Establishment, Achievements and Challenges of Anti-corruption and Transparency Units (ACTU) in Ministries, Departments and Agencies of Governments by Femi Gold

Efforts of anti-Corruption agencies to diminish corruption in Nigeria is usually associated with some common rhetoric, such as “Fighting’’, ‘’Combating”, ‘’the war against’’, ‘’the battle against’’ or cancerous.  The use of these words invokes pictures of an enemy that can either be defeated, surgically removed or treated with drugs. Together, these images suggest that corruption can be eliminated.  

The truth, however, is that corruption can never be completely eradicated anywhere in the world, simply because it is a complex and pigheaded crime that has an astonishing ability to resist some of the toughest punitive measures that may be deployed against it. Nevertheless, experience in other climes has shown that a combination of different strategies can help to effectively reduce the scourge to the barest minimum.

The experience of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) in dealing with the pervasive nature of the vice has led to its realisation that one way to effectively stem the tide of corruption is through a collective approach and involvement of the people.   

Consequently, ICPC has established the Anti-Corruption and Transparency Units (ACTUs) in Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government as one its strategies to take the fight against corruption closer to the doorsteps of the public servants. Membership of the units are drawn from within staff of each organisation.The need to collaborate with these officials arose from the Commission’s belief that those working directly in the operation of organisations should have a better understanding and ability to identify causes and fertilising agents of corruption within their organisations. 

ACTU was therefore created to serve as an extension of ICPC in the MDAs through an approval by government, vide the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation circular reference no. OHCSF/MSO/192/94 dated 2nd October 2001. The underlying reason for the establishment of the unit was to complement and strengthen the efforts of the Commission in the areas of monitoring, reporting and preventing corruption in the MDAs.

The units, deriving from Section 6 (b)-(d) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000, is empowered to examine and review corruption-prone systems, practices and procedures, enlist the support of other public officers in fighting corruption, develop a code of ethics for staff within MDAs and ensure strict compliance with same; and conduct regular anti-corruption sensitisation.

Currently established in over 440 MDAs, ACTUs have in the past 19 years, made remarkable impact on the anti-corruption crusade in many ways: they have introduced some level of accountability in the manner public officials do business, and they constantly demand probity from public office holders, especially in the allocation and utilisation of public resources. They are also in the forefront of ensuring that those entrusted with public offices give account of their stewardship. In this regard for instance, many ACTUs have produced and launched a code of ethics and corruption prevention guide for staff of their organisations.

ACTU Members, Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investments

The units are key agents helping to achieve the corruption prevention mandate of ICPC   as system studies and reviews conducted by ACTUs have led MDAs to identify corruption vulnerabilities within their system and recommendations that have helped to block such loopholes. A few examples here will suffice: when the ACTU of National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) state offices of Lagos, Edo, Kaduna and Kwara conducted such reviews, it identified corruption-prone procedures and submitted a report to ICPC with relevant recommendations to guarantee blockage of such procedures.    

Some ACTUs have also been very effective in the areas of undertaking preliminary investigation of petitions either written by staff of their organisations or transferred to them by ICPC. Some successful investigations carried out by ACTUs are those of University of Calabar on employment racketeering, Federal Polytechnic Nekede on allegation of extortion via text message by an academic staff of the Polytechnic.

In 2015, the ACTU of Ken Saro Wiwa Polytechnic, Bori, Rivers State investigated a case of staff overpayment of salaries. The unit interviewed 38 members of staff in connection with the case involving N34, 329,906.37. At the end of the investigation, a total number of 27 staff of the institution were found culpable: the two who manipulated the payment records were recommended for dismissal, while the rest were recommended to either serve suspension and make a refund or have their appointment terminated and as well as equally refund the overpaid amount. The unit also recommended that the institution’s payroll system be overhauled to block the loopholes identified by the ACTU in the course of its investigation.

In a letter sent to the institution by ICPC, dated 22nd January, 2016 and signed by the Head of Investigation, demanding to know if the school had acted on the recommendations of the ACTU, it says, ‘’The Commission is interested in the recent investigation activities carried out by Anti-corruption and Transparency Unit (ACTU) of your Polytechnic regarding the overpayment of Thirty-Eight (38) staff to the tune of N34, 329,906.37’’.

