By Jibrin Ibrahim
In 1989, the World Bank published a major paper – “From Crisis to Sustainable growth in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Long-Term Perspective Study”. It was essentially a belated explanation on reasons that led to the failure of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP) to regenerate growth and progress after a decade of suffering.
The abandonment of social provisioning, cutting public sector work force, collapsing national currencies and generalizing intense suffering never produced the results that had been predicted. The key explanation of the World Bank was that there was a missing component in its conditionalities – good governance, without which the economy could not be regenerated. It would have been good if they knew that before imposing the hardship they did on Africans. Having made their excuses, they argued that moving forward, it was imperative to introduce transparency and accountability mechanisms that would lead to better accountability and significant reduction in public corruption.
It was indeed true that the official state secret regime that made all government information and acts state secrets inherited from the colonial masters made the practices of corruption opaque and provided convenient cover up. Over the past twenty-five years, most African countries have improved significantly in transparency and due process mechanisms but public corruption has increased rather than reduce over the period.
There is a problem with the assumption underlying the key argument of the transparency and accountability thesis. The assumption is that if only people knew that their leaders are stealing their public resources, they will get angry and make demands that would lead to improved accountability. Africans have always known that their leaders have been very corrupt. Chinua Achebe’s novels read by so many Africans were grand narratives on corruption by the post-colonial African leadership.
The Nigerian media, the press in particular, has since the 1960s been an excellent chronicler of the steady development of public corruption. The World Bank was wrong to assume that, “if only we knew”, we had always known. I remember that Next newspaper which I wrote for engaged in investigative journalism that revealed so many detailed accounts of mega corruption but at the end of the day, the Government of the day considered it as a mild irritation, ensured the paper received no government adverts and at the end, it was Next that died not the corrupt Government. Today with the social media taking over the information space and process in the context of impossibility of punishment, we are literally inundated with information about corruption on a per second basis. The result is that in our appreciation, corruption is seen increasingly as routine, normal and a fact of political life. Our capacity for anger has virtually collapsed.
But not quite, Nigerians still look forward to a future in which public resources would be used for the public good. It was precisely for this reason that Nigerians rallied round to support President Buhari and get him to power largely on account of his anti-corruption credentials. In 1984-1985, the Buhari regime locked up the entire political class in jail for their corrupt past. They suffered for some time but eventually, his regime was overthrown and the jailbirds came back to power and expanded their corrupt acts with renewed vigour.
The problem with Buhari’s first regime was that the approach to fighting corruption was ad hoc, using military tribunals rather than the normal instruments of the administration of justice. The post 1989 approach supported by the Bretton Woods institutions has relied a lot on developing a new normative framework rooted in the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. The ratification of the Convention in Nigeria led to the creation of two new institutions, the ICPC and the EFCC but over time we have come to see the limits of these two institutions.
One thing that has been scientifically proved about corruption is that when the system is able to punish those involved in corrupt practices the quantum decreases steadily. When there is immunity for engaging in corrupt practices however the quantum and scale of corrupt acts grows astronomically. Since the height of Nuhu Ribadu’s successes in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), confidence returned fully to the practitioners of grand corruption in Nigeria. Nigeria is today the only country in the civilised world where corrupt persons could get court injunctions stopping the prosecutorial agencies and the courts from investigating and prosecuting their corrupt acts.
President Buhari has established a panel of experts to advise him on the war against corruption. In developing their strategy for the President, they need to focus on a number of issues. The first is that our struggle against corruption has focused too narrowly on the corrupt officials rather than the corrupt system so the approach has to be broadened along the following lines. The prosecutorial system has become extremely corrupt and public officials simply bribe the prosecutors so that they do their jobs badly.
When EFCC charges a corrupt official with 300 counts, it’s clear that the intention is to distract, divert and ensure the prosecution is pursuing the case along too many directions for a successful case to be made. When two or here counts with serious research and diligent work can send someone to jail, running around 300 counts is a diversionary tactics that must henceforth be tracked and punished. Nigeria has also been unable to carry out police reform that empowers the police stations and officers doing the job rather than concentrate all resources in the office of the Inspector General. Police prosecutors must have the necessary resources to carry out their work. It’s good that the police have just established the “Complaint Response Unit” to allow citizens report rogue police officers. I hope citizens take up the challenge.
Over the life of the Fourth Republic, corruption among judges has also become a real problem. The fact that corrupt public officials can bribe judges in hundreds of millions has created a new dynamic in which some of them succumb to the temptation. The sanction they face of being sacked after investigation by the National Judicial Council is simply not strong enough. Such judges must be prosecuted and sent to jail if guilty for others to get the message. Finally, the impunity of lawyers, especially Senior Advocates of Nigeria who facilitate corruption must also end. For the anti-corruption struggle to gain its élan, it is imperative that the administration of justice is able to do its work and deliver justice to all.
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