Interrogating The Anti-Graft War

In a bid to deepen the national conversation on the anti-graft war – against the background of the very low rating of Nigeria in the latest Transparency International (TI) Global Corruption Perception Index – the Savannah Centre for Diplomacy, Democracy and Development (SCDDD), in collaboration with the Arewa Research and Development Project (ARDP) and the Centre for Democratic Development, Research and Training (CEDDERT), recently organised a two-day roundtable discussions on “The Future of the Fight against Corruption in Nigeria”.

Participants at the sessions, drawn from the three arms of the federal government as well as members of the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), included Senate President Bukola Saraki, Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution, Mr Okoi Obla, a former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr Nuhu Ribadu as well as representatives of the Directorate of State Security Services (DSS), senior members of the media, the academia and other stakeholders.

In calling for a holistic approach in the efforts to combat the menace, three important factors that promote corruption, especially in Nigeria, came to the fore: expensive weddings, ceremonies for chieftaincy titles, burials and other social engagements which had been turned into opportunities for obscene display of ostentation; lack of institutional capacity in the anti-graft agencies and leadership deficiency, especially the recruitment mechanism which is always skewed in favour of the corrupt. It was also rightly observed that the absence of credible data has made fighting corruption difficult in the country while both the domestic and international communities still perceive government efforts as slow, selective and grossly ineffective.

Even so, the executive, the legislature, the judiciary and the media as critical stakeholders, must necessarily pool their efforts to successfully tackle the menace of graft in the system. Emphasis on preventive measures through the enactment of relevant laws by the National Assembly, for instance, will help in no small measure. Indeed, anti-corruption efforts should be driven more by institutions rather than personalities.

In addition, there should be a national policy and comprehensive strategy based on accurate awareness of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to fighting corruption within the Nigerian society. The approach must also include taking the highest risk with potential to make the maximum impact by including prevention, education and enforcement while underscoring the importance of effective deterrence with maximum impact and sustainable efforts over time. But in the main, as the summit also wisely concluded, the judiciary remains very critical to any efforts to fight corruption on a sustainable basis.

There was a debate as to whether or not the federal government should establish specialised anti-corruption courts for efficiency, speed, integrity and expertise. While we agree that the government should move in that direction, the following factors, as agreed by many, should also be considered: the relationship of the special courts to the regular judicial courts; the size of the anti-corruption courts; the procedures for appointing and removing special judges; the substantive scope of the anti-corruption court’s jurisdiction, and the relationship of the specialised courts to procedural authorities.

There is no doubt that in the efforts to rid the country of the stigma of corruption, a lot more remains to be done by the agencies saddled with the assignment. The federal government needs to involve the people at the grassroots whose drive would further compliment the efforts of the institutionalised agencies. Nigerians must also interrogate the growing culture of religiosity without godliness.

(Thisday editorial)

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