Continuing, the letter said, ‘‘In view of the above and pursuant to Section 28 (1) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000, you are required to confirm to this Commission, the implementation of its recommendations…and provide documentary evidence of same’’.

Responding to the Commission’s enquiry through a letter dated 23rd March, 2017, the Registrar of the polytechnic, said, ‘’We can confirm that the management in its commitment to work with this honourable Commission has since implemented the recommendations of the report forwarded by the Anti-Corruption and Transparency Unit (ACTU)…all recommendations on system upgrade to revamp the payroll system and block loopholes identified in the course of the investigation have been implemented’’.

                         ACTU sensitising members of staff

A few years back also, investigation and recommendations of ACTU of a federal Polytechnic led to 25 lecturers being demoted by the management of the school due to their involvement in corrupt practices. Through activities of ACTU of the institution, cases of illegal sales of academic literature, gratification and sexual harassment in the school have been minimised. 

At another Federal University of Technology, activities of ACTU caused management to rusticate over 500 students over their involvement in various offences prohibited by the school.

The units have also made a lot of impact through recommendations proffered to management and ICPC, leading to offenders being punished, and full-blown investigation carried out by the Commission.  

ACTUs in MDAs have also been effectively involved in monitoring and evaluation of budget implementation with a view to guaranteeing compliance with due process and guidelines. Through such monitoring, an ACTU of one of the key government agency was able to discover  purchase of a second-hand Toyota Camry Car in place of a brand new model at a budgeted sum of N11 million. Many examples abound here.

As a way of encouraging and increasing the volume of corruption reportage, some ACTUs have designed and placed suggestion boxes in strategic locations within their respective MDAs, including hosting of websites to make reportage of corruption issues easier. Examples are the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Trade and Investments, Nigeria Deposit Insurance Company, to mention but a few.

Roll-up banner produced and displayed by ACTU

Inclusion of ACTU members in relevant committees as observers to procurement processes have put the management of MDAs on their toes. The aim of their inclusion in committees is to ensure that proper procedures are being followed in carrying out stipulated procedures and to prevent corruption.

Finally, ACTUs are constantly educating and enlightening the staff of their MDAs through sensitisation and awareness workshops, stickers/posters, T-shirts with inscription of anti-corruption slogans.  

These are just a few examples of the many activities of ACTUs albeit in the face of worrisome challenges. In many organisations, rather than being given support, the units, are perceived to be spies who report on the activities of the chief executives and other staff.  They are generally under-funded, apparently to weaken them and thereby prevent them from being effective.  

Other challenges faced by ACTU members are the fear of loss of jobs, fear of danger to self and family, and apathy to duties by some of them as generally obtain in the public sector.

In order to allay the fears of chief executives and management staff of MDAs, the duties of the units have been expanded to cover other areas beyond just monitoring and reporting of corruption issues. In this regard, an Ethics and Compliance Scorecard has been introduced to expand the work of ACTU in line with international best practices for entrenching organisational core values to drive institutional mandates, and promote effective service delivery.  The rationale for the additional functions is that promoting accountability entails much more than preventing corruption. It entails repositioning the organisation to imbibe a wide range of accountability systems and preventive mechanisms, such as ethics and compliance. 

Since a huge percentage of Nigeria’s annual budgets is allocated to MDAs annually, the Anti-corruption and Transparency Units are important tools in ensuring transparency and accountability in the ways monies are expended. 

ACTU members, policy makers, chief executives of MDAs and indeed every Nigerian should collaborate with the ACTUs to promote and sustain the noble ideals on which the unit were established.

ACTU members must continue to serve as advocates for greater support for the work and effective operation of MDAs, in words and conduct, demonstrate zero-tolerance for corruption and professional misconduct. They must exemplify compliance with due process and organisational value to promote the ethics and compliance agenda, especially in view of the unfortunate instances of alleged lack of integrity on the part of some ACTU members. 

To ensure that the units are active, ICPC in 2020 introduced the ACTU Effectiveness Index as a way of monitoring how the ACTUs are performing with a view to strengthening them and making them relevant in their respective MDAs.

Managements on their parts must ensure the selection of the right calibre of staff into relevant positions involving integrity issues and ACTU; and above all, provide a first line budget for the successful operation of the units.

Femi Lionel Gold is Chief Superintendent, Public Enlightenment and Education Department of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC)