Making sense of anti-corruption war

The National Assembly has been very active lately in its effort to unearth corrupt practices in ministries, department and agencies. The salacious tales from those investigations have kept millions of Nigerians glued to their television sets as revelations of grand larceny of our patrimony by those saddled with the responsibility of managing it on behalf of the rest of us come to the fore. The investigations have also made bare the conspiracy of the ruling class to keep the poor perpetually downtrodden.

Recently, the lawmakers probed the use of funds released to the military in prosecuting the fight against insurgency. The House of Representatives investigated how the Federal Government spent the $1 billion special security fund approved for it by the National Assembly, just as the lawmakers also probed the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) over alleged $1 billion secret account. For close to two months now, the National Assembly has been investigating the mismanagement of funds by the management of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and, just last Thursday, the House of Representatives commenced investigation into the alleged missing N100 billion at the North-East Development Commission (NEDC). But apart from often incensing us and insulting our sensibilities with the morbid greed of those at the helm of the nation’s agencies and sometimes entertaining us with their incredible theatrics, what else have the investigations achieved? How have the investigations helped the fight against corruption? How can the investigations stop the rape of our country?

While the investigations undertaken by the National Assembly are without any shadow of doubt in line with its oversight responsibility, if that is all we rely on to end corruption in this country, it means the fight against corruption can never be won. But beyond playing to the gallery with the seemingly endless investigations that do not address the real problem, the government needs to change its strategy and get to 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 financial. That is why we are daily bombarded with scandalous 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 our 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 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 a former agriculture minister, who is the current president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), 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 repeatedly 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.

Then, if it is possible, let the burden of proving their innocence be on those charged with corruption. The current system is one which puts the burden of proving that the accused is guilty on the prosecution and just a technical itch may give the accused the leeway to get off the hook. If we put the burden of proving their innocence on those accused of corruption, then, getting off lightly may become herculean.

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

 

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