, the problem of corruption still cannot be given any meaningful solution?

One possible explanation is that Nigeria has become a country where room is no longer given to sincerity and objectivity of purpose, where it is quite dangerous to be patriotic and seek to defend the truth, and perhaps most disturbingly, where those who are officially required to defend the truth, discipline, patriotism, honour and dignity of the nation, are the very people also militating against societal values. For as long as this type of situation continues to exist, there is very little, not to say nothing, any head of the ICPC can do to nip corruption in the bud, especially that there is nothing the Nigerian cannot acquiesce to in the absence of direct threats to his interest.

NIIA Experience and Way Forward
The experience of the NIIA clearly suggests that the PMB administration is not likely to eliminate corruption in whatever manner mainly, because corruption has a systemic character. The Governing Council of the NIIA lends much credence to the thrust of our argument. It is important to note here that the Council is believably comprised of men and women of professional integrity. In fact, well respected senior citizens were members. It is therefore very difficult to understand how such a Council would have been accused of aiding and abetting serious acts of misconduct in the institute.

But true, as I noted in my handover note as Director General to the Government, I not only thanked God Almighty that I never stole any government money but also that the Council had bastardised the renowned international institute in Africa, African institute in Nigeria, and the Nigerian Institute in Lagos beyond repairs. For the first time in the academic history of the institute since its foundation in 1961, professorship became a market commodity that has to be purchased or lobbied for. The Council tried to compel me to promote two Associate Research Professors, one on the basis of only two years of experience; the other with more than two years but without proven contribution to existing knowledge. I resisted the pressure because professorship is not for sale. The NIIA, when I joined it, had an internationally recognised academic integrity.

The Council, under various pretexts, claimed that I had not followed the normal process, and therefore dictated to me the content of a new letter to be sent to the assessors. The Council collected the particulars of the assessors and forwarded the letters to them directly. Identities of assessors are never made known. In fact, one of the Council members spoke with one of the assessors but said his discussion was not on the issue of assessment. Now, there are two categories of professors at the NIIA: Professors by merit and Council-Assisted Professors.

What is most unfortunate about the professorial assessments, as related to corruption is that, the professorial candidates were against sending their papers outside of Nigeria, erroneously positing that it was not the normal practice. The Council, even with the professors amongst it, most unfortunately believed. The Council compelled me to send their papers to Nigerian assessors. I sent the records of past assessments of papers send abroad, including my own, to the Council. The Council simply followed a different, but anti-NIIA direction.

Additionally, a Director of Research and Studies, whose own papers were sent abroad, not only misinformed the Council, but also revealed the names of assessors to the professorial candidates. This matter was referred to the Council. The Council only kept silent over it.

There was also the serious case of misconduct of a Director of Administration and Finance. She altered the promotion examination results. She removed the various queries in her confidential file. She aided and abetted the changing of dates of birth of some staff in their records. In my then capacity as the statutory Chairman of Appointments and Promotions Committee of the Governing Council, I referred the matter to the Council in plenary. The decision of the Council was that the Appointment and Promotion Committee had resolved the matter. When, where and by who? I was the complainant. Decision was taken when I was asked to go out to look for some documents.
Perhaps, more disturbingly, in the face of increasing cases of serious acts of misconduct, I tried to bring the situation under control but the Council consciously frustrated my efforts. For instance, there was a review of global events with implications for Nigeria’s foreign policy on daily basis at 9am. The research fellows complained that the regularity needed to be reviewed. I responded that the work at the NIIA must take priority over all others as many of them were lecturing at the Open University, Lagos State University, and University of Lagos. Part time lecturing to assist research can be condoned, but not double employment. The Council directed me to reduce the number of times for daily analysis of international affairs. Why would a research fellow not be kept abreast of international affairs? Why should the NIIA not be able to provide a daily analysis for government on global foreign policies?
The application of the monetisation policy of government at the NIIA is also noteworthy. I enforced the policy with much compassion for colleagues by asking occupants of NIIA quarters at Idejo Street, Victoria Island to pay only forty thousand naira as rent for a four-bedroom flat with two parking slots and a Boys Quarters en suite. The amount also included all social charges with the exception of electricity (that is, cleaning, security, water, etc). The Council, in its objective of wanting to run the NIIA on day-to-day basis, and using the research staff to undermine my administration took a funny decision as there was no official quarters for the DG of NIIA, I never bothered.

