Dr Musa Usman Abubakar was serving as the secretary to the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC) until his appointment as the acting chairman of the commission in February. He recently appeared on an NTA programme, platform where he fielded questions on different issues relating to his commission. Group Politics Editor, TAIWO ADISA, who was on the panel, presents the excerpts:
What is your assessment of the anti-corruption fight both at the global and national level in Nigeria?
My assessment of the fight against corruption, globally and nationally, is that the international community has actually accepted that corruption is endemic the world over. As such, they now put it on the front burner. Whenever any issue is being addressed globally, corruption must always come into play. Recently, I attended series of meetings in Vienna on the implementation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption in which all countries came together to actually showcase what they are doing with respect to the provisions of the UNCAC, (that is the United Nations Convention against Corruption), their best practices and their challenges for other countries to emulate.
This year, we focused on Preventive Measures under Chapter Two of the UNCAC and Chapter Five, which is to do with asset recovery. During the meeting, we also addressed corruption in sports which means the international community is also beaming its searchlight on the sports arena, where issues of corruption are found, particularly with regard to match fixing, bribing players and what have you. The reason they even made us to attend is that Nigeria will soon host one of the international sports events. Procurement is another area where corruption is really rampant globally. So, it means at the international level, it is taken very serious and countries are really taking measures to eliminate it.
At the national level here, there is political will on the side of the presidency. Corruption, as we all know, is one of the campaign promises of President Muhammadu Buhari; and since he started, there has never been a day when corruption is not discussed, as far as I’m aware, in this country. So, at the national level, my assessment is that we are really doing very well, particularly in trying to build institutions; trying to employ preventive measures to prevent people from even getting opportunity to amass public wealth.
Are the processes of fighting corruption universal or they differ from place to place with advancement in technology?
Actually, each country addresses this fight within the context of its own environment. The fact that we are in this technological age, some countries have advanced so far that they are not even talking about petty corruption as we are talking about it here. During one of the conferences on sports, one of the issues we discussed was the issue of e-sports and how people are using e-sports to launder money – which is something that is very strange to us here. It all depends on the context. Each country has its own peculiarities and they are taking measures to fight corruption.
If the processes are different from country to country, how does the Transparency International rate countries when it comes to the issue of corruption index?
Actually they have their own parameter of rating countries generally. As far as I’m aware, they don’t consider whether this country is developing or is developed. They use all-size-fits-all criteria (if you like) to rank countries.
So what is Nigeria’s ranking now?
Nigeria in 2017 was no 148 out of the 180 countries that were assessed. In 2016, we were 136 in the ranking, out of 180 countries that were assessed. We got 27 out of hundred in the ranking in 2017. 2016 was 28 over hundred. That is why they said our score is getting lower.
What is responsible for this low score, since you said the Federal Government is doing enough of anti-corruption fight and anti-corruption agencies are doing their best?
My understanding is that they are not taking into cognizance some of the preventive measures put in place by Nigerian government. The example of TSA for instance. The Treasury Single Account is one of the most effective ways of preventing people from accessing the public funds. Now, whatever is meant for government is channelled into one account, such that for you to withdraw money from that account takes a very long procedure. Central Bank must have to approve it. Before, you would find several accounts being operated by one agency, and some of them are even secret accounts that nobody will know about them. But now, it is a duty of banks to report any account. This is one area that, to me, was not taken into account by Transparency International in their assessment. They concentrated mostly on the perception of activists, media and the civil society.
What of the convictions and recovery of looted funds; don’t they play any role?
They didn’t discuss about recovery; but I recall when the head of SISLAC was being interviewed by BBC, he made allusion to the fact that one of the reasons we scored very low is the fact that there was no conviction in high profile cases. For him, maybe politically exposed persons need to be convicted before a country can be said to be doing well. But look at the situation we are: a person is taken to court and because of the legal processes, it takes more than a decade before he is convicted. For you to now use that as a yardstick for assessing a country, I think, will not be fair to that country.
