TO many Nigerians, the war against corruption is almost no thanks to the inability of  the agencies in charge of the cause appear to scale judicial hurdles in most cases while looting of the commonwealth continues unabated.

The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), was the first agency set up by the government of Nigeria to combat the menace, when it was almost consuming the education, health and other sectors.

The ICPC was established in year 2000 by the Obasanjo administration on a six point agenda, which included law enforcement, prevention of corruption and public enlightenment. Under law enforcement, the commission is mandated to carry out investigations and prosecute  corruption in Nigeria .

On public enlightenment, the commission was saddled with the responsibility of educating the duty to educate the public on what corruption is and how to support government in fighting it, while on Prevention, the ICPC has the mandate under its enabling Act to review corruption prone processes in Ministries, Departments and Agencies in such a way as to plug the loopholes through which government funds are siphoned.

These duties are summarily described in Section six of the ICPC Establishment Act 2000. The investigative and prosecution duty of the commission is captured in subsection (a) while the public enlightenment provision is captured in sub section (e to f); and the prevention mandate is captured in sub section (b to d).

After the ICPC was established, the government also established the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) by the EFCC Establishment Act of 2004. The latter has the same mandate of law enforcement, prevention of corruption through systems review; and public enlightenment as the former, except that EFCC’s duty extends to investigating and prosecuting private offenders.

The EFCC’s fight against corruption immediately caught the attention of Nigerians especially with high profile cases which involved highly placed personalities such as former governor of Bayelsa state, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun,  the conviction of former Managing Director of NPA, Chief Bode George and many others.

While the ICPC has been more quiet about its activities in fighting corruption, the EFCC communicated more with the media and Nigerians were fully aware of its activities and successes until about five years ago when most of its high profile cases got stalled in the courts.

Though about 200 cases have been won in court by the EFCC, they are however mostly what Nigerians will like to refer to as small cases which do not involve the ‘big thieves’. While the EFCC blames the judicial system and defence counsels for the seeming stagnation of its cases, it seems that the ICPC has chosen to take an innovative  route to fighting corruption.

This route, Systems review, or what can be referred to as Corruption Prevention Method, is perhaps adopted to circumvent the sluggish judicial system while still delivering on its mandate.

Chairman of the ICPC, Mr. Ekpo Nta has said at different fora that it is better to prevent corruption than to allow it happen and then begin to chase the perpetrators who will turn back and use the proceed of corruption to battle prosecution.

According to him, when the crime is allowed to happen, the money is lost. Rather, he believes that the money should not be allowed to disappear in the first place. He adds however, that this is not to shy away from the law enforcement mandate of the commission but that where it is necessary, offenders will be prosecuted.

Empowered by section 6b of the ICPC Establishment Act 2000, which states that “It shall be the duty of the Commission to examine the practices, systems and procedures of public bodies and where, in the opinion of the Commission, such practices , systems, or procedures aid or facilitate fraud or corruption, to direct and supervise a review of them”, the Commission has overseen the system review of the education sector, the pension system, the MDAs and is currently working on the visa process.

Nta said that the health sector will follow after the review of the visa process. The commission’s chairman also revealed that as a result of its review of the education sector, which was done in collaboration with the National Universities Commission (NUC), 21 illegal universities were closed down and those arrested are still being prosecuted.

Also, during the systems study and review of the pension funds, the Commission was able to gather the N23 billion pensioners’ funds scattered in 40 bank accounts and pruned it into four accounts in order to reduce the risk of corruption. The over N469 million accrued interest discovered in the pensions accounts were recovered and remitted to Sub-Treasury Figure (STF), an account at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

In its effort to sanitise government agencies, the Commission trained and certified 69 risk assessors, whose duty is to help with the systems review. Their activities at the Nigerian Ports have yielded some results which Barr. Nta said will be presented in a Report by December.

During the system review of MDAs, the ICPC made some stunning discoveries. Irregular payments were discovered in some ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to the tune of N46.9 billion.

A document reliably obtained from the ICPC puts the irregular payments as traces of suspected corruption in personnel budget. They were alleged to have been perpetrated in years 2011 and 2012. The document revealed that 155 MDAs made irregular payments of N21 billion in 2011 while 234 MDAs made irregular payments of N25.9 billion in 2012. The Commission also made a cash recovery totaling N213.4 million in both years from the affected MDAs.

