Corruption is intangible; it resides in the mind, and manifests when the opportunity presents itself. An anti-corruption crusader, Dr Uduak Okon, the executive director of Youth Alive Foundation, in this interview with OMONU NELSON, states that in winning the fight against corruption, behavioural change is the key.

It is already a common knowledge that corruption is the hydra headed monster confronting the destiny of Nigeria. What is not clear is the role the civil societies are playing in the effort to curb the menace.

The non-governmental organisations in Nigeria have only, in the past few years, begun to have a voice in the anti-corruption space.

Traditionally, what the NGOs in Nigeria were focusing on was health issues, HIV Aids, the social and economic empowerment issues. There were no clear efforts in the direction of the anti-corruption fight. But as the corruption incidents in Nigeria worsened, to the extent of affecting international investments, the international agencies saw the urgent need to raise concern about the prevalence of corruption in Nigeria. International agencies, globally, are now looking at how to tackle the menace of corruption in Nigeria.

What the NGOs do, globally, is essentially driven by what the aid money tells them to do. That was why, when the aid money was speaking about HIV aids, most NGOs were directing their efforts in the direction of HIV aids. But now that the thinking has changed, the aid money is now thinking ‘Good Governance:’ transparency, accountability, and open government partnerships.

It is a trend globally, and that has affected the Nigerian NGO sector. The Nigerian NGO sector is increasingly getting into the anti-corruption space. There is now more funding to that space, to carry out their activities in the anti-corruption sector. In comparison to what it used to be, the voices of the NGOs are now being heard, as it has to do with anti-corruption. It has not always been so.

What is the prospect of winning the war against corruption?

On the prospect of winning the fight against corruption, I will like to begin with what someone said:

“Corruption will not end next Wednesday.” What that means is that, the battle against corruption is not a battle you win at the snap of a finger. It cannot be tackled the way we tackled Ebola.

Corruption is endemic. It is fought by social norms because it has become a way of life in Nigeria. So, seeing any meaningful impact is not going to be an overnight affair.

How would you judge the performance of NGOs in the fight against corruption?

Overall, in terms of judging performances in the anti-corruption sector, I think we are moving forward. If you ask me, has corruption reduced? Not necessarily. But the very fact that more people are now speaking against it, means changes are taking place. More actors that are not government: Nigerian citizens, international communities are speaking corruption in Nigeria. Once these voices are amplified, I think something meaningful will be achieved and the future will be bright.

How would you assess the last survey report, released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) via the efforts stakeholders are making at curbing the menace?

Yes. It is appropriate to first shed more light on the reports of a survey by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS). The report of the NBS survey into corruption incidences in Nigeria is not very cheering. The survey was carried in the 36 states of Nigeria. From that report, the situation is alarming. Painfully, it was identified that the highest perpetrators of bribery are the law enforcement agencies and the judiciary. Most worrisome is the fact that these are institutions where we go to seek redress in matters of grievances. If the same system we are supposed to run to, to seek redress is itself, corrupt, then we have a serious problem.

The report from the NBS survey also revealed that 82 million bribes are paid every year in Nigeria. It also indicated that 402million US dollars is paid out in bribe, every year in Nigeria. That is a humongous amount of money that can go a long way in solving lots of development issues. The position we occupy on the transparency perception index is abysmally low.

In summary, the results of survey are not very encouraging. It must be noted that these results are outcome of data collected in the last three to four years ago. So, what we will be looking forward to; is the next two to three years for us to know, if we are making any impact. So, we use what is on ground as the baseline. In the next three to four years, by which time the results of the UKaid sponsored survey, would have been published, we will be able to define clearly, if we are making gains.

What level of cooperation have you been getting from government anti-corruption agencies?

On the level of cooperation by government agencies, saddled with the task of fighting corruption, I think, some government agencies are very open in discussing corruption in their engagement with the civil societies. Our Foundation, the Youth Alive Foundation, has worked with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Crimes (ICPC), the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC). We have held events, where we brought together stakeholders on how to address the menace of corruption. Thankfully, anti-corruption is the mantra on which President Muhammadu Buhari’s government was voted into office.

Increasingly, there is the willingness on the part of government agencies to work with the civil societies on anti-corruption discourses.

It will also be beneficial to explain a little, what it used to be, in the engagement between government and international agencies. International agencies have traditionally been working with government and not civil societies around issues of good governance and corruption. But in recent times, we are seeing a shift, when they realised that, it is not enough to just work with government but that the society has to demand for accountability. Most agencies are now looking at targeting the society in the area of behavioural change, as it has to do with corruption and strengthening government systems to function better and reduce corruption.

You see a lot of international agencies supporting Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). I know UKaid has assisted the EFCC with Forensic equipment. They bring in crime experts from the UK to train our government officials.

Beyond the government, we as citizens, must play our part because it is not only government that is corrupt, most Nigerians are corrupt. So, it will be foolhardy to tackle one side and leave the other. There must be synergy between society and government to achieve better results.

On a national scale, how has corruption affected governance in Nigeria?

At the preparatory meeting towards Nigeria’s role as the champion of the 2018 African Union theme, “Winning the Fight Against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation,” in October 2017, the African Union (AU) revealed that, Africa loses $50 billion annually through illicit financial flows.

Similarly, since oil was discovered in Oloibiri, in the present day, Bayelsa State in 1956, and the subsequent exploration in 1958, analysts have mused figures of over 600 billion dollars as accruals from crude oil. However, this humongous sum has not translated to sustainable development for Nigeria and better life for its people.

Experts have advanced endemic corruption in both public and private sectors of the Nigerian economy as the major cause of this sad state of affairs. In order to curb the menace of corruption, civil society organisations and international agencies are partnering government agencies to empower the citizens to demand accountability, and by so doing, are contributing to the fight against corruption.