By Abubakar Jimoh
In spite of self-proclaimed measures deployed by the present administration in the on-going selective fight against corruption, Transparency International Secretariat in Germany recently took the ‘bull by the horn’ when it released the 2017 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) showing “Nigeria slipping further down in international ranking” with zero progress in the fight against corruption.
The CPI ranks Nigeria 146 out of 180 countries sampled in 2017 — dropping 12 positions against 2016. These results show a slight deterioration in the scoring of the perception about corruption in public administration compared to 2016. This shows that, as the rest of the world improved in the perception on corruption, Nigeria slips further down as the fight against corruption stagnates.
In the observations of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)—the National Contact of Transparency International, the fresh setback in the fight against corruption confirms that grand-corruption, political corruption, nepotism, favoritism and bribery persist in Nigeria at all levels.
As the most respected international measurement of corruption indices trends in discussions and debate across the media, there emerged two schools of thought—“Fictionists” and “Realists” even within the Presidency maintaining separate but interesting view on the CPI.
The Fictionists have subscribed to live in denial or deception from glaring truth on virtually every constructive assessment and report on government’s performance. They are economical not only with the truth but also in articulating the intrinsic challenges back-pedalling our socio-economic and political development with resultant legendary tardiness. Such is a case of Garba Shehu, spokesperson for President Buhari who promptly dismissed the most credible CPI with a political interpretation that it constituted merely a “fiction” sponsored by the administration’s critics.
Of course, the Spokesperson is only repeating history and inherent trend in successive administrations’ response to critical reports on government performance, as we once had Dr. Reuben Abati, Special Adviser on Media and Publicity and Dr. Doyin Okupe, Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs to former President Goodluck Jonathan, who would stop at nothing in defending the Presidency and issuing condemnation to floor constructive reports, debates or fact-findings on former administration’s performance.
However, for the realists, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo could not conceal but to summoned courage in embracing facts and figures, while recognising the report as a catalyst for Nigeria to do better in its fight against corruption rather than a setback.
While the growing culture of quick reaction and condemnation to fact-findings on socio-economic and political spheres in the country increasingly blindfolds especially the political class from reasoning objectively to conclusively unlock potential benefits from such constructive presentations, it has become imperative to remind the Presidency that well-meaning citizens are fully aware of the various unfulfilled commitments including 2016 Anti-Corruption Summit in London, Open Government Partnership, campaign promise by the present administration to combat corruption in all ramifications without fear or favour.
Meanwhile, this piece will present in view of realists, some contributory failures to the deterioration of the public patience and perception about the ability to fight corruption in Nigeria.
It is disturbing that official corruption is deeply embedded and fast becoming a permanent fixture whose subculture melts seamlessly into the public servants’ daily life. In 2016, a report by a global professional advisory firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers warned that corruption could cost Nigeria about 37 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product by 2030 if the situation is not addressed immediately. The report equates this amount to about $1000 per person in 2014 and nearly $2000 per person by 2030.
The spite of corrupt practices in the public sector remains a major impediment to service delivery and development success of this administration. Corruption is Nigeria’s worst problem; it is responsible for all kinds of woes, such as election rigging, failed promises, abandoned projects, poor quality of implemented projects, dilapidated infrastructure, nepotism, instability in the Niger Delta, and impediment to flow of foreign direct investment.
Corruption in Nigeria’s public sector features in acceptance of gratification; succumbing to inducement and undue influence; embezzlement; conflict of interests; procurement scam; unethical practices in the award of contracts by pubic office holders to cronies, family members, and personally held companies; bribery; fraud; nepotism and tribalism in recruitment/appointment, promotion; kickback on contract; rigging of elections; misappropriation and conversion of public funds for personal gains; leaking tender information to friends and relations; diversion and misappropriation of funds through manipulation or falsification of financial records; payment for favourable judicial decisions, to mention few.
