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Based on documented history, the country agrees that public sector corruption is a bane of our progress as a nation. For decades, outsiders saw the country as a haven of corrupt activities. Within the country, news of corruption is the daily headliner. Although there are many good public servants, yet almost every public servant has been accused or is seen as corrupt. It is usually shocking when you find a non-corrupt one. The opposite is the norm. Regime after regime, every government has tried to do something about the problem of corruption. In 1999, President Obasanjo decided to provide a comprehensive legal and institutional framework for combatting public sector corruption. He birthed the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
As with everything, leadership matters. The quality of leadership determines the success or failure of any organisation. Somehow, the leadership of the EFCC from 2004 decided to do the extraordinary – tackle public sector corruption and exceed all known boundaries. Nuhu Ribadu took the bar so high that it laid a problem for the Commission. Prior to him, the norm was to idle away and conform to the usual. He decided to do otherwise and was, of course, the first victim of the political system. He survived, and posterity has proved him right. In his words, corruption will always fight back. The political system has recently claimed its recent victim, Abdul Rasheed Bawa.
Within the anti-corruption space, the Code of Corruption Bureau (CCB) has a bigger mandate of curbing public sector corruption. In the past eight years, the organisation has been dormant, while those at the helm of its affairs remain. There are over six hundred ministries, departments and agencies of the Federal Government. Just a few factual examples: the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) has become run down, our electricity has not radically improved, the public healthcare system is comatose, and the country still bleeds from wastage in the oil and gas sector. Though there are no penalties for crass incompetence, the change of those who were part of the problem elicits hope in the citizen that things will be better.
In a recent BBC Hausa interview, I was asked why always the EFCC? My answer has not changed. I believe it’s the style of democracy that we have chosen to operate. The political system is just too attractive and too lucrative. Candidates need millions just to become local government chairmen, and billions to be governors and president, respectively. What legitimate business can put aside so much funds just to contest elections? All the research on Nigeria’s electoral financing points to public sector corruption. Countering such falls within the realm of the EFCC, ICPC and CCB. Effectively combatting it requires holding the political class accountable for the public resources it oversees. The oxygen of political aspiration and survival is too dependent on public sector funds. While others have decided to look away, that is the area EFCC has swarmed since 2004.
Until the process of vying for political office is reformed by reducing the expenses involved, with the perquisites of public office sanitised, alongside the curbing of the other attractions of political office, every chairman of EFCC will be brought down by the political system, whether s/he performs or underperforms. Does the EFCC have its own faults? Certainly, loads of them. There are reported cases of the gross abuse of power, intimidation, connivance, and the creation of gateways for wanton extortions and rent-seeking.
The same political system has put undue pressure on the judiciary. Over 70% of our electoral matters are in the courts. I have heard judges assert that before the incursion of politicians, the integrity of the judiciary was intact. Politicians have permeated the judiciary to strip it of its dignity and honour. It was only when a politician was involved that the phrase “perpetual injunction” came into the terminology of the court system. Politicians have mastered the art of permeating the judiciary by all means – especially through spouses.
Since our brand of democracy has come to stay, the solution to these problems lies essentially with INEC! The institution is legally empowered and responsible for designing ways to minimise electoral spending and eliminating money in politics. INEC, as the regulator, needs to design and implement a system for political parties to act in manners that deemphasise the use of funds as the entry point to political office. That’s where all the problem starts. Parties are loosely regulated, with no real penalties for infractions. INEC is mostly visible during electioneering and absent in the core regulatory function of sanitising the political system. The institution has done very little to reduce corruption in our electoral systems. Until that is done, no EFCC chair will survive, nor will the judiciary ever maintain its integrity and dignity.
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