By efficiently deploying the instrumentality of the Treasury Single Account (TSA), President Muhammadu Buhari had set out to steady efforts at curbing official graft in Nigeria’s public institutions. In 2015, when Buhari came to power, he pledged to revive and intensify the country’s fight against corruption; a social malaise that has shamed and denied Nigeria a place among countries with the potential for greatness. He actually ran his electioneering on three-pronged issues, to wit: to fight corruption, build the economy and combat insecurity in the country. But the focus of this piece is the fight against corruption.
The point must be made from the outset that Nigeria, which started out well on the tract of nation building, has been unconscionably derailed by numerous cases of corrupt deeds often perpetrated by government officials. As a matter of fact, corruption according to the United Nations has been identified as one of the main spoilers of Nigeria’s ambition to achieve its targets in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda (SDA). It is also implicated in so many other issues that have conduced to force the country on ten steps backwards anytime it manages to take a step forward in the right direction.
Without a doubt, corruption can single-handed wreck the country’s target to lift 100 million of its impoverished citizens out of poverty in 10 years as desired by President Buhari; hence, his promise to halt its practice and improve livelihoods among Nigerians was key in his 2015 campaign to become president.
Often manifested in the forms of bribery, nepotism, and impunity against established law and codes of conduct, so far, Buhari’s efforts at preventing and countering corrupt acts in Nigeria have earned him a role as Africa Union’s Anti-Corruption Champion. His leadership in the fight against corruption further explains the seriousness of purpose that his government has showed in the anti-corruption fight.
Over these years, Buhari’s administration has worked more closely with interested and key partners including the US and the UK, to stem the tide of financial corruption in Nigeria, by seizing and repatriating assets from public officials who had stolen from the country and kept them in foreign steads. These partnerships have continued to result in repatriation of Nigeria’s looted public funds especially by a former Head of State, the late General Sani Abacha. Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami, has been overseeing the repatriation processes and he has achieved quite some milestones.
In addition, the country’s anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has remained actively swift in helping the president’s drive against corruption by seeking to conclude outstanding cases against corrupt politicians as well as public office holders and getting judgments and to ensure they are in favour of Nigeria.
The EFCC has also continued to launch investigations into the activities of public officials who have been suspected of stealing from the country in previous administrations; former cabinet members of the federal government, state governors and senior civil servants have come under this anti-corruption searchlight effort of the EFCC which Buhari has enabled with huge political will and presidential approbation.
· Key groundwork
Because corruption has a devastating impact on Nigeria where funds needed to build badly-needed public infrastructure – schools, roads, and hospitals – are stolen, and key institutions that could support national development are undermined, it became imperative that Buhari sets off his anti-corruption fight on a strong foundation.
To do this, the president signed agreements with relevant countries to ensure that his work at home is supported and amplified abroad where most of the funds stolen from Nigeria are hidden away. Countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and several European Union members were enlisted and their cooperation assured, thus enabling such agreements on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, Mutual Legal Assistance in Civil and Commercial Matters, Transfer of Sentenced Persons, and Extradition Treaty, to be signed and activated.
With them, Buhari was able to fully muster the level and shade of cooperation needed with the international community against corrupt Nigerian officials who had turned to foreign countries for shelter against prosecution. The agreements particularly guaranteed that these officials could be brought back and tried by Nigerian courts and laws.
While good strides have been made through these, the president further strengthened the war against corruption in 2018 when he signed the Executive Order 6 (EO6), to preserve suspicious asset recovered from corrupt officials. This was aimed at keeping for Nigeria the proceeds recovered from prosecuted corrupt officials.
In his explanation of the intent of the Order, the president said then that it was issued to “restrict dealings in suspicious assets subject to investigation or inquiry bordering on corruption.” He also added that this was “in order to preserve such assets from dissipation and to deprive alleged criminals of the proceeds of their illicit activities which can otherwise be employed to allure, pervert and/or intimidate the investigative and judicial processes.”
In reality, the EO6, reiterated the government’s commitment to fight off corruption in Nigeria, especially by preventing persons who are guilty of corrupt acts from continuously holding and controlling ill-gotten assets which could become useful in potential attempts to influence judgment against them. Hence, with the EO6, government officials or persons acting directly or indirectly for government officials who engage in corrupt practices will have to forfeit ill-gotten assets to the country while going through legal proceedings against their acts.
Furthermore, government officials found guilty of circumventing or preventing the implementation of the EO6, or perverting justice will be prosecuted within the scope of the crime, while government agencies are subjected to fully implementing the content of the order in their activities. With the EO6, Buhari intended that his anti-corruption efforts and strategy would ensure that the benefits of justice are realized and not compromised by persons involved in corrupt acts or cases before the courts. This gives Nigeria the right posture needed to convince the world that it is dealing well with the malaise.
· The TSA, a slam-dunk
Although not introduced by his government, Buhari has made the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and Bank Verification Number (BVN) the anchor for his fight against corruption in public institutions. His efficient implementation of these policies has seen Nigeria cut down immensely what it loses to corrupt acts. And, in addition to the “whistleblowing” policy he initiated, the TSA has become his administration’s slam-dunk against corruption.
With the TSA, government agencies are now obliged to use only approved government bank accounts for payments and financial transactions, as part of Buhari’s drive to improve transparency in public sector finances. This way, he would also clamp down on corrupt acts. In practice therefore, all financial receipts due to the government or any of its agencies are now mandated to be paid only into accounts maintained by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Specific permission for such payments to pass through other channels would be granted only by the president.
Thus, in perspective, the second survey on corruption as experienced by the population which the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) conducted with support from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in 2019, showed that occurrences of bribery in government offices decreased in 2019 to 30.2 per cent from 32.3 per cent in 2016, and this from impact assessment represented a remarkable step away from the ill practice which hurts Nigeria.
The 2019 report equally noted remarkable decrease in the prevalence of bribery in key aspects of Nigeria’s socio-economy including, judiciary, customs, and immigration, as well as embassy and consulate officers. Buhari’s modest anti-graft war continues. The much talked-about Buhari effects have yet to diminish in weight. Administration officials may be circumventing the system to steal money, no one has been able to point the finger of guilt at Buhari in specific reference to any sleazy financial deal(s). If any one does, he should call out the President.
▪︎Mr Hassan writes from Jos, Plateau State.