By Erasmus Ikhide
The Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) supported by UK Aid as part of the broader Anti-Corruption fight in Nigeria (ACORN) programme convokes policy dialogue, setting the agenda for the Federal Government of Nigeria on how to successfully prosecute the fight against corruption.
The policy dialogue which came up under ANEEJ MANTRA reviews progresses made by the current administration’s anti-corruption agenda as much as major challenges/obstacles to Nigeria’s Anti-Graft efforts and proffer solutions.
Setting the agenda for the second term of President Muhammadu Buhari in terms of anti-corruption, the about 35 participants who attended the event drawn from Federal Ministry of Justice, ICPC, EFCC and Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, the academia, CSOs working on anti-corruption issues including youth and women groups, and journalists come to the conclusion that corruption remains the cancer eating up the heart and soul of the nation.
The participants urged the International Community to remove all blockages to the tracing, recovery and return of looted assets in line with the London Anti-Corruption Summit and Global Forum on Asset (GFAR) Commitments and facilitate the return of all looted assets to finance development initiatives in Nigeria.
Reviewing the fight against corruption so far, the meeting highlighted a number of achievements where the current administration has made progress to include; the establishment of Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption in 2015, the harmonisation of existing anti-corruption documents into a single National Anti-Corruption Strategy, enlisting the nation into the Open Government Partnership (OGP) under which the government is implementing a two-year National Action Plan (NAP). The benefit of this is that OGP has provided opportunity for Nigeria to advance reforms in a number of areas including anti-corruption (review of CAMA law etc, beneficial ownership, citizen engagement etc).
The government has also introduced the Whistle Blowers Policy which has supported the recovery of stolen assets both at domestic and international levels; the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Act which was passed and signed into law and the establishment of Asset Recovery and Management Unit set up within the Ministry of Justice and the development of a draft guideline on asset recovery and management, pending the passage of POCA.
The meeting lauded the government’s successful prosecution and conviction of high profile corruption cases including the conviction of two former governors and the implementation of TSA, BVN, Presidential Initiative on Continues Audit among others.
However, the meeting frawns at the poor implementation of Administration of Criminal Justice Act with resultant effort on the pace of prosecution of corruption cases. It was noted that the non-constitution of the National Council on Procurement as provided for by the Public Procurement Act, 2007 is a major setback for the fight against corruption. Added to that is the poor funding of anti-corruption institutions and the judiciary, in some cases leading to ineffective investigations and prosecution.
The participants bemoaned inter agency rivalry among the Anti-Corruption Agencies (ACAs) and perceived preponderance of political partisanship in dealing with corruption issues, which have been noticed to have dwindled citizens trust in the process.
In addition, the meeting noted the poor working relationship between the executive and legislative arms of government in advancing issues of national interest. Harmonious working relation was suggested between the two arms of governments to ensure that pending anti-corruption bills like POCA, Mutual Legal Assistant, Whistle Blowers Protection Bill, Money Laundry Prohibition Bill etc are passed and implemented without delay.
The Federal Government was further advised to work closely with State and Local Governments on the implementation of anti-corruption strategy for the fight against corruption to be taken down to the grassroots and subsequently prosecute corruption government officials at that levels.
The government was also encouraged to step up the level of funding and strengthen anti-corruption institutions and criminal justice system to improve the effectiveness of such institutions, periodically update Nigerians on loots/assets recovered and what such assets are being used for, as well as work with the National Assembly to review the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act to allow the Bureau to make public, assets declared by public office holders in accordance with the laws establishing it.
In conclusion, the participants agreed that President Buhari should give priority attention to the consolidation of the fight against corruption in order to actualize his “Next Level” mantra in the next four years.