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Harmonising all anti-graft laws

Written by the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper

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There is a glimmer of hope that the Federal Government is serious about reforming institutions which will assist in erasing the growing perception that only a few corrupt individuals are being fought instead of fighting or preventing corruption.

Specifically, the story that the government has moved to harmonise all policy documents to remove gaps in the anti-corruption laws with a view to making the campaign more transparent and credible is very encouraging.

An advisory body set up by the presidency to assist in this connection has indeed moved to address growing apprehension that prosecution of the war against corruption has not been transparent.

Also, lack of synergy among anti-corruption agencies in the country has been identified as one of the yawning gaps in the efforts to effectively tackle the menace. These plans of harmonisation came up recently at a one-day stakeholders’ consultative meeting in Abuja organised by the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) and the Federal Ministry of Justice.

The timely consultative meeting reportedly considered three strategic draft documents from the two government agencies and inter-agency task team. The Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, told participants that harmonising the three documents, Nigeria Anti-Corruption Strategy, National Anti-Corruption Action Plan and National Strategy to Combat Corruption would enable the government to focus on how best to fight corruption with all government agencies working together for better results. This is how it should be, instead of sermonising on the mountain without facing reality of building strong institutions that will confront strong men known to be using stratagems to evade the laws.

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Executive Secretary of PACAC, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, shed more light on the expediency of the parley when he noted that though it would be difficult to have unanimity in the approach to fighting corruption, there was the need to strengthen and intensify the conversation towards reaching common approaches to combating the monster. This is a step in the right direction. Regretfully, most operatives on this score had dozed off while concentrating on the intangible gains of public relations noise without policy support instrument such as the current action by PACAC.

There is widespread perception that only very few big suspects are being fought at the expense of fighting pervasive corruption in the society through institutions. For instance, are white papers on reports that have suggested mergers of, and consolidation of the anti-corruption agencies in the country. This has not been addressed as the agencies are doing their jobs differently according to their enabling laws. Specifically, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) set up in 2000 and 2002 respectively have not been working harmoniously largely because their enabling laws empower them to face different directions, within the context of official corruption. EFCC has been facing financial and economic crimes while ICPC has been focusing on other offences and corrupt practices that are common in the civil service. But it is very difficult to separate all these provisions in the labyrinth of the offences that the two bodies prosecute. That is why most times, petitioners approach the two bodies for similar issues. This is a discordant tune, in the circumstances.

What is more, the Code of Conduct Tribunal has in the last two years been known to have been engrossed in the prosecution of the President of the Senate and a former minister (of Niger Delta Ministry) in the last administration. Because the alleged offences have had to rely too much on the work of other agencies, many people are getting convinced that these cases are politically motivated. And this too affects credibility of the anti-graft campaigns. Besides, some top officials in the current administration are generally believed to be enjoying protection in high places. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Babachir David Lawal, Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari and the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Yusuf Buratai are among such suspects that have been reportedly cleared by the presidency after serious allegations against them and without allowing the appropriate agencies to do their work.

Even the security report by the Department of State Services (DSS) on the acting chairman of the EFCC that the Senate has rejected twice is a case in point. None of these cases has been referred to the three anti-corruption agencies before clearance statements by the presidency. There was an allegation that the Chief of Army Staff purchased real estate beyond his known income in Dubai while the SGF used his offices to obtain huge contracts for companies in which he had interests on welfare and rehabilitation of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North East where he hails from. The Chief of Staff to the President was also accused of taking a huge bribe from a telecommunications company that was fined for a breach of the law. These high office holders have been casually cleared by the presidency without any known transparent processes. This is a blight on the anti-graft campaigns so far.

This is why the current effort of PACAC towards building strong institutions through harmonisation of the laws and enforcement of same should not be lost again to the spirit of tardiness that has affected the anti-corruption campaigns so far.

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