‘A country that allows its rulers to revel with impunity and reckless abandon in the worst form of corruption and misrule cannot hope to be blessed with the grace of ligh.” –Chief Obafemi Awolowo
On Monday, September 28, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, through its Chairmanm Prof Bolaji Owasanoye, raised the alarm, disclosing that the commission has uncovered the sum of N2.67 billion school feeding funds in private accounts.
Owasanoye, the new man leading Nigeria’s second major anti-graft agency, said that the payment was made, shockingly, to some federal colleges for school feeding during the lockdown when children were not in school.
He made the revelation in his keynote address at the 2nd National Summit on Diminishing Corruption with the theme: “Together Against Corruption and Launch of the National Ethics and Integrity Policy,” at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Again, the ugly development has brought to the fore issues of corruption that have continued to feature prominently in the management of our national affairs. In fact, public governance in Nigeria has been serially accused with verifiable proofs of unbridled corruption and, therefore, is a huge contributor to the nation’s embarrassing corruption perception on the Global Corruption Index.
It is also worrisome that public sector corruption is yet to begin a significant downward trend as bizarre incidences of public sector corruption continue to emerge even with the watch of the ICPC and other anti-graft bodies.
Expectedly, the exposé has sparked a plethora of reactions on the social media while accusing fingers seem to be directed on the agency responsible for the school feeding exercise, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.
But in quick response, Sadiya Umar Farouq, the minister in-charge of the ministry has disassociated her ministry from any indictment, while challenging the ICPC boss to go further to disclose the names of the account holders.
According to the Ministry, the “statement by ICPC was twisted and misinterpreted by mischief makers and directed at the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs.” It added that the Federal Government Colleges’ school feeding is different from the Home Grown School Feeding which is one of its social investment programmes.
The school feeding programme has generated so much controversy that many believe the project is a scam of the APC-led Federal Government. Perhaps, the present involvement by the ICPC in unveiling this reprehensible act will throw more light to the truth behind the scheme.
With the development, analysts say the onus is now on the commission to get to the root of the matter to ensure the sleaze does not end as a mere allegation that cannot be verified at last with strong evidence.
They insist that there is urgent need on the part of the ICPC to produce substantial proof that will bring the culprits to face the wrath of the law as anything short of this will be a mockery of the image of the anti-corruption agency.
Since the creation of the ICPC during the President Olusegun Obasanjo government, the commission has been dogged with criticisms of being weak, and merely barking, but unable to bite.
Many say they were not surprised at the discovery, but that they will only be surprised if anything good comes out of it in form of “ensuring that the perpetrators are punished according to the provisions of the law”.
A university teacher, Dr. Ezekiel Bokana told Sunday Sun that he is not excited at the news because at the end nothing will come out of it in terms of punishment to offenders.
He said that it is sad that both those in the public and private sectors have developed strong penchant for cutting corners, saying that nobody receives commensurate punishment for doing wrong except those with nobody to speak for them.
Bokana said: “I am not one of those to be excited at the revelation because at the end of the day nothing will come out of it. ICPC will make a wild allegation and at the end of the day, they will not have any evidence in court to support their claim.
“It has become a way of life here to have this kind of mind-boggling corruption stories, but in the end nobody will be brought to book. In fact, after this initial sensationalism, the matter will die down and we won’t hear anything about it again. What happened to the case of the snake that swallowed money?”.
Analysis carried out to interrogate how effective the ICPC has been in the fight against public sector corruption in Nigeria, as well as some of the challenges that militate against its operations showed that although the agency had made few contributions to the fight against corruption, it is generally adjudged to be weak and ineffective, for reasons ranging from wide political interferences/lack of autonomy, absence of the requisite political will, and poor funding.
Dr Andrew Okafor, a legal practitioner, told Sunday Sun that “It is recommended among others, that the ICPC should be redesigned to make it much more autonomous and insulated from the likelihood of detrimental political influences as much as possible”.
Perhaps, with his wealth of experience and that of his team in the academic and public sector, Owasanoye may just be the joker the Buhari administration has been waiting for to strengthen the anti-corruption crusade. Perhaps, also, under the watch of this erudite professor of law, ICPC will not only bark, but may also begin to bite. The present case may provide the litmus test for Owasanoye.
Reputed as an outstanding scholar, Owasanoye graduated from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife (formerly University of Ife) in 1984 at the age of 20 with an LL.B, Upper Division, and was called to the Bar in 1985. He thereafter proceeded to the University of Lagos where he bagged an LL.M in 1987 at 24.
His areas of specialization are Commercial and International Trade Law, Corporate Law, Child Rights and Human Rights Law and Strategic Governance and the Law of External Debt Management.
He also served as two-time Director of Research and became the first to be conferred with the Teslim Elias Distinguished Professor of Law.