By Mubarak Al-Mustapha
In recent times, there has been a lot of conversation about which of the two arms of government is doing more in the fight against corruption — the executive under President Muhammadu Buhari, or the legislature under Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki.
The problem with this comparison approach however, is that there is a stark difference between weighing legislative notches against executive accomplishments — because one arm of government deals with lawmaking, while the other executes the laws that have been made.
This is why, it is necessary to take a step back further to ask, which one of the two arms, or the two leaders of these respective arms has the better approach in this fight against corruption?
On the one hand, you have President Muhammadu Buhari, and his full regalia of law enforcement agencies who live and thrive by a punitive approach to taming Nigeria’s corruption menace. The Executive, under Mr. President’s leadership, believes in the ‘name them’ and ‘shame them’ game.
They have also adopted a random selection approach that seems to pluck out and prop up those that do not align with this government, or its agenda. Some say, the fear of Buhari’s anti-corruption war is the beginning of all wisdom — while others, like Transparency International, who recently released their 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) have claimed that the non-strategic anti-graft war that is being waged in Nigeria is not yielding any positive results.
Recently, I had the privilege to hear Saraki’s views on the war against corruption at the Savannah Center for Diplomacy, Democracy & Development’s two-day Roundtable on Anti-Corruption, hosted by Professor Ibrahim Gambari. Although he only spent about 40 minutes at the event, Saraki who is a medical doctor by training, set forth a comprehensive ideology to fight corruption which is centered around that basic medical axiom that says “prevention is better than cure.”
Saraki noted that Nigeria needs to stop seeing anti-corruption through the lens of a political slogan, or a soundbite to grab headlines, but as a development agenda. He re-echoed his 2016 speech at Senator Dino Melaye’s book launch, wherein he emphasized that “the reason our fight against corruption has met with rather limited success is that we appeared to have favoured punishment over deterrence.”
The Senate President also drew attention to the fact that there is a need for us to review our methods in the anti-graft fight, so that we can focus on building systems that make it more difficult to carry out corrupt acts, rather than waiting for these acts to be committed — and subjecting the accused to our criminal justice system that is “primarily inclined to protect the fundamental rights of citizens” because all are considered innocent until proven guilty.
One major reason that I buy into Saraki’s argument is the fact that strong gates are more effective than fast chases when dealing with thieves. What I mean by this is that moving forward, we must begin to fortify our institutions, strengthen accountability, and reduce discretion in public spending — so that people are unable to take the money out in the first place.
This is why the National Assembly’s recent passage of the Audit Services Commission Bill, which is aimed at giving the Auditor-General of the Federation more independent powers to scrutinize the books of all ministries, department and agencies of the federal government, is in-line with this systems-building approach that Saraki has and continues to advocate for.
As we round out this administration, although both the Presidency and the National Assembly often do not see eye-to-eye on many issues, it is necessary for them to work together through policy and legislation, to erect strong legislative and policy obstacles, that will make it extremely cumbersome for people to siphon or hide government funds; and will also set up detection mechanisms that will alert the authorities in time once these funds have been tampered with.
* Al-Mustapha writes from Niger State.