Integrity Awards as a Veritable Tool in the Fight Against Corruption – Written By Azuka C. Ogugua

It is generally believed among Nigerians that punishment and sanctions are the most effective means of fighting corruption. However, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) is changing the narrative through numerous initiatives and programmes that promote integrity in public service and prevent corruption. 

In 2019, the Commission introduced the National Summit on Diminishing Corruption in the Public Sector which featured the first Public Service Integrity Awards to recognize and reward public servants that had exhibited exceptional acts of integrity. So far, this has become an annual event. 

The Public Service Integrity Awards, jointly sponsored by ICPC and the Office of the Secretary to the Government of Federation (OSGF), is not only a reward system to recognize and appreciate public servants with exceptional acts of integrity, but it is also aimed to encourage other honest Nigerians to continue to remain honest. It is also designed to inspire Ministries, Departments, and Agencies of government to do the same at their institutional levels. It is a system of “naming and faming” those who are doing the right thing, even when no one is watching. 

The Awardees:

The first edition of the Integrity Award was held in November 2019 with the presentation of awards to 2 deserving public servants, Mrs. Josephine Ugwu of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and ACG Bashir Abubakar of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS). 

Mrs. Josephine Ugwu (L) and ACG Bashir Abubakar (R) receiving their awards from President Muhammadu Buhari, in 2019

Mrs. Josephine Ugwu, in the course of her work, found and returned various sums of money to their owners through the security department of the airports: 

  1. In 2006, while working with Aero Contractors as a casual staff and earning N12,000 per month, she found and returned Ten Million and Two Hundred Naira (N10,000,200) at Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu
  2. On 23rd December 2014, she found and returned the dollar equivalent of Eight Million Naira (N8,000,000) at Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, while earning a monthly salary of N7,800 as a cleaner with Patovicki Cleaning Services.
  3. On 27th December 2014, she found and returned the dollar equivalent of Seven Million, Three Hundred Naira (N7, 000,300) at Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos. 
  4. In January 2015, she found and returned Twelve Million US Dollars (US$12,000,000) at Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos. She was employed on 6th October 2015 by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria on GL 07. 
  5. On 20th February 2019, she found and returned Two Hundred Thousand Naira (N200,000) at GAT local airport, Lagos. 

Her exemplary honesty was rewarded with the 2019 Public Service Integrity Award. And the award value included a house and a cash token. 

ACG Bashir Abubakar of the Nigeria Customs Service was recognized for rejecting a bribery offer of Four Hundred and Twelve Thousand US Dollars (US$412,000) offered to him by drug traffickers on 40 containers of Tramadol, a controlled and highly addictive drug that has wreaked havoc on the mental health of Nigerians across age levels. 

The second edition of the Award went to 2 other public servants: ACP (then CSP) Francis Osagie Erhabor and a Deputy Director, Hamza Adamu Buwai.

(L-R) Mallam Hamza Adamu Buwai, President Muhammadu Buhari, Chiekezi Favour (1st position winner JSS Essay Competition) & ACP Francis Osagie Erhabor

Mallam Hamza Adamu Buwai, an indigene of Sokoto State, worked at various times with the National Boundary Commission, Ministry of Defence, Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (PINE), Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN), etc. He served as a member of the Anti-Corruption and Transparency Unit (ACTU) at the National Boundary Commission.

During his service at the National Boundary Commission, Mallam Hamza save the Commission’s N2.5 billion from going into the account of the defunct Société Générale Bank in 2004, despite pressure from various quarters. Two days later, the bank was suspended from the Clearing House by the CBN and was later declared distressed by CBN. In 2015, as the Deputy Director (Capital Expenditures) and Chairman of the Ministry of Defence’s Hand- Over Liability Committee, the sum of N7.9 billion paid to contractors in 2010, but repeated in the Liabilities list was discovered and removed from the Liabilities list in the Committee’s final report. 

ACP (then CSP) Francis Osagie Erhabor was appointed into the Nigeria Police Force as a Cadet Inspector in 1990, and served for over 30yrs in various capacities, notably, as a Police Public Relations Officer; Trainer/Instructor at the prestigious Police Mobile Training Camp Gwoza Borno; Unit Commander; and Second In Command Squadron Commander in various Police Mobile Squadrons namely Edo, Akwa Ibom, and Enugu States respectively. At the time of the Award presentation, he was the Divisional Police Officer D Division, Itam Uyo. 

While serving in Edo State, he refused a N1.5M bribe as a pipeline commander. He also refused a bribe of N500, 000.00 from a subordinate to allow adulterated petroleum products into the state. 

In recognition of these and other acts of integrity, he received several awards such as the integrity Icon award by Youth Alive Foundation in collaboration with UKAID/DFID 2018; and the Integrity Idol award by Accountability Lab Nigeria 2019.  

