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Executive branch as the greatest impediment towards eradication of corruption in Nigeria – Akin Ogunlola



To state that Nigeria has suffered from high incidence of corruption as reflected in high level of poverty among its citizens, or that corruption in Nigeria has attained the status of a pervasive and phenomenal social behavior, is only stating the obvious. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that nothing poses greater existential threat to the country than corruption.

The purpose of this writing is however neither to depict the Executive branch as largely unpatriotic, nor to corroborate the recent statement of Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, the Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) as reported by the Punch newspaper when he said that the Executive branch of our government is more corrupt than both the Legislative and judicial arms. This is a natural outcome not necessarily because the Executive branch is made up of more corrupt people but because the branch has better opportunity and greater access to more funds, and thus faces greater temptation to engage in far greater corrupt practices than the other two branches.

Without doubt, the argument could therefore be madethat the proportion of grand corruption perpetrated in Nigeria by each branch of government is proportional to its access to national resources and monetary allocation under the country’s budget. Since over 96% of the budgeted money under successive Nigeria’s Appropriation Acts is always allocated to the Executive branch, it should come as no surprise that the branch usually commits over 96% of the grand corruption in the country. Unfortunately, it is this grand corruption that hinders development, increases citizens’ poverty, violates human rights and ensured insecurity and political instability in any country, most especially Nigeria. 

The intention here however is to briefly draw attention to the two-faced negative role being played by the Executive branch of government in entrenching corruption and obstructing its eradication at the same time either through its actions or inactions, and to assert that corruption, especially the most harmful form (i.e. grand corruption) will significantly reduce (if not totally eradicated) in Nigeria once the Executive branch is willing and determined to discharge its responsibility diligently and in good faith. In other words, not only is the Executive branch arguably more corrupt than the Legislative and Judicial branches, but also that the high rate of corruption in today’s Nigeria is a direct outcome of the dereliction of duty on the part of the Executive branch. No branch, certainly no one is eager to hurriedly eradicate a system or loophole under which he/she is the greatest beneficiary.

According to Ogunlana, O.A. (2008), there are different types of corruption, among which are grand corruption, political corruption, moral corruption, petty corruption etc all of which are largely caused by poverty, greed, culture of tolerance for corruption and corrupt practices, weak legal and judicial process, failure to apply standards, long period of military rule, illiteracy among citizens among others. For the purpose of this discussion, we shall only recognize only two forms of corruption because every other type can readily fit into these two: (a) grand corruption, and (b) petty corruption.

Grand corruption can be defined as corruption occurring at the highest levels of government in a way that requires significant subversion of the political, legal and economic systems usually enabling the leaders to benefit at the expense of the public good. The Transparency International (TI) defined grand corruption as the abuse of high-level power that benefits the few at the expense of the many, and causes serious and widespread harm to individuals and society. It often goes unpunished. On the other hand, petty corruption has been described as the everyday abuse of entrusted power by public officials in their interactions with ordinary citizens, who often are trying to access basic goods or services in places like hospitals, schools, police departments and other agencies.

While it must be stated unequivocally that all forms of corruption are bad and inimical to growth and development of any country, it should equally be emphasized that it is the proportion and frequency of grand corruption in Nigeria which has frustrated every effort at development and hindered the country’s ability to successfully tackle this hydra headed monster. 

As in the United States of America, Nigeria operates a Presidential system of government with three co-equal branches, namely Legislature, Executive and the Judiciary. Ordinarily, the Legislature’s primary responsibility is law making and exercising the power of oversight on the actions of the Executive in accordance with the democratic principle of checks and balances. Specifically, section 4 (2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) vested the National Assembly with that power by providing that ‘the National Assembly shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation or any part thereof’. Furthermore, section 14(2) (b) of the Constitution proclaims that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”.

Discharging that responsibility, the Nigerian Legislature has passed virtually every thinkable law and created necessary legal and institutional frameworks mandated by the United Nations for fighting or eradicating corruption in the country. It is no exaggeration to therefore claim that the Nigerian legislature, rather than the Executive branch, has so far been in the forefront of the genuine efforts to eradicate corruption from the country.

