By Innocent Edemhanria
Corruption is a major problem in Nigeria that is largely responsible for widespread poverty. It is currently affecting every aspect of society and hindering the country’s development. Several published reports and other literatures, both past and present, are available to substantiate this position. In 2015 the High-Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa, chaired by the former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, submitted its report to the Africa Union Commission/UN Economic Commission for Africa. The report showed that African countries lose between $50 billion and $60 billion annually through illicit financial flows. It puts Nigeria as the biggest culprit with cumulative illicit financial flows between 1970 – 2008 put at $217.7 billion. The Global Financial Integrity Report published in 2015 revealed that over $7.8 trillion was siphoned from the world’s developing and emerging economies between 2004 and 2013, and over $17.8 billion of that amount, was from Nigeria.
To speak of recent data, the 2022 Corruption Perception Index report published by Transparency International, showed that Nigeria scored 24 points out of 100 and was ranked 150 out of 180 countries assessed. This indicates a high level of corruption in the country, just as it has been indicated in the previous reports.
The Nigerian Government under former President Muhammadu Buhari came up boldly to make concrete commitments to fight corruption among other promises. The government also expressed a clear road map on how to trace, track and repatriate looted assets back to the country to finance development initiatives. In 2016 and 2017, two important anti-corruption events of global magnitude took place. These were the London anti-corruption Summit hosted by the UK government in 2016 and the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) held in Washington, DC and hosted by the UK and the US government with support from the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR), in 2017. At both events, the Nigerian government made concrete commitments to support its road map to fight corruption.
In 2022, the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), while working with eight organisations as part of the implementation of SCALE project undertook an assessment of how Nigeria has implemented such commitments. ANEEJ and the eight organisations working as “anti-corruption cluster” recently organized a national dialogue in Abuja, Nigeria to present the report. The dialogue became important to set agender for the new administration of President Bola Tinubu, who was sworn in on May 29, 2023. The dialogue was also preparatory to Nigeria’s participation in the 10th Session of UNCAC Conference of the State Parties (COSP10) schedule to hold from 10th – 15th of December 2023, in Atlanta, USA. Expectedly, the high-profile dialogue was attended by leading anti-corruption CSOs including journalists from across the country, UNCAC Coalition in Vienna – Austria, development partners including representatives from US Embassy, UNODC, British High Commission and Palladium.
From the report presented and the conversation that ensued, it was clear that there are several issues that the current administration should focus on, to sustain the gains recorded by the previous administration. In terms of prosecution of corruption cases, delays have been observed in the disposal of such cases, as a result, many offenders have taken advantage of the space to escape justice. There is now the need to do more in the areas of judicial reforms through case management of corruption and criminal cases, as special courts should be designated to handle these cases.
Coordination among anti-corruption agencies is one important area that requires proper attention as inter agency rivalry has been witnessed in the past. An Inter Agency Task Team (IATT) currently exists, with the Technical Unit on Governance and Anti-corruption Reforms (TUGAR) as the secretariat. The IATT comprising of 22 core anti-corruption and accountability institutions whose mandates fall within the extensive scope of UNCAC, should be strengthened and made to function effectively, to foster collaboration and coordination of anti-corruption agencies and effort.
ANEEJ and other stakeholders, sustained advocacy during the previous administration for the passage of anti-corruption bills. Some of such bills were passed and assented to by the president, which now need to be properly implemented. The proceed of Crime (Recovery and Management) Act 2022, the Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Act 2022, The NFIU Act which ensures the independence of NFIU, and others were key. Amendment to proceed of Crime (Recovery and Management) Act 2022 has been suggested by some stakeholders to create an independent asset recovery and management agency. The whistle blower and witness protection bills, and others, are still pending. The new administration should ensure that these bills are passed to support the fight against corruption.
Nigerians have spoken extensively in the past about proper funding of anti-corruption agencies and securing the independence of the leadership of such agencies. This is important to sustaining the fight against corruption. Also, the new government through its agencies should do more to prevent corruption. The ICPC should work with other agencies and competent CSOs to undertake corruption risk assessment across key MDAs, to identify vulnerabilities in such MDAs and put in place integrity plans to address such vulnerabilities. The accountability and transparency units across MDAs should be positioned to function effectively in collaboration with ICPC.
The full operationalization of Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) both at the federal level and across the 36 States is important to promote transparency in public procurement. The Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) is driving this but not all federal MDAs are currently using the Nigeria Open Contracting Portal (NOCOPO) and the portal itself is experiencing hitches. It also requires modification to ensure that procurement data are well categorized for ease of access and use by the public. Procurement departments in all federal MDAs should be strengthened and made to comply with the use of NOCOPO while defaulting MDAs should be melted with appropriate administrative sanctioned as provided for by the Procurement Act 2007. The President should move quickly to inaugurate the National Council on Public Procurement, a task successive government failed to achieve since 2007.
The federal government should now fast track the process of operationalization of the Beneficial Ownership Portal to conclude the reform done by Corporate Affairs Commission and the national assembly through the repeal and re-enactment of the Companies and Allied Matters Act. In terms of tax reform, the Common Reporting Standard Regulation and guidelines should be regularly reviewed to ensure that inadequacies are removed. The Nigeria Extractive Transparency Initiative (NEITI) should sustain the publication of annual audit reports and remedial issues identified in the reports should be conclusively addressed.
The proper funding and effective implementation of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS) is important to avoid the mistakes of the past. Above all, it will be important for President Bola Tinubu to respond quickly to these issues and follow up with concrete actions, to assure Nigerian that this administration is indeed prepared to fight corruption.
Innocent Edemhanria, ANEEJ programme manager and a Certified Corruption Risk Assessor, wrote from Benin City