By Matthew Ayibakuro
In the past couple of weeks, there has been widespread shock over the revelations of child sex abuse in British football clubs dating back to the 1970s. The scandal started on 16 November when former Bury and Sheffield United player Andy Woodward, 43, waived his anonymity to tell the Guardian of sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of Bary Bennell, a convicted paedophile who worked for football clubs Crewe Alexandra, Manchester United and Stoke City in the 1980s and 1990s. Following his revelations, more than 20 former footballers have come forward with stories of historical sex abuse in various clubs in the country. As of 1st December 2016, about 350 victims had reported cases of abuse to the police with a helpline set up for this purpose estimated to have received 860 calls within its first week.
The scandal has been described as shocking, appalling and potentially worse than the revelations in the Jimmy Saville affair. But in the midst of the shock and widespread condemnation, many have stopped short of describing the scandal in terms of ‘corruption’. This is a fact that speaks of a broader issue about how corruption is conceptualised and understood globally; one that needs to change.
The reaction to the scandal has been swift as it should be. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has since set up a new helpline and five police departments in the UK are investigating the growing allegations. On its part, the English FA has announced an internal review with individual clubs also carrying out their own inquiries. FIFA has also released a statement confirming its awareness of the allegations and that it was monitoring the situation.
However, these processes have made little mention of the obvious role of corruption in precipitating these crimes and especially in the concealment of such abominable acts for decades. As the official inquiries by the FA and clubs continue, preliminary explanations by officials that they were simply not aware of such large-scale abuse cannot suffice. Neither will claims of negligence be enough to explain why so many football clubs failed to protect youngsters in the game. The FA will also struggle to exonerate itself in failing to detect, investigate and punish such crimes for over 30 years.
One particular piece in The Times has sought to downplay the significance of the scandal by noting the fact that one of the main perpetrators, Barry Bennell was convicted and sentenced multiple times for his crimes. However, it is this very fact that raises serious questions as to why the FA and clubs did not initiate further inquiries on the matter until the recent revelations. The growing narrative on the scandal shows that some clubs and officials were aware of these abuses and either ignored them or deliberately took action to ensure that they were concealed from the public. It has been revealed that Chelsea football club for instance, paid off an alleged victim after he threatened to go public with claims that he was sexually assaulted by a club official in the 1970s.
Corruption is generally defined as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. Hence, instances where particular officials or the clubs were aware of abuse and decided to ignore or conceal it for their purposes amounts to corruption and this should be a central element of the ongoing investigations. There are wide range of reasons why such indifference or concealment might have occurred: to protect friends who are the perpetrators; to protect the image of the club and its financial interests; to avoid the stress and cost of a public inquiry, etc. In any of these cases, the officials or clubs involved would be putting their personal interest above that of the victims, thereby abusing the power entrusted in them. This is corruption and should therefore be called what it is.
The fact that the word corruption is not being used or used only passingly in this situation is an indication of the economic foundations of the global fight against corruption. It is not so long ago when the media went berserk over allegations of corruption in FIFA. The headlines were easily about corruption because it was about money. The obvious economic bias of the global anticorruption movement is such that cases where entrusted power is abused with grave human consequences, as compared to finances, are rarely seen as corruption. In fact, just two months ago, corruption made the headlines when revelations of financial impropriety against then England manager Sam Allardyce and other club managers surfaced.
However, in this case when the outcome is that most children might have actually suffered abuse or continue to suffer unnecessarily because some clubs or officials decided to protect their selfish interest by covering up cases of abuse, the media and the institutions concerned are weary to use the word corruption.
Perhaps the historical use of the word corruption to bedevil countries in the global south is quickly unravelling and after FIFA, the Panama Papers, the Sam Allardyce affair and others in recent years, countries in the global north like England are now struggling with an identity crisis over the reality of corruption in their countries and how best to conceptualise it.
The fact is that this is as much a case about abuse as it is about corruption. Granted the crime is sexual abuse but the only logical explanation for its continuation in the English game all these years has to be corruption. Remarkably, neither the global office nor the UK branch of Transparency International has issued any statement on the scandal. This is quite regrettable but not surprising, considering the financial focus of the global anticorruption movement.