The United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) is the only legally binding international anti-corruption multilateral treaty which was adopted by the United nations General Assembly in 2003. The convention recognized the importance of both preventive and punitive measures, addresses the cross-border nature of corruption and came up with provisions on international cooperation and return of the proceeds of corruption. Among the key actions required of states parties (Nigeria is a party) under the Convention include for example, Article 6 (1) and (2) of the UNCAC which obligated those countries that have ratified the convention (i.e. parties states) to have an anti-corruption body or bodies in charge of corruption preventive measures and policies, and to grant those bodies required independence to ensure that they can do their jobs unimpeded and free from undue influences. Under the Convention, each country is also to provide these anti-corruption bodies with adequate resources and training.

Furthermore, Article 7 of UNCAC enjoined each states party to establish merit system for its civil service, while Article 8 encouraged parties’ states to promulgate a code of conduct for all public officials and endeavor to require officials to disclose their outside activities, employments, investments, assets and gifts that may reflect conflict of interest etc. Article 9 recommended the creation of a public procurement system that is based on enhanced transparency,competition and objective selection criteria with legal recourse for violation. The next Article calls for greater transparency in the management of, and access to public information. Article 14 urged member states to institute a comprehensive regulatory scheme to prevent money laundering and consider creating financial intelligence unit to receive, analyze and disseminate reports of suspicious transactions.

In line with the United Nations mandates as contained in the various Articles of UNCAC, the Nigerian legislature passed the major anti-corruption Acts creating the Independent Corrupt Practices Crimes Commission (ICPC) 2003, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) 2004, the Nigeria’s Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) 2018 specifically to provide financial intelligence to all competent authorities in order to strengthen anti-money laundering and combat the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT), and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act.

Other laws already passed in the country and which are designed to fight corruption in the country include the Advanced Fee Fraud and other Related Offences Act; the Freedom of Information Act 2011; the Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2011; the Fiscal Responsibility Act; the Code of Conduct for Public Officers which is contained in the fifth schedule of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended); and the Nigerian Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) Act 2007. As a matter of fact, Nigeria was the first country in the global EITI to support implementation with legislation. In the same vein, the Proceeds of Crimes bill for the effective management and disposal of forfeited proceeds and instrumentalities of crimes was the first bill to be passed by the current ninth House of Representatives under the leadership of Rt. Hon Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila. The bill ispresently before the Senate.

From the avalanche of these, and other existing laws which are specifically designed to combat corruption in the country, it is reasonable to conclude that prevalence of corruption in Nigeria cannot be attributed to lack of sufficient anti-corruption laws, legal regimes, or inactivity on the part of Nigerian National Assembly. The searchlight for genuine solution to endemic corruption must therefore be beamed elsewhere, which natural leads us to the next branch of government, the Executive. Without doubt, if all these anti-corruptionlaws are enforced strictly, diligently and impartially by the Executive branch that is responsible for enforcing the laws and executing government policies, there would have been appreciable decrease in the incidence of corruption in the country by now. Regrettably, that is not the case.

A study of past Nigerian Appropriation Acts (national budgets) revealed that lion share of the money appropriated by the National Assembly in any given year goes always to the Executive branch, and understandably so too. Usually, less than 1.5% of the total annual appropriated funds (budget) go to the National Assembly (Legislature) while another 1.2% or less also go to the Judiciary as third brand of government. In other words, in each budget year, about 97% of total budgetary allocation goes to the Executive. For examples, in the year 2016, total budget for the country was about N6.07 trillion out of which the National Assembly got N115 billion, while the Judiciary was allocated N70 billion (National Assembly and Judiciary combined received total of (N185 billion out of entire national budget of N6 trillion). In the year 2017, Nigeria’s total budget was about N7.4 trillion out of which N125 billion was allocated to the National Assembly, while N100 billion went to the Judiciary. Finally in the 2018 Appropriation Act, total budget about N9.1 trillion (N9.120, 334, .866). Out of that N9.1 trillion, the National Assembly received N139 billion while the third branch of government, Judiciary got N110 billion. The Legislature and Judiciary combined therefore received N249 billion out of N9.1 national budget for the year 2018 while the rest stayed with the Executive branch.

