By Casmir Igbokwe
Recently, a Guatemalan court sentenced former President Otto Perez and his Vice-President, Roxana Baldetti, to 16 years in prison each for corruption. They were also fined $1.10 million and $1.06 million respectively. Perez and Baldetti were found guilty of illicit association and customs fraud network that stole about $3.5 million in state funds. They were accused of receiving hefty cuts from the stolen funds. Perez was in office between 2012 and 2015. He was forced out of office due to the corruption revelations and has been in prison for the past seven years. Ironically, the 72-year-old retired General came to office promising to crack down on crime.
If Perez were to be a Nigerian, he would have completed his terms of office and retired with huge life pension and choice property in major cities in Nigeria. That is why many Nigerian politicians can do anything to grab power. Just recently, the Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was at Chatham House in London for an interview. In a viral video afterwards, Tinubu was heard telling his party stalwarts that “political power is not going to be served in a restaurant. It’s not served a la carte… It’s being determined to do it at all costs: Fight for it, grab it, snatch it, and run with it.” His audience clapped and hailed him as he spoke.
The innuendoes are not lost on discerning Nigerians. Grabbing and snatching power at all costs revolve around rigging. It is corruption. And many concerned Nigerians are determined to stop such fraud in the 2023 general election and beyond.
This formed the whole essence of this year’s International Anti-Corruption Day held at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre in Abuja on Friday, December 9, 2022. The event was held on the platform of the Inter Agency Task Team (IATT), the coordinating forum of agencies with anti-corruption and accountability mandates. It is worthy to note that this year makes it the 19th year of the adoption of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). The global theme for this year’s event was: ‘UNCAC at 20: Uniting the World Against Corruption’.
The Head, Technical Unit on Governance and Anti-corruption Reforms (TUGAR), Mrs. Jane Onwumere, noted that this year’s theme sought to highlight the way corruption affected development and impeded on the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals. According to her, there is no doubt that the full implementation of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy 2022 – 2026 and a free and fair election in 2023 would be a major boost for development in Nigeria. “At this crucial time for our nation,” she added, “we must recommit to collective action in preventing and addressing corruption from the roots.”
Every other speaker at this event agreed with Mrs. Onwumere. The anger with which they spoke against rigging and other forms of corruption means there is still hope for Nigeria.
The outburst of the Chairman of the IATT, Barrister Olusegun Adekunle, says it all. “We must all rise and play our roles,” he said, “by ensuring we vote and report corruption and any vices we observe to the relevant government agencies. We must refuse to be compromised and ensure we fully engage by asking questions and demanding that relevant agencies saddled with the mandate to deliver free, fair, violent free and credible elections are held accountable. We cannot leave this daunting task to INEC alone. It is our collective responsibility as institutions and individuals to strengthen the credibility of the 2023 general elections and beyond.” He added that there was need for emphasis on prevention, tackling corruption from the roots and closing the doors of illicit activities before they could happen.
Many other speakers toed the same line at the first panel discussion which centered on ‘tackling corruption in the election process: the 2023 general elections and beyond’. The discussants were in agreement that buying and selling of votes were a major problem in our elections. It takes a lot of processes for this to happen. For instance, some illicit money flows through our financial institutions. Have the banks bothered to track the illicit funds with a view to arresting and prosecuting those found to be culpable? Have the security agents, especially the police, bothered to apprehend those buying and selling votes? Most times, they collect their own money and look away when vote trading is taking place.
How about political parties that sold their tickets to the highest bidders? We are all witnesses to what happened during the primary election of the major parties. Some candidates who are obviously not fit to contest this election suddenly became the standard-bearers of their parties because dollars exchanged hands. The fate of Nigeria and Nigerians in the hands of these misfits is none of the business of the parties and those supporting them.
The judiciary may be waiting in the wings to cause its own havoc. It is an open secret that some judges collect bribes to upturn the outcome of an election. Such judges look for technicalities to murder justice and thwart the wishes of the people.
Good enough, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, noted, in his keynote address at the anti-corruption day event, that several legal, institutional and policy frameworks had been put in place at both national and sub-national levels to drive effective implementation of our obligations under UNCAC, which Nigeria signed on December 9, 2003 and ratified in 2004. “Worthy of note,” he said, “is the passage of the Proceeds of Crime Act, which enhances existing framework for managing proceeds of recoveries from criminal conduct.” Malami reiterated the need for stakeholders at all levels of government to continue to take necessary action to promote and strengthen measures to prevent and combat corruption more effectively. My prayer is that he should start from his constituency, the judiciary, which reeks of acute corruption.
Happily too, the international community is not sleeping. According to the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Ms Ghada Waly, corruption threatens our security, drives organized crime, corrodes our economy, crushes opportunities for development and traps people in cycles of inequality and poverty. She noted that this year, UNODC established its first anti-corruption regional hubs in Africa and Latin America to bring assistance and expertise closer to the point of delivery.
The UNODC Country Representative in Nigeria, Dr. Oliver Stolpe, on his part, said his office, with the support of the government of the United States and the United Nations Peace Building Fund, would be embarking on a new partnership with the Nigerian Police Force and its Complaints Response Unit. The partnership, Stolpe said, would be geared towards addressing one of the critical findings of the 2019 National Corruption Survey which has to do with the challenges encountered by citizens in accessing existing complaints mechanisms when seeking redress for police misconduct.
Also, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), and the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) all reeled out what they have done to tackle corruption. The Executive Secretary of NEITI, Dr. Orji Ogbonnaya Orji, said beyond providing operational and other support, “NEITI has led the generation of extensive data and information that has facilitated accountability and progressive reforms in the extractive industry.” In 2022, for instance, NEITI’s report was said to have uncovered over N2.6 trillion unremitted by 77 oil and gas companies.
For us to rescue Nigeria, we must do things differently henceforth. Civil Society Organisations like the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) and the media must continue to expose the ills of our democracy. Those boasting that power is not served a la carte; that they must take power by all means must be told that Nigeria cannot tolerate such in 2023. Mr. Emmanuel Uche of the Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC) put it succinctly, “We can’t make progress against corruption without collective action. It’s time to take back our country.”