By Daniel Akinseye
A recent report in some national dallies purporting that the Federal Government had decided to merge the country’s main anti-corruption bodies with the Nigerian Police sparked off a flurry of enquiries from stakeholders and concerned members of the public. The anti-corruption agencies referred to by the speculative report include the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB.
The publication claimed that the decision was the outcome of a review of the White Paper on the report of the Presidential Committee on the Rationalisation and Restructuring of Federal Government Parastatals and Commissions, which was headed by Mr. Steve Oronsanye, former Head of Civil Service of the federation. The publication also claimed that government had ratified a recommendation by the White Paper Committee for the consolidation of the three anti-corruption bodies as recommended in the Oronsanye Committee’s report.
The Federal Government has denied the claims in that publication describing them as mere speculation. Nevertheless, the report has stirred a public debate on whether or not it would be appropriate for government to merge the three agencies.
It is important to note that the proposition to merge ICPC and EFCC is not new. It had also been publicly debated before. A couple of years ago, the proposal went through the National Assembly and was rejected by the Senate. At that time, it was proposed through a private member’s bill. The reasons advanced by its sponsors, which are not different from the argument of current advocates of the proposition did not impress the hallowed chamber of distinguished senators. The Oronsanye committee has only resurrected it.
The fresh recommendation for the merger of the EFCC, ICPC and CCB in the said Oronsanye Committee Report reportedly states: “Extant anti-corruption laws should be repealed, while a new one is enacted to accommodate the consolidation of the EFCC, ICPC and the Code of Conduct Bureau. The establishment of strong departments among others, in the proposed consolidated structure is desirable, as they would handle the following areas: (i) Prosecution; (ii) Investigation (iii) Prevention (Advocacy); and (iv) Asset declaration/forfeiture. The Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit should be made autonomous.”
The government had tinkered with the idea before during the administration of President Umar Musa Yar’Adua, ever before it was unsuccessfully proposed to the National Assembly as a private member’s bill in 2011. Former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Michael Andoakaa, had in 2007 announced that the EFCC, ICPC and the CCB would be merged. Public opinion did not favour that move and nothing was heard about the decision again until almost two years after, in 2009, when the then Minister of Police Affairs, Alhaji Adamu Waziri and the former chairman of the Police Service Commission, Mr. Parry Osayande brought up the matter again in a strange, if not, ridiculous way.
In their own proposal, Alhaji Waziri and Mr. Osayande called for the merging of the EFCC, ICPC, CCB, Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC and National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA with the Nigeria Police. Again, the idea was opposed by public opinion. Yet, in June 2011, Mr. Mohammed Adoke, Minister of Justice, curiously, again, mooted the merging of the EFCC and ICPC but it did not fly.
Why did all these past attempts to consolidate the affected agencies fail?
The reasons given by advocates of merger bothered on perceived duplication and overlapping of functions performed by the agencies as well as conflicts over areas of jurisdiction. But these were mere perceptions that could not actually be substantiated. It should be noted that the affected agencies were established at different times for specific purposes based on the needs of the nation. In particular, ICPC, EFCC, FRSC and NDLEA are intervention agencies established to solve some specific problems of the nation which are still considered as national priorities up till now. In fact, they are performing these roles and Nigerians are feeling their impact.
It will be counter-productive for government to merge them together. ICPC was established to fight corruption and other related vices in the public sector. EFCC was established to fight economic and financial crimes in both the public and private sectors. FRSC, to curtail the recklessness and madness of many drivers and motorists on our roads, which has often caused high fatalities annually. And NDLEA to arrest the destruction of our youths and economy by illicit drug trafficking. All these agencies, no doubt, are serving special needs of the country. One cannot effectively perform the function of the other.
Against this background, Nigerians are wondering why the Oronsanye Committee would again raise such a dead issue as the call for the merging of ICPC, EFCC and the CCB. How did the committee arrive at this conclusion? The committee was mandated by President Goodluck Jonathan to look into how the parastatals and commissions of the Federal Government could be rationalized and restructured for greater efficiency at reduced cost. This move by the President was obviously a step in the right direction in response to public demand for the reduction of the cost of governance.
It is said that there are 540 of such parastatals and agencies out of which the Committee, in its wisdom, recommended 219 to be scrapped. The Committee also reportedly recommended that some parastatals should be merged together while some should be retained as they are. The EFCC, ICPC and the CCB fall within the category of parastatals recommended by the committee to be merged. It is certain that in the case of these anti- corruption agencies, the Committee did not do its homework well. It would appear that the Committee was more concerned with rationalizing figures in order to cut down the number of parastatals and therefore achieve the aim of reducing the cost of governance. This desperation must have informed the inclusion of the anti-corruption agencies among those to be merged.
