Wednesday, January 24, 2018 11:41 pm
By Garba Shehu
In recognition of the massive decline in corruption in public services since he took office in Nigeria in 2015, the African Union (AU) has scheduled to make President Muhammadu Buhari the first-ever Anti-Corruption Champion for the year 2018.
Although the AU has appointed and mandated Champions for a number of concurrent matters of interest to the continent, this is the first the problem of corruption is getting this sort of attention.
It is equally significant, for both the President as a person and Nigeria as a whole that the heads of African states settled for President Buhari to lead this war, an honest leader with very few, if any parallels on the continent when it comes to personal qualities of honesty, integrity and the abounding will to fight corruption.
It was therefore not surprising that on July 4, 2017, at the 29th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, African leaders unanimously endorsed President Buhari to champion the fight against corruption in the African Union.
The endorsement is, in addition, a recognition of the President Buhari administration’s commitment and glowing success in the fight against corruption in Nigeria.
The 30th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of AU in January 2018 will meet under the theme “Winning the Fight against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation” and President Buhari is expected to play a lead role.
Reacting to the nomination, Nigeria’s Foreign Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama said: “The endorsement is very significant because it is the recognition of the negative role corruption and bad governance had played. I think it is also significant that President Buhari was also asked to champion this because he has been a major inspiration to Africa in frontally combating corruption and bringing positive change towards building a sustainable and prosperous continent.”
On July 25, 2017, a statement issued by the President’s spokesman, Femi Adesina, said President Muhammadu Buhari has accepted his nomination to lead members of the African Union on the anti-corruption crusade.
In a letter of appreciation addressed to President of Guinea, Alpha Conde, who is also the Chairman of the Assembly of Heads of States and Governments of the African Union, President Buhari said: “While thanking you for the kind words and for the nomination, I wish to express my readiness to accept this new important role and to reiterate my commitment to contribute toward our collective efforts to strengthen good governance and development on the continent.’’
From the day he took power on May 29, 2018, President Buhari declared a zero tolerance for corruption. As candidate in that election, Muhammadu Buhari projected himself “as a no-nonsense and incorruptible leader and this sent a signal to looters of public funds, with many of them returning funds that had been stolen under previous the administration” even before they got invitations from investigation agencies.
What has the Buhari administration been doing to warrant the AU recognition?
To create a framework for prosecuting the war against corruption and institutionalizing probity from the beginning, President Buhari set up an Advisory Committee on War Against Corruption under a reputable anti-corruption crusader, Professor Itsay Sagay. Among its members, you have a famous criminologist, Professor Femi Odekunle.
On assumption of office, the President cut down the number of ministries from 42 to 25 to reduce the cost of governance and directed that all top government officials to prioritize on foreign travels, and use only business class tickets at the most, instead of the statutory first class tickets.
The anti-corruption battle is gaining ground with several high profile cases already in the courts. The administration is being guided by the rule of law in the prosecution of corruption cases. To drive the anti-corruption war and ensure that the laws are in compliance with international standards, the administration is working with the legislature to ensure that new laws are being formulated. These draft legislations that are now before the Parliament include Money Laundering Prevention Bill, 2017; Anti-Terrorism Prevention and Prohibition Bill 2017(which is now awaiting assent); National Financial Intelligence Centre Bill 2017; Proceeds of Crime Bill 2017and Public Interest Disclosure Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters 2017.
President Buhari enlisted the support of multilateral institutions like the World Bank and IMF, security agencies, Western countries and other friendly nations to source, locate and repatriate stolen assets.
In the last year-and-a-half, Nigeria established a central register of company beneficial ownership information. Progress in being made in the establishment of database of registered companies, charities and trustees and the provision of access to lawyers and law enforcement agencies to beneficial ownership information for companies and other legal entities registered within Nigeria.
The country today has an approved anti-corruption strategy document and a Whistleblowers Office for the recovery of of public funds stolen domestically and those transferred to offshore financial centers.
Under President Buhari, this country has begun the implementation of bilateral arrangements that will ensure law enforcement in one partner country has full and effective access to the beneficial ownership information of companies incorporated in the other partner country. This applies to both locally registered companies and foreign companies operating in Nigeria.
Nigeria has also began the full implementation of the principles of Open Government Partnership and Open Data Charter and has given full support and cooperation to the IMF Fiscal Transparency Evaluation and the AU African peer review mechanism.
As a member of the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI), Nigeria is now fully implementing the principles of disclosure required under the EITI through an enhanced disclosure on the payments to governments for the sale of oil, gas and minerals.
On tax transparency, the Buhari Administration has committed to the Common Reporting Standard initiative and to joining the Addis Tax Initiative.
Generally, the administration has given support to reviewing penalties and other actions against professional enablers of tax evasion, including for corporations that fail to prevent their employees from facilitating tax payment.
It has also put in place policies to punish the corrupt and support the victims of corruption.
The Buhari Administration has so far done very well in asset recovery, asset return and transparent management of returned assets. To this extent, several measures have been initiated for the strengthening of our asset recovery legislation, including through non-conviction based confiscation powers and the introduction of unexplained wealth orders.
As part of ongoing capacity building and promote institutional integrity, a partnership has been struck between the UK Auditor General’s Office and the Nigeria’s Office of the Auditor General as well as between Nigeria’s Anti-Corruption Institutions and the UK National Crime Agency to build capacity to fight corruption while also improving professional standards.
In addition, there has been increased international engagement with more than seven countries, namely the UK, United States, Switzerland, France, Italy, Island of Jersey and United Arab Emirates.
It is clear from all that is said here that Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari has made very important progress in fighting the evil of corruption, lessons from which the President, as Champion is willing to share with sister African nations.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who at a meeting with the leaders of Benue State said on Monday that he would not scale down his war against corruption
has from the beginning, made the pursuit of corruption, the fight against Boko Haram terrorists, and the restoration of the economy his biggest priority. The entire continent stands to gain much from his experience tackling these issues in the most populous country in Africa.
Garba Shehu is Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on Media and Publicity.