A News Analysis by Naomi Sharang and Philomina Attah.
One of the sayings of President Muhammadu Buhari that has also become a popular reference to one of the aspects of his administration is: “If we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria’’.
Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade is against all forms of corruption in Nigeria and the body language of the administration is firm that nobody is above the law in that regard, observers note.
They note further that since the election of Buhari’s first term in office in April 2015, anti-graft war has remained one of his topmost priorities.
Confirming his standpoint on it further, Buhari recalled that: “As military head of state, I fought corruption headlong and held public officers, who abused their office or misused public funds, to account.
“Furthermore, I introduced the War Against Indiscipline, one of whose cardinal objectives was promotion of our cherished culture of ethical conduct, integrity and hard work.
“I recognised in 1984, as I do even more now, that corruption poses a clear danger to Nigeria, so, we cannot relent in efforts to eradicate it from our society. As I have often reminded Nigerians’’.
Observers insist that in spite of previous efforts looting of funds, bribery, receipt of illegal proceeds (extortion, kickbacks), misappropriation of funds and vote-buying, among others, corrupt practices have been on the increase.
They also observe that since independence in 1960, successive governments in Nigeria have always promised to make the fight against corruption cardinal objective.
They, nonetheless, allege that successive governments in the country have, before the present administration, only paid lip-service to fighting corruption, while some government officials even participated in corruption directly or indirectly.
According to Mr Olurotimi Fadesere, an activist, since the emergence of Buhari in 2015 and his re-election in 2019, the fight against corruption has taken a new dimension.
The instruments of the war include the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).
While the ICPC targets corruption in the public sector, especially bribery, gratification, graft, and abuse or misuse of office, the EFCC investigates people in all sectors who appear to be living above their means.
The agencies are empowered to investigate and prosecute money laundering and other financial crimes.
Further to this, the Executive Order 6, signed by Buhari on July 5, 2018, seeks to restrain owners of assets under investigation from carrying out further transaction on such assets.
Renewing commitments to fighting corruption, the ICPC organised a national summit on anti-corruption in the public sector entitled: “Together Against Corruption’’.
During the inauguration, Buhari inaugurated the National Ethics and Integrity Policy in a book — “ICPC and the war against corruption in Nigeria: Reflections for a new Vision’’ –and six other related publications.
The president said that the National Ethics and Integrity Policy would further project government’s aspiration for rediscovery of cherished traditional ethical values of honesty, integrity, hard-work, truth, justice, unity, faith and consideration for one another, irrespective of status or background.
He reiterated his earlier call on the judiciary to undertake reforms that would fast-track delivery of justice for the common good, insisting that the nation needed a corruption-free public sector to achieve meaningful transformation.
“We need a judicial system that dispenses justice without undue delay and technicality, we need laws and legal system to be reformed to deliver justice to every citizen without regard to status. We also need ethical re-orientation of the people to achieve this goal.
“When we work together against corruption, we can defeat it. Nobody must be left behind and all hands must be on deck in the fight against corruption,’’ he said.
According to him, the Federal Government on the platform of Open Treasury Initiative, Treasury Single Account (TSA), Government Integrated Financial and Management Information System (GIFMIS), Bank Verification Number (BVN) and many more, is implementing different corruption prevention measures to track and retain government revenue for the use of the people.
The president maintained that all citizens must join hands to fight corruption and return the nation to traditional values of honesty and integrity.
Secretary to the Government of the Federation Boss Mustapha also observed that over the years, corruption had hindered government from attaining critical objectives and national development plans.
“The surest way we can realise the Sustainable Development Goals, our core national objectives, is to significantly reduce corruption.
“The president has underscored the need for effective action against corruption by this administration by the introduction of policies and measures to reduce corruption, particularly in the public sector of our country,’’ he said.
Sharing similar sentiments, President of the Senate Ahmed Lawan stressed the need for stronger collaboration in fighting corruption.
He said: “The emphasis is to ensure that all hands are on deck. First of all, without the legislature there wouldn’t have been the ICPC.
“In the Fourth Session of the National Assembly, the ICPC Bill was passed, which was assented to by the then president that is to tell you the level of the need and imperative for togetherness in the fight against corruption.
“When you have a judiciary that works to ensure that cases of corruption are treated with dispatch, you will agree with me that will help in the fight against corruption.
“If a case of corrupt practice or alleged corrupt practice will last up to four, five, six or 10 years or so, you’ll know that something is wrong and that is giving some kind of tacit support to the corrupt practice.
“But if there’s always some hurry in the treatment of such cases, that will expedite action by the judiciary to give support to the fight against corruption’’.
Similarly, Chief Justice of the Federation Mohammed Tanko reiterated the readiness of the judiciary to contribute its own quota in the fight against corruption.
According to him, the judiciary is ever poised to deploy every relevant legal tool at its disposal to whittle down the strength of corruption in the country.
In his view, the Chairman of ICPC, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, noted that the commission in its 20 years of existence, had treated over 20, 000 petitions.
Owasanoye said that out of the 20,000 petitions, the commission found 5,000 worthy of investigation and prosecuted about 1,000 of such cases.
“Within the period, ICPC conducted 582 reviews, comprising personnel and capital budget utilisation of Ministries, Departments and Agencies.
According to him, other success story of the commission is the recovery of N16 billion from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture in 2020.
“The money was moved under suspicious circumstances below the threshold that would put it within the purview of the Accountant-General of the Federation,’’ he explained.
He alleged that the ministry moved the money into an offline account in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) where utilisation would be outside the monitoring purview of GIFMIS.
“Some of the recovered fund was paid into personal accounts, while others were used for non-official purposes.
“While investigation was ongoing albeit delayed due to COVID-19, the bulk of the money restrained in CBN was released in the peak of the pandemic when the ministry appealed to the commission that it needed to make palliatives to Nigerians upon presidential directives.
“The commission is tracking the prescribed use of the funds up till now,’’ he said.
He further said that ICPC had also uncovered diversion of part of the N2.67 billion payments made to some federal colleges for school feeding during lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Preliminary investigation had indicated that part of the N2.67 billion was diverted to private accounts,’’ he alleged.
Irrespective of the effectiveness of the instruments for fighting corruption, analysts insist that the fight needs the support of the leaders in enforcing the laws and dispense justice and citizens; by ensuring transparent conducts.