Sola Akinrinade, a professor, and former Vice-chancellor of Osun State University, is the provost of the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria, ACAN, the research and training arm of ICPC.
In this interview with Musikilu Mojeed, Festus Owete and Idris Ibrahim, the provost speaks on the activities of the institution and its challenges.
PT: What exactly do you do here?
Akinrinade: We undergo induction course here. They (ICPC staff) also undergo courses elsewhere. They also do para-military training. The induction program which includes some exercises and all that is done in this place. Like now all the departments have submitted their training needs for 2017. First, they submitted to us last year, but there is a training committee at the headquarters where they also harmonize. So, they bring the harmonized reports to us for implementation. For instance, we are giving them the training on corruption monitoring and evaluation. We are ready for it. Some of our resource persons are coming from outside Abuja and we agreed that it is better we do it when the airport is reopened because most people are not too interested in going through the ordeal of going through Kaduna. So, we decided to shift it after the airport is re-opened. We are also running a training for the Asset Tracing and Monitoring Units. But that training is going to be opened to staff of other agencies who are doing similar work. Asset tracing is not restricted to ICPC. Of course, a lot of it is done by EFCC, NFIU, and Code of Conduct Bureau. These are people that are tracing asset of public officers and see how they acquire them, how you manage it and if it is proven to be legitimately acquired.
PT: There has been an area of controversy. When you seize asset what do you do with it?
Akinrinade: These are issues that we are bringing in experts to handle. I am not mentioning the embassy but they (embassy officials) are promising us that when we are ready for the training we should give them three months’ notice and they will bring in people who will assist us in training them. It is not just our people but also other agencies who will be participating in the program. So, when you seize asset, it is not just being able to seize, but also to be able to track, to be able to monitor and also be able to manage the asset before it is finally disposed. An asset is either forfeited to the state or returned to the owner if it is found to be genuinely and legitimately acquired. You can’t seize somebody’s asset and then by the time it is going back to the owner, it has depreciated. Most of them don’t have the capacity on how to manage asset.
And even to prosecute cases relating to asset tracing is a competitive field. So, we want to bring in people from different places or different parts of the world to do the training. It is not just for our staff but also for the staff of other agencies who have similar mandates. Code of Conduct Bureau, for instance, has stakeholder inputs into asset tracing. That is their job and so it is not just for us. EFCC and NFIU, of course, are agencies that have similar mandates which sometimes even overlap, but everybody has his own distinct work and role to play.
When you need skills, those skills should not be restricted to a particular agency. That is what we are trying to do. By the time you look at all these things, you discover that the dynamics of corruption changes every day as we make new laws, as we enact new decrees and as we enact new legislation. Those who want to break it are also thinking of how to break it. We also have to train our officers to be able to be a step ahead of those who want to break the law. So, the training in anti-corruption is a dynamic process. You have to keep reinventing yourself to be a step ahead of those trying to make your work impossible. That is the essence of this place. It started simply as ICPC Academy just to train staff of the Commission. But as the complexity of the war against corruption becomes clearer, we realised that we need to build a capacity beyond just training of people on how to shoot, how to fight and other things. So, the focus of the academy started changing from just training their own staff, from induction training to building the larger capacity of the larger public.
PT: That means you take other people from other organizations.
Akinrinade: Of course. For instance, our aptitude training, the anti-corruption and transparency monitoring unit training are done for all MDAs of government. We charge them of course because we have to run the place. The chairman is just about to process approval to make it commercial so that we can now charge beyond just running the place. The charges we make are just to be able to cover the cost of what we are doing. It doesn’t even cover staff salary. If I am to pay staff salary with what we are generating, it is either that we are folded up or we start charging commercial rates. But for now, we are not doing that. So, all we do is just cover the cost of the training for those people not to cover the cost of our staff in terms of their salaries.
PT: You were talking about the overlapping functions, especially those of ICPC, the Code of Conduct, EFCC and perhaps the fraud office of the Police. Why don’t all of you come together and create just one academy instead of each of you having different academies.
Akinrinade: Well it is easy to say that, but remember that the overlapping functions are just a bit of the work of each agency. The fraud office is a work on its own. I can’t train them. I can train them in areas that are tangential to their work which we have expertise on. The asset tracing work is only the aspect of the function of the Code of Conduct Bureau that actually overlaps with our own. They do other things. If we are going to say that everybody should come to the same place, we might end up being a jack of all trade and master of none. But if we want to build a super academy, which is my dream, which should be able to train agencies in all areas and bring in expertise from different areas of the work, it will need a lot of massive funding from the government. This potential of this academy is enormous because even going by what we have on ground, frankly we can do a lot if we have support. Last year, we received most of our support from UNDP, UNODC, US agencies etc. These are international developers. But we need more than that to be able to function effectively. The other aspect of it is that all those agencies must still have their training areas. It’s like saying because First Bank, Unity Bank, UBA do the same thing, they shouldn’t have their own training schools. No. Yes, they are all banks and are all doing commercial work and their staff are doing basically the same thing but each one has its own training school.
