Anti-graft war: Transparency International Vs Presidency, by Jerry Uwah

Transparency International (TI) is a thorn in the flesh of Nigeria’s rulers. In the last few years, the global anti- corruption watchdog has shown Nigeria gyrating from one of the world’s most corrupt countries to relatively modest position of 136 among 180 nations in its corruption perception index in 2016.
In 2017, Nigeria’s score dropped by one percentage point thus plunging to 148 on the list. TI’s rating suggests that corruption worsened in Nigeria in 2017 compared to 2016.
The presidency is worried about Nigeria’s ranking in TI’s corruption perception index, and the reason is obvious. The current administration rode to power on the back of a robust promise to wrestle corruption to the ground. The slogan during the 2015 election campaign was: “Corruption would kill Nigeria if Nigeria does not kill corruption”. The party that promised to kill corruption was consequently given the mandate to rule. Since then, government has battled corruption relentlessly. With almost N1 trillion in cash and property recovered, government scores itself high on the campaign, but TI disagrees.
That probably explains why the presidency responded to TI’s report with unmitigated fury. Garba Shehu, President Muhammadu Buhari’s special adviser on media and publicity derided TI’s ranking as “misleading and unfair”. He argued that whatever criteria were used by TI did not take into account “verifiable” achievement of government in the fight against corruption.
A day after the ranking was published, Awal Musa Rafsanjani, TI’s representative in Nigeria rose to a spirited defence of Nigeria’s position in TI’s corruption perception index. He told Ray Power’s Political Platform crew that the executive was practically the only arm of government fighting corruption. He argued that the legislature and judiciary were yet to key to the campaign. Citing the rather belated arraignment of a former secretary to the federal government over contract scam, Rafsanjani stressed that the federal government itself was not serious with the anti-corruption campaign.
Besides, Rafsanjani noted that state and local governments were still doing business as usual. Even at the federal level where the war is being waged with the full fury and might of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Rafsanjani noted that no top ranking corrupt public official has been convicted and jailed in the last two years.
The presidency flaunts impressive figures on loot recovery as evidence of a successful campaign against corruption. Since the inception of the current administration in 2015, well over N700 billion and hundreds of landed properties have been recovered from treasury looters.
For the first time in the history of Nigeria, the illegal immunity that judges used as cover for obtaining bribes and perverting justice has been challenged. Judges now stand trial for alleged corrupt practices. That is commendable.
However, what could be deciphered from Rafsanjani’s argument on TI’s perception of a country’s level of corruption is that the fight against corruption does not begin and end with loot recovery. Treasury looters must be tried and appropriately punished. Besides, every tier of government must be involved.
No one in the presidency can boast that those who looted Nigeria in the last 10 years are in jail. Ironically, the presidency is not to blame for the malfeasance at the nation’s bar and bench that has practically stalled the trial of the mega thieves despite the forfeiture of huge sums and property obtained from the proceeds of crime.
Rafsanjani was inadvertently amplifying Buhari’s fears at the inception of his administration. The president had expressed fears about the judiciary as a possible obstacle to the war against corruption.
The verdicts from the courts seem to justify his fears. A state governor who was the highest ranking politician to be convicted and sent to jail for corruption was promptly freed by the Court of Appeal. Even before the verdict of the lower court was nullified, the convicted governor had been smuggled out of jail through controversial bail.
A judge who collected huge sums of money from someone with cases in his court was freed on the tepid excuse that the prosecution could not prove which case in the court of the indicted judge was to be influenced by the money. The money was deceitfully described as a gift from a friend of the judge.
Bukola Saraki is a free man today not because he did not collect salaries as governor of Kwara State and senator of the federal republic at the same time, but because the prosecution, for obvious reasons, could not invite the accountant-general of Kwara State to confirm the indisputable evidence presented by a bank official in the case.
Most of the corruption cases that the EFCC has lost in the last two years are lost on irrelevant technical grounds.
Garba Shehu does not need to worry about TI’s ranking. TI is doing its job based on facts on ground. It is the presidency that has been taken to battle against the Goliaths of corruption with its hands tied to the back.
Government can quicken the trial of corrupt politicians and top civil servants by inserting a provision in the anti-corruption law that would set a time line of six months for the completion of corruption cases. That is the best way to curtail lawyers’ delay tactics.

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