However corruption is defined and wherever it is being tackled, the underlying objective must be one that, at the barest minimum, is wide enough to protect the interest of vulnerable youngsters who just want to play the game we all love. And any inquiry that fails to consider the corruption component of this scandal is not only incomplete but hypocritical and shameful. It is important to get this right at these early stages and avoid the type of corrupt cover-ups witnessed in the Hillsborough inquiry.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
I have just returned from spending my summer back home in Nigeria. This is the third consecutive summer I have done so. It is not difficult to tell that a lot has changed in Nigeria over the last one year: a new political leadership, a currency in free fall, an economy in shambles, unpaid public servants and an uneasy excitement about the government’s anti-corruption campaign. In the midst of all this intrigue however, some things managed to remain unchanged. The people are still resilient, resourceful and hopeful, churches and other places of worship continue to attract sufficient attendance and the public sector remains as inefficient as always.
From going through immigration and customs at the airport to trying to process a document of any kind in a public office to bidding for public contracts and indeed having any form of interaction with the public service in Nigeria, it is all so easy to tell that this is a country at peace with inefficiency. This has been the case for so long that it now appears that successive governments just do not care about it anymore. Most steps taken in this regard have often being half-hearted and never seen to a logical conclusion.
At a time when the economy of Nigeria is facing its most difficult times in decades and having to consider expedient structural changes that are long overdue, there is probably no better time to consider dealing with the size and inefficiency of the public service in the country. Sadly, the country continues to be gripped with the hysteria of fighting corruption in a rather deluded and mistaken belief that winning the battle fight against corruption will solve the mammoth and variegated challenges of socio-economic and political development in the country.
Beyond the “Fight Against Corruption”
As I have conducted researched on anti-corruption measures in sub-Saharan Africa over the last couple of years, I have become more convinced of the incongruity of the expression “to fight corruption”. Dealing with corruption is not just a “fight” you win by landing a deadly blow and then move on to others issues. It is a lot more complicated than that. This is a fact that the international development community which thrust the anti-corruption agenda on countries in the global south in the late 1990s is painfully realizing now as it begins to ask fundamental questions of the supposed fight against corruption which should have been asked a long time ago.
It is therefore in the best interest of countries like Nigeria to understand what really would drive development in a country like Nigeria beyond just supposedly fighting corruption when a lot more strategic issues are amiss. For instance, Nigeria ranks at No. 169 in the World and 36 in Africa in the latest Doing Business index of the World Bank that measures the ease of doing business in countries. This indicator takes into consideration the ease with which businesses can undertake activities like starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency.
These are all services provided by the public sector and it tells a lot that the country ranks so poorly on the index. Whilst it is now fashionable to blame everything going wrong in the country on corruption and political parties appear to be in a fruitless battle of trying to establish which is more corrupt and should therefore carry more blame, there is very little a fight against corruption can do to remedy a situation like this.
Those fighting corruption can spend all their days in the ring and their nights in the gym; they can fly to their conceited coaches all over the globe seeking training and assistance and getting pats on their heads all year round in their bid to defeat corruption. It will all amount to nothing in the long term if fundamental issues like an inefficient public service are not dealt with.
The Cost of an Inefficient Public Service
It is not my intention to trivialize the need to deal with corruption. However, it is important to contextual this in the broader objective of achieving development. Without an efficient public service that understands how to do things right and also do the right things, whatever resources saved from dealing with corruption will end up re-embezzled or wasted without achieving the desired development outcomes for citizens. The cost of an inefficient public service, in terms of discouraging foreign investment, frustrating entrepreneurship and wasting valuable human and material resources will, on the long run, outweigh whatever benefits even the most fervent anti-corruption campaign may provide.
Nigerians are resourceful people. Their entrepreneurial drive coupled with the wealth of the country in resources and its sizeable market which provides inherent incentives for foreign investment can propel this country out of recession and onto prosperity. But first, its slumbering public sector has to be awoken. It is time for the government reconsider its approach of fighting-corruption-is-the-answer-to-all-our-problems and get its priorities right.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
It has been just over three weeks since South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma survived an impeachment vote in the country’s National Assembly. This followed the ruling of the Constitutional Court that he had violated the constitution by failing to repay public money spent on his private residence in Nkandla.
