Turning Point For The Independent Corrupt Practices Commission? By Umar Yakubu
The strength of an organization is a direct result of the strength of its leaders. Everything rises and falls on leadership – John Maxwell
Coming out of years of military dictatorship, Nigeria had been criticized for a broad range of negative issues relating to corruption. Upon assumption of office, the former President Olusegun Obasanjo in May 1999 was faced with the task of improving the image of Nigeria to the International Community on its anti-corruption status.
The country was then globally acknowledged for public sector corruption, obtaining money by false pretences (commonly called 419) and other heinous financial crimes. Nigeria’s ranking on ‘Corruption Perception Index’ by the Transparency International was a yearly embarrassment to the country. It was for that reason, amongst other issues, that the administration deemed it fit to establish institutions which will have as their mandate, the investigation and prosecution of persons and organisations who engage in bribery, corruption, financial crimes and other forms of corrupt practices. Therefore, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) came into existence.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) was established on the 29th day of September 2000. The President appointed its pioneer Chairman, the Honourable Justice Mustapha Akanbi who presided over the affairs of the Commission for five years between 2000-2005.
With the right political will from the then Executive and Legislative arms, it adequately empowered the ICPC, with a strong legal framework to combat corrupt activities, with emphasis on the public sector. Some of the duties of the ICPC include the prosecution of criminal cases that are related to bribery, corruption, graft and most significantly, the fraudulent acquisition or receipt of property. A critical section empowers the ICPC to investigate public officers who“uses his office or position to gratify or confer any corrupt or unfair advantage upon himself or any relation or associate of the public officer or any other public officer shall be guilty of an offence and shall on conviction be liable to imprisonment for five (5) years without option of fine”.
The wide ranging powers of the ICPC are sufficient for combatting corruption in Nigeria as they satisfy most of the requirements of the United Nations Convention against Corruption as well as other international instruments. It is the same set of instruments, with minor adjustments to fit local circumstances, that are used worldwide to combat corruption. However, the ICPC has made meagre attempts at tackling corruption in the public sector. Different Chairmen of the Commission had various degrees of success but were in the shadow of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) or the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) of the Nigeria Police Force regarding combatting public sector corruption.
Also, Mr Ekpo Nta who was sworn in as Chairman of the Commission on the 17th Day of October 2012, seemed not to build on ‘successes’ of his predecessors. During his tenure, until he was “transferred” on Tuesday, the 1st Day of August 2017 by the Acting President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo SAN, the ICPC seemed only to utilize a few of its powers. Particularly from 2012, there have been several reports of corruption regarding public institutions, but the ICPC were more interested in one sub-section of its 71 section Act; which is to educate the public on and against, corruption and related offences; and to enlist and foster public support in combating corruption.
The former Chairman was said to have utilized that section and embarked upon an adventure of ‘delivering lectures’ which happened to be his forte. The significant achievements of that period were supposed to be the number of conferences and seminars that had been conducted and not on the number of prosecutions of corrupt public officers. One wonders what the budget for investigation and prosecution was used for because it seems like that responsibility was abdicated.
Since its inception, the ICPC has been drawing its annual budget from the Federation account. The Federal Government had ensured that it appropriated sums of monies running into billions of naira for the funding of the organisation for payment of salaries and allowances, training of staff, investigation of cases and other purposes.
For a law enforcement agency like the ICPC whose core mandate is the prevention, investigation and prosecution of corruption, achievements are measured by the statistics on arrests and most importantly, successful prosecution and conviction of offenders that the Commission secures in the Court of law. From official information on cases culled from the website of the Commission as at March 2015, an average of about 153 criminal cases were instituted by the Commission against suspects in courts all over the country. Out of this number, a deplorable number of 63 convictions were secured. More notably, just about 118 cases were filed in Court by the Commission against suspects within the period of 2012 – March 2015. That was a period of grand bazaar! What happened to the preventive function?
At a media parley held by the former chair, he admitted that the Commission was just able to file 70 cases in court in the year 2016, with a conviction turnover of 11. What was not stated was the ‘type’ of sentences. Where they high-profile convictions or low-ranked public officers that cannot afford lawyers?
The organisation received an allocation of over 3 billion naira in 2011, about 4.6 billion naira in years 2015 and 2016, and 5.1 billion in 2017. Despite the steady increases in the monies appropriated by the government to the Commission, there cannot be said to be commensurate results. If it were a private entity, and public institutions need to have private sector mindset, it would have been declared a bad business case and wound up.
The Commission maintains offices in Adamawa, Kano, Osun, Oyo, Rivers, Sokoto, Imo, Edo, Benue States and Zonal offices in Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Enugu, Kaduna, Kogi, and Lagos states. So the pertinent question to ask is why the low number of prosecutions despite the reported high-level of corruption at the State and Local government levels? It is thus unjustifiable that the number mentioned above of cases were filed by the commission and lesser number of convictions secured.
Despite all the lecture series, the Commission has also performed appallingly under its preventive mandate to galvanise the public towards the prevention of corrupt practices in the country. Little was heard about the activities of the commission in the public and media space.
In the investigation activities, the Commission seemed to be acting to undermine itself. An example that readily comes to mind is the case of the former Vice President, Arc Namadi Sambo whom the Commission invaded and raided his house based on false information provided by a supposed whistle blower. The Commission not only embarrassed itself but did irreparable damage to its ‘reputation’ by showing that its investigation and intelligence gathering capabilities were hugely ineffective. The after effect of that debacle was the Commission embarrassing the reserved former Vice President.
There are allegations that the former chairman deliberately mishandled the investigations into corruption allegations against some politically exposed persons, particularly some former governors because he was nominated for appointment by a former governor from who wielded enormous influence during the past regime. That is not enough excuse for non-performance. What is factually correct is that the Commission has not recorded any conviction against any politically exposed person during the tenure of the former chairman.
Going forward, it is hoped that the new Chairman, Professor Owonasonye, another former teacher, will reposition the commission to redeem its much-battered image and deliver on its core mandate for which it was established in the year 2000 and not tow the ‘lecturing’ line! With all the revelations churning out on a weekly basis, the anti-corruption war needs all relevant agencies to be at their best.
Umar YAKUBU is the Executive Director of Center For Counter Fraud Awareness