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The international community has finally appreciated and come to terms with the reality of the “cancer of corruption” and its ubiquitous nature; hence, we are all in agreement that being a persistent feature of human existence worldwide, its solution lies in the collective action of key global institutions with organized international joint efforts against corruption. These efforts have produced a lot of anti-corruption measures including bi-lateral and multilateral agreements, enactment of national anti-corruption laws such as the Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Act, 2004, the designing of international framework and strategies for the prevention of corruption and the making of an all important United Nations Convention Against Corruption which has now become the reference point for anti-corruption fight all over the world.
Nonetheless, the need to study corruption and anti-corruption has continued to generate passionate commentaries and academic interests. While it is obvious that this interest has made the subject matter better understood to an extent, the hundreds of information being incorporated into its study, research data and the diversity of some of the findings have sometimes established some levels of complications too. Apart from the fact that some have attempted to mischaracterize corruption as a tool for development under such labels as “grease the wheels” arguments or the “efficiency grease”, the question still persists, for instance, on how corruption should be situated, whether within the context of the “moralists,” “developmentalists,” or “functionalists” definitions. More directly, should the definition be public-office centred, market-centred or public-interest centred?
Meanwhile, the definition of corruption becomes more complicated when viewed in terms of such classification as supportive corruption, transactional corruption, extortive corruption, defensive corruption, investive corruption, personal and institutional corruption, traditional and modern corruption, local, national or international corruption, or representational corruption, grand and petty corruption. Or simply put, should corruption be viewed as corruption and nothing more? Many questions continue to arise in our experience and engagement of corruption and corrupt practices.
To this extent and with a focus on the activities of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Nigeria, this presentation engages two questions: What are the causes and consequences of corruption in Nigeria and how has EFCC responded to the scourge? To engage these questions, the rest of this paper is divided into four parts that involve the causes of corruption in Nigeria, its consequences, the role of the EFCC and a conclusion laced with a recommendation that focus on the need for a Special Anti-corruption Court.
What are the Causes of Corruption in Nigeria?
The causes of corruption are multiple and have been discussed by scholars under numerous headings but I will briefly discuss some of the major causes that we have identified as investigators as some of the common causes of corruption in a political economy.
First, we have identified weak institutions as a major cause of corruption. Corruption has a high propensity to thrive when legal and political institutions are weak and government policies generate economic rents. In most climes, there are so many incentives in the public sector, particular administrative and legal institutions that leave public officials with wide unrestricted authority and powers to create avenues for unjust enrichment or use the discretionary powers at their disposal to manipulate the system. According to the World Bank Report; “the normal motivation of public sector employees to work productively may be undermined by many factors, including low and declining civil service salaries and promotion unconnected to performance. Dysfunctional government budgets, inadequate supplies and equipment, delays in the release of budget funds (including pay), and a loss of organizational purpose also may demoralize staff. The motivation to remain honest may be further weakened if senior officials and political leaders use public office for private gain or if those who resist corruption lack protection. Or the public service may have long been dominated by patron-client relationships, in which the sharing of bribes and favours has become entrenched. In some countries pay levels may always have been low, with the informal understanding that staff will find their own ways to supplement inadequate pay. Sometimes these conditions are exacerbated by closed political systems dominated by narrow vested interests and by international sources of corruption associated with major projects or equipment purchases”.
Closely related to the issue of weak institutions is the role of formal rules and the criminal justice system. There is hardly any country where corruption is legalized; to the contrary, there are several formal rules and laws prohibiting corruption and corrupt practices with appropriate sanctions and punishments. In addition to organic laws, several public institutions such as the Police, Customs and Immigration, Road Safety Corps, Fire Marshals, the Armed Forces , internal revenue agents, and other institutions including the judiciary have comprehensive codes of conduct to regulate their behaviours which also prohibit the receiving or accepting of bribes, gifts, gratifications etc. However, in a political economy that is laced with corruption, such formal rules are usually supplanted by informal rules or customs that allow corruption to flourish. For instance, the law may criminalize the giving and taking of bribes but in practice, one can hardly get anything done without gratification or in Nigerian parlance, “settling” someone. In Nigeria until the establishment of the EFCC, the laws were hardly enforced and the informal rules prevailed. The EFCC was thus established to strengthen the institutions and to shift emphasis back to the recognition and enforcement of formal rules. In addition to the formation of the EFCC, the government of Nigeria, recognizing the need to have a strong formal rules, had also enacted various other laws such as The Money Laundering Act, the Advance Free Fraud Related Offences Act and the Failed Banks (Recovery of Debts) and Financial Malpractices in Banks Act and several other appropriate legal frameworks to control corruption and strengthen the legal and economic institutions including the criminal justice administration. The Act also made the EFCC the designated Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) in Nigeria, which is charged with the responsibility of co-coordinating the various institutions involved in the fight against money laundering and enforcement of all laws dealing with economic and financial crimes in Nigeria. Essentially however, the incentive to engage in corruption and corrupt practice is stronger where the probability of being discovered or prosecuted is remote or non-existent.
