Corruption: CISLAC moves to strengthen accountability networks among CSOs

By Chimezie Godfrey

The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre CISLAC/ TI Nigeria has organised an inception meeting on the strengthening of accountability networks among civil societies in Nigeria.

Addressing journalists at the event on Tuesday in Abuja, the Executive Director, CISLAC, Auwal Rafsanjani, said the project that runs from January 2021 to December 2023, is aimed at improving the democratic accountability of public institutions globally by empowering CSOs to demand for systemic change to address accountability and anti-corruption deficits.

He explained that the project is contributing to address the core problem of dirty money in Nigeria’s politics which perpetuates a culture of lack of accountability and corruption for power preservation and self-enrichment.

He said,”On behalf of the staff, management, and board of CISLAC/TI Nigeria; I welcome you all to this inception meeting on the “Strengthening Accountability Networks Amongst Civil Societies” SANCUS project.

“The SANCUS project is being implemented by Transparency International Secretariat through its chapters in 21 countries and is supported by the European Commission.

“The project runs from January 2021 to December 2023, the project aims to improve the democratic accountability of public institutions globally by empowering CSOs to demand for systemic change to address accountability and anti-corruption deficits.

“In Nigeria, the ever increasing and soaring problem of dirty money in the Nigerian politics which suggest a high level of impunity among politically exposed individuals who seek to gain power and accrue wealth through illegal means with zero accountability has been a growing concern locally and internationally.

“The SANCUS project zooms in contributing to address this core problem of dirty money in Nigeria’s politics which perpetuates a culture of lack of accountability and corruption for power preservation and self-enrichment.

“The project plans to advocate for: 1) the operational independence of anti-corruption agencies; 2) an increased enforcement of existing anti-money laundering provisions and policies; 3) an improved oversight function of the National Assembly; 4) improve capacity of the media and civil society to investigate the presence of dirty money in Nigeria’s political processes and finally 5) increase citizens demand for accountability in the funding of political processes.”

Rafsanjani assured that the project will instil some level of sanity in the Nigerian political elites whose actions continue to tarnish the good image of the country as a democratic space which operates within the purview of maximum respect for the rule of law.

He decried the fact that Nigeria is the largest illicit financial flows offender in the African continent.

“Ilicit financial flows are a serious problem globally and we all know the damage that illicit financial flows have caused in Nigeria.

“Nigeria is the largest Illicit Financial Flows offender in the continent with about $18bn estimated to be lost annually. This figure is likely to increase, if necessary, measures are not taken to curb the excesses of these crimes.

“For instance, we are battling different scandals like the P&ID scandal where Nigeria is contesting the arbitration award of about 6.6bn with an interest of 7% annually and the Malabu Scandal.

“The sad part is that after citizens are deprived from access to basic needs and the diversion of funds meant for the covid-19 response, these funds, at least in part, are stashed either at home or abroad only to be used when it is time for political campaigns and elections.

“This is the challenge we are up against, and we should ensure that all hands are on deck to combat this,” he said.

The Human Rights Activist, noted that the project has come to Nigeria at the critical junction of the pre-election period for 2023 elections.

He added,”We all know what is at stake and I would like to invite us to discuss how to mitigate the role of dirty money in the upcoming electoral circle.

“On the positive side, the necessary institutional and legal infrastructure is in place. We have the Independent National Electoral Commission and laws in place, that, in theory, should regulate how money enters politics.

“We also have a myriad of anti-corruption agencies and law enforcement that is getting ever better in investigating financial crimes.

“On the negative side, we seem to have so much money in politics that it seems to have the power to erode our institutions.

“Our laws are not enforced or are outrightly ignored.”

The National Commissioner, Information and Voter Education, Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC), Barr Festus Okoye remarked that the sanctions against offenders of illegal/dark financial flows in politics are ridiculously mild.

Okoye noted that the Commission is the only constitutional body vested with the power to organize, undertake and supervise Presidential, Governorship, National and State Assembly elections as well as Area Council elections in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

He pointed out that the Commission is also vested with the power to register political parties; monitor their organization and operation including their finances, adding that the Commission is also expected to arrange for the annual examination and auditing of the funds and accounts of political parties and publish report on such examination and audit for public information.

He further stated that section 92(3)(b) of the Electoral Act, 2010(as amended) provides sanction for failure to submit election expenses report and the sanction imposed is to the effect that the defaulting political party shall on conviction be liable to a maximum fine of N1million. Additionally, section 92(6) of the Electoral Act 2010 provides that any political party that incurs election expenses beyond the limit stipulated in the law is guilty of an offence and shall on  conviction be liable to a maximum fine of N1million and forfeiture to the Commission of the excess amount.

Okoye however decried the fact that the sanctions are strong enough to deter offenders.

He said,”It is evident that the sanctions provided in the constitution and the law is ridiculously mild and possibly accounts for the disdain currently being exhibited by political parties and their candidates in complying with directives relating to party finances and election expenses.

“Civil society groups and organizations must mount and sustain advocacy for reasonable, rational and deterrent sanctions against the leaders of political parties and the parties for violation and willful refusal to comply with the law and the constitution relating to party finances and election expenses.

“The sanctions must include an increase in the fines and prison term for the leaders of defaulting parties.”

He added that civil society groups must advocate for the inclusion of refusal of political parties to render account of their finances as one of the conditions for deregistration of political parties.

“As a Commission we support the creation of an Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal that will have exclusive mandate and jurisdiction to investigate, arrest and prosecute electoral offenders.

“We believe that the lack robust investigation and prosecution of offenders accounts for the serial infraction of the provisions of the Constitution. In the interim, the Commission will continue to play its role as an umpire and regulator and making sure that the electoral process is not adversely impacted through unwholesome practices.

“The Commission will continue to collaborate with civil society groups and other critical stakeholders in promoting transparency in party financing to mitigate unwholesome practices aimed at compromising the democratic choices of the people.

“The Commission will also continue to collaborate with the security agencies and other law enforcement outfits within the ambit of the Inter Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security in combating illegal financial flows and vote trading to protect our democracy.

“We believe that the sovereign right of the people as expressed through their votes must remain the only source of truth in relation to leadership succession,” he said.

Okoye stressed that illegal, extra judicial and extra constitutional measures planted to distort and render useless the value of the vote and the quality of mandate given to the people must be vigorously resisted.

He therefore encouraged civil society groups and organizations to act collectively to protect the electoral process and the country’s democracy.