Nigeria’s War on Corruption: Keeping the Stable Permanently Opened

War Against CorruptionNigeria’s current President, Muhammadu Buhari, has declared war on corruption, but this war only relies on tactical maneuvering as there is no clear strategy to support and sustain it. One lesson recent history has taught us is that we should always define what constitutes victory, as part of our strategy, before we embark on any war.

The words, Process and Procedure, are often used interchangeably in many contexts. Even the dictionary classifies these two words as synonyms. However, technically, and in the context of business management, these two words define two separate but related schemas.

The process of moving from Point A to Point B may just entail providing a map that shows the direction, but the procedure for actually getting there will depend on many other factors. Thus a Process provides a high-level view or a broad outline of how to get things done, while a Procedure provides the step-by-step instructions or guidelines, that take cognizance of all the constraints, on how to get things done.

Both the Processes and Procedures must operate within the ambit of set Policies. For any process to be practically meaningful and relevant it has to be translated into a procedure—an implementation guide that specifies all the bends and turns. The Procedure will consider the timimg, urgency, the cost, the budget, etc. and aligns everything with the policy to obtain optimum result. If we look at Policy as the Vision statement, then Process is the Mission statement, while Procedures can be viewed as the Strategy.

Nigeria is a country awash with processes, but deficient in clear-cut procedures. Where there is any semblance of procedure, there is no uniformity and consistency in its implementation—almost everything is dictated by the whims of those implementing it. There are just too many loopholes to exploit when there is no uniform procedure to guide the process. The Legislature can only specify the processes required for an Act, but the Executive has to combine this with our national policies to create a coherent procedure that can be uniformly and consistently applied.

Even when a well-defined and uniform Procedure has been put in place, the result may still fall far short of expectations. Nigeria has enacted many good laws and subscribed to many international protocols and standards over the years with fanfare, but the bane of our system has been our total reliance on peoples’ good behaviors for the system to function properly. The problem is that human beings least of all, Nigerians, rarely behave well—and even when they want to behave well they still come against those natural limitations and weaknesses inherent in every human being: our brains get tired, and we are prone to making mistakes in our judgments and calculations; we forget, because there is a limit to how much our brain can store and recall; we are emotional and so can easily be influenced by factors outside the provisions of the procedures we are trying to implement.

When people talk about “Due Process” they are referring to the basic steps required to get things done. The Due Process document will specify where a particular process should begin and where it should end. But for any Due Process to achieve its goal, it must be translated into implementable procedures, and for those procedures to have any practical and meaningful impact, they must be automated for uniform implementation. Without that we are left with vapourware sustained by propaganda.

Recently, we have heard of “Budget padding.” What most people don’t understand is the that this may not have been a deliberate thing. It is one of the possible consequences of what can happen when trying to deal with massive amount of data manually. The bottom-line, therefore, is that for any Process to live up to its expectations, the Procedures must be automated in such a way that humans are mandatorily forced to adhere to the procedures. This is not difficult to achieve.

It is the absence of automation that makes the Federal Public Procurement Act so porous and prone to manipulations (the problem may not have so much to do with the law itself, although the law has its own problems); it is the absence of such automation that makes the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) a fanciful public sector cliché without any substance—after the initial jamboree of training contracts and workshops.

President Muhamadu Buhari is sincere and honest in his on-going war against corruption. However, the way this war is being waged will make it difficult to define and declare victory anytime soon, or even in the foreseeable future. If President Buhari wants to win this war, he needs to, first of all, define what constitutes victory. I am not one of those who believe that it is possible to stamp out corruption in Nigeria. Stamping out corruption in Nigeria will require dismantling the entity called Nigeria, redesigning and rebuilding a new entity. The best anyone can do is to put adequate measures in place to checkmate corrupt men and women, in addition to ensuring that the laws are strengthened such that whoever is caught is adequately punished.

We may be having the feeling right now that corruption has abated in Nigeria because of the ongoing drama and cacophony. That is an illusion. It is either the antagonists or perpetrators are busy devising new methods of defrauding the nation or they have already found some and are making good use of them.

The war against corruption cannot be fought and won with guns and bullets. Waging a successful war against corruption will require a new approach, which must involve the following:

  • Have uniform procedures for implementing all existing processes in all the Ministries, Departments and Agencies;
  • Automate the Procedures to reduce human interventions to the barest minimum, thereby eliminating human judgment, bias and error.

Although some may argue that automation will not provide 100% guarantee against corruption, especially with the risk of collusion, but the truth is, it will always provide an audit trail. I believe the President has already become aware of this through the Bank Verification Number (BVN) policy.

By putting these measures in place, the President would have been able to close the stable, instead of keeping it open for the horse to bolt away. The present approach is tantamount to chasing  the horse after it has bolted. This is not a strategy—it is a tactic that is noisy, primitive, expensive, shallow, and could easily become  vindictive and selective.

Our President needs to adopt a strategy that will reduce the ongoing legal calisthenics and the Gestapo-style bravado of the anti-corruption agencies, if he hopes to sustain and win the war on corruption. Until he does this, I am afraid, this war might just end up as a one-man Commando operation, which will not only fail to outlive his administration, but will also succeed in wearing him down and reducing his capacity to tackle the intractable economic problems we are currently facing.

About Uso Etim

Etim Uso is a systems analyst and a programmer with over 20 years of experience in the design and implementation of financial and business solutions. He is an IFRS/IPSAS systems specialist, and holds a Bachelor of Technology degree in mathemetics and computer Science from the Federal Univeristy of Technology, Owerri, Nigeria. He also holds a Certificate in Entrepreneurial Management from Enterprise Development Centre (EDC) of Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos. He has contributed to a number of discourses on important national and international issues, including the Nigeria Leadership Initiative's (NLI) White Paper (Volume 2) on Nigeria tax system. He was a guest columnist for the Nigeria's Businessday Newspaper throughout 2012, writing weekly on International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS). Mr. Uso has written a number of books and eBooks on accounting, including the following, all of which are available in the Amazon Kindle store: 1. IFRS Accounting Manual for Small Businesses 2. IFRS Accounting Manual for the Real Estate 3. How to Master IFRS Accounting for Hotels with 3 Easy Steps. is his blogging and marketing platform on financial and business solutions.

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