Thursday, 25 August 2011

NaijaLeaks: A sad decade of an ineffective anti-corruption crusade

New NaijaLeaks

Just in case we had forgotten, WikiLeaks unleashed another torrent of US diplomatic cables which included some pertaining to Nigeria that we have come to term NaijaLeaks.

These cables extend back to as early as 1985 and they will require a bit of data-mining to glean the cogent bits of information and insight that will expose the arcane workings of the Nigerian government usually referred to as GON which stands for the Government of Nigeria.

One interesting cable I found during my review of the new data pertains to Nigeria’s war against corruption which was created in 2001 and one has the opportunity to compare the issues then with the uncannily released Human Right Watch report on the same war released earlier today.

NaijaLeaks on Corruption

The cable of interest is titled - NIGERIA: A Close Look at the GON's Anti-Corruption Commission [1] which was an assessment made by Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan DeWitt and summarised in a cable created in July 2001.

At that time Transparency International had identified Nigeria as the 2nd most corrupt country in the world and steps to deal with that odious image involved creating The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offenses Commission (ICPC).

The ICPC had filed two cases in the Abuja High Court pertaining to the attempted bribery of the Special Assistant to the Chairman of the ICPC to persuade the person to suborn the judicial process by destroying the petitions that were to be filed in court.

The second pertained to the bribery of a member of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry for the investigation of the Management of Nigeria Airways Limited in order to curry favour for certain persons.

Clogged up courts

What was instructive was the brazen effrontery and impunity of the defendants who first challenged the enabling anti-corruption act then filed interlocutory motions both of which were denied and still the court dockets have been clogged with appeals and counter-claims to stymie the process as it climbed all the way to the Supreme Court.

The U.S. Attorney noticed that the judges were quite learned and did much to move things along even though the defence continuously filed numerous motions and requests for adjournment – it appeared justice will be so delayed it might well be denied and the defendants having frustrated the system might get away scot free.

The ICPC appeared to be unprepared for their onerous task, they had a heavy case load and not enough staff to handle the matters, for the 90 positions that needed filling there were 27,000 applicants, a logistical nightmare on its own.

Ineffective at best

When advice was sought regarding the gathering of information about corrupt individuals by a member of the ICPC, the U.S. Attorney suggested a method of “pro-active investigations” but the chairman of the ICPC preferred the pedestrian and passive stance of receiving petitions and conducting oral interviews whilst being resistant to “pro-active investigations.”

Much as a lot of help was offered to help the ICPC, there was no proper co-ordination that it might well have been an ineffective organisation considering the chairman did not delegate much responsibility possibly for the fear that the commission members might be working against the system.

For all the seemingly positive spin the U.S. Attorney appeared to give the fledgling ICPC, it does not appear she was convinced that the ICPC will be able to deliver on the anti-corruption goals of the government.

Any progress?

Ten years on, the Human Rights Watch released a report on Nigeria’s fight against corruption looking at the activities of the other anti-corruption organisation, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) with the title Corruption on Trial? [2]

The Summary Page makes for rather unflattering reading as the EFCC was established in 2002 and whilst the EFCC has arraigned 30 nationally prominent political figures and recovered US$11 billion, there has been little progress with only four convictions and a completely gummed up judicial process.

The report saw no appreciable difference in the successes of either Nuhu Ribadu the first chairman or the current chairman Farida Waziri. It upbraids Ribadu for allowing one big fish to slip through the net and Waziri for not ameliorating the seemingly deplorable situation.

Not much it seems

It suggests Ribadu was media savvy but with a tarnished legacy of being selective of those to prosecute almost at the political whims of the then President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Waziri who replaced Ribadu is said to have grown both timid and lethargic with certain legal successes looking like a mockery of the whole anti-corruption campaign as insignificant jail terms citing Lucky Igbinedion, then the inability to corral Peter Odili with the release of Bode George after incarceration sending the “unmistakable message that proven criminality is no bar to the highest echelons of politics in Nigeria.

Skilled defence lawyers have gamed the system gaining interminable delays in the courts with the Ibori case having 170 criminal counts thrown out on the technicality that the EFCC did not provide a written statement of the key witness and as such the court contemned the “worthless hearsay evidence.”

The report notes that the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) have failed to complement the activities of the EFCC making for a disjointed and uncoordinated battle against endemic corruption as Nigeria’s political elite continues to enjoy ironclad impunity.

Still stuck on highly corrupt

The report suggests the anti-corruption agencies need an infusion of new and effective leadership observing much of the action against the corrupt Nigerian elite has been instigated by foreign governments as the extradition of Peter Odili from Dubai to London and the revocation of the visa of the former attorney general Michael Aondoakaa under the Yar’Adua government who consistently undermined key corruption trials.

Looking at the stretch of 10 years of Nigeria’s institutionalised crusade against corruption, the real effect can only be measured by reviewing where on the Transparency International Corruption Index, Nigeria now is – it is 12th in a cluster of 9 countries that includes Zimbabwe, Ukraine, Bangladesh, Togo & Sierra Leone or as the table [3] (PDF) shows, it is 134/178 on the interactive map [4] where it falls in the group a notch up from highly corrupt cohabiting with 35.3% of the assessed countries.

It does not read much like an improvement over 10 years and that is rather unfortunate and quite so too.

Sources

[1] NIGERIA: A Close Look at the GON's Anti-Corruption Commission

[2] Human Rights Watch - Corruption on Trial? The Record of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission

[3] [4] Transparency International

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