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BudgIT engages CSOs & Media on the Cost of Corruption in Rivers State.

November 8, 2021

On Wednesday, November 3, 2021, BudgIT with support from Oxfam Nigeria, engaged CSOs and the media in a 1-day workshop on “The Cost of Corruption on Benefit Transfers for Artisanal Miners” in Port Harcourt, Rivers state. The workshop’s objective was to build citizen-led movements for change in Oil & Gas and the Mining Sector, especially within the Niger Delta region.

The workshop spotlighted two main issues – “The History of Corruption in the Niger Delta”, facilitated by BudgIT’s Extractive Lead, Engr. Adejoke Akinbode and “The Opportunity Cost for Corruption and Strategies of Combating it” facilitated by Iniobong Usen, BudgIT’s Senior Research and Policy Analyst.

While giving her presentation, Engr. Akinbode noted that the level of development in the Niger Delta region is not commensurate with the funds being allocated to the region. This can be attributed to the number of corruption cases in the region up until now. 

Among numerous examples are cases of the Fmr. Delta gov. James Ibori, arraigned on 170 state counts, Fmr. Akwa Ibom gov. Godswill Akpabio, probed by the EFCC for mismanaging N108bn state funds in 2015 and Fmr. Bayelsa Governor, Timipre Sylva, accused by the EFCC of laundering funds in the state to the tune of N19.2bn in 2012.

“Apart from these cases, agencies like the NDDC have also been accused of corruption and diversion of oil benefits meant for their people despite the annual statutory allocations from the FG, annual levy of 3% of the total annual budget of oil companies, grants and other forms of support from International Development agencies. It is not shocking that the commission has failed to realise its 15-year master plan for the rapid development of the Niger Delta region,” She added.

The Niger Delta region ought to be one of the most developed regions because of its resources. Yet, it remains among the least developed in Nigeria, performing worse in all developmental indicators, with huge indebtedness and a high unemployment rate. 

During his session, BudgIT’s Senior Research Analyst, Iniobong Usen, highlighted some strategies for combating corruption. These strategies include the beneficial ownership reform, transparency around benefits transfer, actions on identified corruption cases, contract transparency, domestic revenue mobilisation and a single coherent regional development strategy, to mention a few.

“Whilst we are talking about the funds and revenues that have been lost to corruption, there are real implications on the lives of the people. Issues like abject poverty, unemployment and little investment on the economy are still largely unresolved”. Iniobong said. 

Participants had observations and recommendations. A participant, Jonathan Ugbal, an Editor with Cross River Watch, noted that the fight against corruption in Nigeria has been characterised by negligence on the law enforcement agency. 

“Apart from the frustrating criminal justice system in the country, the anti-corruption agencies go after more financial crimes and less economic crimes like the internet fraudsters, lower grade civil servants who aid the financial crimes of their Directors. Also, the prosecutors are concerned with racking up the number of successfully prosecuted cases, and so they pursue the easy targets.”

According to Ken Henshaw, Executive Director, We The People, the NDDC has been a conduit from the Obasanjo administration. In this current administration, the leadership of the NDDC has been changed 6 times in six years; no other federal agency has suffered this type of leadership tenure. The Niger Delta Development board was created in the 1960 constitution to address the region’s plight. Since then, at least 10 different intervention agencies have been explicitly designed to address issues in Niger Delta. 

Other participants gave strategies that include humanising stories, facts and strategy surrounding corruption, advocating for a shift in behaviours and norms (Corruption at the community levels – changing the mindset of stakeholders who gets infuriated for not getting a share of the national cake), enforcing fines and sanctions to protect laws and policies, naming and shaming the officials involved, establishing or restructuring independent agencies (as negative reporting influences the decision of citizens negatively), localisation of the beneficial ownership register and many more.

In his remark, the Head, Public Affairs Directorate, Port Harcourt’s Zonal Command of the EFCC, ACE Dele Oyewale, described corruption as a “prophabian octopus” with so many dimensions affecting a diverse sector of the economy. He noted that until the source of the corruption is identified, it might be challenging to overcome it. He also urged the Civil Society Organisations to be actively involved in the fight against corrupt practices.

“The CSOs have significant roles to play in the fight against corruption. CSOs in Nigeria have not done 5 per cent of what is expected of the Civil Society movement in any nation. We cannot identify a project that the CSOs have challenged and provided a solution to. Officials of the commission are about 5,000 when compared to a country with over 200 million citizens, so the EFCC needs the CSOs to discharge its duties effectively. ” 

According to him, CSOs have vital roles in driving positive public response to the clarion call for zero tolerance for corruption by the EFCC through awareness building and sustainable struggle resistances against corruption. 

“The people at the grassroots do not know about the cost of corruption, and the civil society organisation should dive deep into the grassroots to mobilise and sensitise the people. By the time the people understand what they are losing to corruption, they will join the forces that are willing to fight corruption.”

He added that the CSOs could maximise the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act and, in the case of denial, can challenge the lack of transparency and disclosure of information before a competent court of law. He stated that the commission has embarked on several institutional reforms to reshape the anti-corruption movement and offer a more profitable narrative on combating corruption.

“The EFCC has had a total of 978 convictions in 2021, but we cannot do it all. There is a need for public ownership of the fight against corruption because the effect is being suffered by everybody.”

ACE Oyewale also explained that another issue affecting the fight against corruption in the country is the challenge of the judiciary.

“There is a terrible lack of information about where the power of the EFCC ends. You cannot be the accuser and the judge in your case. The commission will arrest, investigate and charge the suspect to court and that is where our power ends. There is a long trail of corruption cases, and there is nothing the commission can do about it, but the CSOs can challenge this judicial frustration.”

While identifying the media’s lack of adequate investigative reporting as another factor restricting the fight against corruption, Oyewale called for a continuous engagement and improved public awareness and struggles against corruption until the nation is reformed to work for us all.