PT: Now you have this academy and EFCC has its own. Will you say that the war against corruption is getting stronger? Will you be able to say that people now have better capacity to trace asset and to secure conviction?
Akinrinade: The truth is, a lot depends on political will to ensure that what we want to do we have to. It is not that the agencies lack the capacity but if you want to take steps and you are hindered politically, what do you do? That was the problem most agencies have had till date until recently when there is a positive change in the attitude towards fighting corruption? Hopefully this year the Anti-corruption Day celebration in November/December is going to focus on how we can institutionalize the war against corruption beyond regimes. Buhari left power in 1985. So, if Buhari leaves tomorrow, must we wait for another 30 years for Buhari to come back and re-ignite the war against corruption? We are looking at a system, to construct a system that doesn’t depend on regimes, that doesn’t depend on individuals and their whims and caprices but a system that whoever gets elected or appointed into office will work with them. That is the part of the strategy to put a system in place where in every office there is a structure in place to address issues of integrity. With the structure in place, when a DG comes in he is not thinking on how he is going to embezzle money in the place. When a permanent secretary comes in, he is not thinking of how he will line his own pocket. When a minister is appointed, he is not looking at how he is going to better his own lot, rather than of Nigerians. So, that structure is what is going to take the war against corruption beyond every regime to a whole scale attitudinal change in which we as a people will admit that yes, this is the way it should go. Of course, there will be aberrations. There will be people that will break the law, no matter how strict the law is. So, we must also make room for sanctions.
PT: Is that the lamentation of the people you have trained here, that when they go back they are not able to implement what they learnt?
Akinrinade: What we are doing now is that we are trying to get a feedback from them on the challenges they had implementing the lessons they learnt while they trained with us. We are saying ‘Yes you got trained at the senior executive course last year for integrity management; we gave you steps on how to introduce integrity system into your office or into your work place, what have you done since you got back? Is it a knowledge you just kept to yourself or is it something you try to implement? And if you try to implement it, how easy was it for you and how easy has it been implementing it? And what have been the obstacles within the system? We trained people at different levels but our flagships were two programs last year – the Senior Executive Course in Organization and Integrity Management and the Anti-Corruption Leadership Academy. The Anti-Corruption Leadership Academy was meant for those at the very top professionally in organisations like directors, deputy directors etc.
PT: You are training people who have gotten soaked deep into corruption. How do you train them to learn a new direction?
Akinrinade: Part of it is also to make them aware of the consequences because we don’t just train you on how to do it or how to avoid it. We also train you in knowing the provisions of the law.
PT: But are you also focusing on politicians, including members of the National Assembly?
Akinrinade: Yes, we do. In 2015/2016, we had workshops for all State Houses of Assembly on zonal basis.
PT: So, why are they still corrupt even if they train them here?
Akinrinade: There is a saying – you can take a horse to the river but you can’t force the horse to drink water. Like I said, we also let people know the consequences of violating the law, the consequences of disobedience.
PT: Will you say you succeeded?
Akinrinade: You don’t measure success or failure by one or two instances. You measure it by the overall impact and you ask yourself among the people you trained, how many people have you brought back for investigation? If you trained 500 people, for instance, and two persons came back for investigation, you have succeeded because you have reduced drastically those who are exposed. We were in Bauchi in November for the Bauchi State Anti-Corruption Summit. Their legislators were some of those that were trained during the training we had for legislative houses. They said that since we had the training for them they have been able to map out how to put the executive in check and put themselves also in check. When the executives come for something they say ‘Mr. Governor, you sent us to ICPC training in Abuja and this is what they say we should do and cannot do. If you do this you will be breaking the law.’ It helped them in trying to create a synergy between the executive and legislature in promoting integrity in the administration of the state. The truth also is that their governor is interested in promoting integrity. So, for us, you measure success by how people are embracing your message, how effective they are to your message, and how willing they are to learn.
PT: What about the banks? Are you working with the banks at all?
Akinrinade: Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that the training we had on organisation and integrity management last year Access Bank and one or two other banks were there. Even MTN was there. It was not just the banks. We had a proposal that time because they have this association of compliance officers for all banks. We are supposed to actually work with them to develop a training programme for their compliance officers. It is still at the early stages. We also had a training organized in collaboration with Chartered Institute of Bankers in Nigeria, CIBN, in June last year. We had a workshop to train people in the financial industry.