President Muhammadu Buhari: My plan to fight corruption in Nigeria
In the run-up to the general elections in March 2015, I campaigned on the platform of addressing the challenges of security, the economy, power, infrastructure and fighting corruption. Of these, removing the cancer of corruption from the system is the key not only to restoring the moral health of the nation, but also to freeing our enormous resources for urgent socio-economic development.
Nigerians never cease to ask, for example, why it is that, at independence in 1960, Nigeria’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita was higher at $559 than that of Singapore’s at $476, but today Singapore’s GDP has grown to $55,182 and Nigeria’s has increased to just $3,005 (World Bank 2016).
For sure, there are many variables to explain this paradox of a city-state with a small population outperforming Nigeria so dramatically. But the most important single factor, to my mind, is our two countries’ contrasting leadership visions and attitudes to corruption. As Alan Greenspan (2007) has observed, “Corruption, embezzlement, fraud, these are all characteristics which exist everywhere. It is regrettably the way human nature functions, whether we like it or not. What successful economies do is to keep it to a minimum.” Unfortunately, successive Nigerian governments have simply been unable to contain the monster.
8.1Corruption in Nigeria
Oil and gas are the second largest contributors to our GDP and account for more than 80% of our foreign exchange earnings. Yet this is the most corruption-ridden sector of our economy. By some industry estimates, 232,000 barrels of crude oil worth on average $6.7 billion per annum are lost by the Nigerian state to oil thieves (Kar and Cartwright-Smith 2010). This illicit trade thrives as a result of collaboration among politicians, security agencies, criminal gangs and even multinational oil company employees. As the Financial Times reported, the enormity of the problem is captured in satellite imageries showing the illicit oil trade “expanding exponentially between 2008 and 2013, at the same time as artisanal [illegal] refining was mushrooming across the Niger Delta on an industrial scale” (Wallis 2015).
The abuse and misuse of public office for private gain has been a constant feature of governance in Nigeria for the past 30 years. In the last two decades especially, corruption – with its corresponding devastating socio-economic consequences on national development and the well-being of our people – escalated rapidly and with even greater intensity. Our recent history has been one of predatory and rapacious political, military, public and private sector elites competing and alternating as the drivers of corruption. Paradoxically, corruption flourished and eventually became a way of life under the supposedly accountable democratic governments of the past 16 years during which, by one calculation, the nation earned more revenue than in all the previous 80 years combined.
Even as far back as the 1980s, procurement and contract costs in Nigeria were three times higher than those in East and North Africa, and four times higher than those in Asia. Studies suggest that public funds of between $300 billion and $400 billion have been lost to corruption since Nigeria became independent in 1960 (Ezekwesili 2012). According to the African Union’s high-level panel on illicit flows, Nigeria alone accounted for $217 billion of the African continent’s total $850 billion loss to illicit flows between 1970 and 2008 (UNECA 2015).
Despite anti-corruption agencies and laws introduced in recent years, there was a complete lack of political will to strengthen these agencies and to faithfully enforce the laws. As one commentator observed, across the entire spectrum of government, rules and regulations were ignored with impunity. Procurements were made with a total disregard for due process, inflated by billions of dollars and poorly executed, and payments were made for jobs not even done. No wonder then that Nigeria consistently scored below the African average in virtually all the categories considered by various transparency and good governance agencies: safety and the rule of law, ease of doing business, participation and human rights, sustainable economic opportunities and human development (Transparency International 2016).
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) (2016) has correctly identified that pervasive corruption undermines democratic institutions, slows economic development and contributes to governmental instability. Corruption erodes the moral fabric of society and violates the social and economic rights of citizens, particularly the poor and the vulnerable. Actually it creates poverty and hurts the poor disproportionately, because resources are diverted away from those who need government protection and services the most.
Indeed corrupt politicians, in collusion with electoral officials, have consistently distorted our electoral processes and perverted the rule of law, thereby undermining our democracy. Corrupt practices such as illegal duty and tax waivers lead to loss of revenue. Corruption drives away foreign direct investment with its consequential loss of opportunities for increased government revenue, job creation and skills acquisition. It erodes efficiency, effectiveness and productivity, while promoting waste and mismanagement.
