PROFILE: Bolaji Owasanoye: The new man to lead Nigeria’s second major anti-graft agency

The Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, on Tuesday nominated Bolaji Owasanoye, a professor of law, as the new Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, ICPC.

Mr. Owasanoye will steer the affairs of the anti-graft agency for next five years with 13 other members whose tenure is for four years, subject to confirmation by the Senate.

The new chairman takes over from Ekpo Nta, whose five-year tenure expired in June and who has been redeployed to the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages as a full-time commissioner.

With his appointment, Mr. Owasanoye becomes the fourth substantive chairman of the commission since it was established by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration in 1999.

The past chairmen were Mustapha Akanbi and Emmanuel Ayoola (both justices) and Mr. Nta.

Four others were chairmen in acting capacity. They were Uriah Angulu, a professor; Rose Abang-Wushishi; and Abdullahi Bako, a lawyer.

The 54-year old Mr. Owasanoye was the Executive Secretary of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC, appointed in August 2015 to inter alia “promote the reform agenda of the government on the anti-corruption effort, to advise the present government on the prosecution of the war against corruption and the implementation of required reforms in Nigeria’s criminal justice system.”

He graduated from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife (formerly University of Ife) in 1984 at the age of 20 with an LL.B Upper Division and was called to the Bar in 1985.

He thereafter proceeded to the University of Lagos where he bagged an LL.M in 1987 at 24.

Mr. Owasanoye moved from the University of Lagos where he was assistant lecturer to the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, NIALS where he became a professor of law in 2001 at the age of 38. His areas of specialization are Commercial and International Trade Law, Corporate Law, Child Rights and Human Rights Law and Strategic Governance and the Law of External Debt Management.

He also served as two-time Director of Research and became the first to be conferred with the Teslim Elias Distinguished Professor of Law.

He won other awards such as the University of Lagos Scholarship Award (1986-1987); UN Institute for Training and Research Fellowship Award (1991 and 1994); US Information Service International Visitors Award (1991); British Council Fellowship Award (1992); International Youth Foundation Fellowship on Youth and Community Development (1992-2000) and Senior Special Fellowship, UN Institute for Training and Research (2001).

He was also at other institutions such as the Royal Institute of Public Administration in the UK and the International Law Institute, Washington, USA.

The new ICPC boss also worked as a consultant for federal and state agencies in Nigeria and international agencies, including UINTAR, ILO, USAID, UNICEF, DfID, World Bank, World Bank Institute, Ford Foundation, WLAFEM and ECOWAS.

At NIALS, he served as the executive director of the institute’s journal, “Current Law Review” and was also as the editor of REPRO-MAT, the Reproductive Rights Newsletter.

He has not only published several articles in local and foreign journals but also presented papers in law conferences, seminars and workshop.

As a women and child rights activist, Mr. Owasanoye coordinated the NIALS Ford Foundation Rights of Child Project between 1992 and 1996. He presented many papers at UN events during which he canvassed for the need for the right of children to be upheld in all the nations of the world.

He also coordinated the NIALS Project on the annotation of the Laws of Federation of Nigeria.

In 1997, he co-founded the Human Development Initiative, HDI, a non-profit organisation whose objective is to champion human capacity development, especially at the grassroots.

The organisation has successfully implemented about 50 advocacy projects on human rights, rule of law, governance and anti-corruption. One of them is “Stop Impunity in Nigeria.”

In August 2015, Mr. Owasanoye was named a member/executive secretary of the seven-member PACAC.

A former Assistant Chaplain at the UNILAG Chapel of Christ our Light and currently a member of the clergy at the Aso Villa Chapel in the State House, Mr. Owasanoye has been one of the most vocal members of the advisory body and indeed one of the advocates of the Proceeds of Crime bill, Whistle-blower and Witness Protection Bill passed by the National Assembly recently.

While canvassing passage of the Bill, he once lamented that “the lack of POCA, (Proceeds of Crime Act), Whistle-blower, Witness Protection laws was a slow down to effective campaign against corruption.”

In June, the new ICPC chairman had insisted that the Nigerian judiciary had the most important role to play in the effort to change the country’s corruption status or rating.

“Improving the sanctions and enforcement regime in anti-corruption campaigns is crucial,” he said.

“It involves the commitment of all players in the administration of criminal justice such as the prosecution, the defence, the judiciary, the prison authorities.

“In this regard, however, the judiciary ranks far above other players in importance. In Botswana, the judiciary played a salutary role in improving the ranking of the country in anti-corruption initiatives.”

Mr. Owasanoye is coming to ICPC at a time some reforms are believed to have been introduced by the outgoing leadership to give the fight against corruption a bite since 2012.

In a recent interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Mr. Nta spoke glowingly about those reforms.

He said, “The immediate mandate is that the quality of the cases going to the court has improved, I have had more convictions since coming in than previously. We’ve had a lot more petitions coming in because I have introduced electronic processes for reporting petitions to the commission. I have introduced a toll-free line so that you don’t have to use your money to call us. If you call us with the line you will not be charged.”

Regardless, one area Mr. Nta perceptibly failed but which Nigerians will expect Mr. Owasanoye and his team to tackle is the issue of allegations of corruption against former state governors.

The outgoing chairman had put the number of cases against the former governors at 32 but lamented the inability of the ICPC to prosecute them due to lack of funds.

“They didn’t provide the funding,” Mr. Nta said. “Note that it was the special investigator that was to look at all this but what I have done now, I have taken a much more proactive step by requesting the amendment of the ICPC Act that when such instances reoccur, the matters should have preliminary investigations by the ICPC because we have the personnel that can do the investigations. When we are satisfied with the investigation we can now transmit that to the CJN (Chief Justice of Nigeria) if he wants to continue with that process.”

With his wealth of experience and that of his team in the academic and public sector, Mr. Owasanoye may just be the joker the Buhari administration has been waiting for to strengthen the anti-corruption crusade. Perhaps, under the watch of the erudite professor of law, ICPC will not only bark but may begin to bite.

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