I lived with my colleagues in the same block of flats. What the Council decided was that I should be paying N90,000 per month on the basis of 8% of basic salary. A certain doctor, being the most junior, was asked to pay about N12,000 per month. Another Research Fellow was paying N14,000 monthly. A Deputy Director like and two other Associate Professors were paying N28,000 while the most senior person was paying N38,000 per month.

This was the height of unfairness and injustice, because the accommodation was in the same block of flats, under the same environmental conditions. The Council decided to give six months to the occupants, who rented out their B/Qs contrary to official regulations to send out their tenants. They rented their B/Qs for not less than N200,000 yearly. Two other persons did same for this gross. Under normal circumstances, the punishment for this gross misconduct can lead to dismissal. The Council only decided that the tenants should be given a notice of six months. No sanction.

The most interesting point to underscore in the discussion of corruption in Nigeria is that the staffers, particularly the senior research fellows were incited against me on very malicious allegations. Petitions upon petitions were sent through me to the supervisory authority, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ambassador Bulus Lolo was then the Permanent Secretary. Before the Council was dissolved in mid-2016, I gave a more than 60-page, single-line, 12-point size Times New Roman reply to the 12-page summary of the allegations by three Associate Professors. The Council was unable to know who was right and who was wrong. The Council could only Note my response. No action. No sanction for anyone.

What about the attitude of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs? The general public ought to know that, in the face of this ordeal, I set up a panel of inquiry into the acts of serious misconduct in the institute. It comprised a representative from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a representative from the Office of Head of Service, a representative from the Public Service Commission, a representative from the Department of State Security and a former Director General.

The panel elected the former Director General of the NIIA, Professor Rafiu Ayo Akindele, as its chairman. The committee submitted its report, which was officially forwarded to the supervisory authority. The supervisory authority could not ask questions. The best it could do was to keep silent over the report and to probably inform the SGF that my tenure has come to an end and that there were petitions against me. The SGF directed that I should hand over because of petitions against me. I made it clear in my handover note that I would hand over because of the expiration of my tenure and not because of any non-investigated or sponsored allegations.
With the influence of the Council, it was ensured that I did not furnish the international conference centre I was building for the institute. The money was there but an embargo was placed on it. This was money I lobbied for. One year, the same Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave the NIIA zero allocation. No money to do anything. It was thanks to Dr. Okonjo Iweala and Ambassador Gbenga Ashiru that I got funding for the building project. Yet, people wanted me to divert the money to other votes but which I vehemently refused. I completed the project with the Grace of God without blemish.

Apart from Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, who put new structures in place at the institute, including the NIIA quarters on Idejo Street, no other Director General made new efforts until I became the Director General. However, the Council took the bad end of the stick, allegedly because it was not involved in the building processes. All manners of queries were raised to ensure that I am buried alive by government. I officially requested the Council to investigate the building project. Throughout the more than one year period of building the international conference centre, the Council never had time to visit the project. The best it could do was always to raise questions about money or that I had not paid the entitlements of Council members, or that I had not followed due process all of which were far from the truth.

There are more stories to tell in a book of one kobo according to a Yoruba idiom. Neither the NIIA nor the government of PMB has paid my entitlements, including severance package and monies expended on behalf of the institute since 2015, when my tenure as DG came to an end. Why is this so? It is nothing more than manifestations of corruption in different forms. Why is the allegation of serious misconduct ignored? Allegations against me were sent to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).
Without any investigation, a decision was taken. This was attitudinal corruption. The silence of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was institutional corruption. The attitude of the Council was anti-Nigeria. People who are supposed to build Nigeria are the same source of Nigeria’s problems. Nigeria cannot survive on the basis of untruth or the Council’s secret reports that will not be verified.

If corruption is to be meaningfully addressed in Nigeria, the best way forward for now is to fight corruption simultaneously at all levels, especially with a bottom-up approach. Nigerians must stop keeping silent over corruption matters. Corruption and indiscipline must be taught as from primary schools to the tertiary level henceforth, placing emphasis on the punishments for engagement in any act of societal indiscipline. It is by so doing that the ICPC and the EFCC will be better placed to achieve their mandates with the people’s support.