The epic scale of political corruption underscores a fragile sense of Nigerian nationhood and political community that has been exacerbated, rather than mitigated, by the process of constitution-making.
According to Suberu, the sweeping powers of the president extend into political, economic and even social sectors. “He may assign responsibility for any business of the government of the federation.” He is empowered to appoint members of federal executive commissions under the 3rd Schedule of the Constitution, including key oversight agencies like the Code of Conduct Bureau, Police Service Commission, Federal Character Commission, and Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission. He enjoys immunity from criminal prosecution while in office. Many of these powers are replicated or amplified at the subnational level, where, according to Richard Joseph, governors function like “provincial chiefs in a decentralized patrimonial order”. The most detrimental executive powers from the perspective of anti-corruption reform involve the appointment and control of key oversight agencies. In the words of elder statesman and foremost constitutional Law expert, Ben Nwabueze “The fact that an incumbent president is, as a practical matter, free from the sanctions of the fight against corruption and abuse of office is the reason why it has made and can make hardly any appreciable and lasting impact on the incidence of corruption in the country”
The President’s executive authority over the prime anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) includes the power to remove a member of the commission ‘at any time’. This is more or less replicated in the chief executive’s relations with other oversight agencies, including the Fiscal Responsibility Commission and newly constituted National Council on Public Procurement. The consequences of these unilateral powers, the seminar avers, include presidential impunity, intimidation and victimization of crusaders. It also affects the credibility, neutrality, and integrity of anti-corruption investigations and prosecutions. The result of this is the absence of professionalism and institutional underdevelopment. In July 2017, EGMONT Group, by consensus, suspended the EFCC’s National Financial Investigation Unit (NFIU) for its lack of professionalism and independence.
Most other agencies are stifled by these executive manacles inhibiting their professionalism, transparency and independence. The result is that almost all the agencies including but not limited to the Code of Conduct Bureau, NEITI and Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Allocation Commission (RMFAC), have become toothless bulldogs that cannot even bark talk less of biting.
The epic scale of political corruption underscores a fragile sense of Nigerian nationhood and political community that has been exacerbated, rather than mitigated, by the process of constitution-making. Someone once said, “Nigerian constitution-making has been top-down, sectarian, manipulative, elitist, arrogant, non-participatory, non-inclusive, and non-transparent.” The fragile sense of Nigerian national identity and political community has deeper roots in the arbitrary, coercive, exploitative, and manipulative manner in which the British constructed Nigeria. But Nigerian elites have failed to use post-colonial political transitions/constitution-making processes to construct a robust, inclusive, integrative and compact national constitutional.
Though the seminar acknowledged the value of the bit of authoritarianism inherent in presidentialism with weak check and balances usually associated with the celebrated Singapore Lee Kwan Yew outlier case, it argued in favour of a solution framework that curbs the discretionary powers of political executives. This, it says, is more realistic to curb presidential powers than to promote parliamentarianism and semi-presidentialism (de facto hyper-presidential). These would include the review of the executive’s constitutional powers and privileges, including im- munity and veto prerogatives. There must be a check on the executive’s
powers to allocate economic rents and patronage by prohibiting security votes, eliminating redundant, duplicative agencies, and reforming petroleum governance among others. At the sub national level, autonomous democratic local governance must be promoted. The weakness of this line of analysis is that it focused more heavily on the executive arm without its just a position with the excesses of the legislature and the judiciary.
Furthermore, the seminar argued that the most important thing in tackling political corruption would be the insulation of oversight agencies against executive control. It therefore favoured the creation of a National Oversight Council (comprising nominees of non-partisan national civic associations such as journalists, students, academics, and women, with the president as a member) to assume responsibility for appointing, supervising, and determining the funding of oversight agencies.
The seminar made wide-ranging recommendations. The headship of anti-corruption agencies should be an independent civil society luminary with a non renewable term. A constitutional amendment or legislation to grant public access to officials’ assets declarations should be put in place. This will build upon the initial enthusiasm generated by government’s whistle blower policy; alleviate some of the burden on the bureau charged with verifying disclosures; and give the public a direct stake in fighting corruption. The oversight responsibility for the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act should be transferred to a depoliticized and autonomous office of Attorney-General, which should be separated from the political office of Minister of Justice.
There is also an urgent and strategic need to restructure the system of unconditional federal revenue distribution into a conditional grants scheme in order to make Sub National Governments (SNG) accountable, transparent, responsible, and efficient in their use of devolved revenues. A good way to begin a conditional grants scheme is to institutionalize, through legislation and constitutional amendment, some of the conditions for federal bailouts in the currently unimplemented federal government fiscal sustainability plan for states: timely publication of reports of audited finances and budget implementation performance, compliance with international public sector accounting standards, improvement of independently generated revenues, implementation of centralized single treasury account, limitations on personnel expenditure as a share of total budgeted revenue, privatization or concession of inefficient state-owned enterprises, implementation of Fiscal Responsibility Act, and the development and maintenance of a credit rating.