The Place of Anti-graft Agencies in Nigeria Change Agenda, By Okoi Obono-Obla
Thank you for having me. I will be speaking to you today about some of the evil caused by corruption and thus far the Anti-graft agencies have fared.
I do not need to bore you with the definition of corruption because its definition depends on the perception of the person attempting the definition. However, it can be liken to the proverbial description of an elephant by the blind men, based on the part they feel.
Corruption lives amongst us and can be spotted in every sphere of the polity; in families, among friends, politics, religious and circular organizations and the educational sector.
To say the least, corruption is a dishonest, illegal and opportunistic behavior by a public officer for private gain. It’s been one of the major contributory factors to the fall of great empires like the Roman Empire.
There is no known venture in Nigeria today with a high return on investment like corruption and official graft. It is in fact the fastest growing industry.
Corruption has become the underlying intent for engaging in politics. Corruption is interwoven with tricky and dicey dynamic features. When viewed on a graphical lens, it accelerates ten times faster than the growth of the nation. This has been the reason why the fight against corruption seems endless; “The more you look the less you see” the more effort put in to eradicate corruption the more it raises its ugly head and grows stronger.
Corruption is as old as mankind; it has been here from creation of the world as seen in the biblical story of Esau and Jacob; also in the same Bible, I Sam. 8: 1 – 4, the two sons of Samuel, Joel and Abijah took bribe and perverted justice. The holy books have from the beginning condemned corruption in strong terms as it has these to say;
Hosea 9:9. They have sunk deep into corruption, as in the days of Gibeah. God will remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins.
Isaiah 1:4 Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.
Proverbs 29:4 A just king gives stability to his nation, but one who demands bribes destroys it.
The Government of President Muhammadu Buhari has the fighting of corruption as one of its cornerstones. President Buhari has always been an anti-corruption crusader and fighter. Those of you familiar with his records in the Public Service and as Military Head of State (31st December, 1983-26 August 1985) would easily attest to this. Undoubtedly he is a man of integrity, honestly and justice.
What is integrity? I submit that “Integrity is choosing your thoughts and actions based on values rather than personal gains”
Place of Anti- Corruption/Graft Agencies
Surely, President Buhari has since assuming the mantle of political governance of the Federal Republic of Nigeria clearly demonstrated political will to combat and eradicate corruption by putting in place and instituting mechanisms of co-ordination, partnership and cooperation amongst the existing anti-corruption agencies. These efforts are not only limited to strengthening anti-corruption agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), saddled with the responsibility of investigating financial crimes such as advance fee fraud (419 fraud) and money laundering; the Independent and Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) saddled with the responsibility of investigation and prosecution of public sector corruption The Special Presidential Investigation Panel for Recovery of Public Property; the Code of Conduct Bureau to mention just a few.
We have seen the putting in place of strategies and policies never experienced in the annals of this country history to block loopholes and leakages through which unscrupulous officialdom used to siphon public funds.
Although, many skeptics may see anti-corruption activities in Nigeria to be mere pin pricks in a country that is vast and notoriously corrupt; but I want to equivocally state that never in the history of Nigeria had any administration muscled the political will to fight corruption like the present administration.
The effort of this government in combating corruption is not only limited to empowering existing anti-corruption agencies (and also give them a free hand) but also carrying far reaching institutional reforms and empowering Anti-Corruption Agencies and undertaking effective prosecution of against Politically Exposed Persons never seen in the history of Nigeria.
This has resulted in the institution of more than 200 criminal cases against Political Exposed Persons and the conviction of two former State Governors recently for corruption and abuse of office.
The adherence to the Rule of Law by the administration has seen total compliance with the provisions of Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015), (ACJA) by the Court leading to stoppage of the use of legal subterfuges and stratagems by defence counsel in high profile cases to endlessly delay the hearing and determination of criminal cases.
Also, the reinvigoration of anti-corruption of institutions entrusted with the responsibility of fighting corruption has seen the exhuming from archives of the Recovery of Public Property (special Provision) Act, 2004. This legislation came into force on the 31st December, 1983 but was left in the limbo by successive administration in the country for almost 35 years till it was dusted in August 2017 with the constitution of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for Recovery of Public Property.
The Recovery of Public Property Act vest the Panel with the mandate to investigate Assets of any Public Officer who is alleged to have been engaged in corrupt practices, unjust enrichment of himself or any other person who has abused his office or has in any way breached the Code of Conduct for Public Officers contained in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Presently the Panel is working with the Serious Fraud Office in United Kingdom to investigate numerous Nigerian Public Office holders who have property or assets worth hundreds of millions of pounds under the unexplained wealth order Regulation 2018 which provides for forfeiture of unexplained assets worth more than £50,000.