It is good that government has spent considerable time to look into the report in order to avoid taking wrong steps on it. A wrong step it would be indeed if the government should merge the three bodies into one large, unwieldy body that will sooner or later be bogged down by bureaucratic problems of funding, administration and logistics. Eminent lawyer and social critic, Prof Itse Sagay, who is well known for his anti-corruption stance, strongly holds this view. He says: “I am not comfortable with the planned merger as it will reduce the activities, investigations and prosecution of corrupt people. ICPC specializes in investigation and prosecution of public servants while the EFCC has its own area of jurisdiction. If you now bring the two together, you will see the degeneration of their activities”.
A lot of Nigerians also share his opinion. They believe that the EFCC and ICPC, the two major anti-corruption agencies have been complementing each other in a healthy competition to wage the anti-corruption campaign and this is good for the country. According to them, merging the two bodies together will not enhance the campaign but stunt it by creating new structures, which will take years to find their feet. They argue that the problem with the anti-corruption fight presently are the various challenges hindering the effectiveness of the agencies which government has not demonstrated the political will to tackle. Government should come out with initiatives to surmount these challenges, which include unduly long period of prosecution in the regular courts, inadequate funding, shortage of manpower, among others.
President Jonathan should not waste his precious time over the ill-informed proposed merger. A very important point also to note is the fact that the affected agencies were created by acts of parliament. The implication of this is that any move to amend their status or abolish (repeal) them must be endorsed by the National Assembly and this will be informed by a discussion in the parliament to justify such a move.
Hon. James Abiodun Faleke, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Anti-corruption made this clear recently while responding to enquiries on the report. It is significant to recall again that the National Assembly has already decided against a merger of ICPC and EFCC in 2011. Public opinion still supports that decision.
As far back as 2004, the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, UNCAC, declared corruption as a pervasive and intrusive global problem, which permeates various sectors of the society. It recommended a multi-faceted approach of dealing with with issues of corruption. It stated explicitly that countries serious about fighting corruption should engage at least one agency other than the Police to prosecute the war. At the time of the convention, Nigeria was seen to be ahead of many other countries, as the operations of ICPC and EFCC had already gained ground. The successes recorded by the two agencies have been instrumental for the upward rating of Nigeria in the global fight against corruption and money laundering.
It is worthy of note that the ICPC, in particular, has recorded significant achievements in the sanitisation of the public service, which is its core mandate. Since its inception the commission has prosecuted hundreds of cases involving public officers and others, including high profile politically exposed persons such as ex-leaders of the National Assembly and ex- ministers and none of these cases had been faulted. It has also secured several convictions that have not been questioned.
The Commission’s impact is felt in every part of the public sector. In recent years, it has been engaged in system review of many public institutions with significant results. One of such system reviews involving the education sector recently led to the identification and closure of 67 illegal degree awarding universities and the arrest of their proprietors and accomplices. Another one, to mention a few, is the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System, IPPIS, Review of all Federal Ministries, Department and Agencies, MDAs, of the Federal Government. This has plugged loopholes civil servants used to commit fraud in salary computation and payment. It has saved the government billions of naira formerly paid to thousands of ghost workers on a monthly basis. It will also ensure that the MDAs henceforth prudently manage funds allocated to them as personnel cost and eliminate processes that promote corrupt practices.
The system reviews are pro-active mechanisms to ensure that public institutions comply strictly with service regulations, identify and plug loopholes that may encourage infractions. Other pro-active measures that ICPC has put in place to prevent corrupt practices or nip them in the bud include the establishment of anti-corruption monitoring units in public institutions.
As for public education, enlightenment and advocacy against corruption in the public sector, ICPC has several initiatives in place. One of them is the National Anti-Corruption Volunteer Corps, NAVC, scheme which involves cells of anti-corruption vanguard and fighters in states and local government areas across the federation in a consistent campaign for attitudinal re-orientation of workers to live above board.
From the foregoing, it is obvious that government does not need to merge ICPC and EFCC for the anti- corruption war to be effective. What is needed is to strengthen them and continue to find ways of creating a conducive environment for them to be more effective. According to the latest survey by Transparency International, tagged Global Corruption Barometer 2013, there is growing dissatisfaction, around the world, with the efforts of governments at addressing corruption. Nigeria is among 88 countries where the survey revealed that majority of the people think that government is not doing enough.
Surprisingly, 16 out of the 17 G20 Countries, including the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Japan, Germany and France, which are global leaders in the promotion of good governance and ant- corruption fight, are also in this group. And interestingly, these G20 Countries are currently committed to a two-year Anti-corruption Plan for 2013 and 2014, with emphasis on closing the implementation and enforcement gap. Nigeria is not the only country having difficulty with the anti-corruption war. With steady progress and focus, the war can be won.
Daniel Akinseye wrote from Lagos