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Published On: Sun, Mar 4th, 2018

Buhari’s anti-corruption albatross

 .It is a failure of leadership —TI Director

By UCHE CHRIS

 

President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti corruption fight came under close scrutiny last week with the global corruption watch dog, Transparency International, TI, returning a vote of no confidence in the much taunted crusade. This government assumed power on the platform of anti corruption and has made much ado about it with the arrest and discovering of alleged looted funds by officials of the previous government.

President Buhari

However, Transparency International put a spanner in the work for government last week when it pooh-poohed its claims for fighting corruption as its Global Perception Index report for 2017 ranked the country lower than the previous year, showing a worsening of the situation.

Nigeria ranked 148 out of 180 countries assessed in 2017 on the perception of corruption, the annual Corruption Perception Index, CPI, by Transparency International, TI, states. The index, published Wednesday, showed that out of 100 points signalling maximum transparency and no corruption, Nigeria scored 27 points.

The results show a slight deterioration in perception of corruption in public administration in Nigeria compared to 2016.

In 2016, Nigeria scored 28 points and ranked 136th in the ranking of countries.With the one-point reduction in the score, Nigeria slipped in the country-ranking by 12 positions, from 136 in 2016 to 148 in 2017. The rankings are from 1 to 180, with 180 indicating the country having the worst perception of corruption.

The report was released by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, national contact of TI in Nigeria. The report noted that while the rest of the world has improved in the perception on corruption, Nigeria slips further down as the fight against corruption stagnates.

On the African continent, Nigeria ranks 32nd position in Africa out of 52 assessed countries in 2017.

“While Botswana leads the continent with the record of competent and largely corruption-free public administration,

Characteristically, however, government has rejected the report arguing the it does not represent the reality on ground and degree of change taking place in the country.

On the basis of its sustained anti-corruption drive, which it claimed had resulted in blocking major corruption sources in the country, the Presidency promptly denounced the TI’s report as a fiction geared towards embarrassing the government on.

“In the 2016 Index, the country was ranked 136th out of 176 countries with a score of 28. Nigeria’s score also slightly improved from 26 to 28 between 2015 and 2016.

“It must also be pointed out that compared to the 2016 Index, Nigeria either improved or remained stable in all, but one of the Indexes,” a statement by Mr. Laolu Akande, Senior Special Assistance to the vice president, said.

“For instance, Nigeria improved significantly in key indexes between 2016 and 2017: the Bertelsmann Foundation Transformation Index, a 5-point improvement; African Development Bank Country Policy and Institutional Assessment, a 2-point improvement; a 1-point improvement in the World Justice Project Rule of law Index Expert Survey and World Economic Forum Executive Opinion respectively.

“In the 2016 World Justice Project Rule of Law Index, Nigeria and Burkina Faso were the biggest movers among the 18 countries indexed in the region, climbing 11 and 10 spots respectively. “Nigeria remained stable in the following indexes: World Bank Country Policy and Institutional Assessment, Global Insight Country Risk Ratings; PRS Group International Country Risk Guide and Varieties of Democracy Project.

“The only Index the country fell short was in the Economic Intelligence Unit Country Risk Service, on which basis is the sole reason for Nigeria’s decline in the overall Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index of 2017.

“The Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index evaluates the quality of democracy, a market economy and political management in 129 developing and transition countries, while the African Development Bank Country Policy and Institutional Assessment measures the capacity of a country to support sustainable growth, poverty reduction, and the effective use of development assistance with a particular focus on the assessment of key elements that are within the country’s control. Nigeria improved in these categories in the Transparency International’s report.

In 2016, for instance, the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Auditing (PICA) discovered discrepancies in the payroll of several MDAs to the tune of N5.7 billion monthly. Also, over 50,000 ghost workers have been uncovered by the audit team, as a result, over N120bn has been reportedly saved. He added that in a similar vein, “leakages of unremitted funds have been blocked in many of country’s Revenue Generating Agencies, which have seen an increase in their revenues in recent times.

“The Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, remitted N1 trillion into the Federation account, the highest ever remittance by the agency, despite the country being in recession half of the year.” Akande also disclosed that just like the Customs agency, the revenue generated by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB, has also increased. The exams body remitted about N7.8 billion to the FG in 2017, a stark contrast to the paltry N3 million that was the highest remitted by the agency before.

“The administration’s whistle-blower policy which was introduced in December 2016 by the Federal Government to tackle corruption – a first of its kind government initiative in the country – has also helped in the area of accountability in the use of public funds in different sectors of national life.

“Out of the about 5,000 reports made, about 365 were actionable as at July 2017. While 39% of these reports were related to the diversion of funds, 15% related to violation of TSA,” according to Akande.