Other institutional reforms undertaken by this Government to fight corruption are
- The adoption of Single Treasury Account (TSA), aimed at ensuring timely payment and capturing of all revenues going into the government treasury, without the intermediation of multiple banking arrangements;
- Creation of the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit (PICA) set up in March 2016 with a mandate to validate controls, assess risks, prune personal cost, ensure compliance with public financial management reform, detect errors and make recommendations to management for necessary actions. The team has uncovered N6.4bn monthly fraud on government payroll;
- The creation of Special Divisions of the Federal High Courts and High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja criminal courts to specifically hear and determine expeditiously corruption cases;
- Signing of Extradition Treaty with United Arab Emirate Known as Mutual Legal Assistance in Civil and Criminal Matters;
- Creating a Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDs) by the Federal Inland Revenue Service. This is an initiative designed to encourage voluntary disclosure of previously undisclosed assets and income for the purpose of payment of all outstanding tax liabilities. The scheme would be implemented by the FIRS in collaboration with the 36 States Internal Revenue Service and the FCT IRS. Governments would gather intelligence locally and through various international conventions and multilateral agreements obtain information required for prosecution of defaulting tax payers or those who make false decelerations. An international forensic and asset tracing company has been engaged to support this process.
- The introduction of the Whistle Blowing Policy by the Federal Ministry of Finance, whereby those who give information leading to the recovery of stolen money or assets are entitled to a reward of about 2.5% – 5% of the amount or asset recovered by the Government. Towards this end, the Federal Government has established the Whistle blowing online portal through which information bordering on violation of financial regulations, mismanagement of public funds and assets, financial malpractice or fraud and theft that is deemed to be in the interest of the public can be disclosed. The online portal also permits the person disclosing the information to perform a status check on matters that have been reported on the whistleblowing online portal.
- President Muhammadu Buhari recently signed Executive Order No 6 of 2018, on the PRESERVATION OF SUSPICIOUS ASSETS CONNECTED WITH CORRUPTION AND OTHER RELEVANT OFFENCES.
Section 1 (a) of Executive Order No. 6 (supra) provide as follows thus: Without prejudice to any laws or existing suits or any other rights arising out of or in respect thereof, all Assets of any Nigerian citizen within the territory of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, or within the possession or control of any person known to be a current or former government official, a person acting for or on behalf of such an official, any politically exposed person or any person who is responsible for or complicit in, or has directly or indirectly engaged in Corrupt Practices and Other Relevant Offences are forthwith to be protected from dissipation by employing all available lawful or statutory means, including seeking the appropriate Order(s) of Court where necessary, and shall not be transferred, withdrawn or dealt with in any way until the final determination by a court of competent jurisdiction of any corruption related matter against such a person. This provision shall, in particular, apply to those connected with persons listed in the First Schedule to this Order, (or any such list as may be issued by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice).
Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information, has aptly described the Executive Order No. 6 as one of the most potent weapons against corruption. As can be glaringly seen above, the Executive Order will among others, restrict dealings in suspicious assets subject to investigation or inquiry bordering on corruption, and also will have immediate effect on 155 high profile corruption cases involving over N595 billion. According to Lai Mohammed, this is a humongous amount by any standard. It is higher than the N500 billion allotted to the administration’s Social Investment Programme in the 2018 Budget and the N344 Billion allocated for the construction and rehabilitation of roads nationwide in the 2018 budget.
We have also seen massive recoveries of looted public fund by this Government which to say the least is unparalleled in the history of Nigeria. One of such recoveries is the sum $322.5 recovered from the estate of the former Military Head of State (1993-1998); late General Sanni Abacha in Switzerland. $322.5 million by the current exchange of N355 to a dollar (black-market) is a huge amount of money. The Federal Government has taken a decision to distribute recovered loot to the poorest and most vulnerable Nigerians was agreed with
With these formidable steps I am optimistic success stories are near. One of such success story is that the economy is bouncing back to buoyancy. Nigeria is becoming one of the favorite investment destinations in the world. Two weeks ago, the world renowned car marker, Volkswagen AG announced that it is set to resume assembling of its vehicles in Nigeria in a bid to foster sales in Africa. The company closed is assembly plant in Nigeria in 1990 because of weak demand and quality woes but it is returning after 25 years! Also, by December, 2018, a National Air Carrier, Nigeria Air will set business.
In 2000, the defunct Nigeria Airways was liquidated by the former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration and its workers were never paid their entitlements. However, this Government is resuscitating the carrier and is paying workers of the defunct Nigeria Airways, N45 Billion as retirement benefits. These are all the fallouts of the war this administration has waged against corruption.
This is one of the reasons that all of us must continue to support the administration of President Buhari.
Undoubtedly, all strata of society must share the responsibility for containing corruption because all are willing or unwilling participants. Therefore, we must start working together to reinvent governance for the 21st century. Our task as students and good citizens of Nigeria is having an “all hands-on deck” approach to corruption prevention by treating it as an outrage with decisive steps; and to gradually build the effort until a tipping point is reached where being corrupt becomes too risky. These also the Anti graft –Agencies are perfecting as change agents.
I awesomely thank the Post Graduate Students of the University of Calabar for inviting me and you the audience for your patience to listen.
SSA to the President, Federal Republic of Nigeria on Prosecution & Chairman Special Presidential Panel for Recovery of Public Property.
Being a Paper presented in the Post Graduate Lecture Series of the University of Calabar, July 19, 2018.