Indeed ghost workers phenomenon and budgeting corruption are fast-trending in the public sector. For instance, in 2016, the Federal Government payroll was through a notable initiative of the Federal Government, reportedly rid of 50,000 ghost workers, saving the country a huge sum amounting to N200 billion.
Budgeting corruption is another public sector systemic menace. As revealed by Nigerian Accounting Association, over 60 per cent of corruption issues in Nigeria are built and legalized in budget.
In a paper presented at the 1st National Policy Dialogue on strategies for improving service delivery in government parastatals, agencies and commissions organised by office of the secretary general for the federation on 27th march 2017, the Executive Director of CISLAC, Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani) warned that the effects of corruption in service delivery in Nigeria were outrageous. The effects, according to him range from under development, absence of basic infrastructure facilities such as potable water, good road networks, dilapidated health care facilities and degrading services, massive poverty, cluelessness in professionalism, deficient leadership outputs, high unemployment and youth hopelessness, falling standard of education leading to production of low-quality graduates.
In the health sector, continued diversion of funds reduces the level of resources and investments available for the public health system. Resources are reportedly drained from health budget through embezzlement, fraud and corruption, reducing the funding available for salaries, health services and maintenance with resultant low staff motivation, poor quality of care and declining service availability and accessibility.
Nigeria’s education sector has hitherto continued to suffer from continuous scourge of severe corruption and incompetence which metamorphose in mismanagement of educational funds, leading to ill-equipped laboratory, library, and classrooms; embezzlement of education budgets allocated for the purchase of teaching materials; systemic bribery, abuse of office, sexual misconducts fuelling examination malpractices, unmerited advantages, and poor performance; serious preference for financial rewards in admission process into education institutions, where the best but poor students are denied.
The administration’s continued unwillingness to exert appropriate sanction against erring officials found wanting in cases of silent but illegitimate re-engagement of the former Chairman of the Presidential Pension Reform Task Team, Abdulrasheed Maina, who was disengaged from service by the previous administration over N2.7b Pension Fraud; non-investigated N120bn security scam attributed to the serving Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Kpotum Idris; the hypocritically unresolved alleged breach of due process in the award of $25 billion contract involving the Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Dr. Maikanti Baru; and many others, is indeed worrisome.
Likewise, the administration’s emerging dwindling capability in handling high profile corruption cases, giving chances to culprits to walk freely on the street and positive signal to potential culprits to freely engage in corruption has raise concerns in the country and at international community. Indeed, some former state governors who have cases to answer have brazenly come back to political reckoning, confidently walk the streets, and are appointed to deliberate on national issues.
Prior to the launching of CPI, having observed the persistent deviation and mismatch in the administration’s commitments on corruption and discrepancies in the implementation, as part of critical follow-ups, CISLAC had through various platforms—advocacy, research, capacity building and networking, demanded strict compliance and warned against the unfavourable consequence on the nation’s image.
CISLAC observed with persistent warning that the manners in which systemic corrupt practices were encouraged and celebrated, especially in the public sector, if not rapidly addressed would ultimately erode citizens’ trust and confidence in governance and eventually backpedal the gains and recorded progress from anti-corruption in the country.
It also found the persistently apparent disregard for relevant anti-corruption bills and the needless legislative time and resources dedicated in pushing for passage of NGO Bill by the National Assembly, as a potential setback to anti-corruption efforts and mechanisms in the country.
On transparency and accountability in regards to asset recovery, in 2016 at the Anti-corruption Summit in London, the administration committed to strengthen asset recovery legislation through the passing of the Proceeds of Crime Bill to provide for transparent management of returned assets and non-conviction based approach to asset recovery; and develop internationally endorsed guidelines for the transparent and accountable management of returned stolen assets. Two years after the Summit, the administration still lags in fulfilling the commitments.
Although the Economic Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) disclosed, during the 7th Session of the Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) held in Vienna in November 2017, that 2.9 billion USD have been recovered between May 2015 and Oct. 20, 2017, but there is little information and absence of clear guidelines on how these recovered assets are utilized to maximally benefit the common citizens whose interest government had promised to protect.
