May 2018

Public Accountability and Sustainable Development: A Study of Whistle-blower Policy in Nigeria

Peace in Nigeria will only succeed if it is more profitable than corruption.

by Chibuzor Chile Nwobueze, PhD

The whistle-blower policy is a peacebuilding strategy of the Mohammad Buhari administration to control corruption and its effects on peace and development. This became a necessary nexus of the relationship between corruption, conflict, and peace. Using primary and secondary sources, this paper examines public accountability and the implementation of the whistle-blower policy to eradicate corruption—the obstacle to development in Nigeria. The paper maintains that the only way the whistle-blower policy would be effective and yield results is to (initiate a constitutional process to) legalize it with an act of parliament. It argues that public accountability and integrity are more valuable than primitive accumulation of wealth through corruption. The forfeiture of recovered funds will send a note of warning to the elite (whose acts of corruption have reached an alarming stage) as millions of dollars are now recovered from their homes through the help of whistle-blowers. Active involvement of corps members is crucial to institutionalize transparency and public accountability as an integral part of anti-corruption.

Introduction

Accountability has become one of the dominant discourses across the world in recent times. Usually, development and political affairs in developing states are linked with accountable actions for the good of society. Corruption is a security threat which suppresses development. That corruption has become endemic in various sectors of the Nigerian economy shows that it requires cooperation and collaboration of all stakeholders.

Corruption is not peculiar to Nigeria, but has weakened it particularly as it has extended into all sectors of the economy. The debilitating indicators of corruption, like unemployment queues, low life expectancy, poor standard of living, and poor human capital development contributed to the establishment of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices, other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), and the Code of Conduct Bureau. Egbedina et al. (2014:1) posit that “corruption has become a household word in the Nigerian society considering how it pervades all strata of society.” This makes anti-corruption timely in Nigeria. The establishment of these agencies has inspired various organizations and individual scholars to conduct studies with the aim of finding out why corruption continues to be characteristic of human relations in the country.

Corruption occurs when people receive kickbacks, engage in misappropriation of funds, nepotism, and employment patronage. The ICPC Act of 2000 views corruption as a multi-faceted phenomenon that ranges from the giving and accepting of bribes to other fraudulent practices (Adegoke, 2017). Bribery plays a central role in corruption (Oyeshile, 2000). The problem with the bribery aspect of corruption is that it deprives people of merit. Idike et al. (2015:115) claim that “the indicators and side effect of corruption include but are not limited to massive unemployment, poor health care facilities, lack of water, bad roads, and poor human development resulting from poor education, bad leadership and non-provision of dividends of democracy for the populace.” The phenomenon is usually caused by greed, a spirit of domination, unemployment, lack of social security, poverty, unaccountability of past military governments, poor justice system, illiteracy, perverted moral order, and many others (Oyeshile, 2000).

Corruption is a crime against society because lives and resources are lost, and the society is consequently underdeveloped and unstable.

Corruption is a crime against society because lives and resources are lost, and the society is consequently underdeveloped and unstable. Since 1960 when Nigeria was liberated from the exploitative rule of the British, various policy makers have been accused of corrupt practices, which they have blamed on weak institutions. Evidently, the political economy of officials of the Nigerian government machinery creates insider-vested interests against actual implementation of progressive policies. What was common to all the intervention programs was the absence of a system of checks and balances to provide an effective safeguard against administrative inadequacy, reckless spending, and financial corruption. Inappropriate management attitudes are frequently linked to fraud. This study is timely because works on corruption have not adequately explored how public accountability and the instrument of the whistle-blower can check corrupt practices, thereby promoting sustainable development. 

corruption Buhari
Anti-corruption slogan of Mohammad Buhari. Courtesy Business Insider.

The whistle-blower policy is a conflict transformation strategy of the Mohammad Buhari administration to control the phenomenon of corruption and its deleterious effects on sustainable peace and development. Before the advent of the policy, non-participation of the citizens constituted a major challenge of institutional frameworks towards effective control of corruption in Nigeria. People could neither speak out to expose intents, acts, actors, beneficiaries, and victims of corruption, nor support anti-corruption legal frameworks and policies for fear of victimization. The overall aim of the policy, then, is to minimize corruption-induced frustrations and stress in society that further compromise national development. This is central because the changes in corruption drive changes in peace. The right thing, therefore, is to ensure economic security, an imperative for peace.

