Our Movement Against Corruption Won`t Last Without The Public Sector Reform By Ogundana Michael Rotimi
“President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-graft war has started yielding dividends. Following blockage of leakages, Nigeria’s foreign reserves have increased from $28.57 billion at the end of May to $31.53 billion as of July 22, 2015.” – CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, during a press brief at the end of the Monetary Policy Committee, meeting, in Abuja.
Since the inauguration of President Buhari, the fight against corruption is being renewed. And the seeming dead anti-graft agencies- EFCC and ICPC, suddenly gained life. Like I have always posited, when the right leadership is put in place, institutions auto-adjust to suit it. The leadership of the anti- graft agencies knows that the President Buhari`s regime will not hold on to that phrase by the last administration, “Stealing is not Corruption” hence, it’s doing all it can to make public office holders accountable.
Meanwhile, you will recall that aside from the act of cluelessness displayed by the last administration; corruption was a bane the people voted against in the last Presidential election. The past administration was popularly known for the phrase; “Stealing is not Corruption and Corruption is not Stealing”. It was an administration of self-enrichment and patronage, and of illegality. It will be of grave offence to Nigerians if the corruption they thought have been voted out in the last presidential election still rules with impunity.
If you aren`t going to appreciate anything so far about the President Muhammadu Buhari`s administration, you should appreciate the wakeup call his personality brought to the anti-graft agencies. Consequently, one can practically say, that the fight against corruption has been effectively revived. And for the first time in a long time, corrupt leaders are being made to face the music squarely.
As a student of Nigeria`s politics and its corruption history, I must commend the dedication of President Buhari in tackling this menace and I am relieved at the sight of his ongoing efforts to restore sanity to the system. However, I must express my concerns regarding the road ahead. If Nigeria’s budding anti-corruption movement simply focuses on corrupt leaders in demanding accountability from them it will fail. Nigeria needs a wide-range reform of the public administration to effectively curb the menace of corruption.
The festering plague of corruption and impunity is not limited to politicians alone and even in their case their days are limited in office as compared to civil servants that have much more years to spend. The plague extends to the civil servants who clandestinely support and work in tandem with them.
Going back to the statement credited to the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele above, the question is, what then happens to corruption when President Buhari`s tenure is over? Will those blocked leakages be re-opened when he`s gone?
The point is we need strong and sustainable public institutions to fight against corruption. Any individual will fight against corruption only as long as he/she is there and when he/she is gone the story remains the same.
Political elites are more renowned for their use of public power to distribute government jobs, contracts and other resources through partial political and personal networks. They exercise largely unfettered power over the career prospects of public servants. They place allies at appropriate points in administrative processes. By these avenues, they often direct that rules be circumvented as the means to an end goal of favoring themselves and their clients with jobs, public contracts and other state resources, hence using their political influence on the public sector to aid corruption.
Experience in other countries suggests that resolving such corruption requires, centrally, the creation of an independent public administration which political public office holders cannot influence.
Consider the fact that Nigeria today, for the most part, is largely just repeating an experience shared at some point by the majority of the world’s countries. In 19th century France, politics was defined by the generally corrupt Notabilier. The United Kingdom had earlier suffered an epoch of Old Corruption. The British settler colonies of Canada, Australia and New Zealand had similar periods. The United States exhibited a ‘spoils system’- that is, the practice of appointing applicants to public offices as a reward for their loyalty to the political party in power. Latin America, Southern and Eastern Europe have had comparable systems. But these countries have been able to curb this menace with an independent public administration.
What these examples suggest is that, the ruling party has found itself at the centre of a fatal convergence. It presides over a public administration that is not appropriately insulated from arbitrary interference, since political heads are generally free to appoint and promote as they see fit. Fact is, the need for an independent public administration cannot be over emphasized.
Germany and a number of northerly Continental European countries embarked on the necessary reforms between the late-18th and 19th centuries. Meiji Japan copied the German model. In the period between the 1850s and 1910s, the United Kingdom followed suit. They resolved Old Corruption by setting up independent Public Service Commissions to administer competitive examinations, which regulated appointment and promotion in the public service.
Such insulated processes of recruitment and promotion make politicians and public servants separate organized groups. These groups follow divided career paths and are subject to distinct mechanisms of legitimacy and accountability. These mechanisms serve to produce divergent interests between them. When actors try to co-ordinate irregular activities, these divergent interests pose acute problems.
Politicians can approach public servants with corrupt bargains, but an independent public servant, will not fear being disciplined by politicians if he/she refuses. Instead, they are then accountable solely to their peer group and to public opinion. What that means is that they must weigh any financial benefit offered by the politician against the large costs associated with a potential loss of professional reputation and income security. Given these facts, it is more likely they blow the whistle and less likely they accept the deal. (This reminds me of an alleged incidence between a former minister of the country and a senior military officer of the Nigerian Army in the Ekitigate saga). In turn, politicians are more likely to check and correct administrative corruption in which they have no stake in terms of patronage or financial benefit.
Nigeria’s anti-corruption movement has suffered for its neglect of such experience. Without an independent public administration, a reformed and strengthened criminal justice system, our movement against corruption and the President Buhari`s effort will only last his days in office.
God Bless Nigeria.
Ogundana Michael Rotimi is a Nigerian Biochemist, Socio-economic & Political Commentator, and Public Speaker. He tweets @MickeySunny.