Like David Cameron surviving calls for his resignation following the Panama Papers scandal in the British parliament, it was safe to reckon that Zuma might have survived this. That was until yesterday, when the country’s High Court declared that he should be charged with 783 counts of alleged corruption, fraud and racketeering in connection with a £4.4 billion arms deal signed when Zuma was deputy president in 1999. The charges were dropped by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) just weeks before the 2009 election in which Jacob Zuma emerged president.
Whilst awaiting the decision of the NPA on whether or not to reinstate the charges following the decision of the High Court, it is important to highlight yet another significant lesson to be learnt from the Jacob Zuma corruption case, and indeed the anti-corruption regime in South Africa.
Constitutional Institutions and Principles are Pivotal
Following the relative success stories of Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) and the more prominent Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in Hong Kong, the model mechanism for dealing with corruption in the last couple of decades has been the establishment of specialised anti-corruption agencies charged with fighting corruption in their various countries. The United Nation Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) makes the establishment of such specialised anti-corruption agencies obligatory for state parties in Articles 6 and 36 of the Convention.
In response to this, anti-corruption institutions have cropped up in unprecedented numbers in countries all over the continent, albeit to to obvious limited effect. The establishment of these institutions has been important in creating the impression that these countries are taking specific action against corruption, whilst simultaneously fulfilling the expectations of international donors, institutions and partners. The reality on the ground has however shown that these institutions have achieved very little in terms of dealing with corruption. Even countries like Nigeria that have done one better by creating multiple institutions in this regard has shown little signs of significantly reducing corruption.
After years of relative failures, possible explanations proffered include the lack of attention for local circumstances in promoting this global model of institutions, the inadequacy of requisite infrastructure, deficit in capability of anti-corruption personnel and more importantly political interference in the work of these institutions.
The issue of political interference has featured prominently in most countries, prompting the cliche call for political will in the fight against corruption. The Executive branch in particular has been known to use these institutions to witch-hunt political opponents whilst simultaneously shielding their corrupt supporters from prosecution. In most countries, the performance of anti-corruption institutions has become only as long as the foot of the head of the Executive.
More than anything else, this shows that dealing with corruption goes beyond just the establishment of specialised anti-corruption institutions. It requires other supporting democratic institutions and frameworks without which these institutions cannot operate successfully. And for any country that is really serious about dealing with corruption, these institutions and their independence in particular should be constitutionally guaranteed. Issues like the appointment and tenure of members of these institutions and their financing need to be guaranteed in the constitution to give these institutions any chance of operating independently and successfully.
The South Africa Model
South Africa provides a good model in this regard. Chapter 9 of the Constitution establishes not only the office of the Public Prosecutor, but also for other important state institutions to support constitutional democracy like the Human Rights Commission, the Commission for Gender Equality and the office of the Auditor-General.
Considering the broad range of desperate steps taken by Jacob Zuma to shield himself in the light of the Nkandla scandal, it is difficult to see how the Public Prosecutor would have pursued the case against the President as she did without the all-important backing provided by the constitution. Recent efforts by the Senate in Nigeria to amend the Code of Conduct Act for the specific purpose of assisting the Senate President in an ongoing corruption case shows just how vulnerable these institutions are to political manipulation and restates the importance of providing constitutional backing for anti-corruption institutions and efforts generally.
In the face of overwhelming emphasis on institutions in the fight against corruption and in the overall pursuance of good governance, experience has shown the futility in expecting corrupt politicians and political systems to create independent and effective transparency and accountability institutions. Perhaps the emphasis should de-emphasise seeking political will to fight corruption and rather concentrate on insulating these institutions from any form of influence from political will in the first place, at least until the point when the political systems in most countries are entrenched in positive values and therefore dependable.
Providing constitutional backing for these institutions might not, by itself, provide a final solution to the challenge of dealing with corruption, but it will at least give the widely-spreading anti-corruption institutions a fighting chance against entrenched grand corruption prevalent in most countries.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
Without a doubt, the biggest news out of the African continent in last couple of days is the decision of South Africa’s Constitutional Court, declaring that the President Jacob Zuma violated the constitution by failing to repay public money spent on his private residence in Nkandla. The lavish improvements which Zuma must now pay for in the coming months include a swimming pool, amphitheatre, visitor centre, cattle enclosure and chicken run, amounting to over $15 million.