The resultant inequality in society – with extreme mass poverty living side by side with islands of stupendous unearned riches – has led to frustration, hopelessness and despair, and laid the foundation for militancy and insurgency. Corruption in Nigeria has resulted in the decay of infrastructure, a lack of social services and the collapse of the institutions to fix them. The question then arises as to why and how Nigeria descended to become such a sorry example of a rich yet poor country.
8.2How did this happen?
There are many predisposing factors to corruption in Nigeria. First, there is the distortion of values and the cultural context. In many communities, as indeed everywhere else in the world, material success is celebrated and emulated. In Nigeria, however, a further weakening of values occurred somewhere down the line, eroding the traditional mechanism of checks on the illegal, primitive and ostentatious accumulation and display of wealth. Dislocation of communities and urbanisation partly account for this.
Second, a strong culture of ethnicity and nepotism encourages corruption because it influences the irrational allocation of resources and the protection of culprits.
Third, there is a culture of elite exceptionalism whereby high public-office holders and the wealthy feel that, by virtue of their status, stature or position, they are exempted from the laws and rules regulating society.
Fourth, and most insidious, is the pervasive culture of impunity across the social strata, which is, in turn, fuelled by a legal system bedevilled by delays. The egregious culture of impunity has itself sabotaged and stultified the growth of the rule of law.
Finally, the single biggest contributor to corruption in Nigeria is the lack of political will among the leadership of the country in the past to tackle it. There are sufficient laws in the statute books, and robust rules, regulations and clearly set out procedures throughout the public service. But the institutions established to fight corruption either lacked the desire, the capacity and drive to tackle it or were deliberately subverted or circumvented.
8.3Proposals to curb corruption in Nigeria
To confront this challenge, we must start by showing that we have the exemplary leadership, personal integrity and demonstrable political will to do so. Democratic governance based on individual liberties, human rights, a free press and the rule of law requires us to be fair and just in dealing with all cases of corruption. There must be transparency and a strict adherence to due process – however painstaking the effort and however slowly the wheel of justice turns under this setting. At the same time, we must be accountable and remain faithful to our oath of office whereby we swore to do justice to all manner of people without fear or favour. We must, like Caesar’s wife, be seen at all times to be beyond reproach in order to cast the first of any stones. Thus, though not required by law, my vice-president and I began my tenure by publicly declaring our assets, to be compared with our net worth on leaving office.
As I noted earlier, there exists a plethora of laws, rules and regulations to ensure good governance in Nigeria. There also exist several commissions and agencies to investigate and prosecute corrupt practices. We need not create any new ones unless absolutely necessary. We only need to strengthen, adequately fund and motivate the existing ones to do their jobs.
We shall also encourage independence of action and avoidance of self-censorship by anti-corruption agencies. No one will be presented as a ‘sacred cow’ beyond the reach of the law.
In the fight against corruption, citizen involvement and demand side activism are key components. Most of our people, especially those in the rural areas who are poor, ignorant and illiterate, do not make the link between corruption and their lack of access to healthcare, education and other facilities, even where they exist. They are too poor, too dependent and too powerless to demand accountability from their State or local governments. We shall therefore encourage the civil society, faith-based groups and community associations to challenge corruption within their communities. In this regard, we shall review our communication strategy towards a more open and transparent government by sharing information, encouraging citizen empowerment and supporting social actions to challenge corrupt practices by public officials at the federal state and local government levels.
In our model of democracy, there is a clear separation of powers between the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. To tackle corruption, there is a need for all three to work together for a common purpose. Towards this end, we are ready to engage with the Legislature and the Judiciary, state governments and all organs of government to ensure the necessary synergy towards effectively combating corruption.
Early in the life of this administration, I constituted a Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption – made up of experts and persons of integrity – to oversee our anti-corruption effort, promote the reform agenda of the Government and co-ordinate the implementation plan for anti-corruption legislation and other interventions. Among other things, the Committee will also articulate and report on strategies towards repositioning and strengthening our agencies. These include the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), and the ways in which our criminal justice administration may be improved.