The whistle-blower policy is a model of anti-corruption which seeks to expose acts that undermine transparency in public and private offices.

The whistle-blower policy is a model of anti-corruption which seeks to expose acts that undermine transparency in public and private offices. It regulates the conduct of people in positions of service to discourage them from illegally favoring themselves, friends, and acolytes. The policy encourages those with knowledge and information on corruption to report to the proper authorities. 

This essay argues that considering the peace-building value of the policy, enhancing inclusive and sustainable development in Nigeria demands adequate protection of witnesses through legislation. Constructive involvement of corps members in the implementation of the policy will serve as bridge to sustainable peace and development.

Public Accountability and Sustainable Development

Since Nigeria’s independence, the country has experienced the following effects of corruption: inefficiency in public institutions, diminished productivity, discouragement of investment, capital flight, rapid unemployment and inflation, slow movement of files, police extortion, slow traffic on the highways, port congestion, queues at gas stations, and ghost workers syndrome, which refers to non-existent workers in whose names money is fraudulently collected from the employer (Oyeshile, 2000; Adegoke, 2017). Apart from being a hindrance to Nigeria’s positive image, it is the harbinger of the messy situation across the country (Adegoke, 2017). Various government transformation agendas are undermined by corrupt practices. Unemployment, which drives conflicts in most parts of the country, has remained the worst consequence of corruption because it impedes stability. Sadly, civil society’s engagement with authentic implementation of policies and access to the resources of government programs to rehabilitate the youth in a sustainable livelihood is weak.

Most government departments or agencies have been affected by corruption. Notable among them are energy distribution companies, postal services, ports, security, tertiary institutions, and health. Unfortunately the courts are inherently weak, and therefore cannot promote criminal justice.

Public accountability requires that people must work for what they earn or deserve and earn what they labor for. Unethical misconduct of employees and officials has permeated every institution. The incorrigibility of state leaders has discouraged development partners.

The whistle-blower policy bridges the interrelated goals of development and empowerment. It is democratic and boosts popular participation.

The force of whistle-blowing is that when citizens expose corrupt officials, they are rewarded financially for giving valuable information that would save the economy, given that low levels of peace and high levels of corruption are related. The impact of the whistle-blower policy on increasing and sustaining internally generated revenues is invaluable.

The whistle-blower policy bridges the interrelated goals of development and empowerment. It is democratic and boosts popular participation. It helps to build and realize human potential, self-confidence, and lives of dignity and fulfillment. It further promotes a civil society of people-entered and participatory governance (Nwobueze, 2015).

Corruption and education
Anti-corruption sign that frames the issue as stealing from children, and by extension, from the country’s future. Photo by author.

Public accountability is fundamental to a healthy democracy because funds meant for projects and other national assets are managed with wisdom and prudently utilized as budgeted. The establishment of whistle-blower policies is necessary because corrupt practices are threatening various sectors in the polity, with attendant implications for human and national development, peace and security, and the factors that determine the stability of every state or society. Human security is threatened when an individual or a few privileged people accumulate the resources budgeted for projects meant for human development, security, urban renewal, or better foreign relations.

In Nigeria, privileged individuals are involved in corruption. For instance, the securitized elite have different interests and identities that play patronage politics and enjoy the right to act as lawlessly by doing all they desire and getting whatever they want (Albert, 2012). That whistle-blower policy targets corruption does not mean that it bypasses the elite, most of whom are accused of embezzling public funds. This is why it needs to be safeguarded by the act of parliament to guarantee its effectiveness. The best way to make this achievable is for the Freedom of Information Act to be applied.

The policy offers financial reward, thus empowering the disproportionately poor victims of corruption. Due to this incentive, most whistle-blowers will not waste time reporting cases. This means that the policy is most effective at the reporting stage when information is retrieved from the informants and suspects identified. It motivates people to report financial crimes and demands advocacy and enlightenment. Advocacy is where the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture should act in creating awareness on the advantages of the policy to nation building. The National Orientation Agency (NOA) and civil society becomes paramount here.

So far, the whistle-blowing policy is yielding results.

Commercial banks are expected to play central roles in ensuring that the policy is implemented by raising the alarm on how politicians open accounts to launder public funds. So far, the whistle-blowing policy is yielding results. In just one recovery from a former government official, security operatives got back about 9.2 million dollars. Other recoveries totaled about 151 million dollars.

