In a significant move aimed at complementing the efforts of the Federal Government in the fight against corruption and setting agenda for citizen’s engagement and ownership of the process, a notable civil society organization, Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), in collaboration with National Orientation Agency (NOA), Yar’Adua Foundation, African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), Technical Unit on Anti-corruption Reforms (TUGAR) and PremiumTimes Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) on 19 December 2017 launched the anti-corruption Situation Room at the Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja.
The event, which was graced by many heads of civil society groups working on anti-corruption, Parliamentarian, Heads of anti-Corruptions agencies, Labour leaders and media organisation was themed “Building Public Ownership for Transparency and Accountability In Governance and Service Delivery.”
The Chairman of the occasion was Professor Abdullahi Shehu, himself a long-standing good governance advocate and Former Director General of Inter-Governmental Agency against Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing in West Africa (GIABA), currently of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN). The keynote address was delivered by Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information.
In his welcome address, the Chairman of HEDA, Olanrewaju Suraj, said the idea of the anti-corruption Situation Room was borne out of the pressing need to deepen the anti-corruption war. He said the Situation Room would be for the civil society groups to create warehouse for information on the anti-corruption strategies of the current administration, as well as, a platform for feedback to citizens on all issues relating to corruption. He commended the MacArthur Foundation for supporting the project.
The representative of MacArthur Foundation, Dr. Amina Salihu, explained that in its bid to help reduce corruption in Nigeria, the Foundation’s funded activities are focused on four specific areas, namely, the education sector where the Foundation is concerned about how resources are used; electricity where a strong civil society voice to interface between electricity suppliers and citizens is non-existent; the criminal justice system, and lastly strengthening investigative journalism.
She said that the Situation Room was a welcome addition to efforts to strengthen the anti-corruption campaign. However, for it to function optimally, she said partnership was important. According to her, the role of every partner must be defined. Secondly, Salihu stressed the need to begin to engage contract at the lowest level, adding that in the overall, the Situation Room has a duty to shape the agenda for a sustained and successful fight against corruption.
In his contribution, Garba Abari, Director-General of NOA, said the fight against corruption must be owned by everybody. According, to him, it is important for citizens to support the initiative of government all through, noting that the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act is an important tool citizens can use to ask questions.
On her part, Dr. Lilian Ekeanyanwu of TUGAR urged citizens to pay attention to the deployment of the anti-corruption strategies, adding that the anti-corruption fight is morally and physically under attack. She said the Situation Room would play a crucial role by speaking for the citizens.
The Chairman of the occasion, Professor Abdullahi Shehu, described corruption as the greatest obstacle to development. He said the country is yet to understand the political economy of fighting corruption. The populace, he said, need positive conscientization which can only be achieved through the Situation Room. Professor Shehu remarked that the citizens have praised the government enough, pointing out that now is the time to begin to benchmark. The parameters for assessment, he said, should now be based on the anti-corruption strategy of each government. He listed five pillars of anti-corruption strategy as follows:
In his goodwill message, Hon. Kayode Oladele, Chairman House Committee on Financial Crime, commended HEDA and other partners for the Situation Room initiative. Reiterating that government alone cannot fight corruption, Oladele said his Committee has always partnered with the civil society organizations. He said legislative intervention, capacity building and ensuring strength for anti-corruption agencies are key to a successful fight against corruption. He said some of the important bills that will aid the fight against corruption include the Proceeds of Crime bill, Mutual Legal Assistance and Criminal Matters bill, Terrorism Financing bill, the Non-conviction Assets Recovery bill which he says Nigeria is yet to have and the Whistleblower bill which the National Assembly is working to invest with a force of law. The lawmaker said the current administration has a strong political will to fight corruption, a battle he says is winnable with the support of the CSOs and the citizens.
Also in his message, Waziri Adio, Executive Secretary of Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), observed that corruption is a component to any issue in the country. Sadly, he noted, the response is not yet commensurate to the magnitude of corruption in the country. So far, he said, citizens’ reactions have either been totally disconnected or episodic at best.
Adio said there is a need for a sustained commitment to the fight against corruption because, according to him, corruption makes the difference as to whether people live or die. He said it is surprising that citizens have yet to show a genuine sense of outrage towards this monster. For him, it is important to begin to dramatize the extent of the impact of corruption and make it cascade to the sub-national tiers of government. The NEITI boss called for an immediate dismantling of the belief system and other cultural issues that allow corruption to thrive.
The keynote speaker, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information, who formally unveiled the Situation Room, noted that of this administration’s three cardinal programmes, the fight against corruption is the toughest. He said unless there is collaboration, the fight against corruption will be tougher. He stated that the fight is gaining moment and government is winning the war. Government, he pointed out, has recorded significant achievements such as in recovery of funds, raising electricity output from 2,690 MW to 7,000MW, saving N25bn every month, $500M added to Sovereign wealth Fund to mention a few. The Minister said all these were achieved with all the stakeholders on board.
Dr. Akpabio of the Institute of Economics and Ethics said what remains now is for the political will of government to be supported by the people’s will. She said the kind of capacity the people need at this moment is value capacity. According to her, there is need for people to know what to do and how.
In his remark, Ibrahim Magu, Acting Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), thanked the Minister of Information for making his day with the keynote speech. He said the Minister had said everything he, Magu, wanted to say. He reiterated that government is winning the war and declared that the best anti-corruption strategy is to bring everybody on board as initiated through the Situation Room.