Given the transnational operations of criminals and the multi-jurisdictional effect of corruption, we will also intensify our collaboration with the international community. This includes international anti-corruption agencies and institutions such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and other development partners. We also commit ourselves to compliance with the country’s international obligations under international treaties and conventions such as the United Nations Convention on Anti- Corruption (UNCAC) (UNODC 2015).
8.4The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission
Two anti-corruption institutions are key to Nigeria’s anti-corruption efforts. These are the EFCC and the ICPC. We are aware that both are presently not working at maximum potential owing to a myriad of challenges, which include overlaps in mandate, gaps in operational legislation and funding, a human capital deficiency, leadership inadequacy and internal corruption.
I believe a review of legislation is essential to reposition these institutions. For example, currently the ICPC can only begin anti-corruption investigations in response to petitions from the public. We want to change that, revising the ICPC Act to increase the Commission’s powers to initiate investigations into cases of corruption (ICPC 2016).
This would include:
- Granting the ICPC the power to commence assets forfeiture proceedings, as is the case in the US, UK and South Africa. Illegally acquired properties may then be seized where the suspected owner is a fugitive, disclaims ownership or cannot be located despite diligent efforts.
- Streamlining the jurisdiction of the ICPC by reducing areas of overlap with the EFCC, thus giving each agency areas of primary jurisdictional responsibility.
- Giving the ICPC power to accept material assistance from international institutions and development partners, as well as to access funds from global anti-corruption agencies, which the present ICPC Act prohibits.
Similarly, as part of the EFCC legislative review, we will focus on:
- Empowering the Commission to presume that a person has illegally enriched themselves where such a person owns, possesses or controls an interest in any property that cannot be justified by present or past emoluments or circumstances.
- Streamlining the jurisdiction of the EFCC to reduce overlap with the ICPC mandate.
- Securing the forfeiture of illegally acquired properties where the suspected owner is a fugitive, disclaims ownership or cannot be located despite diligent efforts.
- Separating the agency for financial intelligence gathering from the EFCC. The Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, which operates as an arm of the EFCC, needs to be independent in order to enhance its operational autonomy.
We intend to work with the Legislature to implement all these necessary reforms. It’s also critical that these two agencies charged with fighting corruption and financial crimes collaborate closely with development partners for technical assistance, staff training and data sharing.
As international co-operation continues to reduce the number of havens for hiding the proceeds of crime, new havens are emerging. We need therefore to enhance the scope of our mutual legal assistance agreements to widen the net we cast to recover illicit funds and secure the forfeiture of unexplainable assets.
In this regard, the agencies will also need to be more proactive in leveraging the legislations of foreign jurisdictions such as the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (US Department of Justice 2015). Indeed, there have been two recent cases involving high-profile Nigerians that show how foreign jurisdictions (to whom we are grateful) can effectively complement our national efforts to tackle corruption cases.
- Pursuant to action taken by the US under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Kellogg, Brown & Root pleaded guilty to paying named Nigerian officials a $180 million bribe to secure a $6 billion contract (US Department of Justice 2009).
- In another notorious case, all numerous counts of corruption filed against a former governor of a state were dismissed by a court in Nigeria only for the same politician to be convicted in the UK – based on the same evidence!
These kinds of prosecution lapses in major corruption cases arise because of the slow nature of trials, especially of corruption cases, in our system. Typically, corruption trials involving high-profile public officers last an average of 8 to 10 years or, if they go to appeal, 15 years. In such a situation, prosecution and judicial fatigue set in.
It’s standard practice for senior defence lawyers to use legal technicalities such as preliminary objections to challenge the jurisdiction of the court, requesting stay of proceedings and appealing interlocutory or preliminary matters, or for courts to oblige the accused with injunctions (sometimes perpetual), restraining anti-corruption agencies from investigating, arresting or prosecuting the suspected persons!
However, with the passage of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, which seeks to limit such abuses, we hope to see significant progress (Federal Ministry of Justice 2015). The ACJA contains several innovations with the potential to significantly improve criminal justice administration in Nigeria. For example, it states that an application for a stay of proceedings shall not be entertained, that all preliminary objections shall be considered along with the substantive issues and that a ruling shall be made thereon at the time of delivery of judgment.
