The two foremost Nigerian anti-corruption agencies have not made any tangible progress in bringing high profile persons culpable in corrupt practices to justice, a United States report has indicated.
The report, titled, ‘2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in Nigeria,’ said the two agencies, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), only target low and middle level officials suspected of corruption.
Released by the U.S. Department of State on Tuesday, the report said despite the charges brought against some serving and former high-level officials by the EFCC and ICPC, the organisations focused more on low and middle-level corrupt officials in 2021.
“The bulk of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s anticorruption efforts remained focused on low- and mid-level government officials, although both organisations brought indictments against various active and former high-level government officials,” the U.S. report said.
Giving an insight into why the agencies were unable to make tangible progress in the cases involving the high-profile personalities, the report said, “Many of the corruption cases, particularly the high-profile ones, remained pending before the courts due to administrative or procedural delays.”
In December 2021, Abdulrasheed Bawa, the new EFCC’s chair appointed in February last year, noted that the commission secured the conviction of 978 persons within one year.
But going by public EFCC’s public records of conviction, most of the persons convicted in the year were mostly cybercrime suspects.
The anti-graft campaign in Nigeria, particularly of the EFCC, has come under criticism for making the pursuit of cybercrime suspects (also known as Yahoo Yahoo boys) its major preoccupation, while it falters in its handling of high-profile cases.
In the latest 2021 Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI-TI) ranking, Nigeria scored 24 out of 100 points, ranking 154 out of 180 countries surveyed.
It fell back five places from the rank of 149 in 2020, placing as the second most corrupt country in West Africa.
The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), the national chapter of TI, said the failure of the anti-graft authorities to investigate high-profile corruption cases and prevent Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) was one of the numerous deficiencies that led to the country’s poor performance in the 2021CPI-TI ranking.
When contacted by PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday, ICPC spokesperson, Azuka Ogugwa, noted that the report acknowledged the constraints anti-corruption agencies are confronted with in handling high-profile cases.
“The report acknowledged that the EFCC and ICPC handled high-profile corruption cases but are occasionally blocked by procedural concerns,” she said.
She added: “And I consider it understandable because high profile some takes time, they are not the usual cases. Also, we cannot be talking on the media about what we are doing considering most high-profile cases”.
On his part, the EFCC spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, did not respond to calls and text messages sent to his phone number.
‘Massive, widespread, pervasive corruption’
The report also identified alleged massive, widespread and pervasive corruption all levels of government. It attributed this to lack of consistent implementation of the relevant laws against corrupt practices among government employees.
“Although the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not consistently implement the law, and government employees, including elected officials, frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
“Massive, widespread, and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government, including the judiciary and security services.
“The constitution provides immunity from civil and criminal prosecution for the president, vice president, governors, and deputy governors while in office. There were numerous allegations of government corruption during the year.”
Nigeria has a wide range of laws against corruption, including the fifth Schedule to the constitution which specifies the code of conduct for public officers.
There are also the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000, the EFCC Act 2004, the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act, and the Public Procurement Act 2007 which provide salient provisions against key prevalent corrupt practices in Nigeria.
Many have called for the removal of immunity clause enjoyed by the president, vice president, governors and deputy governors from the Nigerian constitution to strengthen the fight against corruption.
The immunity clause for public officials should be eliminated, as well as greater funding for anti-corruption authorities, said Idayat Hassan, an anti-corruption campaigner and Country Director Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES.
“Due to the immunity clause, it is quite difficult to get political office holders before the court during their term in office,” she said. ”The removal of the immunity clause is crucial, and it is also a means of dealing with this.”