“Without strong watchdog institutions,
impunity becomes the very foundation
upon which systems of corruption are built.
And if impunity is not demolished,
all efforts to bring an end to corruption are in vain”.
— Rigoberta Menchú, Nobel laureate.
One of the derivable positives from the recent nationwide protests against the now-dissolved police Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) is the rise in citizens’ consciousness towards governance in Nigeria. Before now, citizens’ participation in governance has been at low ebb especially among the youth, who are often labeled lazy by some public commentators.
However, experience from the #EndSARS protests revealed the power of oneness in demanding positive changes no matter the perceived difficulties.
The protests had also metamorphosed into agitations for improved governance in addition to justice for victims of police brutality. Hence, demands are now rife for extension of the protests beyond #EndSARS to maladministration, nepotism, and corruption following the authorities’ decision to scrap the infamous police outfit.
For instance, social media were recently inundated with some campaign messages to #EndBadLeadership. They include; “Are You Happy That A Bag Of Rice Is Now N35-40k? Are You Not Angry That Every Nigerian Home Depend On Personal Generating Set For Electricity? Are You Not Mad At The Insane Number Of Extortion Points Called Checkpoints Allover Our Roads?
Are You Not Mad That Police, FRSC, Civil Defence, VIO, Customs, LASTMA, OCHA BRIGADE, Ndi Mpiawa Azu, Govt Sponsored Touts and Hooligans ETC Are All On Our Roads and Markets Harassing And Extorting Innocent People In Broad Day Light?’’
“Are You Not Bitter That SMSE And Budding Entrepreneurs Are Frustrated Out Of Business By Different Business Permits, Multiple Taxes, And Insane Levies? Are You Not Sad That You’re Forced To Bribe Your Way Through Life If You Need Anything Done In This Nation? Do You Ever Wonder Why Over 60% Of Our Graduates Are Jobless? Are You Not Sad That Honest Hardworking People Die Broke In This Nation While The Shady Thrive?”
However, it will be expedient for such campaigns to move aggressively toward ending or abating corruption, considering its ignoble role in the nation’s maladies.
At present, the citizens’ efforts at fighting corruption are often discouraged by several inherent factors. For instance, registering a complaint by the citizens seems futile and even risky while the scale of the problem can be overwhelming.
With such a vast and seemingly intractable problem, re-thinking anti-corruption efforts in the country would be a welcome development. Already, a Lagos-based rights group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has started campaigning for a citizens-based- approach in stemming the tides of corruption in Nigeria.
The group’s advocacies are evident in recent publications like “From Darkness to Darkness: How Nigerians are paying the price for corruption in the electricity sector”, “Letting The Big Fish Swim: “How Those Accused of High-Level Corruption are Getting Away with their Crimes and Profiting from Nigeria’s Legacy of Impunity”, and “Stealing the future: How Federal Universities in Nigeria have been stripped apart by corruption”.
As one of the Nigerian organizations, in the fore-front in the long fight for transparency and in building jurisprudence around access to information, the group has also identified a lack of appropriate follow-up and enforcement actions in corruption cases reported by citizens, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and others as an integral part of the overall corruption problem.
The group had since its establishment in 2004, combined research and advocacy with public impact and strategic litigation to expose corruption and protect the rights of Nigerian citizens.
In re-thinking approaches towards fighting corruption, SERAP has decided to focus at the local level where the citizen most directly feels the impact — be it money destined for improved hospitals disappearing or services not being delivered.
SERAP is also working to help ordinary citizens take advantage of the 2011 Freedom of Information Act, which dictates that any person may access or request information in any written form that is in the possession of any public official, agency, or institution.
The act provides immunity to public officers who disclose information in good faith and expects public institutions to keep organized records to facilitate easy access. It could also be a powerful tool for accountability, enabling citizens to shine a light on the often-mysterious activities of the government. However, most of the citizens remain unaware of the existence of the law or are unsure about how to make a request.
Consequently, due to a lack of uptake, it is relatively easy for government agencies or corrupt officials to keep evidence of their wrongdoings hidden from public view. Some entities go so far as to claim that the law does not apply to them. This has remained a major problem, particularly with local and state governments.
Given, therefore, the impervious fight against graft, there is a need for citizens based strong anti-graft agencies to combat corruption.
It is in this regard that the Federal Government’s approval for the establishment of a new anti-corruption agency, “ The Proceeds of Crime Recovery and Management Agency”, to take care of recovered properties, may be expedient.
The Federal Executive Council (FEC) presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari had at a recent virtual meeting of approved the transmission of a bill named “Proceeds of Crime Recovery and Management Agency Bill,” to the National Assembly for the establishment of the agency.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, had explained that the agency is necessary to manage assets that constitute the proceeds of crimes. He pointed out that previous proceeds of crime are scattered in different and multiple agencies.
According to SERAP, stemming the tides of corruption in the power, education and other sectors of the national life is a long-term process requiring sustained political commitment, changes in the incentives of stakeholders, and new standards of transparency and accountability.
Holistically, it requires a paradigm shift in public governance and management of all the sectors.
The starting point to combating corruption and impunity could range from introducing transparency in the procurement process to seeking experts’ consultation in investment decisions and enforcing accountability of public officials and utility managers, to fighting petty corruption in order to build public confidence and support.
For instance, an anticorruption strategy in the Nigerian power sector should focus on transparency and competition in procurement through public participation and independent regulatory institutions.
Attention should be focused also on petty corruption, especially when petty corruption in the electricity sector has not received much attention from the media and civil society organizations promoting transparency, which has tended to focus more on large-scale corruption.
Regular financial audits and the publication of such audits should be made a mandatory requirement for all electricity companies in Nigeria whether government-owned or otherwise.
For proper metering, DisCos must take a proper and comprehensive collation of all power consumers in their jurisdictions before issuing new meters under direct purchases or CAPMI systems.
DisCos must undertake initiatives to re-number and re-classify all electricity consumers in Nigeria for the purpose of issuing new meters.
Due process and transparency must also be strengthened in all appropriate quarters where decisions are taken on licensing, subsidy, power-purchase-agreements, operational equipment procurements, and metering among others.