9th of December of every year since 2003 has been set aside as the International Anti-Corruption Day (IACD) by the UN. Nigeria is one of the186 countries who are signatories to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption which was adopted in 2003.
The President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Mr. Paul Usoro SAN in commemoration of the International Anti-Corruption Day has among other things reminded Nigerians that corruption goes beyond financial and economic corrupt practices to encompass embezzlement, illicit financial flows mismanagement of public resources, political non-accountability and many more.
He also used the opportunity to remind the Nigerian Government that the fight against corruption must not be selective and discriminatory.
Below is his speech:
- This year marks the 16th anniversary of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (“UNCAC”). Since its adoption in 2003, the Convention Against Corruption has achieved near-universal status with not less than 186 States including Nigeria signing up to the Convention. 09 December of every year is observed across the world as the International Anti-Corruption Day (“IACD”) with the aim of raising public awareness of corruption and engendering discourse on, amongst others, required measures for addressing and attacking corruption. The Nigerian Bar Association (“NBA”) joins the International Community to mark today as the International Anti-Corruption Day.
- Corruption is multi-faceted even though deserved attention is mostly focused on financial and economic corrupt practices. The conducts that qualify as corruption extend beyond financial and economic practices and encompass fraud, embezzlement, illicit financial flows, administrative malfeasance, mismanagement of public resources, political non-accountability, absence of transparency and impunity in public service. The United Nation Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres obviously had this wider definition of corruption when he stated that “corruption begets corruption and fosters a corrosive culture of impunity. The United Nations Convention Against Corruption is among our primary tools for advancing the fight. Sustainable Development Goal 16 and its targets also offer a template for action”.
- The toxic and injurious consequences of corruption stare us in the face in Nigeria. We see it in the uncompleted developmental projects that dot our landscape, in all the nooks and crannies of this country, even though the costs of and consideration for those projects had in a number of cases been paid out, sometimes, in full; we see the consequences of corruption in the lack of basic necessities that our citizens should take for granted such as but not limited to potable water, affordable healthcare, particularly given the wealth of Nigeria; we see it in the decay in and of our institutions – educational, infrastructure, health, literally all our institutions – notwithstanding the enormous material and human resources that the Almighty has blessed us with. We see the effects and consequences of corruption in the suffocating poverty amongst our people and indeed, in the pervasive insecurity of lives and property which has now extended to the kidnap of our judicial officers. Not long ago, the Brookings Institution released a report that shows that Nigeria, with an estimated population of 200 million people has overtaken India with a population of 1,324 billion people, as the nation with the highest number of extremely poor people. That, indeed, should worry all of us.
- It is gratifying that President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR has consistently made it the credo of his government to fight corruption, right from his first term in office. That is commendable. The fight must however not be selective or discriminatory in nature; it must not even be perceived to be selective or discriminatory. The trial of persons for corrupt practices must itself not be tainted with corruption. Media trial of persons charged with corrupt practices, for example, amount to corruption itself. Indeed, those orchestrated media trials degrade and corrupt the justice administration system quite apart from the incalculable (but obviously intended) damage that it does to persons who may ultimately be discharged and acquitted. In point of fact, it is corrupt practice to use as license or hide under the cover of the fight against corruption to recklessly destroy the names, characters 3 and reputations of persons who have not been found guilty of corrupt practices by competent courts and who may ultimately be pronounced innocent of such charges.
- Abuse of prosecutorial powers is perhaps one of the worst forms of corruption and so are the intimidation, blackmail, harassment and coercion of judicial officers in order to secure pre-determined judgments that quite often subvert justice and indeed amount to injustice. Indeed, the subversion of justice by any means whatsoever amounts to extreme corruption. The corruption of our criminal justice system is indeed exemplified by the index we use to measure our success in the fight against corruption, to wit, the number of convictions that are secured and the volume of assets that are purportedly recovered. By using these as our primary index for determining our success in fighting corruption, we set targets that induce corruption and abuse of prosecutorial rights. We thereby make a statement that the end justifies the means and, in the process, encourage and advocate for convictions and purported recovery of assets no matter how crooked, corrupt and undermining of justice the processes may be for attaining those goals. The end result is that we pay more attention to and celebrate these corrosive and corruptive processes while giving scant attention and regard to proactive measures that could actually stem and block the avenues for corruption.
- It is in that light that we must draw governments’ attention to the need for proactive strategies in fighting corruption, particularly but not limited to the economic and financial genre. As earlier mentioned in this Statement, corruption includes administrative malfeasance, political non-accountability, absence of transparency and impunity in public service. More often than not, these genres of corruption give birth to financial and economic corruption. In other words, financial and economic corruption thrive where there is lack of transparency, impunity in public service, political non-accountability and pervasiveness of administrative malfeasance. Proactive measures that promotion transparency and eliminate 4 administrative malfeasance generally curbs corruption and abuses. Automation also helps greatly in stemming these tendencies and the attendant corruption and the more we can automate our processes in all the branches of government – executive, judiciary and legislature – the greater our success would be in tackling corruption through the elimination of some of those human elements and abuses that encourage and foster corruption. The NBA advises governments at all levels and in all branches to embrace such proactive measures in the fight against corruption generally. Impunity and abuse in public service must be abhorred and so must political non-accountability and a lack of transparency in public administration and the management of our affairs.
- As ordinary citizens of Nigeria, we must also all stand up against corruption. We must refuse to give bribes for favors; we must reject corruptive and corrosive quid-pro-quo proposals and arrangements. We must blow whistles on bribe-takers and the practitioners of other forms of corruption, to wit, impunity in public service, abuse of prosecutorial powers, intimidation, blackmail and harassment of our judges, administrative malfeasance, political non-accountability and a lack of transparency in the various facets of our country’s administration and management. The fight against corruption must not be left to or for our governments alone. We must, as individuals and citizens, also take our stand against corruption in all its ramifications. Only then can we begin to reap the rewards and benefits of our abundant wealth, both in human and material resources. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria. God bless the Nigerian Bar Association.