Since the Executive branch has greater access to the funds and resources with sole responsible for executing all capital projects and policies of government, much more outrageous forms of corruption take place in this branch of government than the other two branches combined. The Executive branch invites public tenders and awards all government contracts, supervises, certifies contract performance, and ultimately decides who, when and how much money to pay out to contractors. With so much budgeted money in the hand of the Executive branch, and as a direct result of these overlapping responsibilities, many unscrupulous officials have perfected ways of enriching themselves so much that grand corruption is rampant within, and is virtually an exclusive preserve of the Executive branch.Let us examine a few of the reported or prosecuted grand corruption cases in the country and the amount of money allegedly involved to ascertain the validity of that claim. 

1. Sambo Dasuki, a former national security adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan allegedly mismanaged $2.1billion

2. Diezani Alison-Madueke – a PBS NewsHour segment quoted American and British officials saying that this former petroleum minister might have personally organized a diversion of $6 billion (N1.2 trillion). She has was indicted to have lootedor misappropriated over $20 billion

3. Patrick Akpobolokemi, former NIMASA boss reportedly looted almost thirteen billion naira (N12. 9 billion)

4. Musiliu Obanikoro, a former minister reported mismanaged N4.7 billion

5. Alhaji Abdullahi Dikko, a public servant was said to have stolen N40 billion from the Nigerian Customs

6. Alex Badeh, a former chief of defense staff was involved in mismanagement of over N800 million

7. Lucky Igbinedon, a former state governor allegedly looted or mismanaged $24 billion

8. James Ibori, 250 million pounds

9. James Bala Ngilari was convicted for awarding a contract to purchase 25 vehcles at a cost of $548 million without due process

10. Orji Kalu, former Abia state governor N7.6 billion fraud

11. Former NIA Director General was involved in N13.3 billion scandal which was allegedly given to him by the Central Bank

12. Josua Dariye accused of stealing $9 million of public funds and diverting another N1.i billion state ecological fund.  

13. The precise amount looted by late General Sanni Abacha, a former military dictator is yet to be ascertained. It is instructive to note however that the Sun newspaper once reported that another sum of N3.3 trillion Abacha loot was again discovered. Similarly, the Punch newspaper of October 22, 2019 reported that the Federal Government disbursed $103.64 million Abacha loot to the Nigerian poor.

14. Abdulrasheed Maina, a former chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team looted N24 billion. As reported by the Guardian newspapers, the man also  claimed that he was been hunted for stopping N5.32 billion allegedly being stolen monthly in the office of the Head of Service and the Police Pension office.

15. the 6th National Assembly (House of Representatives) as a result of its oversight function ensured that Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA’s) returned unspent budgeted funds amounting to about N450 billion to the government treasury in 2007. This amount would have been looted or misappropriated as usual.

16. In the same vein, another sum of N350 billionwas again recovered in 2008. 

17. The House of Representatives of the 6th National Assembly also discovered that about N5 trilliongenerated revenue were never remitted by MDA’s for the past 5 years before investigation.

18. In 2012, Ezekwesili, a former Federal Minister disclosed that Nigeria has lost $400 billion oil revenue to corruption since independence. The level of development we could have achieved as a country had all these monies not been stolen, is better imagined. 

What is common to all these corruption cases apart from the scale of looting displayed or the huge amount of money involved in each of these cases is that they all took place within the Executive branch of government (whether at the federal or state level). The ever increasing power of the executive arm of government also makes it more culpable in the rampant corruption ravaging the country because the Executive has its hands in appointment of judges, the heads of the Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs), the investigators, the prosecutors, and all the personnel responsible for giving effect to those anti-corruption laws already passed by the Legislature.

