After 18 years of groping in the dark, Nigeria has finally presented a National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS 2017-2021) Framework to stakeholders. This feat, occurring during a recent adoption/validation meeting in April in Abuja, is a watershed, as no administration, since 1960, has managed to place such a framework before the public, despite the seemingly bold rhetoric against corruption by successive governments.

PREMIUM TIMES congratulates the government for this landmark achievement and hopes this would now herald a commitment to greater levels of efficiency in policy and action in the war against graft. While it can be said that the Buhari administration is one of the few in the country to have come to power with a direct mandate to fight corruption, and which has shown remarkable political will to fight this scourge, yet the publication of this strategic framework to guide the fight might not necessarily be the magic wand that would make corruption disappear immediately.

As a framework, the NACS only provides a banner and set of themes that would guide the arms and tiers of government, different sectors, stakeholders, etc. in crafting their own strategic responses and concrete action plans against corruption. This is to produce coherence and synergy in a holistic effort to rid Nigeria of this menace, in line with the stated mission of the document, which is “To implement a holistic National Anti-Corruption Strategy which will provide a platform to all sectors and stakeholders in the fight to combat corruption.”

The will and strategy to fight corruption are a necessary set of preliminaries to establish, but these in themselves are not sufficient to stimulate the needed stakeholder response. Attention should now be turned towards how each group in society articulates its own fight against corruption, in consonance with the NACS and as underpinned by detailed action plans.

The NACS document is purportedly “owned” by the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, and has been “validated and adopted” by key stakeholders (including representatives of the Federal Ministry of Justice, National Assembly, EFCC, ICPC, CCB, the government’s Technical Unit on Governance and Anti-Corruption Reforms, elements of the civil society, and the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, to name a few). The strategy is yet to be signed-off by the president, who is only expected to do so sometime later, at a Federal Executive Council meeting.

One question any reflective observer of the war against corruption in Nigeria would ask at this stage is: Do the leaders of the Buhari administration really believe in the vision set out in the document? Do they truly “own” this strategic vision of “a Nigeria free of corruption through preventive measures, law enforcement and the rule of law for human development”? Going by the administration’s current over-emphasis on prosecution, sanctions and enforcement, and its current obsession with the recovery of stolen funds, complete with a whistle blower policy (which some have argued might be creating perverse incentives rather than truly aiding the fight against corruption), have we put the cart before the horse?

The All Progressives Congress (APC) created a beautiful manifesto and on that platform voters engaged with the candidates, took note of the promises and by a wide margin, voted them in to replace the erstwhile incumbents. Well, not long after coming into office, it became clear that the manifesto was not really “owned” by the flagbearer of the party and some of his key advisers. Specifically, Garba Shehu, the President’s spokesman denied that the key campaign document: “My Covenant with Nigerians” emanated from their campaign promise. PREMIUM TIMES fact-checked the denial and showed definitively in our report of first September 2015 that it did emanate from the APC campaign office. Given this background, PREMIUM TIMES advises the government to take steps to convince Nigerians that the NACS will not suffer a similar fate in the hands of important stakeholders, given that the effort to create it, by admission of the document, started as far back as 2009, during the Yar’Adua administration.

PREMIUM TIMES also wishes to caution that the question of “ownership” is likely to become the biggest obstacle to the effective and efficient implementation of the newly presented NACS. The Inter-Agency Task Team (IATT – comprising some 21 agencies of the Federal Government involved in curbing corruption) put together in 2009, developed this strategy to combat corruption. During the Goodluck Jonathan administration, the document and process were not adequately supported by two successive Attorney-Generals of the Federation, whose aides managed to supplant it with versions and processes of their own (with support from an international donor programme), setting in limbo the great work that had hitherto been done by the IATT in seeking the views and inputs of a great number of stakeholder groups across the country. This, sadly, is one of the reasons the effort has taken this long to see the light of day.

PREMIUM TIMES encourages the Buhari administration to ensure that the current Attorney-General is fully supported in his effort to kick-off the process of ensuring that the coherence and synergy suggested by the NACS, is established for real progress in the war against corruption.

PREMIUM TIMES also encourages the administration to publish the definitive figures on how much has been lost to corruption, how much it has recovered so far and how much it has paid out to whistle blowers through its Whistle blower policy, in view of the purported 2.5 to 5 percent payments from recovered sums to whistle blowers. Even then, one wonders why the government has not chosen to include, similarly, that at least 20 per cent of recovered sums be ploughed into the corruption fight, especially through preventive actions. This would, at least, begin to answer questions such as: How will the action plans developed to implement the strategy be funded? How will it be resourced and driven?

The NACS suggests that achieving aligned incentives will be the key policy thrust in the fight against corruption. This should, at least, reflect in an alignment of vision and political will between the presidency, the public service and the people.

PREMIUM TIMES urges the Buhari administration to consider having groups from the business community, the civil service and civil society join hands with the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption (PACAC), in a combined effort that is coordinated by the Federal Ministry of Justice, to oversee the implementation of this strategy. An action plan with clearly articulated priorities would also be required.

According to the NACS, “Greed, fear, apathy, and ignorance exacerbate the erosion of our value system and standards. When this occurs, formal and social controls against corruption start to break down, and social tolerance for the malaise increases. This leaves many willing to stand by and watch, even admire those acting with impunity, without attempting to put an end to the misbehaviour. As people succeed in taking undue advantage of the system and sanctions prove ineffective, perverse incentives begin to grow, creating greater demand for corruption and institutionalising the rampant negative behaviour observed. Where there is no real incentive to do the right thing, combating corruption is a highly challenging endeavour. The National Strategy assumes an environment in which efforts are being made to achieve better alignment between social, private and public interests through the instrumentality of the budget, public recognition and public vigilance among others.”

PREMIUM TIMES feels that without enlisting the public into this fight against corruption, the efforts will be doomed from the get go! Proper stakeholder engagement is vital to the success of the NACS, as published. A great deal of effort has been expended by the Buhari administration in the fight against corruption. However, this is appearing more like a fight between the EFCC and everyone else. This might produce short-term results on the level of the recovery of the proceeds of crime, but destroy the longer-term strategy of aligning policy and action with a clear strategic objective. For NACS to achieve its strategic objective of achieving: “a Nigeria free of corruption through preventive measures, law enforcement and the rule of law for human development”, a much more comprehensive approach is necessary.

PREMIUM TIMES believes that without a diversity of actions in society by a multiplicity of stakeholders, the fight against corruption will fail to gain traction within society, and support for the anti-corruption effort will fail to attain a critical mass. If we do not achieve this critical mass of actors demanding an end to corruption, we would fail to develop the much-needed momentum necessary for change to occur, first, within the social norms in the Nigerian society, and then more tangibly in the behaviours exhibited by those in positions of trust.

PREMIUM TIMES calls on the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation to circulate the NACS document as widely as possible, so that all stakeholders can engage with its content and start on the proverbial journey of a 1000 miles towards holistically ridding Nigeria of corruption, which begins with such step.