By Inuwa Garba
The appointment of a new Chairman and Board for the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) is likely to be made very soon. The tenure of the present Chairman, Mr. Ekpo Nta, is said to have gradually come to an end. Similarly, of the statutory 12-member Board of the Commission only one (1) remain. The tenure of all the other members expired since without replacement. A new Board will therefore have to be reconstituted.
The reconstitution of a new Board for the ICPC presents an opportunity for President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) to re-organize and re-position the Commission for effective and efficient performance in-line with his vision of corruption free Nigeria. The President is therefore advised to avoid the lapses of the previous administration by carefully selecting people of high integrity with similar commitment to the fight against corruption. The anti-graft agencies are critical to the success of the administration of PMB, whom many believe in his sincerity towards eradicating the evil acts of corruption in our polity. The President therefore needs a strong and reliable institutional platform that could effectively assist him in his anti-corruption campaigns.
Undoubtedly, PMB was elected president mostly on account of his steely determination to rid this nation of all forms of corruption. This nation has suffered enough from the evils of corruption. It was on account of PMB`s sincerity to fight corruption that several pieces of advice, commentaries and editorials on how best to combat corruption continued to trail the Buhari Presidency. The gamut of their arguments and submissions was the need for a comprehensive overhaul and strengthening of the anti-graft agencies. Of course a comprehensive review of the anti-graft agencies is long overdue in the light of the recent revelations about mindboggling looting of the national treasury. That the massive looting took place under the watchful eyes of these anti-graft agencies call for concern.
It is in the light of the above that I align myself with opinion expressed by the veteran journalist, Dan Agbese, in the Sunday Trust of May 17, 2015 that necessary steps be taken to get the EFCC and ICPC (and by extension other anti-graft agencies) back on track. A case study of the ICPC indicate that the Commission is embroiled in corruption.
The ICPC was initially considered a promising anti-corruption agency. No thanks to the GEJ Administration that did not attach any value to the fight against corruption, the capacity and potential of the Commission in fighting corruption was weakened. The Commission became a bedrock for corruption. The sad state of affairs in the Commission drew the attention of the pioneer Chairman of the Commission, Justice Mustapha Akanbi (Rtd.). In an interview with the Sunday Sun Newspaper of September 20, 2015 he lamented the decay in the organization.
As earlier submitted, the ICPC came into this sorry state as a result of indifference of GEJ Administration to the fight against corruption and its failure to support genuine attempt to investigate and prosecute cases of corruption. The treatment meted to Dr. Uriah Angulu when he attempted to investigate an alleged case of corruption easily comes to mind.
Dr. (Amb.) Uriah Angulu was the acting Chairman of the ICPC. A petition was received. After preliminary review, Dr. Angulu directed that the petition be fully investigated. The Presidency (then under GEJ) wanted the petition dropped. Dr. Angulu could not be persuaded to drop the case. Dr. Angulu was arbitrarily eased out of his position as acting Chairman for his insistence that due process must be followed. In other climes people like Dr. Angulu would have been celebrated. But not in Nigeria under GEJ.
The current Chairman, Mr. Ekpo Nta, was quickly brought in as acting Chairman to replace Dr. Angulu despite the fact that a ranking member was then serving as an acting Chairman. The petition / case for which Dr. Angulu was removed has to date never seen the light of the day. As a tribute to this icon of integrity, I would like to call on PMB to revisit this case among others that have been kept in the cooler. With the improper removal of Dr Angulu, corruption virus gradually found place within the commission and the staff are no longer immune to the virus of corruption.
The treatment meted to Dr. Angulu defined the anti-corruption posture of GEJ administration and subsequently the character of the ICPC. Corruption under GEJ administration to quote some uncharitable critics assumed industrial scale while the anti-graft agencies became relatively inactive and obscure. Sadly, corruption thrives even within the anti-graft agencies. Impunity becomes the order of the day. The Commission has since then fail to exhibit the financial, administrative tardiness and discipline required of integrity institution. It is a trite that those who come to equity must do so with clean hands. This saying doesn’t make sense with the management of ICPC. The duty of a staff of any of the anti-corruption agencies demands that “he must like caesar’s wife, be above board”.
The various acts of financial impropriety was once documented and forwarded to the last (7th) National Assembly. But the issue was not thoroughly investigated. It has become necessary to appeal to PMB to order forensic investigations and auditing of petitions/cases handled or being handled especially the high profile ones, and the Accounts of the Commission. Anyone found to have betrayed the trust reposed on him must surely be punished.