The policy will strengthen anti-corruption measures by government agencies, especially the Code of Conduct Bureau, EFCC, and ICPC. It will curb resistance to anti-corruption. Mobilization and sensitization of the grassroots on the danger of corrupt practices and their central role via whistle-blowing will build sustainable peace in Nigeria. This conclusion aligns with the eight indicators of peace flagged by the 2015 Institute for Economics and Peace Report: sound business environment, high levels of human capital, good relations with neighbors, acceptance of rights of others as part of culture, low levels of corruption, free flow of information, well functioning government, and equitable distribution of resources. It reinforces the ideals of the Nigerian anthem and pledge.

Nigeria-Fair-Elections-Rally
Nigerians protest against corruption in its electoral systems. Courtesy Council on Foreign Relations.

A key threat to contemporary Nigerian development is corruption across the three arms of government, the nine tracks of the multi-track diplomacy matrix: Government, Professional Conflict Resolution, Business, Private Citizen, Research, Training and Education, Activism, Religious Organizations, Funding and Public Opinion/Communication. As a result, it has been very difficult for Nigeria and Nigerians to experience sustainable peace and development. According to the Global Peace Index (GPI), corruption has produced different forms of frustration in the society and driven groups and citizens into criminal and political violence that further undermine development. In its 2015 report on peace and corruption, the Institute for Economics and Peace (located in Sydney) acknowledged that low levels of peace and high levels of corruption are interrelated. Ultimately, changes in corruption drive changes in peace. It is instructive that any society that aims at having positive peace and security must eradicate corruption by discouraging it completely.

Next Steps

The aim of the whistle-blower policy is to strengthen public accountability by making people responsible for their actions. No doubt, corruption requires public accountability as an antidote because it has greatly motivated the violation of human rights and a generation of intergroup conflicts in society. Nigeria has suffered different degrees of corruption motivated by self-centered lifestyles, as well as greed and associated primitive accumulation of wealth, which has created negative perceptions of public offices. With the whistle-blower policy in place, backed by parliamentary support, the era of impunity will be a thing of the past. Just like political culture, which shapes people’s attitudes and beliefs in political matters, public accountability will become entrenched in regulating citizens’ behavior in handling public resources.

The rule of law, public accountability, and integrity are more valuable than the primitive accumulation of wealth.

With this new policy, there will be moral revival, with attendant prevention, detection, punishment, control, and eradication of corruption. The success of the whistle-blower policy at the National Assembly, through parliamentary oversight, will enhance the effectiveness of the policy in eradicating corruption. The rule of law, public accountability, and integrity are more valuable than the primitive accumulation of wealth. The forfeiture of recovered funds will send a note of warning to political office holders, whose acts of corruption have reached an alarming stage, as millions of dollars are now recovered from their homes through whistle-blowers.

Money-found-in-Andrew-Yakubu3
Some of the 9.8 million U.S. dollars recovered on a 2017 anti-corruption raid in Nigeria. Courtesy The Guardian Nigeria.

Apart from timely compensation of whistle-blowers, it is necessary for the government to consider involving corps members in the implementation of the policy. The pathways to constructive involvement and engagement of corps members should anchor on the following:

  1. All categories of leaders must pursue the vision of youth development with focus and integrity, to mobilize, inspire and earn the support of citizens.
  2. The institutionalization of Character and Anti-Corruption Education as a core course in the University Education Program will enhance the emergence of credible and active civil society, good governance, and a culture of transparency and accountability for the evolution of a just and egalitarian society.
  3. Anti-Corruption Clubs should be established at all levels of education.
  4. The mandatory Community Development Service (CDS) of corps members should be restructured to focus on conscience re-orientation, whistle blowing, and nation building through talk-shops, seminars, and workshops on national development.   

Peace in Nigeria will only succeed if it is more profitable than corruption.

ChibuzorDr. Chibuzor Chile Nwobueze is a Senior lecturer in the Department of History and Diplomatic Studies, Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. He holds a PhD in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of Ibadan. His research focuses on issues of human development and conflict transformation particularly in situations of complex conflict and intractable youth violence. He is involved in peacebuilding training programs, and with the development of peace and conflict studies curricula. He is a Member of Society for Peace Studies and Practice (SPSP), and may be contacted here.

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