The 2021 Integrity Awards went to Muhammad Tukur Ahmad of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and Mr. Nelson Orji Okoronkwo of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture. 
(L-R) Mr. Nelson Orji Okoronkwo, DD, Legal, FMIC, Prof. Bolaji Owananoye, SAN, OFR (Chairman, ICPC), President Muhammadu Buhari, and Mr. Muhammad Tukur Ahmad, Asst. Commander of Narcotics, NDLEA

Mr. Muhammad Tukur Ahmad demonstrated the highest ideals of public service in the discharge of his responsibilities. He was a recipient of the Chairman/Chief Executive’s Award for Outstanding Performance and Integrity on 31st May 2021. He recovered and declared to the Agency the sum of US$24,500 offered to him as a bribe by a drug baron to compromise an investigation of 27.950kgs of cocaine, worth billions of Naira. 

Mr. Nelson Orji Okoronkwo was a committee member on fertilizer distribution and racketeer that led to the recovery of billions of naira from the racketeers with collaborators within the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and was also a Committee member of the Investigation Committee on Supersulphate Fertilizer Company Ltd, Kaduna that led to the refund of billions of Naira. He reported corrupt practices that led to the Ogoni cleanup investigation in the Federal Ministry of Environment, and a Committee Chairman on Illegal Recruitment, which led to the detection and removal of over 3,000 fake employees from the Service thereby saving the government millions of naira in terms of salaries and emoluments in the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture. He was recognized for his consistent acts of integrity in the different Ministries where he served. 

The 2022 Public Service Integrity Award went to only one public officer, SP Daniel Itse Amah, an indigene of Jos East, Plateau State. He joined the Nigerian Police Force as a Cadet Inspector in 2002. He is currently serving as a Divisional Police Officer (DPO) at Bompai Police Station in Nasarawa, Kano State. 

SP Daniel Itse Amah, receiving his award from President Muhammadu Buhari, on 4th October 2022

On 24th April 2022, he handled a matter involving a suspect, Mr. Ali Zaki who had convinced Bureau De Change (BDC) operators that he had $750,000 to sell to them at the rate of N430 (to give an equivalent of N322,500,000). After a bank staff confirmed the availability of the money at the bank to the BDC operators, the transaction took place. However, the suspect arranged with armed robbers to track and rob the BDC operators while they were transporting the money. 

The matter was reported to the Police Division in Kano State where SP Daniel Amah was the DPO. In the course of the investigation, they traced the principal suspect, Mr. Ali Zaki who offered a bribe of $200,000 to SP Daniel to kill the case, through a bank staff. The offer was rejected, and the bank staff was promptly arrested which led to the arrest of the principal suspect. The $200,000 was recovered and registered as an exhibit. 

The Selection Process: 

The selection process for the Public Service Integrity Award is a rigorous one that involves a call for Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) at the federal level to nominate staff of their organizations that have exhibited high levels of Integrity in the course of their duty. Nominations received are screened by a committee made up of board members of ICPC, and at least 2 nominees are shortlisted for the award. 

The shortlisted nominees are sent for screening, to confirm that the acts of Integrity took place, the work records of the nominees, as well as to get the testimonials of the colleagues and bosses of the nominees as to their general character. 

After the screening and verification exercise, the best are presented for approval by the ICPC Board to receive the Public Service Integrity Award. 

Along the same line, others who are nominated but not selected are not left unappreciated. In 2021, ICPC recognized 4 public officers for exhibiting Integrity in their line of duty and gave them the ICPC Certificate of Integrity. They were: Ifalolu Stephen Ifabiyi of the Ecological Fund Office, OSGF; Umah Adamu Tsoho of the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development; Okoli Elizabeth Ukamaka of the Federal Capital Territory Administration; and Sabastine Tsenke Zoemlong of  OSGF. 

Although not all nominees are so recognized, MDAs are also encouraged to recognize their nominees in-house and regularly by giving awards or some commendation. Therefore, the selection committee often writes to MDSs to acknowledge officers for Integrity. 

For the first time in 2022, the nomination process was thrown open to the public as well as MDAs. Using a Google form, the public was encouraged to nominate any public servant that they know that has performed an extraordinary act of Integrity. It is of interest to note that the 2022 Integrity Awardee was not only nominated by his establishment, but also by members of the public who commended his courage in rejecting a bribery offer and arresting the offerees. 

Going Forward:

The Public Service Integrity Award is a laudable initiative that serves as a motivation to public servants, that their daily acts of integrity are noticed. The war against corruption is not only about punishment for the few corrupt, but recognition and reward for the majority who daily do their jobs conscientiously, putting in their best. 

The call is for Nigerians to recognize and nominate these hardworking, honest Nigerians for the award. And for agencies to routinely – monthly or annually – recognize and reward integrity. 

The war against corruption will be won when the reward for acts of integrity is equally emphasized as much as the punishment for corruption.