For many Nigerians, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, is a silent and powerless anti-corruption agency, while the EFCC is the bolder and more active on the Nigerian landscape. The ICPC is interested gaining tangible results by working undercover to earn landmark prosecution, while protecting the identity of the whistle-blower from the harm that untrammelled publicity of the cases under investigation may bring. It is a method to ‘catch the thief by the ankles’ and not by the slippery elbows. The agency is not one without fangs. It has the legal powers to search, seize, arrest, summon, investigate, gain access to any confidential information that will be helpful to the case from any persons in Nigeria. It has recently embarked on the first phase of monitoring and investigations on the mismanagement of procurements, funding and support provided by government during the COVID-19 Lockdown across the country. The ICPC may have kept a less controversial profile compared to the EFCC, however, it has a lot of hurdles to cross in order to achieve its set objectives.
The ICPC was founded and empowered by the Corrupt Practices Act 2000 and signed into law by President Olusegun Obasanjo in order to gradually destroy the cankerworm of corruption without destroying the host. The executive act made the ICPC the main anti-corruption agency of the country. The agency is saddled with a vision to ‘fight corruption to a standstill and restore Nigeria to the enviable standard of respectability and dignity within the comity of nations’ . The agency is saddled with the responsibility to receive and investigate reports of corruption and misappropriation and to prosecute offenders. It is also a leading agency in the deployment of standards in the review and correction of habitually corrupt systems and processes in civil and public offices. In addition to this, the ICPC is meant to engage, educate and enlighten the public in order to create massive support for the anticorruption crusade.
The emergence of the ICPC took place at a time when Nigeria needed to gain the trust of other nations after many years of military rule, and after many years of corruption and distrust. Before 1999, Nigerians and the rest of the world had gone from marvelling to worry at the shocking news of high corruption which were never quelled by interventionist coups and counter coups, by individuals who claimed to have come on the wishes of the Nigerian people to displace corrupt leaders. The World Banks Federal Public Expenditure Review published in 1995 claimed that approximately US$ 200 billion was invested in Nigeria, between 1973 and 1993, with very little development to show for it.
The enactment of the ICPC meant that corruption would be systematically eroded through the activation of petitions, the investigation of the same, and the legal prosecution; all within the ambits of the rule of law. The ICPC seem interested in the participation of the citizens in the exposure of backhand practices in the public and private sector without losing sight of protecting the whistle-blower by not only making sure of his or anonymity, but also making sure that security is provided to him or her. The ICPC has simplified the petitioning process without losing sight of the important parameters of fairness, integrity and scrutiny. A petition by an individual or an organisation goes through preliminary investigation by the agency. This preliminary scrutiny will examine all the features of the case. After critical examination, it will be determined whether it is a prima-facie case. It will also be determined whether the case is within the jurisdiction of the ICPC. Any case outside the jurisdiction of the ICPC but in the jurisdiction of the EFCC, The Nigerian Police or other agencies, will be returned to the petitioner with an advisory on the best way to tackle the complaint.
Prof Bolaji Owasanoye, the ICPC Chairman, in his opening remarks at 20th Anniversary the African Regional Webinar of the Independent Corrupt Practice and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, Abuja in July, 2020, made known that the agency had received 19,381 petitions in 20 years, which included 44 petitions in 2000 and 1,934 petitions in 2019. The agency has investigated 5000 petitions and prosecuted about 1000, and has secured convictions in about 200 cases. It has also gone ahead to win a case against its establishment in the supreme court. The work at the ICPC seems more systematic with a decent number of convictions due to the fact that the judicial system is fraught with a long-winding judicial process that delays justice, frustrates the prosecutor and impinges on the resources of the prosecutor to continue to seek justice for the sanity of the polity.
Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo who spoke at the regional webinars also highlighted the challenges posed by the presence of secret corporate ownership and beneficial ownership in Africa. This must be tackled by the international community in order to have a headway in the fight against corruption and to salvage the continent from narratives of poverty and underdevelopment. He explained that the design of secrecy has been used as a conduit to perpetuate corrupt practices such as conflicts of interest, corruption, tax evasion, money laundering and terrorism financing. Osinbajo hinted that the pipelines of money laundering and other corrupt activities earlier mentioned are extensive to the Western world, where an unjust global economic system permits unaccountable transfers from Africa to the West.
‘We simply must work hard at it and be determined to succeed. We must make corruption expensive for those who engage in it and send the unequivocal message that corruption simply does not pay,’ Vice President Osinbajo said.
When many engage corruption, they are quick to point fingers at those in government circles. Unfortunately, corruption has become a growing concern in the entire nation. It is a growing epidemic that has reduced all Nigerian lives to a struggle for survival, instead of a life filled all the needed infrastructure to thrive. The reality of giving and taking of bribes and kickbacks in the civil service and agencies, tax evasion, and the praise and defence of persons facing corruption allegations, based on social and cultural sentiments also go a long way to building a society of unscrupulous individuals and a landscape of ghost workers and abandoned projects. Nevertheless, the ICPC have continued to use the high and mighty as scapegoats in order to prescribe a new culture to all in society. The ICPC has continued to monitor the execution of the constituency projects to enhance an equitable distribution of development across senatorial districts. In times past, constituency projects had been reported to have suffered abandonment because they were directly under the influence of execution by members of the National Assembly. With the intervention of the ICPC, constituency projects are legally monitored by the agency, while the MDAs, the senators and the contractors go through a screening process under the principle of Open Government Partnership and Participatory Governance.