The document also revealed that due to the intervention of the Commission, a total of N14.4 billion was returned to the Sub-Treasury Figure (STF) by MDAs in 2011 and 2012 as unspent balances on personnel costs. The ICPC also directed the refund of N574 million in fixed deposit accounts of two Institutions back to STF. N181.9 million was refunded from the Institute of Agricultural Research and N389.5 million from Agricultural College, Samaru; both in Zaria.

The only fund that couldn’t be recovered immediately is another N1.2 billion said to be warehoused in the accounts of four MDAs based on court orders. “It is yet to be remitted to the STF due to staff litigation”, the document read. Of this fund, Irrua Specialist Hospital is said to be warehousing N450.2 million, Federal Medical Centre, Makurdi, N122.6 million; INEC N107.9 million and University of Benin Teaching Hospital N621 million.

Through the systems review exercise also, the ICPC said it was able to recover a total of about N16 million for two persons and one agency as recoveries based on petition. N3.9 million was recovered for a worker of National Steel Raw Material Exploration Agency,  Kaduna as severance allowance; N7.7 million was also recovered as unpaid severance allowance of staff of Upper Benue River Development Authority while N4.5 million mobilisation fee paid on abandoned project was recovered for the National Primary Health Care Development Agency. Other smaller sums were recovered for other individuals.

During the review of MDAs, the ICPC also discovered non-payment of utility bills by some MDAs. In Ibadan, non-payment by MDAs amounted to N3.37 billion, in Kaduna it was N278 million and in Benin it was N2.5 billion. It is however unclear if the MDAs were merely owing or if these funds meant for payment of bills had filtered into private pockets. The ICPC said the intervention is on-going.

On a larger scale, while the Commission continues with the prosecution of cases of corruption, it is also working to save government money from being stolen; which means that more infrastructure such as roads, hospitals and other social amenities can be provided for the people. The idea is to prevent the money from being stolen.

While speaking with journalists in an interview recently, the ICPC chairman said that the commission’s activities in visa process was to put a stop to document falsification; a situation which has become a point of embarrassment for the country as desperate people falsify documents in order to secure visas.

Nta said that rather than allow the negative implication of this to rub off on the generality of Nigerians, the Commission will arrest the perpetrators as well as those who aid them in printing the false documents. So far, 13 persons have been arrested and will be prosecuted.

Speaking to The Guardian on the pending system review of the health sector, the ICPC chairman said the aim was to examine the sector as a whole starting with the primary health system and the National Primary Health Development Agency . He noted the commission’s intention to probe some contracts awarded by the agency between 2006 and 2012.

Nta added that the aim of the health sector probe is to sanitise the sector of corruption in the contract processes and to position the sector to deliver optimum service to Nigerians.

“We are looking at the sector as a whole but we are starting with primary health system. A situation whereby everybody goes to the teaching hospital for all kinds of treatment including malaria or for delivery is not good enough, the primary health centres should take care of these while the teaching hospitals take care of more complicated cases”, he said.

He also disclosed that the ICPC will soon start to invite contractors at the  National Primary Health Development Agency for questioning over some contracts awarded and paid for which have not been executed.

A document made available to The Guardian indicates that between 2006 and 2012, the  National Primary Health Development Agency awarded 774 contracts for primary health centre projects out of which only 293 have been completed. About 423 are still on-going while 58 are yet to commence. “And most of these projects have been paid for”, Nta said.

As the systems review continues to address fundamental issues, the enforcement aspect of the commission’s duties is also getting attention. Nta said that the ICPC received 594 petitions between January and September.  About 434 petitions were referred for investigation  and investigations have been concluded on 176 of them.

The Commission has also been seizing some properties  and cash, suspected to be proceeds of corruption. An estimated N806 million has been seized in buildings, lands and cash. N469 million has been remitted to STF while N47 million has so far been remitted to beneficiaries.  The commission also has over N500 million in its recovery account.

So far, the ICPC has filed 24 cases in court with seven convictions. Thirteen cases are about to be filed in court, it has won 16 cases on civil matters and lost two cases but says they are on appeal.

While the system study and review methods can be said to be working, Nta said that the Commission faces certain challenges such as inadequate funding of its capital projects, academy, forensic laboratories, safe houses and operational vehicles among others.

Slow judicial process in the trial of corruption cases due to interlocutory appeals, frivolous adjournments, assignments of designated judges to tribunals and intimidation and victimization of witnesses and whistle blowers also pose challenges.

The chairman will also like to see the envelope system of budgeting changed.

Written by: Abosede Musari

Source: The Guardian