8.5The Code of Conduct Bureau
The CCB was created 36 years ago to ensure probity and accountability. This includes setting out a comprehensive code of conduct for public officers such as declaring their assets and liabilities, and those of members of their families, when they assume and subsequently leave public office. It has powers to apprehend offending public officers and arraign them before the CCT. Yet in spite of the glaring and widespread corruption by political appointees and other public servants, the Bureau has hardly used its powers and, where it has, only low-level public officers have been apprehended and brought before the CCT.
Lee Kuan Yew (2000), writing on corruption in his book, From Third World To First, The Singapore Story: 1965– 2000, stated that: “The most effective change we made in 1960 was to allow the courts to treat proof that an accused was living beyond his or her means or had property or income they could not explain as corroborating evidence of corruption.”
Nigeria has had a similar provision at paragraph 11(3) of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution, which provides that any property acquired by a public officer that is not fairly attributable to his income shall be deemed to have been acquired in breach of the Code (International Centre of Nigerian Law [ICNL] 1999). In its 36 years of existence, the CCB has never invoked this provision. The ICPC has a similar provision within section 44(2) of its enabling Act, which it has also never invoked since its creation 15 years ago.
The CCB is fundamentally hampered by the fact that there is no requirement for public officers’ asset declarations to be published. So to lead by example, my vice-president and I voluntarily submitted our assets declaration, hoping that other members of my Government would do the same.
But beyond this, the CCB simply lacks the capacity to verify the claims made in the thousands of assets forms submitted. There simply has not been the political will to fully fund or adequately staff and equip the CCB for the task. In co-operation with the National Assembly, we shall look for ways and means to make the required appropriation. We shall also seek co-operation and assistance from our development partners in the areas of computerisation of the operations of the CCB and Land Registries, with links to the operations of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Corporate Affairs Commission (our Companies Registry) to enhance and facilitate assets tracing. Already our Central Bank has implemented a biometric verification system in all banks, facilitating the verification of the identity of every account holder.
8.6The Code of Conduct Tribunal
Like the CCB, the CCT was established more than three decades ago. Its purpose was to adjudicate on breaches of the Code of Conduct by public officers, which were referred to it by the CCB. In the absence of a functioning CCB, the CCT too has been doomed to failure, applying its powers to impose sanctions – such as removal from office, bans from holding public office and the forfeiture of corruptly acquired property – only to minor cases.
8.7The Nigeria Police
The Nigeria Police, like the police everywhere, are primarily tasked with maintaining law and order. Its involvement with corruption cases and financial crimes is peripheral except in cases like theft. But the potential for compromised anti- corruption operatives remains a problem across our public sector. And the police are no exception. Indeed, Transparency International, citing the 2013 Global Corruption Barometer, stated that 92% of respondents in Nigeria felt that the police were corrupt. We are aware of this general perception of the Nigeria Police and we shall take steps for its reform.
The other institution that is critical to our ability to successfully combat corruption is the adjudicating agency or the Judiciary. Yet our Judiciary itself is perceived to be corrupt. As in other areas, it’s a difficult allegation to prove. From their pronouncements, it’s clear that the leadership of the Judiciary is aware of this general perception. It cannot be swept under the carpet, especially given the odious nature of many decisions from the Bench. These include granting perpetual injunctions, restraining the police and anti-corruption agencies from investigating, arresting or prosecuting high-profile politicians and the other examples I have already cited.
Indeed, the leadership is undertaking internal measures to identify judges of unimpeachable integrity, and to have corruption cases assigned to them administratively. They are similarly making efforts to cleanse the system by identifying compromised judges for disciplinary measures, including retirement. The discipline of judges, however, is the responsibility of the National Judicial Council established by the Constitution. There have been observations about the Council’s composition, the mode of appointment to it and how to make it broader-based in representation. These are matters for the Judiciary to consider.
Finally, we are undertaking administrative measures in the following areas to strengthen our anti-corruption crusade more generally:
Addressing poor remuneration in the public service
Alongside our wider reforms of the public sector, we need to look into appropriate remuneration for some categories of civil servants. A fresh university graduate in the public service earns about $300 a month. Unfortunately, inflationary pressures and increases in the cost of living make corrupt ways of supplementing legitimate income more attractive.
