ICPC: Charting a New Path for Nigeria’s Economic Development – Written by Femi L. Gold

For many years, doing business in Nigeria and with Nigerians was at the lowest ebb largely due to the high number of would-be investors who fell victim to fake business proposals from dubious Nigerians and widespread bribery.

Though the efforts of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), and other anti-corruption agencies in tackling the menace, have led to increased confidence in the country’s business environment by the international community, certain dishonest behaviour in business practices, bribery for contract, corruption in sea and airports, and capital flight persist.

The continued existence of these unwholesome practices has hampered the inflow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Nigeria. Foreign investors are afraid to put their money into long-term businesses because the country lacks the right environment that builds trust and safety of investments.

One critical government sector that has a direct impact on Nigeria’s economy and on which ICPC has successfully conducted corruption risk assessment is the ports sector. The sector facilitates the global trade market as well as instrumental in the transformation of the local markets onto national, regional, and international levels. It also helps in stimulating economic growth through local and foreign direct investment opportunities.

ICPC assessments of Portharcourt, Onne, Calabar, Warri, Tincan, and Apapa ports revealed wide discretionary powers, delay in the processing of documents, including multiple and overlapping procedures among others, which created an opportunity for unwholesome practices. 

Similarly, assessments of the Murtala Muhammad International Airport, Lagos, and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja revealed, among other things that; there were no unified Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) at the airports, which created uncertainty, misunderstanding, confusion, and clashes among officials who render services at the airport; there was lack of automation in many processes and inadequate CCTV cameras, scanners, detectors, etc. thereby instigating manual processes, unnecessary contact between officials and passengers thus building an environment for corruption to thrive.

To correct this unsavory situation, it was recommended that a Standard Operating Procedure and Code of Ethics be put in place to guide the activities of operatives within the airports. A mechanism for receiving complaints has also been set up. Touting and other unwholesome activities at the airports have since been reduced. 

As a direct outcome exercise in the sector, a mechanism that would clarify procedures and strengthen coordination of port agencies for efficient transactions at the ports has been established; a web solution tagged Port Service Support Portal (PSSP) housing the Standard Operating Procedures for all agencies was launched by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, GCON on 23rd June, 2016. The portal is a complaints management and Port Service Support solution aimed at addressing business transaction problems in Nigerian ports.   It also serves as a mechanism to redress service and integrity shortfalls.   

The mechanism provides an online real-time opportunity for Nigerians in diaspora and other investors to send service support complaints simultaneously to all port agencies, an inter-agency team including ICPC will monitor the resolution of all such issues.  

According to a survey conducted by Maritime Anti-Corruption Network, (MACN), an international non-governmental organisation working in the maritime sector with about 70 global companies as members, the impact of PSSP is being felt in the maritime sector through a reduction in safety-related incidents; less severe threats to crews and vessels; decrease in waiting time (pre – berth); reporting all kinds of issues and infractions in the ports and aggregating them into reliable statistics, and resolving such issues.

The assessment of the port sector was conducted in conjunction with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Technical Unit on Governance and Anti-Corruption Reforms (TUGAR), and it was adjudged by the UN Global Compacts Publication 2015 as one of the best anti-corruption initiatives of the year. The PSSP is a redress mechanism for service and integrity shortfalls, developed on the recommendation of the report of the CRA.

In support of the Federal Government’s efforts to improve the country’s business environment, ICPC has also devised methods and strategies to reduce the incidence of corruption in business practices in Nigeria. Apart from the interventions at both the land and seaports, the Commission has incorporated anti-corruption provisions in the professional codes guiding employees in organisations through a partnershipwith Private Sector, Business Membership Organizations (BMOs), and Professional Associations (PAs). The collaboration is aimed at building the capacity of BMOs and PAs in the use of the codes, and to help ensure corruption-free business practices in the country by motivating them to discourage all sub-structures that promote unethical practices.

ICPC has also committed itself to treating all petitions from investors and Nigerians in diaspora expeditiously through continuous investigation and prosecution of persons and systems review of a public institution that creates corruption bottlenecks for investments.  

ICPC has also committed itself to treating all petitions, from investors and Nigerians in diaspora expeditiously through continuous investigation, prosecution, and conduct of Corruption Risk Assessments about any person or public institution that creates corruption bottlenecks for investments, especially in the areas of property acquisition, incorporation of company processes or licensing and business partnerships. 