With the opposition now calling for the impeachment of Zuma following the decision of the Constitutional Court, it is safe to say that the story of this scandal which has dragged on for some time is not over yet. In the meantime, for those interested in issues of governance, it is imperative to highlight some very significant issues and lessons for the much talked about fight against corruption in South Africa and indeed other countries in the continent. A comparative analysis of the framework for anti-corruption in Nigeria and South Africa shall highlight these issues.
Independence of Anti-Corruption Authorities -Appointment and Removal
The headlines for the decision in Zuma’s case has been mostly about the Constitutional Court and rightly so. The bold decision of the court re-emphasizes the strategic nature of its role in democratic societies. However, the role of the Public Prosecutor should be getting as much or even more acclaim. The Court itself emphasized this point when it noted that the public prosecutor is “the embodiment of a biblical David that the public is, who fights the most powerful and well-resourced Goliath, that impropriety and corruption by government officials are“. This metaphor could not be any more apt considering this case was against the president of the country. Rare as this case is, it is no coincidence considering the independence of the office of the public prosecutor guaranteed under the constitutional and legal framework in South Africa.
Under Article 193 of the South African Constitution, the appointment of the public prosecutor is made by the president on the recommendation of the National Assembly. The latter is required to only recommend persons nominated by a committee of the Assembly proportionally composed of members of all parties represented in the Assembly and approved by 60 percent members. Based on Article 194, The Public Prosecutor can also only be removed on a finding by a committee of the National Assembly establishing grounds of misconduct, incapacity or incompetence. The National Assembly is then required to adopt a resolution supported by at least two thirds of members calling for the removal from office of the public prosecutor.
By comparison, the heads of the two strategic anti-corruption bodies in Nigeria -the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) – are simply required to be appointed by the President subject to confirmation by Senate. On removal, whilst an address supported by two thirds majority of the Senate is required for the president to remove the head of the ICPC, the head of the EFCC can solely be removed by the president for inability to discharge the functions of his office or for misconduct or if the president is satisfied that it is in the interest of the Commission or the public that he be so removed.
Why This Matters?
In the course of the Nkandla scandal, President Zuma utilized every possible political office and tool that owes him allegiance including the Minister of Police and Parliament, where his party the ANC holds a majority, to exonerate himself. And he probably would have succeeded, but for the courage and persistence of the public prosecutor. The fact that the president plays a rather peripheral role in her appointment and removal offered her the requisite security and therefore independence to carry out her duties without fear of removal or being influenced.
This is a far cry from the situation in Nigeria where the President plays a dominant role in the appointment and removal of heads of anti-corruption authorities and therefore displays very obvious and over-bearing influence over their activities. The fact that prospective and serving presidents in Nigeria have over the years made themselves spokesmen for anti-corruption agencies by promising to prosecute certain individuals or investigate certain issues makes a whole mockery of anti-corruption efforts. In countries that deal with systemic corruption, especially within the executive, the best a chief executive can and should be required to do is guarantee the independence of anti-corruption authorities and allow them do their work.
It may be argued that irrespective of the procedure for appointment and removal of heads of antic-corruption bodies, such individuals can still demonstrate seriousness in investigating and prosecuting corrupt officials and institutions once appointed. While this may be true, it leaves open the question of the fairness and impartiality with which they carry out their functions. This is a question that continues to bedevil the actions of anti-corruption authorities and the overall anti-corruption regime in Nigeria. Even the much acclaimed efforts of Nuhu Ribadu who was head of the EFCC under President Obasanjo were later ridiculed by claims of overwhelming influence by the President leading to selective prosecution of public officials.
It is difficult to envisage any circumstance where any of the numerous anti-corruption bodies in Nigeria will be able to hold a serving president of the country accountable for corruption under the current legal framework, and if we cannot guarantee that everyone is indeed equal before the law in this regard, then anti-corruption efforts in the country will continue in the realm of politics, instead of being about public resources, people, rights and development.