The Executive not only appoints judges but sometimes even determines the composition and leadership of the National Assembly. Powerful state governors quite frequently select, finance and determine which legislative candidates win general elections. Most federal lawmakers with no experience, skill or necessary temperament find their ways to the National Assembly courtesy of political cronyism and god-fatherism of the governors. Corruption has therefore defiled all measures designed to combat it because those involved in the fight, those making vital appointments, and those charged with the responsibility of implementing the laws or prosecuting the corrupt, are themselves very corrupt. 

The irony is that the very people engaged in the grand corruption and gross mismanagement of national resources in the country, are the same people charged with arresting corruption. In a managed democracy with weak institutions as ours, it means that the Executive branch is charged with the responsibility of blocking its own source of easy money, an unsavory situation which is sufficient to ensure bad faith implementation of the laws. Many people believed that more dangerous than earthquakes, is the impunity and rapacious looting of public funds by powerful officials of government without being held accountable.

The current administration of President Mohammadu Buhari should however be commended for its strong anti-corruption stance and for providing the courage and political will necessary to fight corruption in the country. It is specifically noteworthy that more high profile cases of corruption have been prosecuted and, in July 2017, the government approved five key pillars of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS) which include prevention of corruption; enforcement and sanctions; public engagement; campaign for ethical reorientation; and recovery of proceeds of corruption. Furthermore, to the credit of this administration, impunity and recklessness on the part of corrupt public officials could be said to have reduced significantly. But more still needs to be done. The Executive must on its own volition, design a policy or anti-corruption mechanism that is specifically developed and narrowly tailored towards rooting out corruption among its rank and file. This policy which must come with very severe punishment for its breach, should not be of general application to the entire country or to any other branch of government but be made exclusively applicable to the members of the Executive branch alone. 

The Nigeria’s Executive branch must hold itself to higher ethical standard and learn to put national interest ahead of personal interests. Furthermore, the government must have a clearly defined strategy for cultivating and managing government-civil society relations in the fight against corruption instead of the current reactive and often confrontational approach where the government views every criticism as an attack against government’s anti-corruption efforts. 

In conclusion, underdevelopment, poverty, insecurity and lack of trust in government institutions will remain perpetual features of Nigeria until the Executive branch purges itself of corruption and demonstrate genuine commitment to transparency, accountability, good governance and higher level of patriotism. It is the greed and grand corruption of the Executive branch (as opposed to that of other two branches) that keeps Nigeria in perpetual state of poverty and underdevelopment notwithstanding the level of Executive pretences or propaganda to the contrary.Being the greatest beneficiary of monumental corruption, and with enormous resources at its disposalas proceeds of corrupt practices which are often enough to buy further influence and desired results, it is to be expected that some powerful members of the Executive branch will naturally continue to do everything within their powers to frustrate the fight against corruption in every way possible.

Nigeria’s anti-graft agencies (Executive branch) must also demonstrate the needed courage to diligently and impartially enforce all the anti-corruption laws already put in place by the legislature. Both the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)will do better to set a bench marks for the types of corruption cases the Commissions take up. Going after petty corruption and common criminals as the yahoo boys, or getting involved in land disputes matters between individuals or cases of fraud with monetary values of less than N1 million etc, are mere distractions because such cases are better handled by the police, and it is the grand corruption by the Executive branch that has the most devastating effects on the country’s ability to develop or eradicate corruption, not the petty ones.

Finally, the Executive branch must introduce continued and mandatory education in civic responsibilities and patriotism to its curriculum as a necessary pre- condition for any promotion or appointment of its officials because until higher ethical standard and acceptable best practices are embraced and adhered toby the Executive branch, the chances of getting rid of corruption in Nigeria remain very slim. Whistleblowers policy of the government must equally be diligently implemented with complete immunity from persecution and other retaliatory actions for any patriotic citizen willing to expose corrupt practices.

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