Again, Lee Kuan Yew (2000) said that one of the ways he dealt with corruption in the public service was to drastically increase the salaries of the accounting officers, putting them almost on a par with similar heads of private sector organisations. While this isn’t an immediate possibility for us, given our current economic circumstances, we do propose to finance some increases in critical functions related to public service wages, using part of the freed-up funds gained from recovered looted assets, reductions in waste and the plugging of leaks. However, there may also be need for a downward review of the emoluments, allowances and entitlements of certain public officers.
Reforming the oil sector
We shall also reform our oil sector – which is the lifeblood but also the most corruption-ridden sector of our economy. To that end, we will:
- Publish quarterly audits of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
- End the opacity in the swapping of crude oil for refined products, which has created avenues for corruption.
- Improve internal refining capacity with a view to ending, in 2016, the clearly unsustainable 1 trillion Naira (N) subsidy on imported petroleum products.
- Engender transparency in the purchase of all refined products by publishing purchases and reconciling the amounts against consumption figures.
- Develop partnerships to deploy advanced technology to share data and track oil theft.
- Increase the participation of Nigeria in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).
Improving financial management
After corruption, waste and mismanagement of public funds are the biggest drains on the economy. Even before the present economic downturn, reducing them had become imperative. For years, recurrent expenditure had been at 70 – 80% of the national budget with emoluments of senior public officers being the major expenditure heads.
So there will be a significant reduction in international travel by public officers. We will ensure that public officers travel only when absolutely necessary and, when they do, there will be a restriction placed on classes of travel.
In addition, the Federal Ministry of Finance has now established an Efficiency Unit to monitor all ministries, departments and agencies. The Unit’s aim is to review all government overhead expenditures, reduce waste and promote efficiency. We shall also vigorously enforce the Public Procurement Act to ensure that due process is followed in government procurements (Bureau of Public Procurement 2012).
Following decades of a lack of oversight over government revenues, receipts and income flow, we have recently reverted to constitutionalism and consolidated all government accounts into a Treasury Single Account maintained by the Central Bank of Nigeria. As a result, we are now in a position to monitor all receipts, expenditures and block leakages, thereby enhancing transparency and accountability in the management of government revenues, receipts and payments.
We will run a leaner Government, reducing the number of ministries and reviewing the proliferation of parastatals and agencies. Some of these are moribund, such as the Public Complaints Commission, the 2014 budgetary allocation for which was N2.927 billion – all of it was spent on salaries.
Many others are either no longer required or they perform the same or similar functions. These include the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion, with its 2014 budget allocation of N466 million to boost locally generated technology. In the same vein, the Nigeria Information Technology Development Agency had a 2014 budget allocation of N339.01 million to develop information technology.
Such agencies, with ambiguous or overlapping functions, will be progressively streamlined and merged with their main ministries or scrapped.
I will conclude by reiterating that the immediate and long- term benefits of curbing corruption in Nigeria are pretty obvious to us. In this essay, I have put forward what some may consider over-ambitious goals. I believe in the adage that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. I have the will to take this first step. And with sustained effort, we shall reach our target of freeing-up sufficient funds to accelerate the development of critical infrastructure such as railways, roads and power; invest in health and education consistent with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals; pursue our social programmes such as skills acquisition and poverty alleviation; and create an enabling environment for the diversification of our economy, with investments in agriculture, solid minerals, petrochemicals and allied industries.
These outcomes will encourage local and foreign direct investments, job creation, and reductions in poverty, crime and insecurity. As Sarah Chayes has observed, “Corruption has helped fuel most of the serious crises the world has witnessed in the past decade. It swells the ranks of terrorist movements, weakens local opposition to them, facilitates their activities and hollows out militaries tasked with combating them. It sparks angry protests that can turn into revolutions with unknown second and third order effects such as those in the Arab world in 2011” (Kirkpatrick 2015).
It is therefore in our national interest, and that of the international community, to fight corruption not only within national boundaries but also globally, through concerted international action.
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