“Leaders must exemplify integrity and earn the trust of their citizens through their everyday actions” – Marillyn Hewson

Nothing could have more succinctly captured the recent pronouncement and appointment of Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari as Africa’s Anti-Corruption Champion by the highest socio-political organ in the continent, the African Union.

The African Union (AU) during its 30th Assembly of Heads of State and Governments, launched 2018 as the African Anti-Corruption Year. The Summit of the AU was held under the theme: “Winning the Fight against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation”.

Making his acceptance speech, President Buhari described corruption as the greatest evil of our time which destroys efforts at constructive, just and fair governance in the African continent.

“Corruption is indeed one of the greatest evils of our time. Corruption rewards those who do not play by the rules and also creates a system of distortion and diversion thereby destroying all efforts at constructive, just and fair governance.” he posited.

Under the leadership of the African Union Advisory Board on Corruption (AUABC), the African Union, its organs, Member States, Regional Economic Communities (RECs), Civil Society Organizations together with citizens (women, men and young people alike) will embark on a journey to address the urgent need to curb corruption which is a major societal flaw causing setbacks in the socio-economic and political development of the continent. Corruption continues to hamper efforts aimed at promoting democratic governance, socio-economic transformation, peace and security, and the enjoyment of human rights in the AU Member States.

While the continent has seen sustained socio-economic growth over the past two decades, public confidence has been eroded by a concentration on near-term priorities and payoffs, propelled by corruption, election-cycle politics or quarterly results targets that too often leave young people worse off than their parents. Rather than looking towards a sustainable future that works for everyone, many have been left with a sense of desperation about the ideals of progress, technology, trade, and globalization because of the prominence and inequality fostered by corruption.

In tackling bribery and corruption, the Nigerian leader said the crucial place of strong institutions cannot be over-emphasised. “Strong institutions are a necessary condition in any society which aims to fight corruption. In building strong national and regional institutions, we must adequately empower our national anti-corruption agencies and insulate them from political influence. We have to encourage increased institutional collaboration between Law Enforcement Agencies and anti-corruption Agencies in order to win this fight.” he stated.

President Buhari listed his priorities in the campaign against corruption in 2018 to include, organising African Youth Congresses against Corruption “in order to sensitise and engage our youth in the fight against corruption;” mobilising AU member states to implement the extant legal framework on corruption; and canvassing “for the strengthening of the criminal justice system across Africa through exchange of information and sharing best practices in the enforcement of anti-corruption laws.”

Revealing that Africa loses about 50 billion US dollars annually to corruption, he advocated greater efforts in addressing “the causal relationship between corruption and illicit financial flows.”

He drew the attention of his colleagues to the “corrosive role that tax havens and secret jurisdictions play in concealing ill-gotten assets,” President Buhari said the continental body “must do more to stop the continuous assault on our economic and financial resources by multinationals in collusion with some of our citizens.”
Observing that tackling corrupt acts and greed required a reorientation of attitudes and perceptions, he declared:
“To win the fight against corruption, we must have a CHANGE of mind set.”
Reminding his fellow African leaders that the honourable campaign against corruption will not be an easy task because “corruption does fight back,” he, however, advised them to remain firm and resolute.

The Nigerian leader, who said he was inspired to champion the campaign against corruption by the commitment, encouragement and support of his colleagues, added:
“In Nigeria we have gone far into the implementation of our CHANGE Agenda, which is primarily aimed at fighting corruption.”

President Muhammadu Buhari was elected Nigeria’s Fourth President in the current democratic governance in Nigeria since 1999. During his presidential campaign, he anchored his campaign promises on the tripod of – war against corruption, fight against Boko Haram/insecurity and stabilising the economy. It is pertinent to add that, the anti-graft war of the Adminstration was endorsed by the former United States Secretary of State, John Kerry at the World Economic Forum held at Davos in Switzerland who extolled Buhari’s anti-graft war.

An overview of President Buhari’s anti-corruption war in Nigeria will show how prominent former political office holders have been arrested, jailed or bailed on corruption-related matters. Others have forfeited, humongous sums of money and properties to the Nigerian government. At the instance of the President, Nigeria is a member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) a global hub of countries who are committed to accountability and transparency in the management of public office.

President Buhari remains optimistic that enlarging the scope of the anti-corruption war to Africa will yield needed results. The President, noted that Africa has made some significant strides in enacting legal and policy frameworks such as the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (AUCPCC) to address the vice, but regretted that the desired impact had been lacking.

According to him, “Fifteen (15) years after the adoption of the African Union Convention, 2018 provides a good starting point to take stock of progress made so far, assess what still needs to be done and devise new strategies to address new corruption challenges.”

Ayobami Akanji is a political strategist and writes from Abuja