Can Buhari Confront The Anti-Corruption Industry? - by Uche Igwe

The term industry is normally used in respect of manufacturing or at least to refer to a specific branch of business (e.g. the entertainment industry, the oil and gas industry). So, how come I am now using it for corruption, something negative? This is because the level of corruption in the country is flourishing rather than reducing. 

Various anti-corruption programmes of doubtful impact enable what I refer to as an anti-corruption industry to coexist along the `corruption it ostensibly ought to combat. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars have been spent on many so-called reform projects. Instead of the trend of the problem to reduce, it continues to increase. For more than 16 years now, the fight against corruption in the country has been reduced to mere sloganeering. The “reforms” at best end of swelling the pockets of the “reformers”. For the sake of the country, this cannot continue.

Today, the biggest barrier to the “war” against corruption in Nigeria is, ironically, the anti-corruption industry. It is a smokescreen under which several forms of sophisticated corruption are being promoted. I do not want to talk about the multiplicity of agencies and duplication of roles of these agencies. Though it is part of the confusion that sustains the industry, I believe that some suggestions are on the table to reduce their numbers and streamline their functions. Whether that will deplete the industry in any way remains debatable.

Beyond that, I think some drastic actions are necessary to rev up the anti-graft war. For instance, an organisation like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission should be scrapped completely. It is simply a glorified police station with more than 1,000 policemen currently in their employment (669 in 2008). It is a known fact that in most police stations in Nigeria, a complainant can easily become the accused, depending on who pays more money. Justice is available to the highest bidder. How will anyone expect a different culture from the policemen at the EFCC where more than 90 per cent of the members of staff of the operations department are drawn from the police and from one part of the country? Is it because of the mere fact that they earn salaries from two different organisations or what? Have you asked about all the alleged cover-ups you hear about in prosecutions? How many of those who have been arrested for one form of corrupt act or another have been diligently prosecuted? Have you asked about the changing list of suspects of the fuel subsidy scam? What about those arrested in connection with the police pension scam? Do you know the cause of the delays and the reasons why the charges are hurriedly filed and later withdrawn for most of the suspects prosecuted by the EFCC? You imagine that these are not professionals but that may be a style to fleece suspects and make money. Have you bothered about the contents of the various plea bargain deals packaged by the EFCC? Who negotiated them and what standards did they follow? You can see that they have started blowing hot air with arrests of high profile suspects who will never be diligently prosecuted in the long run. Have you bothered to ask why the EFCC waited till after the exit of former Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Bello Adoke, before re-opening investigations on Malabu oil deal?

It may be necessary to repel the EFCC Act 2004 completely because some of the core functions could soon be taken over by autonomous agencies. For instance, with the passage of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Centre Bill into an Act by the National Assembly, it means that the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit which used to be under the EFCC will soon become autonomous. Such a development will empower the agency to share intelligence promptly with other financial intelligence centres and all other relevant law enforcement agencies and could help trace movement of dirty monies useful to crack down on kidnapping and even terrorism. In the past, it had been alleged that bureaucratic bottlenecks had hampered information sharing and led to selective attention to intelligence reports received.

The second legislation is the Proceeds of Crime Bill which was recently passed by the Seventh National Assembly. It removes the asset recovery responsibilities from the EFCC. The POCA Act is focused on recovery of illegally acquired property through confiscation, forfeiture and civil recovery and provides powers to seize, freeze and restrain criminals from dealing with their properties. With these developments, the EFCC will be left with only investigative and prosecutorial powers which can easily be transferred to another agency or could actually be left with a special unit of the police.

Has somebody asked the EFCC to account for all the properties confiscated in the past from high profile criminals they investigated? Were the properties handed over to government or were they sold? If they were sold, who bought them and how transparent was the process of selling them? What about the monies recovered from them? Were they paid back to government treasury or were they unilaterally converted to the EFCC funds? I challenge the EFCC to provide a comprehensive list of these properties and what they did with them as part of their winding down notes. The officials of the organisation especially in the operations unit and their present and former prosecutors should be compelled to declare their assets.

Just recently, an ongoing litigation trying to unravel the government agency in custody of information about the Abacha loot between the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and the National Security Adviser was reported in the media. There were claims and counter-claims about who should do what. Really? Now if such information is not available, does it not validate the strong speculation that all the loot recovered from the late Gen Sani Abacha and other looters may have been re-looted again? How can any discerning mind exonerate the EFCC from the whole embarrassing saga?

I do not wish to suggest that the anti-corruption industry that I refer to is only based at the EFCC. No. It is in every ministry and every parastatal. It has branches in almost every anti-corruption agency including the Corporate Affairs Commission, the Code of Conduct Bureau, the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and even the Bureau for Public Procurement. The issuance of Certificate of “No Objection” for contract awards is a well-known “old” racket that can be obtained even by unregistered companies associated with influential individuals. With the National Council on Public Procurement yet to be inaugurated, the past Federal Executive Council was literally turned to a contract bazaar of sorts. Will that continue under this new regime?

I am aware that the fight against corruption is one of the cardinal points on the agenda of the new government. President Muhammadu Buhari said so during his inaugural speech. Therefore, if he has to achieve results early, he must start looking for ways to crack the anti-corruption industry firmly rooted in anti-corruption agencies, the judiciary, all agencies of government, among the political class, the police and even the media and the civil society organisations. I can say this for free that it will not be easy because they are quite sophisticated. However, until he dismantles their networks, they will find a way to frustrate his efforts to their own benefit. The courage in confronting this industry will be the biggest test of his political will to fight the scourge. It is either he destroys that virulent industry or its activities will submerge his positive efforts and ruin his government.