With the overlapping mandates of anti-corruption agencies on asset recovery management, it is unclear, which of the many anti-corruption institutions takes a lead in the coordination of asset recovery efforts. Crucial legislature with a potential to establish an acceptable asset recovery management framework such as the Proceeds of Crime Bill, 2014 is stalled without explanation.
The suspension of Nigeria from the elite EGMONT group of financial intelligence agencies is ample evidence of chaotic institutional structure in the anti-corruption domain bedevilled by inexplicable inter-agency rivalry and lack of coordination of the anti-corruption effort.
Absence of independent, comprehensive review of how many assets that could be repatriated from all agencies with the power to seize assets, and verifiable information on the end-use and the impact of reinvested assets is a systemic challenge to successful anti-corruption fight.
Also, at a Global Forum for Asset Recovery (GFAR) held recently in Washington, USA, in December 2017, Executive Director of CISLAC made some disclosures on Nigeria’s progress in Beneficial Ownership transparency.
The Executive Director, who was also a Nigerian delegate at the Forum, bemoaned absence of legal requirement for Nigerian companies to maintain a register of Beneficial Ownership.
He said: “In Nigeria, beneficial owners can hide behind legal person members of a company without being identified. No legal requirements for Nigerian companies to maintain a register of Beneficial Ownership.
“We don’t have established Central Register of Beneficial Ownership information and no clear rules on access for all law enforcement and tax agencies to Beneficiary Ownership information are available. We don’t have legal framework for prosecution of non-disclosure of beneficial owner is available.”
Citing the Nigeria’s oil and gas sector as a case, the CISLAC’s boss explained that Nigeria as the world’s fifth largest producer of oil lost an estimated 9 billion USD since 2013 through shady practices in the oil and gas industry.
“Many of the names contained in the register of companies operating in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry are not the real owners. Although it is a legal requirement to submit the names and details of directors/ shareholders of a company before it can be registered, this is regarded as a mere formality;
“Lack of transparency allows influential officials to use their positions to extract maximum rent from a country’s mineral resources with minimum or no benefit to the citizens. A case in point is OPL 245 and Malabu Oil,” he added.
Rafsanjani berated the continued loss of the nation’s revenue to malicious tax incentives offered by the government to multinational corporations, giving chances to illicit financial flows.
“Nigeria may have lost as much as around 50 billion USD annually to illicit financial flows through money laundering, tax evasion and corruption. Oil and gas, and others companies with unclear owners enjoy tax holidays, credits and tax breaks on the expense of potential state revenues,” he added.
While it is commendable that anti-corruption agencies have accelerated the rate of convictions on anti-corruption charges with EFCC in 2016/17 brought 286 cases to conviction, however, the majority are rather insufficient cases with little impact of returned assets into the state budget and no effect on unfavorable public opinion. This exposes judicial incapacity or reluctance in prosecuting high profile cases involving senior public servants and elected politicians who have plundered lucrative Nigerian state resources or responsible for the catastrophic lack of oversight on public funds as mandated by the Constitution.
Corruption is not far-fetched in Nigeria’s Defence sector. A report titled “Weaponising Transparency: Defence Procurement Reform as a Counterterrorism Strategy in Nigeria” published by Transparency International Defence and Security Programme in collaboration with CISLAC reveals how violence extremism thrives in Nigeria as a result exploitative governing structures, unhealthy political struggles, states predation, and systemic corruption.
Similarly, a number of scandals have been recorded around the so-called ‘security votes’, which allow politicians to appropriate millions of dollars behind closed doors simply by evoking ‘national security’. As a result, funds that are meant to buy equipment and even pay salaries go missing, leaving the military badly equipped, demoralized and incapacitated.
The Ministry of Defence’s refusal to make its spending public has further made difficult to track the nation’s investment on the military and allied agencies. Excessive secrecy and needless confidentiality are typically employed to halt the disclosure of Defence budget and procurement process, including the weak and exceptional legislative oversight activities associating with the Defence financial system.
