Bolaji Owasanoye
– Professor Bolaji Owasanoye

Going forward, it is hoped that the new Chairman, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, another former teacher, would reposition the commission to redeem its much-battered image and deliver on the core mandate for which it was established in 2000, and not tow the ‘lecturing’ line! The anti-corruption war needs all stakeholders to be at their best.

The strength of an organisation is a direct result of the strength of its leaders. Everything rises and falls on leadership. – John Maxwell.

Coming out of dozens of years of military dictatorship that had been criticised for a broad range of nefarious activities, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, upon the assumption of office in May 1999, was faced with the debilitating profile of Nigeria in the international community, pertaining to its perception of corruption.

The country was then globally noted for public sector corruption, the obtaining of money by false pretences (commonly called 419) and other heinous property and financial crimes. In 1999, Nigeria was ranked 99 in the annual report of the Corruption Perception Index by the Transparency International. It was for that reason and much more that the administration of that time deemed it fit to establish institutions that would have the investigation and prosecution of persons and organisations engaged in bribery, corruption, financial crimes and other forms of corrupt practices, as their core mandates. As a result of this, the ICPC, in 2000, and the EFCC, in 2004, came into existence.

The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) was established on September 29, 2000. Pursuant to the passage of the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act, 2000 by the National Assembly, the ICPC had as its pioneer chairman, the most revered Honourable Justice Mustapha Akanbi, who presided over the affairs of the Commission for five years between 2000 and 2005.

With the right political will from the then president, this adequately empowered the ICPC with a strong legal framework to combat corrupt activities, with emphasis on the public sector. Some of the duties of the ICPC include the prosecution of criminal cases that are related to bribery, corruption, graft and, most significantly, the fraudulent acquisition or receipt of property. It is also empowered to investigate a public officer who “uses his office or position to gratify or confer any corrupt or unfair advantage upon himself or any relation or associate of the public officer or any other public officer shall be guilty of an offence and shall on conviction be liable to imprisonment for five (5) years without option of fine”.

The wide ranging powers of the ICPC are sufficient for combatting corruption in Nigeria as they satisfy most of the requirements of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. It is the same set of recommendations and laws, with minor adjustments to fit local circumstances, that are used worldwide in combatting corruption. All the past chairmen have made meagre attempts at tackling corruption with various degrees of success but are definitely in the shadow of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) of the Nigeria Police Force.

However, Mr. Ekpo Nta who was sworn in as chairman of the Commission on October 17, 2012 by former President Goodluck Jonathan, seemed not to build on the ‘successes’ of his predecessors. During his tenure, until he was “transferred” on Tuesday, August 1, 2017 by the acting president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), the ICPC seemed to utilise only a few of its powers, with particular emphasis on one sub-section of its 71 section Act. The relevant section stipulates that the ICPC is to educate the public on and against corruption and related offences; and to enlist and foster public support in combating corruption.

The former chairman was said to have utilised that section and embarked upon a ridiculous endeavour of delivering public lectures which happened to be his pastime. His major achievements in office were supposed to be the number of lectures he had given and not the prosecution of corrupt public officers. The tenure of the former chairman was also alleged to have been not only inept but profligate in the usage of resources. Other core functions of the Commission were ‘deactivated’ for purposes unknown.

Since its inception, the ICPC has been drawing its annual budget from the federation account. In fact, the federal government had ensured that it appropriated sums of monies running into billions of naira for the funding of the organisation through the payment of salaries and allowances, the training of staff, investigation of cases and other purposes.

For a law enforcement agency like the ICPC whose core mandate is the prevention, investigation and prosecution of corruption, success in the eye of the public is measured by the statistics of arrests and, most importantly, the successful prosecution and conviction of offenders that the Commission secures in the Court of law. From official information on cases culled from the website of the Commission as at March 2015, an average of about 153 criminal cases were instituted by the Commission against suspects in courts all over the country. Out of this number, a pitiable number of 63 convictions had been secured. More notably, just about 118 cases were filed in Court by the Commission against suspects within the period of 2012 to March 2015.

In the same vein, only a miserable number of 211 criminal cases were instituted by the Commission between the periods of 2012 to 2017. At a media parley held by the former chair, he admitted that the Commission was just able to file 70 cases in court in the year 2016, with a terrible conviction turnover of 11.

In the last five years of the tenure of the immediate past chairman, the Commission’s budget had been on the increase. For an organisation that received an allocation of over N3 billion in 2011, about N4.6 billion in years 2015 and 2016, and N5.1 billion in 2017, these abysmal numbers in the cases filed by the Commission against suspects are not only unacceptable but also preposterous. Despite the steady increases in the monies appropriated by the government to the Commission, there cannot be said to be commensurate results to the level of resource provision. If it were a private entity, and public institutions need to have the private sector mentality, it would have been declared a bad business case and wound up long ago.

Furthermore, the Commission maintains offices in Adamawa, Kano, Osun, Oyo, Rivers, Sokoto, Imo, Edo, and Benue States; and Zonal offices in Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Enugu, Kaduna, Kogi, and Lagos States. It is thus unjustifiable and preposterous that the number of cases mentioned above were filed by the Commission, with an even lesser number of convictions secured.

Despite all the lecture series, the Commission has also performed abysmally in its preventive mandate to galvanise the public towards the prevention of corrupt practices in the country. Little or nothing was heard about the activities of the Commission in the public and media space. It was not only silent, but was also not reaching out to critical areas that needed sensitisation, such as universities and secondary schools.

In its investigation activities, the Commission has acted in ways in which it undermines itself. And an example of this that readily comes to mind is the case of the former vice president, Arc. Namadi Sambo, whose house the Commission invaded and raided on the basis of false information provided by a supposed whistle blower. The Commission not only embarrassed itself but did irreparable damage to its hitherto sterling reputation by showing that its investigation and intelligence gathering capabilities were hugely defective. The after effect of that debacle was the embarrassment meted on the typically reserved former vice president by the Commission.

There are allegations that the former chairman deliberately mishandled the investigations into corruption allegations against some politically exposed persons, particularly a number of former governors because he was nominated for appointment by a former governor who wielded enormous influence in the past regime. That ought not to have been an excuse for non-performance. What is factually correct is that the Commission did not record any conviction against politically exposed persons during the tenure of the former chairman.

Going forward, it is hoped that the new Chairman, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, another former teacher, would reposition the commission to redeem its much-battered image and deliver on the core mandate for which it was established in 2000, and not tow the ‘lecturing’ line! The anti-corruption war needs all stakeholders to be at their best.

Umar Yakubu is the executive director of Centre for Counter Fraud Awareness.