By SANI ADAMU
By all accounts, the fight against corruption in Nigeria has over the years been daunting and contentious.
Observers insist that this observation is rational considering the rate of increase in the incidence of corruption in the country.
They cite the 2012 ranking of Nigeria as the 35th most corrupt country in the world by the global corruption watchdog –Transparency International — to justify their view.
According to them, the outcomes of the commissions of inquiries on alleged corrupt practices involving public officers between late 1950s and early 1960s, confirmed the long standing history of corrupt practices in the country.
Although political economists agree that it is difficult to estimate how much Nigeria has lost to corruption since independence in 1960, the Economist of London notes that Nigeria loses close to 400 billion dollars to corruption between 1966 and 1999.
However, available records reveal that successive administrations since independence have put in place measures and mechanisms to fight the menace.
These measures include the establishment of commissions of inquiry into allegations of corruption, trial of suspected corrupt Nigerians, strengthening of anti-corruption units of the Nigeria Police Force and the establishment of special anti-graft agencies and commissions, among others.
Further to these measures, in 1962, available records reveal that a commission of inquiry, popularly known as the Justice Coker Commission, uncovered the diversion of millions of pounds belonging to the Western Region’s Marketing Boards.
The records also reveal similar official inquiries that discovered widespread corrupt practices in the Eastern Region.
In a renewed fight against corruption, more than 51 public office holders were convicted of embezzlement and other abuse of public office by a military tribunal in 1983.
Besides, the Federal Government says that it is collaborating with the World Bank to recover monies stashed in some commercial banks in a foreign country by past heads of state.
To strengthen the various measures put in place to rid the country of corruption and other social vices, the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo established two special anti-graft bodies — the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2000 and 2004 respectively.
Pundits, however, insist that the measures and the establishments of these anti-graft organs have not yielded the desired results, thereby casting doubt on the capability of such institutions to effectively stem the menace.
Statistics from the EFCC reveals that it has convicted more than 100 suspects while it has also recovered property worth N11 billion from corrupt Nigerians since the establishment of the commission.
The statistics also reveals that a serving Inspector-General of Police and former governors, among others, were among the convicts.
In spite of this feat, perceptive observers admit flaws in the processes of investigations and prosecution of corruption cases by both the EFCC and ICPC.
They opine that rule of law must be upheld strongly and the judiciary must be impartial before Nigeria can win the fight against corruption.
For instance, former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Dahiru Musdapher said “when the rule of law is weak, corruption will remain a nagging problem.
“Without an honest criminal justice system, the wealthy, especially the corrupt, can escape the consequences of their crimes; such impunity reduces the perceived cost of corruption.”
He said that independence of the judiciary is “a sine qua non to achieving an effective justice system.”
Observers, therefore, argue that this could have inspired President Muhammadu Buhari to prioritise the fight against corruption in his administration.
Underscoring the negative effects of corruption to the nation’s economy and wellbeing of Nigerians, Buhari insisted that his administration would ensure a good fight against corruption.
Speaking when the members of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Akwa Ibom chapter, paid him a courtesy in Abuja before his inauguration, he said that the nation’s problem was neither ethnic nor religious but corruption.
“So, the point I want to make here is that the problem of Nigeria is not ethnic or religious, it is corruption.
“This is what we are fighting, that is why corruption is number three in my campaign,” Buhari said.
Buhari stated that his administration would also probe the allegation of missing 20 billion dollars from the coffers of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
This statement notwithstanding, perceptive observers insist that weak enforcement of the extant anti-corruption laws and lack of political will to prosecute high-profile corruption cases have made the fight against corruption ineffective.
Prof. Femi Odekunle, a criminologist, is one of those who hold such opinions, urging the present administration to adopt a new method in its fight against the menace.
According to him, this is imperative since the conventional method of fighting corruption through the police and other specialised anti-graft agencies and commissions have failed to yield the desired results over the years.
He urged Buhari to establish a truth and restitution commission where all those who illegally misappropriated public funds should be made to return part of what they misappropriated.
“However, those who failed to comply with the non-conventional method could be made to forfeit everything they have stolen from the public coffers using the force of law,” he suggested.
Dr Ada Okwuosa, a sociologist and a retired permanent secretary, nonetheless, faulted Odekunle’s suggestion for a truth and restitution commission.
She urged states and local governments to rather take to set up anti-corruption agencies at the grassroots.
She also called for the introduction of anti-corruption studies in schools’ curriculum to sensitise pupils and students to the dangers of corruption.
But analysts urge Buhari’s administration to strengthen the existing anti-corruption agencies and ensure the appointment of persons with proven integrity as heads of such agencies.
Conscious of the expectations of Nigerians from his administration on the fight against corruption, President Muhammadu Buhari, in his inaugural speech therefore, called for the reform of the judicial system.
“The country now expects the judiciary to act with dispatch on all cases especially on corruption, serious financial crimes or abuse of office.
“It is only when the three arms act constitutionally that government will be enabled to serve the country optimally and avoid the confusion all too often bedevilling governance today.
“Constitutionally there are limits to powers of each of the three tiers of government but that should not mean the Federal Government should fold its arms and close its eyes to what is going on in the states and local governments.
“While the Federal Government cannot interfere in the details of its operations it will ensure that the gross corruption at the local level is checked.
“As far as the constitution allows me, I will try to ensure that there is responsible and accountable governance at all levels of government in the country,” Buhari said.
Economists, nonetheless, insists that for Nigeria to rid itself of corruption, the citizens must assist the incoming administration by reporting corrupt practices to appropriate authorities.
Adamu is a staff of News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).