NIGERIA: Calls for action to beef up anti-corruption efforts

Faith in President Jonathon’s fight against corruption is diminishing/UN Photo:Devra Berkowitz
Despite early optimism in Nigeria’s anti-corruption efforts, analysts and citizens are losing faith in the potential for progress, with Human Rights Watch (HRW) saying immediate action is necessary to maintain public confidence that fighting corruption can make a difference.

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HRW researcher Chris Albin-Lackey said Nigeria’s main corruption-fighting agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), had initially “captured the imagination of Nigerians” and made them believe that corrupt politicians could be held to account. Established by the Nigerian government in 2002 the commission was given broad powers to investigate and prosecute economic and financial crimes, including government corruption.

President Goodluck Jonathan has also spoken out against corruption. This year in the lead up to April’s presidential elections he ran on a strong anti-corruption platform, vowing not to interfere in the operation of the EFCC. When he swore in his new administration in July he continued to insist that all levels of government would be investigated, declaring corruption was a “monster that we need to confront and defeat”.

But confidence in EFCC and Jonathan’s government is fading. Nigeria stands at 134 in Transparency International’s annual corruption perceptions index, which ranks 178 countries in order of least to most corrupt.

Although EFCC is still the brightest hope for combating corruption in Nigeria, said Albin-Lackey,“the public face and the potential of the EFCC has started to slip [and] it needs public legitimacy to function.” Without prompt action to improve the commission, public confidence may erode too far for its legitimacy to be restored, he said.

Okechukwu Nwanguma, programme coordinator with NGO Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN), told IRIN he saw a “growing loss of confidence in the commitment and ability of President Goodluck Jonathan to scale up the fight against corruption.”

Other analysts are also doubtful the necessary political will exists to effect change. “There isn’t anything at all to indicate that [the presidency] is willing to tackle corruption in a non-partisan manner,” said Felix Morka of the Nigerian NGO Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC).

Reforming the EFCC

Lack of confidence in the EFCC to effectively combat government corruption is not without good reason, according to an August 2011 HRW report – Corruption on Trial? – co-authored by Albin-Lackey.

The report examines the achievements of the EFCC, finding that since the inception of the commission in 2002 only four senior politicians have been charged, each of whom received little or no jail time. The report details a series of cases where despite strong indications that certain politicians were involved in corruption, they were never prosecuted by the EFCC.

The report also found the ability of the EFCC to bring people to justice was hampered by extensive political interference in the judiciary, judicial inefficiency and deliberate delays. According to the report, of the EFCC’s 12 ongoing prosecutions of former state governors, eight have already “been dragged out for more than three years” with some lasting “more than four years without a single witness being called at trial”.

The report specified that neither the first chairman of the commission, Nuhu Ribadu, nor the second – and current – chairperson, Farida Waziri, had achieved many tangible results.

EFCC spokesperson Femi Babafemi said he agreed with the report’s findings on the slow pace of the judiciary, but told IRIN he would not comment on the issue of political interference.

Albin-Lackey said the recommendations were “a pragmatic and modest agenda the government could follow to quickly improve the [corruption] situation” rather than aimed at eliminating corruption altogether. “Corruption has become so entrenched at so many levels it would be crazy to think there was a quick fix.”

A government spokesperson could not be reached by phone or email, but Albin-Lackey said HRW was “still waiting for a real response from government on what they think of the recommendations and if they intend to act on them.”

Other analysts were doubtful the government would allow change. “We do not need any additional reform of the EFCC. All we need is for the political leadership to allow these agencies to discharge their responsibilities,” Utsaha said.

“If the government won’t [address corruption] I don’t see why an institution created by the government will,” SERAC’s Morka added.

Ordinary citizens suffering

Corruption diverts resources from the oil-rich nation away from basic services where they are needed, says Albin-Lackey. “[Nigeria is] still very poor despite the oil resources,” he told IRIN. “Oil revenues have increased but there has not been a corresponding increase in the quality of health and education services.”

In the human development index Nigeria currently stands at 142 out of 169. Life expectancy is only 48.4 years and unemployment is estimated at 19.7 percent. Maternal mortality was 840 per 100,000 live births in 2008, according to UN Children’s Fund figures adjusted for underreporting. Lack of development has also been linked to criminal activity such as oil bunkering in the Niger Delta.

In Rivers State, in the oil-producing south, local government revenues have risen while the level of basic services declines, according to a 2007 HRW study.

According to the study, revenues in 23 Local Government Councils rose steadily from US$31.7 million in 2000 to nearly $115 million in the first eight months of 2006. Despite increasing revenue, basic services frequently remained a low priority. For example, in Opobo/Nkoro the 2005 budget saw only 2.4 percent (or $170,000) allocated to education after teacher salaries – with half of that given in bursaries to university students from the local government. Only $23,000 was allocated to equipping, building and repairing local health facilities. This compares to the chairman’s travel budget of $53,800, and his “miscellaneous expenses” budget of $196,500.

Limited and declining basic services are a concern across the country. For example, national good water coverage fell from 49 percent in 1990 to 48 percent in 2004.

“Ordinary citizens pay the price of corruption,” said Morka. “The power supply is nonexistent in many parts of the country [so] people rely on generators more than the national grid… People go [to hospitals] to die [and] there is no public secondary school that even the humblest of citizens would use.”



Theme (s): Economy, Education, Governance,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]