By Dr. Ike Udechukwu
There is no doubt that corruption has remained a central defining theme of the Buhari administration since its inception in May of 2015. President Buhari, prior to his inauguration as President, once stated, “So the point I want to make here is that the problem of Nigeria is not ethnic or religious, it is corruption…..we should try to kill corruption before corruption kills Nigeria…..corruption is fast becoming a culture and to try to caution people is not an easy task but it must be done.”
What is not entirely clear about the anti-corruption movement of the Buhari Administration is exactly how corruption is defined and conceptualized. Without a publicly available definition of corruption in the Nigerian context since definitions of corruption are non-universal, parties involved in the anti-corruption process are less likely to be guided by a common corruption theme, unity of purpose, and agenda.
Nonetheless, while President Buhari’s words on corruption continue to ring true, evidenced by the intensity of his administration’s anti-corruption drive, nonetheless, it would appear that corruption as a concept may not have been adequately articulated by the administration in a way that is required to convincingly wrestle and restrain corruption to a manageable level in Nigeria.
Thus, the Buhari administration has a definition and a conceptualization problem of corruption. Without a realistic and pragmatic definition and conceptualization of corruption, legitimate anti-corruption activities of agencies associated with the executive branch of government, to include the ICPC and the EFCC, are likely to be viewed as actions conducted on the basis of whimsical and capricious foundations of the Presidency, when in fact, this may not necessarily be the case. Perception can often become the reality of others.
Corruption is defined by Transparency International (TI) as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs.” While this is a basic definition of corruption, this definition is by no means universal. More importantly, corruption is a multi-dimension construct that is best understood by the notation below:
Total corruption = Non-economic forms of corruption + economic forms of corruption
Non-economic forms of corruption may include nepotism, favoritism, ethnocentrism, while economic forms of corruption may include bribery, stealing, fraud, etc. What has been termed the anti-corruption drive of the Buhari administration has largely been focused on the economic forms of corruption, through the EFCC, which is commendable but insufficient to lay any reasonable claim or groundwork for a total war on corruption aka “War Against Corruption” (WAI) in Nigeria.
The Buhari administration’s singular focus on the economic forms of corruption is evidenced by a recent report by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed who stated that N78,325,354,631.82 (Seventy eight billion, three hundred and twenty-five million, three hundred and fifty-four thousand, six hundred and thirty one Naira and eighty two kobo) had been recovered by the Buhari administration’s anti-corruption efforts between May 2015 and May 2016.
Sadly, the anti-corruption drive of the Buhari administration has been severely weakened by the lack of equal conceptual focus on the non-economic forms of corruption to include nepotism and favoritism. This significant weakness in the Buhari administration’s war on corruption has begun to show up in the activities of some of the executive branch agencies reporting to the Presidency, implying that the Presidency, as much as it has steadfastly eschewed corruption, is increasingly vulnerable to, and susceptible to at least, non-economic forms of corruption.
For example, allegations surfaced in April 2016 that the CBN under the leadership of Godwin Emefiele, allegedly engaged in an illegal hiring spree of an additional and unapproved 396 employees in violation of federal character principles, and without consent from the Federal Character Commission. In June of 2016, it was also alleged that the FIRS under the leadership of Babatunde Fowler, also allegedly engaged in an illegal hiring spree of an additional and unapproved 349 employees possibly in violation of federal character principles, and possibly without consent from the Federal Character Commission.
While the Buhari administration’s accomplishments with fighting economic forms of corruption is without question, resolute, and commendable, its war against non-economic forms of corruption remains elusive, questionable, or non-existent. And the longer little is done by the Buhari administration in dealing with fighting non-economic forms of corruption, the easier it might get for non-economic forms of corruption to quickly metastasize and eventually eclipse economic forms of corruption, and the prestige of the Buhari administration, thereby, making the entire war against corruption, questionable, and extremely ineffectual.
Thankfully, the Independent Corrupt Practices And Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) was setup on the 29th of September, 2000, to fight non-economic forms of corruption, which adorn Nigeria’s systems, processes, and structures. Judging by its glaring lack of public engagement, the ICPC has often come across as an agency that is moribund, uninterested, and unwilling to fight its mandated non-economic forms of corruption, and may need to be motivated to become effective at its mission of fighting non-economic forms of corruption .
On the hand, and unlike the ICPC, the ongoing fight against economic forms of corruption by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), appears to be politically uninhibited and unrestrained. This is a good thing for Nigeria. The EFCC was set up to prevent, investigate, prosecute and penalize economic and financial crimes and was charged with the responsibility of enforcing the provisions of other laws and regulations relating to economic and financial crimes, under the Establishment act of 2004.
In conclusion, the Buhari administration is advised to carefully define corruption, conceptualize corruption, continue to support the EFCC in its drive against economic forms of corruption, and to seriously consider overhauling the ICPC so that it can better serve its core function of fighting non-economic forms of corruption, which appears to be a significant weakness undermining the Buhari administration’s total war against corruption.