The formation of Anti-corruption and Transparency Units (ACTU) in government establishments is yet another major innovation of ICPC for combating corruption in business practices. These units are set up to receive and report complaints; study and review corruption-prone operational procedures in their respective establishments; and conduct regular anti-corruption and ethical orientation programmes. 

ACTU has brought about a great improvement in the overall ethical tone and performance of government business. Since government establishments execute public policies bordering on the economy and other business activities and have direct interactions with investors, an Ethics and Compliance model has been introduced to the mandate of ACTUs.

Speaking at the National Annual Public Lecture Series of the Inter-Government Action Group Against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA) held at Nile University, Abuja, recently, the Chairman of ICPC, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, SAN, revealed that a major part of the $80 billion lost annually from Africa to Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) was from Nigeria.

Prof. Owasanoye, who delivered a paper titled, “Reflections on the Impact of Corruption and Financial Crimes on Regional Development in West Africa: The Way Forward”, described corruption as a daunting and existential challenge for many countries in the West African sub-region especially Nigeria given the size of its economy.

As a way forward, the ICPC boss stated that the West Africa sub-region needs to pursue a multi-track strategy to overcome the daunting challenges posed by economic and financial crimes stressing that, “the fortune of generations yet unborn relies on the actions that we take today”. 

As part of strategies to tackle the menace, ICPC has organised Physical/Virtual capacity building and meetings on: 

  • “Understanding IFFs” with participants drawn from the 36 States of the Federation & the FCT, representatives of MDAs, CSOs, and the Media; 
  • Physical/Virtual meeting to review a “Report on IFFs In the Oil & Gas Sector”. Participants were major players in the Oil and Gas Sector (NNPC and Its Subsidiaries), all the Oil/Minerals producing States, relevant MDAs, Nigerian Navy, Niger Delta Stakeholders, CSOs, and the Media; 
  • Physical/Virtual meeting to review the “Report on IFFs In Relation to Tax”. Participants were key players in the Tax Sector, Chairmen of the Board of Internal Revenue Service of the 36 States and FCT and Attorney-General of the States. Others include relevant MDAs, CSOs, and the Media; 
  • Physical/Virtual Capacity Building for Investigators and Tax Inspectors on Investigating IFFs. Participants were drawn from relevant ACAs, key players in the Tax Sector, and other relevant MDAs, CSOs, and the Media; 
  • High-level capacity Building of key officials in the Presidency and line MDAs on the negotiation of contracts to avoid IFFs facilitating agreements; 
  • Sensitization of Major Players in the Oil & Gas and Solid Minerals Sectors on components enabling IFFs in that Sector and how to stop it; Sensitization of States officials and Ministry of Justice on Tax and tax-related IFFs.

Following the recommendations from the meeting that reviewed the report in relation to Tax, the Hon. Minister of Finance issued a circular on 10th March, 2021. Amongst the items listed was a caption TAX EXEMPTIONS; MDAs do not have any authority to grant tax exemptions to parties with whom they enter into contracts. Due process, in accordance with relevant statutes, must be followed where any tax exemption is considered justifiable”.  

The same circular also has another caption “CONTRACTS DENOMINATED IN FOREIGN CURRENCY; MDAs are to ensure that their contracts are wholly denominated in Nigerian Naira (NGN). No MDA is authorized to enter into a contract denominated in any foreign currency without the prior approval of the HMFBNP”.

The National Assembly now show more interest in IFFs activities and has instituted enquiries into some IFFs prone areas.

ICPC raised an advisory to the Presidency and copied relevant Ministries. On the strength of the advisory, the Presidency issue a memo to all relevant Ministries to comply with the recommendations contained therein. 

Indeed, ICPC’s economy-focused innovations are gradually yielding positive results in minimizing corruption in economic and business practices in Nigeria, as the country is steadily gaining the trust and confidence of both local and foreign investors.   

What is needed to sustain and improve on the current achievements is determination and continuing political will to give the necessary support to the government and follow through with recommendations of the CRA exercises at the ports, fund the ACTUs for better service delivery, constantly monitor professional bodies to ensure that they adhere to their professional code of ethics, and lastly intensify efforts in tackling illegal capital flights from Nigeria.   When these are done, it is hoped that the Nigeria will begin to make meaningful economic and socal progress.     

Femi L. Gold is a Chief Superintendent with the the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Abuja