It is certainly indisputable that in the battle against the menace of corruption in Nigeria since 1999, the fear of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has for most of the time been the beginning of wisdom for key office holders in both the public and private sectors of the economy. The same thing cannot be said of its sister anti-graft agency, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), which, incidentally, commemorated the 20th anniversary of its formation on July 13. While the EFCC has stamped its imprint on the public consciousness through its very active, even if often controversial chairmen, the various heads of the ICPC over the years have tended to be largely anonymous due evidently to the rather somnolent and docile disposition of the latter.
Giving an account of the ICPC’s performance over the last two decades, its current chairman, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, said the agency received 19, 381 petitions during the period, successfully investigated about 5,000 of these and prosecuted almost 1,000. That the commission secured convictions in about 20 percent of the cases is an indication of its inexcusably below par performance.
It can be argued, it is true, that beyond investigating, and where necessary prosecuting corruption and related offences, the ICPC also has the mandate to study public and private sector organisational systems with a view to devising measures to prevent corruption as well as educating and enlisting the support of the public against corruption. Perhaps if the commission had delivered effectively on the latter two objectives, its performance in the area of investigating and prosecuting acts of corruption would have been pardonable. But neither in helping to plug avenues for corrupt practices nor mobilising public support against corruption has the ICPC made meaningful impact.
Ironically, the ICPC is even in a better position to more boldly confront corruption than the EFCC because its leadership has a more secure tenure and is more insulated from the hazard of arbitrary and punitive truncation of tenure. Unlike the EFCC whose chairman and board members can be removed at the whim of the President, Section 3(7) of the ICPC Act provides that the commission’s chairman will hold office for five years and members for four years in the first instance. Furthermore, Section 3(8) of its Act states that “Notwithstanding the provision of Section 3(7) of this Act, the Chairman or any member of the commission may at any time be removed from office by the President acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the senate praying that he be removed for inability to discharge the functions of his office (whether arising from infirmity of mind or body or any other cause) or for misconduct”.
While we do not advocate misguided adventurism or disruptive activism on the part of the leadership of the ICPC, we believe they are sufficiently protected by its enabling law to act with greater courage and decisiveness in the discharge of their mandate. It is not generally known, for instance, that Section 52 of the ICPC Act empowers the commission to take steps to check corruption even by public offices covered by immunity. The Section states that “Whenever an allegation of corruption is made against the President, Vice President, Governors and their deputies, though they enjoy constitutional immunity while still in office, the Commission can initiate investigation of such political office holders and thereafter apply to the Chief Justice of the Federation to authorise an Independent Counsel to investigate the allegations of corrupt practices made against such officials. Such an Independent Counsel will make a report of his findings to the National or State Legislatures as the case may be. The Commission is expected to cooperate with the Independent Counsel in the course of the investigation”.
Under its current chairman, however, there is no doubt that the ICPC has become more visible and proactive while also stepping up efforts to enhance its forensic capacity as well as modernise its operations. It also deserves commendation for setting up a training arm that has trained 13, 739 public officers over the years, as well as developed the National Values Curriculum integrated into the learning process in primary and post-primary schools across the country.
We urge the National Assembly to utilise the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the ICPC to strengthen the laws setting up the anti-graft agencies with a view, in particular, to enhancing their organisational autonomy, safeguarding greater security of tenure and deepening professionalism among their functionaries.