The first lesson from the Zuma case is therefore that granting independence to anti-corruption authorities is a prerequisite for any viable anti-corruption effort. It is time for Nigeria and other countries with similar legal frameworks to amend their laws accordingly.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
On the 5th February 2016, the Supreme court in Nigeria dismissed an appeal by the Senate President of the country, Bukola Saraki, paving the way for his trial on corruption charges to commence at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. The widely anticipated decision of the apex court was considered a victory for anticorruption efforts in the country, at least in the interim. There were however a notable number of Nigerians who felt that the decision was yet another step in the unfolding persecution of the senate president through prosecution.
The background to the latter view arises from the dramatic emergence of Bukola Saraki as Senate President in June 2015, against the apparent dictates of the Presidency and the top hierarchy of his party, the All Progressive Congress (APC). Since his emergence, Saraki has had to deal with different corruption-related accusations against his person or close relatives and allies, including his wife Toyin Saraki.
Justified or not, Saraki’s recent travails with anticorruption agencies have led to the inevitable impression that they are not unconnected with his political squabbles with the Presidency and the leadership of his party. This is more so, considering the crux of the charges against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal has to do with assets declaration made by him whilst serving as Governor of a State dating as far back as 2003 and never brought up until now. Furthermore, there are sixteen former governors in the current Senate of Nigeria, most of whom have long-standing accusations and even cases already instituted against them by anticorruption agencies. None of these accusations or cases have received the attention and diligence that has been accorded Saraki’s case.
Persecutory Prosecution – Does it Matter?
This situation leads to a number of salient questions that have ramifications for the anticorruption regime in Nigeria and elsewhere: would Saraki be on trial today if he had not fallen out with his party’s hierarchy? Corollary to this in broader terms is the fundamental question as to whether it matters at all if a person is facing prosecution for corruption as a result of political persecution. Does the motive behind the prosecution even matter if at the end of the day, the person being prosecuted is proven to be corrupt? Does the end not justify the means? To what extent should the ordinary citizen be concerned about the motives and processes that lead to the prosecution of corrupt public officials, as long as they are prosecuted and punished?
Experience around the world has shown that fighting corruption is no easy task. The global framework for anticorruption in the last couple of decades continue to emphasize the importance of strong governance institutions to eradicating corruption. However, the situation in countries like Nigeria and a few other developing countries who have made reasonable strides in establishing such institutions but not achieved commensurate reduction in levels of corruption, reiterate the importance of political will in the fight against corruption
Can Political Will to Fight Corruption be Apolitical?
Political will in this context presupposes, not just the will to fight corruption, but to do so impartially and with due regard for the rule. The latter is a factor that has been pointed to severally since the Presidency of Muhammadu Buhari began in May 2015. Having being elected on the principal promise of fighting corruption, the government has apparently taken some steps to enunciate its commitment to fighting corruption. However, the manner in which it has gone about this, as displayed in Saraki’s case, has also led to concerns about the neutrality of the fight against corruption and its regard for the rule of law.
This has created a very complicated situation for ordinary Nigerians and observers. Haven cried foul over the lack of political will to fight corruption for a long time, should the efforts of a leader who seemingly possesses the will to do so be criticized due to perceptions of partiality in his efforts? Provided those who are prosecuted are corrupt, I guess many persons would care less about the motives behind such prosecution – political or otherwise. It would however be a very different situation where the person being prosecuted is innocent and is only being persecuted as part of a political agenda, and that is where the danger lies.
Until then, very few people would be ready to play a pivotal role in detracting the most serious commitment yet by a leader to fight corruption in the country. The perception that corruption is the biggest challenge to development is widespread and perpetuated both within and outside the country. In that light, it would appear that most persons would not mind sacrificing secondary issues like neutrality and even the rule of law, provided the fight against corruption is on full throttle.
Issues like political interference in the work of institutions like anticorruption agencies and the rule of law however, do have ramifications beyond just anticorruption and determine whether the fight against corruption is sustained over time or continues to oscillate depending on who is in control of state power. Nigeria and other countries in a similar situation will have to decide the trade-offs and determine where the right balance lies.