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Buhari: 6yrs on, corruption still an intractable economic problem

Fighting corruption was one of the three planks on which Muhammadu Buhari hinged his campaign for the presidency in 2015, the other two being the defeat of the Islamist insurgency Boko Haram in the country’s northeast and fixing the economy. However, six years into his two-term tenure of eight years, public perception of Buhari’s anti-corruption drive remains poor. And despite a number of high-profile prosecutions in the early days of the administration, investigations have seldom led to significant convictions.

Even the convictions of two former governors and some other senior political office holders are not enough to convince the public of any improvement. The slow pace of court cases and financial settlements made by wealthy individuals and entities outside of the courtroom has also impeded successful prosecutions. Disobedience to the rule of law, corruption in the judicial system, and challenges in securing sufficient evidence have impeded prosecutions.

It is still doubtful if the two anti-corruption agencies, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Offences Commission (ICPC) have the resources and capacity to successfully prosecute a large number of complex fraud cases.

When President Buhari took over the mantle of leadership on May 29, 2015, he vowed to

combat corruption in Nigeria no matter whose ox is gored. This was clearly indicated in his inaugural speech when he said, “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.” Giving his military background and perceived incorruptible posture, Nigerians believed him. Today, Nigerians know better.

In the 6 years of his rule, remarkable progress can be said to have been made by the administration in recovering stolen properties both in Nigeria and outside the country, blocking leakages through the Single Treasury Account, and jailing some corrupt officials.

For the first time too, judges and top military officers, including retired Service Chiefs are being prosecuted for corrupt enrichment. Last year, the EFCC announced 603 corruption convictions between 2015 and 2020. This is roughly double the rate of convictions secured by the EFCC under former president Goodluck Jonathan. The EFCC also claimed to have recovered some N500 billion (about 1.4 billion U.S. dollars) in stolen public funds. Also, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), was convicted on twelve counts of “attempting to pervert the cause of justice,” essentially bribing judges. These no doubt are laudable achievements considering the level of rot in the system before he became the president.

The administration has also made remarkable progress in the implementation of Treasury Single Account, Biometric Verification Number (BVN), and ‘Whistle Blowing’ policy all of which have led to increased savings.

Notwithstanding the achievements, corruption remains intractable. Issues like the politicisation of the anti-corruption fight and the refusal to investigate accusations made against members of the first family and close friends of Mr President have cast doubt on Buhari’s commitment to eradicate corruption in the country.

The former chair of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomole, once asked members of the opposition parties to join the ruling party and have their ‘sins’ forgiven. That statement which was not repudiated by the federal government further cast aspersion on the objectivity of the corruption fight.

Corruption is a cankerworm that has eating deep into the fabric of Nigerian society and ravaging the nation’s economy. The causes emanate from various institutional and political factors including the flawed structure and the public sector’s monopoly of the economy. Its effects on the nation’s socio-political and economic development are numerous and devastating. It has damaged the image of the country abroad to the extent that Nigeria is tagged as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. This has discouraged foreign investors and caused inflation and the depreciation of our currency.

For instance, in 2019 when President Buhari got a second term, Nigeria had dropped to 146 and by 2020 ranked 149 in Transparency International’s (TI) Corruption Perceptions Index. These facts are not cheering as they discourage investors and impede economic and business growth.

While the Buhari government described the TI’s rating “as senseless and baseless,” data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) unveils the experiences of corruption by Nigerians when they encounter public officials. The data on public encounters with corruption involving 33,000 households across the country conducted between 2016 and 2019 confirms that corruption remains a major problem in Nigeria.

Bribery, according to the bureau, takes two forms. In the first, public officials ask, directly and indirectly, for bribes. The second form involves members of the public bribing officials to process their requests for public services. Of the acts of bribery covered by the study, 67 percent were initiated by public officials. These were overwhelmingly (93%) requests for cash payments. Less than 6 percent were for non-cash payments.

If the administration is serious about the fight against corruption, a mechanism must be put in place to reduce opportunities for corruption. Government should, therefore, use more technology to reduce direct contact where possible, between government officials and the public.

Fighting corruption also requires strong institutions that must be free from undue executive, legislative, and judiciary interference. The EFCC and ICPC need more teeth. A starting point would be to increase their budget and give them free hand to operate.

In addition, the government should create specialised anti-corruption courts to hasten the trial of corruption cases. Judges to serve in the specialised courts should be properly incentivised to mitigate judiciary corruption. Punishment for corruption must be certain and should equate to the magnitude of offence committed.

Furthermore, if the government wants Nigerians to believe and have faith in the war against corruption, then it must be made holistic and transparent, not targeting only a section of the country, members of a particular political party, or perceived enemies of the administration.

Lastly, we call upon the Code of Conduct Bureau to ensure that every public official’s bank account is thoroughly scrutinized before and after leaving office in line with the extant laws of the land.

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