In a recent interview with Oladimeji Ramon, Dr. Kolawole Olaniyan, the Legal Adviser at the Amnesty International Secretariat in London, delved into the intricacies of Nigeria’s fight against corruption. Olaniyan scrutinized the historical context of anti-corruption promises, the challenges faced by existing anti-graft agencies, and proposed comprehensive reforms to tackle the deep-seated issue of corruption in the country. Olaniyan acknowledged the longstanding issue of anti-corruption promises becoming mere rhetoric in Nigerian politics. He expressed skepticism about the current administration led by President Bola Tinubu, citing reports of corruption scandals involving senior officials, economic challenges, and the administration’s apparent reluctance to address systemic corruption.
Highlighting the suspension of the Humanitarian Affairs Minister Betta Edu, Olaniyan questioned the isolated nature of such actions. He emphasized the need for President Tinubu to take decisive measures, including anti-corruption enforcement efforts and immediate reforms, to avoid perpetuating the status quo. The conversation then shifted to the effectiveness of anti-graft agencies, particularly the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC). Olaniyan asserted that the lack of independence in these agencies stemmed from their supervision by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), a political appointee.
Reforming laws and strengthening anti-corruption measures.
Drawing attention to past instances where attorneys general interfered with the operations of anti-corruption agencies, Olaniyan urged the removal of Section 43 of the EFCC Act, granting the AGF powers to make regulations for the commission. He called for genuine political will from President Tinubu to reform these agencies, aligning them with international standards and ensuring their independence from executive control. Olaniyan proposed a comprehensive overhaul of Nigeria’s anti-corruption laws, urging the repeal or challenge of regulations imposed by former attorneys general.
He highlighted the importance of aligning the laws with international obligations, such as the UN Convention Against Corruption and the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption. Specifically, he recommended mechanisms to guarantee the financial independence of anti-corruption agencies, empowering them with direct and independent rights to prevent corruption and prosecute corrupt officials. Drawing inspiration from successful models like Hong Kong’s ICAC and Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), Olaniyan stressed the need for substantial reforms in the justice system and the removal of immunity provisions for certain political officeholders.
Buhari’s anti-corruption legacy and current investigations.
Addressing the challenges faced by anti-graft agencies in securing major convictions, Olaniyan emphasized the need for a root-and-branch reform of the country’s anti-corruption laws and justice system. He highlighted the importance of aligning tactics with international standards to not only punish corrupt behaviour but also change the prevailing culture that tolerates corruption. Regarding the trend of humiliating EFCC chairman out of office, Olaniyan attributed it to the lack of political leadership committed to eradicating corruption. He advocated for tenure protection for heads of anti-corruption agencies to ensure their independence and freedom of action.
Reflecting on former President Buhari’s anti-corruption posture, Olaniyan criticized the deterioration of the rule of law and the flourishing of corruption during his tenure. He pointed out that Nigeria consistently ranked low in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index under Buhari’s leadership. Olaniyan called for investigations and prosecutions of Buhari and his cabinet members facing corruption allegations. He emphasized that holding former presidents accountable would demonstrate that nobody is above the law. To bring about real change, he stressed the urgency of corruption and rule of law reforms under the Tinubu administration.
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Over all, Olaniyan outlined a roadmap for change, emphasizing the need for extensive corruption and rule of law reforms. These reforms should focus on improving the independence of anti-corruption agencies, rebuilding the justice system, addressing conflicts of interest, empowering corruption victims, and enhancing judicial independence and integrity. He underscored the importance of legislative amendments to protect whistleblowers and shift the burden of proving the legality of conspicuous wealth from the state to the official. Olaniyan concluded by asserting that real change in Nigeria’s fight against corruption requires a strong, independent judiciary, fair elections, and ongoing citizen activism.