Another cause of corruption is public perception. Corruption is supported when some/few societal culture promotes corruption. Why should a convicted corrupt individual be offered a chieftaincy title by traditional rulers? Why do governors, some of whom have been fingered in corruption be given awards or be elected into the senate? There are also other instances where religious institutions have ordained corrupt public officials and sometimes organized thanksgiving services for corrupt ex-convicts who are just being release from prisons.
The nature of the economy is also a crucial factor. It has been argued that rent-seeking or rent-based systems tend to promote corruption. If this view holds, then, because the Nigerian economy is based on rents from crude oil and gas, it follows that there would be a number of “leakages” that would allow for the easy flow of cash and favours, sometimes in illegal ways. Until recently in Nigeria, public officers would deliberately delay the implementation of national budget with the hope that at the end of the financial year, any unspent budget would become largesse to be shared by the senior civil servants. This is why it is often said by experts that for corruption in public sector to flourish, public officials must possess “the authority to design or administer regulations and policies in a discretionary manner”. However, with the passage of new government policies which have made it mandatory for any unspent budget heads at the end of the financial year to be returned to the federation account and the passage of the Freedom of Information Act which is aimed at promoting transparency and accountability in government finance among others, this practice has also become a thing of the past in Nigeria.
Other identified causes of corruption in Nigeria include poverty, poor remuneration or incentive system.
Consequences of Corruption in Nigeria
The consequences of corruption are universal even if there could be variations in the level of state and non-state responses to these consequences. Simply put: massive corruption in the Nigeria has reduced the amount of money needed for development just as it does in any other political economy.
First, corruption promotes poverty. A simple example could be made with the corruption in the management of pension funds in Nigeria. The theft of pensions means that retired Nigerians would not have access to their pensions as at when due. This means that those that have dependants to care for would be deprived of the needed funds. Some pensioners eventually died because of the rising expectations that often end in frustrations sometimes occasioned by standing for hours on long queues. What happens to the dependants of a pensioner when he or she is deprived of his pensions? Will such dependants be able to attend qualitative schools or will they be forced out of schools to fend for themselves? If education remains one of the main routes leading to a good life and national development, without education, what would be the future of these dependants and the country?
Another consequence of corruption is that it creates the condition for political instability. This is because unrestricted corruption makes the state an unlimited allocator of wealth to individuals and groups. This character of the state makes it possible for the politics of do-or-die to take root, with politicians struggling to out-compete one another sometimes in violent manner. It must be recalled that the various military regimes that took over power from democratically elected representatives of the people had always justified their intervention on the ground of grand corruption and looting of state treasury by political state actors
Third, corruption contributes to the blanket criminalisation of Nigerians, especially the youths. With its capacity to generate poverty and instability, the youth have been systematically hijacked for selfish ends by unscrupulous politicians and ideologues. Some of those that were not ‘hijacked’ have found interest in advanced fee fraud popularly referred to as Yahoo-yahoo or 419 in local parlance. While corruption cannot, and should not, be the singular cause of this systematic criminalisation, it contributes to it.
Four, corruption promotes the existence of underground/illegal economy. The possibility of bribes infiltrating the security systems have made it easy for underground economies in counterfeit, adulterated and substandard products, especially drugs. Though these underground economies worth billions of dollars, the government do not benefit from taxes nor are the people benefiting from the dangerous effects of adulterated drugs.
Five, corruption also has other social costs apart from poverty. As rightly noted by Myint (2000: 50), in “any society, there are laws and regulations to serve social objectives and to protect the public interest, such as building codes, environmental controls, traffic laws and prudential banking regulations. Violating these laws for economic gain through corrupt means can cause serious social harm.” The frequent use of substandard materials and violation of building regulations have led to several buildings collapsing and killing innocent occupiers have become a recurrent decimal in Nigeria while large scale oil spills with catastrophic effects have continued in some part of the country.