Getting proactive – The Nation

  • Corruption fight: again, new template, preventive strategies required

Hardly any Nigerian, except perhaps those who may have been marooned in outer space for an extended period would require any sermonizing to appreciate the relationship between the wanton looting of the country’s resources by corrupt public officers and the persistence of debilitating underdevelopment in the country. Despite the munificence of natural and mineral resources with which she is gifted and the not insubstantial revenues that accrue into the coffers of assorted public authorities from a diversity of other sources, Nigeria scores abysmally low on different indices of human development and has been derisively referred to as the poverty capital of the world.

Apart from the unconscionable thieving that is prevalent among public office holders, the phenomenon of widespread corruption in Nigeria’s private sector has no less deleterious implications for sustainable economic growth and the alleviation of poverty. It hobbles private firms from performing optimally thus stymieing their capacity to maximize their potentials as regards job creation or payment of taxes for instance.

In 2017, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) recovered proceeds of corruption worth over N473.065 billion. Other stolen funds retrieved into the public coffers during the period included $98.2 million, 294,851 pounds, 443,400 Dirham and 70,500 South African Rand. This tip of the iceberg offers an insight into the magnitude of funds diverted into private pockets, which otherwise should have been invested in critical infrastructure or social services among others.

We can thus understand the call in several quarters for new corruption fighting strategies that place emphasis on nipping corrupt acts in the bud before they are committed. While hauling corrupt officers to court and seeking to recover the funds stolen amidst much public hysteria may be exciting, it is ultimately counter–productive. While the legal process itself tends to be protracted, avoidable huge cost is incurred prosecuting cases.

It is against this background that we support the recent advocacy by a former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Ayo Salami, for the strengthening of the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation and its state counterparts to enable them more effectively play their statutory roles in preventing corruption. Speaking at the national conference and Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Committee of Heads of Internal Audit Departments/Units in Nigerian Universities (CHIADINU), Kwara State University, Ilorin the jurist suggested measures to properly insulate these critical offices from inordinate interference and manipulation especially by the executive arm of government.

Justice Salami suggested the establishment of an Audit Act and Audit Law for the federal and state Auditors General in addition to the introduction of constitutional provisions for the report of the Auditor-General to be considered by the legislature. He also made a case for the establishment of an autonomous commission with both the Accountant-General and Auditors-General as members and having a retired Auditor-General or reputable seasoned accountant from the private sector as members.

These are indeed salutary and practicable recommendations that ought to be seriously considered and debated with a view to implementing them with appropriate desirable modifications if we are indeed serious about taming the menace of corruption. The current situation whereby the offices of the federal and state auditors-general appear largely ornamental is ineffective and undesirable. Substantially strengthening these offices as advocated by Justice Salami will save the country precious man hours and litigation costs by making it difficult for acts of corruption to be perpetrated in the first place.

In addition to the suggested audit reforms in the public sector, it is also imperative that auditing institutions and processes be more thoroughly entrenched with greater autonomy and operational transparency to limit corruption in the private sector of the economy.  It was also expected that the Prof. Itse Sagay-led Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) would broaden and deepen the scope of the fight against graft. The current approach of pursuing the thief has proven not to be quite productive.

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