Other acts of corruption deserving the attention of the President include:
i. Illegal Recruitment: Dr. Uriah Angulu had stopped a recruitment that did not follow due process. However, Nta led Board approved the list after padding it by inserting their own candidates. The irresponsible representative of the Federal Character Commission was compromised to recommend the list despite the obvious breach of the Federal Character principle and other laid down regulations.
ii. In Violation of Public Service Rule, a director was recruited without following the laid down procedure.
iii. Even without a properly constituted Board, Confirmation and Promotion exercise is set to be conducted. This is to give legitimacy to the recently illegally recruited staff.
iiii. Mr. Expo Nta stayed permanently in the presidential lodge since his appointment as acting chairman and yet collected housing allowance. Immediately PMB emerged president, he relocated to a hotel which cost the commission millions. An agency of the federal government was said to have now acquired a rented property for the chairman. This may have been the reason for non-investigation and prosecution of cases against this agency. In all these instances the chairman continued to enjoy housing allowance.
V. Thanks to Buhari Presidency, some “missing” vehicles recently re-surfaced. However, a “missing” Toyota Corolla in possession of a management staff is yet to be returned. No action was initiated against the officer for the return of the vehicle. The officer is soon to be rewarded with promotion. A Head of Department with allegation of misconduct over handling of some petitions is being prepared for promotion.
VI. No disciplinary action is initiated against a very senior officer involved in a financial scandal. This officer is also short – listed for promotion despite the weighty allegations against him. The inclusion of this officer for promotion gave credence to insinuations that the officer dared the management to investigate his financial scandal and will expose their shady deals. This officer scammed a lot of officers within and outside the commission, and has been walking freely.
VII. A 250KVA stand-by generator was disposed of to a proxy of the Chairman in disregard to laid down regulations for the disposal of government property.
VIII. The Headquarters of the south-south zonal office was removed from Benin (Edo State) to Uyo (Akwa Ibom State) so that human and material resources are diverted to personal use. What are personnel of the commission doing in a private educational institute? Despite the implementation of monetization policy official vehicles are permanently attached to a residence in Uyo and Calabar. The purchase of a colonial building and its subsequent rehabilitation to serve as the zonal Headquarters needs to be reviewed.
IX. The indecent haste to conduct promotion at the tail end of the Nta administration without a properly constituted board is a ploy to reward undeserving corrupt loyalists. Disciplinary case must have to be initiated against all those with allegations of corrupt acts.
With the number of Management Institutes like ASCON and CMD why hire JAMB to conduct a computer based test (CBT) for staff of the commission. JAMB has no business conducting promotion examination and most especially for senior management staff. JAMB can conduct aptitude test for new entrants to the service but not promotion examination. It is corruption to do so.
Mr. Ekpo Nta`s resolve to hold tight to his position despite his indifference to the discharge of the mandate of the commission appears as if there was a grand conspiracy within and outside the commission to frustrate the anti-corruption campaign of PMB.
Some commentators argued that Mr. Ekpo Nta ought to have vacated office by now either by tenure or on principle. Mr. Nta was appointed and sworn in as acting Chairman by former president Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ) in November 2011.
Some were of the view that his tenure commenced when he was confirmed as substantive Chairman.
To some, the Chairman ought to have vacate office on principle. Mr. Ekpo Nta vehemently argued and supported the claim by GEJ that “stealing is not corruption” Mr. Nta could have vacated office on principle when PMB believes otherwise.
In conclusion I would like to refer PMB to the editorial opinion of Leadership weekend of Saturday, January 30, 2016 in which the president was enjoined to pay due attention to the rot in the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and cleanse the system of corruption. I would however suggest that the anti-graft agencies and most especially the ICPC in the light of its mandate and for the infractions stated above should be the place to start with.
Since there is no consensus to the best way to combat corruption, I therefore, without prejudice to the recommendations of the presidential advisory committee on corruption suggest for stiff penalties against those found to have betrayed the trust reposed on them. When those who chose to abuse the trust reposed to them are duly punished and people of characters and integrity are chosen to pilot the affairs of our anti-corruption agencies, strong institutions to fight corruption will surely emerge. Building strong institutions should be the concern of all those interested in the fight against corruption. If our anti-corruption agencies are working, other institution would work well.
INUWA GARBA a concerned Nigerian wrote in from Abuja