Other sub Saharan African countries ranked higher than Nigeria are Botswana — whose joint 34 rank is the best in Africa — as well as Rwanda (joint 48) and Nambia (joint 53). Nigeria is ranked 148 along with Guinea and Comoros. In 2015, Nigeria scored 26/100 and was ranked 136 — although only 168 countries and territories were surveyed then. New Zealand maintains the No. 1 rank with a score of 89/100, Denmark No. 2 with 88, while Finland, Norway and Switzerland are joint No. 3 with 85.

However, Mr. Jaiye Gaskiya, Country Director of TI, told BH in an exclusive interview that the challenge in Nigeria is the failure of leadership expressed in our leaders expecting the world to treat it differently.

“We can’t pick and choose what we want or don’t want; last year a global body on the ease of doing business gave the country a 20 percent improvement in its activities and it was celebrated. Now another global body gave a slightly negative report on the country and government is furious, for a report that is globally accepted by every country on earth; it is sad,” he said.

The regime, he said, is too sensitive to its promises and does not want to be reminded of its failure to deliver on promises.

“It is fighting corruption but what progress has been made; yes we have made some progress but others are also making progress and problem is that we have not made much progress as others and that is why we went down in ranking because others improved more than us”.

According to him, we have to balance the success achieved by government in the war on corruption with the election promises made to arrive at a fair assessment of performance, which he said falls short of expectations. On the Whistle blowing policy he argued the rate of success is also modest and could not be used as the single benchmark to determine performance and success.

“To speak of achievement, what is the rate of convictions, how much has been recovered and from whom, and is corruption still going on? These are part of the transparency process because the people should know what government is doing. There should be no sacred cows and unless government makes examples of its own members and friends, the war will be of no effect.”

“The problem with our leaders is that they always have eyes on the next election and this forces them to compromise and change their promises.”

On the problems of fighting corruption in the country, the TI country director said that it has to do with a number of factors, such as weak institutional capacity and lack of comprehensive approach to the war. According to him, there are several agencies involved in the fight such as EFCC, ICPC, Police, DSS, and Judiciary, and yet, a common and coordinated strategy is lacking, which largely undermines progress as they see themselves as rivals rather than partners.

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, urged “the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to see the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI), as a wake-up call to renew its oft-expressed commitment and raise its game to fight both grand and petty corruption, as well as end the legacy of impunity rather than simply dismissing the survey as ‘fiction’.”

“The CPI may not be perfect, and in fact no index is. The CPI may not show actual evidence of corruption in the country, but perceptions are commonly a good indicator of the real level of corruption. In any case, the devastating effects of corruption in virtually all sectors providing essential public services are too glaring for Nigerians to ignore.

“While the government may have blocked some leakages in the systems and reduced the level of impunity witnessed under the previous administrations, it has not done enough to address longstanding cases of corruption, and the appearance of selectivity in the prosecution of corruption allegations especially when such cases involve those close to the seat of power. Today, corruption still constitutes one of the greatest threats to the country’s sustainable and equitable development.

“Almost three years after taking office, and promising to fight grand corruption, no ‘big fish’ suspected of corruption has yet been sent to jail. The situation has not significantly improved, and it seems unlikely that many of those facing grand corruption charges will be successfully prosecuted. Nigerians need to see real commitment and heavy investment in promoting a culture of clean government, and total obedience to the rule of law.

“Possessing the political will to fight corruption is not in itself enough if it’s not sufficiently demonstrated. Buhari should take the CPI to heart and initiate and actively facilitate the passing of tough anti-corruption laws, strengthening the capacity and independence of anti-corruption agencies, substantially improving the criminal justice system, obeying decisions and judgments of our courts, and ensuring the passing of the Whistle-blower Bill.

“Public officials still use political power to enrich themselves without considering the public good. Selective application of the law is a sign that the law is not being followed strictly enough, and that the fight against corruption is not maximally prosecuted.

Mr. Wale Ogunade, a Lagos based lawyer and civil right activist shares some of this positions, stressing that although government has a right either to accept or reject the report, it does not do itself much good to be hostile and antagonistic to the report because the report is just the perception of people and should therefore remind government of what needs to be done.

“Government should use the report as tool for further work; it should not rest on its oars. Corruption is endemic in the country and it may be expecting too much to wipe it out in just three years. My advice is that government should look beyond the top political figures because everybody is involved; the lower cadres of government are even worse and that is why it seems not much has been achieved because its efforts are being defeated by the people. Corruption is like Nigeria’s other name; it is a serious matter,” he said.

 

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