Some say the ICPC is largely silent in the corruption fight, compared to your peer like EFCC. Why the silence?
Actually, the issue of silence of the commission comes as a result of misunderstanding with relation to the provisions of our Act. There is Section 27(4) of the Act which provides that when information or report is received, it must not be communicated to the public until the suspect is arrested or charged to court. There was misunderstanding among the previous heads of the agency, such that they construed the provision to mean conjunctive that when somebody is arrested, he must be arraigned before the court before the information about that case is made public. Actually, when I came as the secretary of the commission, people had been telling me that our commission was almost comatose. So, I invited some senior directors there to discuss why we are having this problem. Some of them now alerted me to this provision. When I read it, I told them it says ‘or’, which means the point is disjunctive. If somebody is arrested or you receive information about somebody, for you to make that information public, you must have arrested him or taken him to court. I said it is disjunctive. Therefore, there is no reason if we invite somebody. We should not disclose it thereafter. As far as I’m concerned, the more you make it public, the more you put yourself in the public domain. If, for instance, we announce that we have arrested ABCD and at the end of the day, the public is not hearing anything about it, they have the right to ask. If we keep mute without informing the public, that in itself can give room for some elements within the system to benefit from it.
But this new understanding seems to give the picture that ICPC that used to pride itself as not engaging in media trial may just well discard that understanding and begin to invite the media.
Actually, we’ve already taken position of informing the public of our activities. Once we make arrest, we disclose a little information. We will only tell the public that Mr. ABCD has been arrested. His invitation will not be announced because it is not contemplated. Once he gets there, we now make it public that we’ve invited and interviewed ABCD.
And you are about arraigning ABCD?
Sometimes, we give very little information about the reason why we are arraigning him.
The court is a public place and people still wonder why your cases are not continuously followed up in courtbecause people still tell you that they don’t know what ICPC is doing even in court?
We are really doing significantly well in court. Within the period under review so far, we’ve gotten about 48 convictions. From May 2015 to date, we got about 48 convictions and we lost 11 cases. We are producing a newsletter. When I came, I realized the world is going paperless. So, the position of the then administration was that we should make it online. But I feel we are not yet there. So, for people to actually know what is happening, we are producing hardcopy newsletter
Are you worried about the rising spate of bank frauds?
I have to make it clear that our own Commission deals mostly with public sector organizations. So, EFCC is the appropriate body for that purpose. Actually, we’ve been receiving cases like that in our Commission. Somebody will just receive alert, only for him to realize that a certain amount of money has been taken out of his account, or maybe an account that remains dormant for ages, and now some people will as somebody to pay money into. It’s an insider dealing and they will now resuscitate the dormant account and a find a way of – all these financial crimes fall within the ambit of EFCC.
That takes me to the level of synergy between anti-corruption agencies. How much of that do you have in the system?
Actually, we have very good inter-agency relationship. We exchange petitions that are outside our mandate. Sometimes, if we are investigating a petition and we realize that EFCC is investigating same, we write to them. If they confirm it, we now transfer the available information we have to them and they also do the same. At the moment, there is a Committee headed by His Excellency, the Vice President, that is a presidential committee on high profile cases and this committee actually brought together all the prosecution agencies – the Police, ICPC, EFCC, DSS to actually collaborate, such that high profile cases can be prosecuted jointly. So, as I’m talking to you now, we are prosecuting one case jointly with EFCC.
What is that case?
It is the case of the former Governor of Plateau State – think Jonah Jang.
The term corruption fights back is now a common trend. How does corruption fight you back at the ICPC?
Personally, I only joined the commission not long ago and I was only doing administrative functions before. It was two, three months ago that I started dealing with the operational matters. The only thing that I can say is an element of corruption fighting back is when people feel you are very uncompromising and they now report you to the higher authority, perhaps expecting that you will be sacked for not acceding to their request.
You mean suspects reporting you?
Perhaps suspects, or maybe some people closer to them.
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