This has led to the investigation of fraudulent procurement practices in the execution of contracts for constituencies and executive projects in Rivers, Delta, Cross River, Taraba, Ekiti, Ogun, Gombe, Nassarawa, Kebbi and Kwara, Jigawa, Abia, Ebonyi, Oyo and Kaduna in recent times. It has also continued to track past and present constituency executive projects in many states alongside its partners—pressure groups, NGOs, and Professional Bodies.
Rasheedat Okoduwa, spokesperson for the ICPC noted the pilot phase of monitoring projects which cut across 12 states in the Federation yielded results. ‘The commission, in 2019, launched the pilot phase of the exercise in which it tracked projects performance from 2015 to 2019 in 12 states. Successes of the exercise included the recoveries of tractors, ambulances, dialysis machines and other hospital equipment from sponsors of the projects across the pilot states. The successes also included the recovery of huge sums of money, hundreds of tricycles, grinding machines and other empowerment items from the project sponsors. Furthermore, the exercise forced contractors, who hitherto had abandoned projects, to return to the site to complete them.’
Okoduwa also told the media that the ICPC had seized a multi-million naira property belonging to Governor Bala Mohammed, the Bauchi State Governor, for using his privileges and position as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory to allocate a property belonging to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to Zinaria International School. It was revealed by the ICPC that he and his family members are shareholders of the school.
Akeem Lawal, ICPC’s Director of Operations has also disclosed that they will investigate and prosecute agencies of government and individuals who had allegedly diverted emergency funds, food and have exploited the COVID-19 lockdown to enrich themselves. The agency said that it was monitoring the operations of the Conditional Cash Transfer Scheme and the Home School Feeding Programme.
A research on the website, the leadership of the ICPC had made available some of the documentations pertaining to pending, activated and ongoing cases targeted at exposing the names and organisations that have corrupt cases in the country. It has also made available various documentations such as the ‘2018 ICPC Budget, An Update on Criminal Cases in Various Courts, the United Nations Convention Against Corrupt, The ICPC Report 2015, System Study and Review of Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies, its Internal Procurement Information from 2016 to June 2020. The database also includes newsletters, papers such as such as Guidelines for the Conduct of Procurement that Respond to COVID19, The Legislature and Fight Against Graft and Corruption, and the NAVC documentations–Guidelines for Community Advocacy, among others. This openness is in the spirit of the principle of the open governance and transparency principle and will go a long way to help media and the general populace garner ample information on the activities and achievements of the ICPC per time. The ICPC is fully aware that lack of openness breeds corruption and has decided to practice what it preaches by revealing to the extent that it will not undermine the fundamental rights of Nigerians, and will not undermine ongoing investigations.
Bolaji Owasanoye had mentioned in his keynote address at the National Summit on Diminishing Corruption in the Public Service and Presentation of Public Service Integrity Award in November, 2019 that his tenure had already begun to make gains in its tracking initiatives among others. In his words, The new initiatives include our constituency project tracking initiative, our partnership with the National Social Investment Office and the Social Investments programs comprising school feeding, conditional cash transfer, N-Power and the Growth and Entrepreneurship program of Trader Moni and Market Moni and our pro-active response to review MDA systems and practices and evaluate their risks and disposition to corruption.’ He extrapolated further by saying that the agency embarked on the tracking of constituency projects done across the country in 2015-2018. The projects which were worth a N100 billion cut across the geopolitical zones. With its agency’s partnership with the Budget Office, Accountant General, BPP, Auditor-General, members of the Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, representatives of the civil society and the media, these projects will be monitored and made to come to fruition for the Nigerian peoples. The ICPC has also uncovered gross budget padding and mismanagement of funds by the MDAs in its preliminary investigation from 2017 to July 2019. In evaluating the codes of ethics in MDAs located in Abuja, the commission found that the MDAs lacked a unity of vision and guiding operational principles. It also publicly listed universities who have padded their budgets and therefore have cases to answer. As Owosanoye noted in his speech, ‘In the past 10 months we have recovered over 250 physical assets worth about N32b in seizures, interim forfeiture orders and final orders. We also have cash recoveries in interim and final orders in Naira and USD amounting to over N3b. We are mindful of Mr. Presidents directives that recovered assets should be properly disposed of and the proceeds paid into the national treasury. We are taking steps to comply fully with this directive’. The agency has also begun to compile companies who have evade standards in the acquisition of contracts without valid tax papers, and other requirements. Owosanoye points a finger at civil servants who have used their offices to subvert due process and enrich themselves. He prescribes to the President, the need for lengthy jail terms for such civil servants. Although Owosanoye did not engage the issue of funding, he expressed concern on the need for information sharing across all agencies of government especially anti-corruption agencies.
Government is at the driver’s seat of changing the culture and internal practices of the MDAs, the executive and legislative arms across boards, especially where these appear to be counterproductive to the system. The Presidency must not only peddle corrupt as a staple of national discourse, it must fund the agencies, provide full access to information and give them the freedom to investigate those who feel that they are sacred cows. The expected ripple effect of undermining the ‘sacred cows’ syndrome is to establish a firm culture of crime and punishment that will not only keep Nigerians abreast of the emergence of a new Nigeria, but will enhance compliance and rejection of established culture of corruption .
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