When Nigeria’s anti-graft war gets U.S. support
In the spirits of several bilateral agreements between Nigeria and the United States of America (USA) particularly the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), signed by the two countries on September 13, 1989, the American government has renewed its commitment to assisting Nigeria in the fight against corruption.
The commitment was made at the launch of a website dedicated to exposing activities of corrupt government officials and create awareness among Nigerians which the American government facilitated through collaboration with a group of religious leaders and Non-Governmental Organisations.
It would be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari was in Washington D.C barely two months after his inauguration in 2015 where he sought and got the commitment of the American government in the fight against official corruption, which is one of cardinal points of his new administration.
During the visit, the U.S agreed to assist Nigeria to recover all identified proceeds of graft within its territory and train Nigerian judicial officials and prosecutors to sharpen their skills in handling and prosecution of corrupt cases.
Then Vice-President Joe Biden whom Buhari also met during the visit gave assurance of America’s goodwill in rebuilding the Nigerian economy and also pledged to tackle corruption and weak institutions that he identified as the bane of development in Nigeria.
Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, had summed up the engagement with the Americans during which Buhari also met with the U.S Attorney-General, Loretta Lynch thus, “There will be collaboration. Each of the two countries will receive legal assistance from the other on criminal matters and that should cover the recovery of ill-gotten wealth.”
Before Buhari, who had established a stern anti-corruption reputation since his days as military dictator emerged as a civilian president, Louisiana congressman, William Jefferson had been indicted for being involved in a bribing scandal that involved high-ranking Nigerian officials to secure business deals for some American concerns.
While the Americans did the needful by having the congressman investigated, his alleged accomplices in Nigeria are believed to be still walking the corridors of power, a development that has shown that the U.S was, more than the Nigerian government, committed to the eradication of corruption in the country.
Last week, the US government through its Diplomatic Mission in Nigeria in collaboration with BudgIT, a local NGO established to monitor implementations of budget and track government funds released for projects, launched a web-based platform, Report Yourself, to engage citizens in the fight against corruption in furtherance of its commitments.
The partnership to promote this anti-corruption initiative, funded by the United States Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, also included the Religious Leaders Anti-Corruption (RLAC), a group of clerics across faiths who have made themselves into vessels of implementing anti-graft policies through disseminating same to their congregation and the Nigerian public.
The group was formed in 2016 by Muslim and Christian religious leaders with the primary goal of addressing how faith communities could take a leading role in anti-corruption advocacy in Nigeria. The group has since developed partnerships with leading anti-corruption voices in civil society in order to fight corruption at all levels.
Also involved in this partnership are Nigerian law enforcement agencies including the Police, Immigration and Customs Services who are connected to the platform to monitor inflow of information and attempt prosecution where necessary.
At the official launch of the platform, which is opened to all Nigerians who wish to report incidences of graft and demands for unlawful gratifications by government officials, U.S Charge d’ Affaires, David Young said the initiative has put the power to fight corruption in the hands of Nigerians.
He said, “I hope that Report Yourself starts a new movement in citizen engagement and I hope every Nigerian who is affected by corruption will feel empowered to share their experiences. The tide will turn against the culture of corruption when Nigerians recognize that they must fight as one to stamp out this scourge that has hampered development and stifled prosperity.”
The diplomat urged Nigerians to demonstrate their commitment to the fight against corruption by making use of the innovative online platform, which seeks to address the daily instances of corruption faced, by millions of Nigerians adding that the platform “offers Nigerians the means to instantaneously report corruption, bribery, and graft with the option of filing an official compliant with the Nigerian Police Force Public Complaints Rapid Response Unit.
“Through the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, we are working to increase the capacity of Nigerian law enforcement agencies and the justice sector.”
Following the launch, a roundtable discussion with members of RLAC was held at the American Consulate in Lagos to address issues on its workability and the role of religious leaders in tackling corruption with the Acting Special Representative for Religion and Global Affairs in the Department of State, Ms Amy Lillis, in attendance.
During the discussion, Lillis, whose office was established in 2013 to strengthen the U.S. government’s efforts to assess religious dynamics and engage religious actors across a wide range of foreign policy priorities, pledged the American government’s continued support to the religious leaders as they work to find lasting solutions to stamp out the scourge of corruption.
She said, “The moral standing of religious leaders, and the capacity of religious institutions to reach a broad cross-section of Nigerian society, make RLAC’s work essential to the future of anticorruption advocacy.
“It is my pleasure to be here to support this next stage of the Religious Leader Anti-Corruption working group. Religious leaders are an essential component of the multi-faceted fight against corruption in this country.”
She explained that working against corruption is essential to many of the priorities of both the U.S. government and the religious leaders, including constructing peaceful, secure societies, and promoting prosperity.
At the event, which was also attended by other consular officers including Young, the religious leaders discussed additional innovative options for bringing the principles of anti-corruption to the grassroots. They resolved to disseminate anti-corruption messaging through media outlets, sermons, and train-the-trainer workshops.
The options included seeking further collaboration with Nigerian anti-graft agencies, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices (and other related offences) Commission (ICPC) and other relevant bodies and to explore means of getting information to tackle corruption such as the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act.
The group also explored the possibility of engaging other religious leaders to achieve a bigger platform and sensitising the electorate on the need to demand for a corruption clearance before a candidate is voted into political office to put a stop to recycling of corrupt leaders in the country’s ruling class.
There were also suggestions on how the mind-boggling discoveries of graft among government officials should be managed in order that the average Nigerian would know the implications of corruption on his personal life.
The group also suggested that proceeds of graft should be channeled to provision of basic amenities for Nigerians with information about the origin of such projects so that the people would know that the war against graft is not only been won but that it is having positive effects in the society.
Speaking to The Guardian after the event, Lillis said the commitment of the American government to the corruption war in Nigeria was informed by the need to promote human and physical development in the country.
She also expressed the determination of her government to help in creating a good environment for businesses to grow in Nigeria in a way that the average citizen will benefit from the wealth of the country, which unfortunately is being cornered by a few individual to the detriment of the majority.
According to her, “corruption is actually slowing down business and preventing the people from getting out of poverty. The U.S government is not happy about this.”
On the possibility of Nigeria getting back identified fund looted from the country and stashed away in America and some other countries where it has influence, Lillis said, “Retrieving identified stolen funds is a very difficult process because of a lot of constrains. It is not a straight and easy thing to do. But the American government is committed to have these funds returned so that Nigerians can benefit from them.”
She however called for judicious use of the funds already retrieved from looters by giving a human face to the process by letting Nigerians see the devastating effects of corruption through the deployment of these funds.
The duo of Imam Shefiu, a founding member of RLAC and Bishop Emmah Isong, who also spoke to The Guardian, thanked the American for the initiative “to rid Nigeria of corrupt Nigerians.”