Anti-corruption war: Fighting to win

In the Global Corruption Index (CPI) 2020 released last Thursday by Transparency International, not only did Nigeria fall three places to rank 149th out of 183 countries, she also emerged as the second most corrupt country in West Africa. The latest ranking is the worst for the country since 2015.

Not unexpectedly, the ruling class has turned this into a weapon to gain political advantage.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), through its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbodiyan, said “It is an incontrovertible confirmation that our nation is more corrupt under President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC than it was in 2015 when they took office.”

Ologbodiyan went further to state that with the ‘exposure’ of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Nigerians should ask the ruling party to commence the process of refunding the money allegedly stolen by its leaders before the end of its tenure in 2023.

But the presidency, in a statement by Shehu Garba, Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President, faulted the corruption perception index, stressing that the report was contrary to observable facts.

Shehu, while noting that the current administration deserved credit for reducing corruption in the public service in the last five years, said: “We have repeatedly challenged TI to provide indices and statistics of its own to justify its sensational and baseless rating on Nigeria and the fight against corruption. We expect them to come clean and desist from further rehashing of old tales.”

But beyond the political shenanigan of deploying the country’s misery and tragedy to score cheap political points or trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes on the state of corruption in the country, this government needs to go into the roots of what gives fillip to corruption so as to reduce its incidence to the barest minimum.

In my view, the government can win the anti-graft war by using a three-prong approach. The first leg of the approach is to limit the exposure of state officials to public funds.

In our country the commonest form of corruption is that which has to do with money. That is why we are daily bombarded with shocking sleaze stories of people appropriating for themselves funds meant for public use. This is so because they have unfettered access to such funds. Since it is not everyone that can resist the lure of lucre, fighting corruption should start with limiting the access of state officials to state funds. For as long as people are exposed to money, the probability of them abusing the process and dipping their fingers into the till will be high. Exposure to funds has a tendency to corrupt even the most disciplined persons. So, to protect the people and the state from corruption and its effects, it is best not to expose state officials to money.

Let’s step back into recent history.

Until recently, the nation’s fertilizer sub-sector was riddled with corruption. For over 40 years, just a negligible fraction of the money voted as subsidy for fertilizer trickled down to the farmers as the bulk of the funds was shared by middlemen and government officials. The farmers got poorer and their farm yields got leaner year after year but the middlemen and government officials smiled to the bank every year. What the penultimate Agriculture Minister, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, did was to use technology to counter this menace. By creating e-wallet that made it possible for government officials and middlemen to be bypassed in the process of getting fertilizers across to the farmers, age-long corruption problem was solved. Farmers got full benefit of government fertilizer subsidy with the attendant increase in farm yields.

Fighting corruption requires new thinking. The war will remain unwinnable if we keep resorting to the same strategies that had failed us in the past.

Granted that the same model may not work in every situation, the government needs to devise several means of beating the corrupt and warped people at their game by coming up with ways of ensuring that their exposure to funds is curtailed.

The second leg is collaboration among institutions. Banks need to cooperate with law enforcement agencies to put the issue of corruption behind us. Every money stolen will at one point or the other find its way into the banking system. If the Bankers Committee will work with law enforcement agencies to blow the lid off every suspicious transaction, curbing corruption and depriving the perpetrators of the benefit of their misdemeanor will become easy.

The final leg is the strengthening of institutions of state created to fight corruption. Corrupt people are intelligent and they always venture into circumventing every measure emplaced by the state to curb corruption. So, the agencies must take intelligence gathering seriously to get information about these people. Money always leaves a trail, so it is easy to track. All that is required is a determination on the part of these agencies to do what is expected of them. They should investigate every case and prosecute when they have evidence.

The anti-corruption war is winnable but it requires seriousness and not just a reliance on perfunctory routine activities and grandstanding that raise so much dust without getting any result.

 

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