For all the positive statements of stewardship by each government since 1999 on anti-corruption, the reality suggests that corruption has prevailed each time.
Over the past week, the two leading political parties in Nigeria – The All Progressives Congress (APC) the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) launched their respective campaigns for the 2019 presidential elections. Whilst the APC chose “Next Level” as the theme of its campaign, the PDP decided on “Let’s Get Nigeria working Again”. The documents released by both parties espousing their plans for the country provide interesting insights on how the country would fare on a broad range of issues in the next four years should either party win. To enrich Nigeria’s democratic experience in the course of the upcoming elections, it is expedient for citizens to go beyond the headlines and hashtags to examine the content, pragmatism and potential impact of these plans.
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Unsurprisingly, anti-corruption features prominently in the thematic focus areas of both documents. It is now customary for any individual or party seeking political office in Nigeria to make the “fight against corruption” fundamental to their plans for the country. Unfortunately, after two decades of our current democratic experience, the fight rages on with no end in sight. If it is destined to be a fight to the death, there is no doubt where the most casualties lie at the moment. For all the positive statements of stewardship by each government since 1999 on anti-corruption, the reality suggests that corruption has prevailed each time.
This is why it is important to contextualise and interrogate the plans in this area in the run up to the 2019 elections by critically examining the promises and strategies in these documents to capture what the prospects for anti-corruption are for Nigeria in 2019 and beyond.
The campaign document of the presidential candidate of the PDP identifies anticorruption and the rule of law as one of its priority areas. It proceeds on the premise that the lack of progress in addressing corruption is caused by lack of transparency, absence of mechanisms for effective law enforcement, breakdown of rule of law and order, weak institutions and the absence of a coordinated national anti-corruption strategy.
To address these problems, the campaign promises institutional reforms that strengthen anti-corruption agencies through increased independence, delineation of functions, increased funding and improved conditions of service for personnel, an improved relationship between anti-corruption agencies and the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, transforming the capacity of the criminal justice system to deal with corruption and changing public perception towards corrupt practices, amongst others.
Some of the immediate steps to be taken to achieve these plans include launching a comprehensive national anticorruption strategy, passing new and existing critical anti-corruption legislation, enforcing the code of conduct for public officers, strengthening due process mechanisms, launching a comprehensive open governance partnership framework, deploying technology that supports end-to-end operations of government, and supporting the media and civil society to take advantage of the Freedom of Information Act, whilst encouraging subnational governments to enact laws on freedom of information. The campaign promises to achieve a good number of these initiatives within 100 days of getting into office.
Perhaps, in keeping with the idea of making things work again, there are very few novel promises or plans in this document for addressing corruption. Whilst it demonstrates a desire for comprehensiveness which accords with the overall manner of the 186-page document, the plans for addressing corruption restates most of the general strategies promised and or implemented by previous administration in the area of anticorruption. For instance, the promise to make anti-corruption agencies more independent and better funded is one that has been made repeatedly in the past with little implementation or results when the candidates eventually get into office. This also applies to promises to strengthen due process mechanisms and to adopt e-governance.
Furthermore, some the mechanisms the campaign promises to establish are mechanisms already in place and operational in the country. These include the promises to launch an open governance partnership framework, a national anticorruption strategy, and to establish anti-corruption and transparency monitoring units in all government ministries, departments and agencies.
It is general knowledge that Nigeria signed on to the global Open Government Partnership (OGP) mechanism in 2016 and is in the process of concluding the implementation of its first National Action Plan. There is also a National Anticorruption Strategy, which was put in place following an extensive collaborative process. Similarly, most government ministries, departments and agencies have established anti-corruption and transparency monitoring units.
Whilst genuine questions can be raised about the effectiveness of these mechanisms currently, a promise to establish mechanisms that are already in place disregards the extant context of the anticorruption regime in the country, which should form the foundation of any new strategy. A plan to strengthen or modify existing strategies would arguably constitute a more pragmatic approach in this context. In terms of innovative mechanisms, the document proposes setting up a Major Corruption Case Monitoring and Review committee to eliminate arbitrary and selective investigation and prosecution of corruption cases. The resolve to address this problem is commendable, although the effectiveness of the committee will depend on the powers conferred on it by law and the independence granted the committee itself.
The strategy document further promises a separation of the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice. Although this is a step that enjoys reasonable support, whether or not it is expedient in the context of Nigeria and would secure the independence of the Office of the Attorney-General is uncertain. The history of the use of the office of the AG to interfere in anti-corruption prosecutions in the past suggests that this is step worth exploring. However, the separation of these offices would need to be done within a framework that guarantees the neutrality of the office of the AG.
In addition to the above, arguably the most atypical plan for addressing corruption in the document is that of putting in place an appropriate reward system that would not only review and increase the salaries of public officials but would be built on the concept of “fair pay for fair work”. Whilst there have been steps by previous administrations to increase salaries, this is the first time the idea is being considered as a step towards addressing corruption.
Available research in this area suggests that there is no direct causality between increase of salaries of public officials and reduction of corruption. However, if such increase leads to an improvement in the general standard of living of people and enhances the economy of the country, then more candid results could be expected.
Beyond this, the prospects of making anti-corruption work again under the Atiku plan lies in the timeworn issue of political will to initiate and implement these plans. Unfortunately, the positive exercise of political will to implement anti-corruption reforms is an area where Presidents in Nigeria have not excelled in the past. Citizens will have to resign to hoping that this would be a different case. Moreover, considering that a substantial number of Atiku’s plans restate ongoing anti-corruption initiatives, it would be significant to ascertain the willingness of his government to continue implementing such initiatives, rather than put in place new ones; something our leaders also do not excel in.
Overall, the relatively detailed nature of the plans provides a good starting point for citizens to meaningfully engage the campaigns, in comparison to the plans of the incumbent Muhammadu Buhari to address corruption, which will be considered in the second part of this piece.
Ayibakuro is Director of Research and Policy, ANEEJ