The direct costs of Defence procurement corruption include loss of public funds through misallocations or higher expenses and lower quality of goods, services and works. Those paying the bribes seek to recover their money by inflating prices, billing for work not performed, failing to meet contract standards, reducing quality of work or using inferior materials, in case of public procurement of works. This results in exaggerated costs and a decrease in quality.
Also, corruption in security sector symbolizes institutionalised human rights abuses and systemic bribery; commercialised extortion of the already impoverished citizens at check points; denial of bails at the instance of no monetary return despite legal provisions against such; sexual assault and shooting of citizens for refusing to bribe; high-level embezzlement and diversion of security personnel entitlements into private pockets; porous nation’s borders, which paves ways for influx illegal immigrants, illegal importation of weapons of various kinds that further endanger lives of the citizens.
The extent of judges frustrating justice for compensations or enticement of various kinds has been reported. Endemic corruption in judicial system has resulted in loss of public confidence and hopelessness in the system.
The judiciary has a great role to play in the efforts to save the nation from imminent collapse under the weight of unbridled corruption. Without doubt, judges symbolize the judicial powers of the state; they stand out as the central figures in the judicial system and the administration of justice. Politicians are abusing offices and distorting judicial processes. Some registrars of lower courts build houses for judges in the Supreme Court, as gratification. Nigerian politicians alleged put judges on pay roll, even when such is against judicial code of ethics. High-ranking judicial officers acting as couriers of bribe;
Consequently, corruption cripples Nigeria socio-economic development including the fast-falling educational standard, dilapidating healthcare, bad roads, rising unemployment—breeding crimes and vandalism such as armed robbery, kidnapping, and youth agitation, poorly motivated security personnel, youth under-development, degraded national image, bad governance, eroded erodes standards, poor public services, infrastructural decay, massive brain drain.
It is worthy of a note that on the African continent, Nigeria ranks 32nd in Africa out of 52 assessed countries in 2017. While Botswana leads the continent with the record of competent and largely corruption-free public administration, Nigeria falls with 27 points hopelessly behind. In West Africa, Nigeria ranks out of 17 countries second worst leaving only Guinea Bissau behind.
In order to revert the unfavourable trend, clear guidelines must be established on the use of recovered assets with priority given to the health and education sector. It is important to have in place, a policy framework to set up integrity trust fund to manage asset recovery proceeds with involvement of credible CSOs and honest Nigerians.
International jurisdictions which harbour estimated $5 billion of Nigerian stolen assets must engage the Nigerian government without delay and in a transparent manner so that proceeds of corruption can benefit, especially the 61% of Nigerian living in abject poverty.
Publishing a breakdown of confiscated assets by all mandated agencies without delay will disperse the public suspicion of re-looting of looted assets. A comprehensive asset recovery policy must stipulate the handling of various types of assets including perishable assets.
The judiciary must put a preference to civil proceedings, especially non-conviction based confiscation in absentia of accused in the context of the inability to prosecute corrupt politically exposed persons and others in criminal court trials.
Developing clear policy actions on asset recovery as recommended by Global Forum for Asset Recovery in 2017 is paramount to revert current trend and successfully combat corruption in Nigeria. The inclusion of CSOs in the nation-wide discussion on the management and the end-use of recovered assets is imperative.
Government must make the 2017 Anti-corruption strategy public, assign responsibilities for its implementation with a detailed and costed action plan monitored by civil society organizations; prioritize anti-corruption courts and nominate judges with proven record of high integrity and no controversies; prioritize international cooperation and usage of international agreements to repatriate Nigerian assets abroad and use foreign jurisdictions’ legal instruments such as recently passed Unexplained Wealth Order in UK to expose Nigerian illicit financial flows.
The administration must get rid of absurd privileges for elected public officials and senior civil servants including insisting on the public submission of asset declarations of the executive, legislative and judiciary officials. Government must strengthen anti-corruption institutions, ensure adequate protection and encouragement for whistle-blowers, and intensify media and public consciousness in demanding transparency and accountability in governance.