Emerging Challenges In Anti-Graft War

Expo Nta, ICPC Chairman
Expo Nta, ICPC Chairman

By Yinka  Omilani 
As the Buhari administration embarks on the onerous task to root out corruption in Nigeria, it is inevitable that the anti-corruption bodies in the country will face new challenges. The mood of the nation is all for the project and there are great expectations because it is one of the main reasons the people voted for his presidency.

However, it is a joint venture which requires not only the tacit support of the people but also their active participation. It can only succeed when the people play the proper role expected of them in synergy with the efforts of government.

The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, one of the government agencies dedicated to the anti-corruption fight, has in its advocacy campaigns consistently reiterated the importance of this synergy being expressed not only in words but also in action.

People have to come forward to report corrupt acts. Information and intelligence in this area are key elements in the fight. It involves the availability of whistle blowers and the readiness of stakeholders to assist in the investigation process without prejudice. What is needed is credible information that can lead somewhere, not false petitions that would waste valuable time of investigators and resources or make the case look like a witch hunt.

The cooperation required from the people is not however limited to information sourcing. People are expected to comply with the framework of the anti-corruption fight, including the procedure for reporting corrupt acts and other guidelines governing the operations of anti-corruption agencies so as not to compromise their effectiveness to deliver.

With the emergence of President Buhari and his anti-corruption stance, more Nigerians are responding. This is a good development but it has equally thrown up some challenges.

For example, it has been observed that some petitioners make a public show of their mission when making or submitting petitions at ICPC’s office by going there with a crowd of purported supporters or people with common interest in the case being reported.

While this act may appear to such petitioners as a mark of their courage and boldness to pursue the case, it is however a breach of Section 64(1) of the ICPC enabling law. Besides, it has the danger of alerting the alleged person such that he or she can begin earnestly to cover the tracks.

It also has the possible negative effect of damaging the reputation of the alleged person in the eyes of the public even before an investigation is conducted to determine his or her culpability.

It was gathered that while the Commission would not discourage public show of abhorrence to corruption by reporting same publicly, it was however worried over some elements of malice displayed by some petitioners which is uncomplimentary to the spirit of the anti-graft war.

A good number of petitions it has received appeared to have been borne out of malice with frivolous or wrong claims aimed at attacking public officials and institutions. In our kind of society where people are used to mudslinging in power tussle or even family feuds, this is not entirely strange but it must not be allowed to fester and diminish the seriousness of the anti-graft war.

A more disturbing challenge is the extent to which some petitioners have tried to interfere in the work of the Commission by leading protesters to its office to demonstrate against its handling of their petition.

Such was the incident that took place recently when a group seeking the investigation and prosecution of the Chief Executive Officer of a government owned bank (NEXIM Bank) on corruption allegations brought placard carrying demonstrators to the head office of ICPC to present a petition to ‘compel’ the Commission to act fast on a petition they had earlier submitted in that regard.

It seemed that the purpose of that demonstration was to put pressure on the Commission and this is not something to be encouraged. The independence of the anti-graft body remains sacred and must be protected from any assault, interference, undue influence or manipulation by political authorities, individuals or interest groups.

If the organisers of that demonstration were well informed, they ought to have known that an agency like ICPC would first conduct a discreet investigation to ascertain the claims in a petition during which period the petitioner may not be briefed because he or she is an interested party and the Commission must be seen to do its work dispassionately.

Anyway, there are established official channels of communication for any anxious petitioner to clear any apprehensions or misgivings rather than resort to such a desperate show of shame.

Quite often, many complainants assume that the person they are accusing is guilty as alleged. They expect the person to be invited or arrested immediately a report is made, forgetting that the case must be treated in accordance with the provisions of the law to ensure justice and fairness.

No matter their grievances, petitioners must learn not to take the law into their own hands. The essence of reporting the case to the relevant authority is to let the law take its course. The law cannot be stampeded by their impatience or over-reaction. In particular, those who are accusing others must not act in a way that could be interpreted as if they ulterior motives.

From what Nigerians have seen of ICPC, the Commission does not need to be prompted by any individual or group to act on a petition. It is an independent body mandated by law to receive petitions and complaints whether they are endorsed or anonymous and deal with them dispassionately, without fear or favour.

So far, the Commission has lived up to this responsibility. It has to its credit a high record of successful convictions, recovery of funds and salvation of vulnerable citizens and other victims of injustice in various sectors of public life, including students. In all these cases, the objectivity of the Commission has never been questioned.






     

     

    Objectivity is also the key ingredient required by the citizenry to effectively support the anti-graft war. This attribute requires petitioners to ensure that their petitions are good intentioned with genuine claims, not borne out of malice, blackmail or vindictive quest to settle personal scores.

    It is therefore imperative to create more public awareness of the law against false accusation. In fact the ICPC enabling law stipulates harsh punishment for those who make malicious or frivolous petitions against others.
    Anti-corruption activists believe that the war against the malaise will be more successful when Nigerians take on the patriotic responsibility of reporting corruption whether or not they are personally affected.

    Most reports presently come from aggrieved victims of corrupt acts or people who were shut out of the loot sharing. People hardly bat an eye when family and friends are beneficiaries of such acts. This attitude must change in the new dispensation.

    We have a government that has the political will to fight corruption. All that is required of the citizenry is to embrace the fight with more seriousness and sense of purpose.
    Yinka Omilani wrote from Lagos

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