Transparency: Sustaining Nigeria’s Compliant Status

After several attempts to attain ‘compliant status’, an endorsement of Nigeria’s management of revenue from the extractive sector by the global Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative,EITI, the country finally got the nod in February this year. JULIET ALOHAN, in this report, writes on the need to ensure sustainability of this status based on findings from recently released anti-corruption gap analysis reports.

For a country to be adjudged ‘compliant’, by the international board of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a global initiative that sets the world standard on revenue transparency, means that country’s management of revenue flow from the extractive sector, has been endorsed as ‘transparent’. The EITI has certain rating mechanisms on which it bases its assessment.

Of the 35 EITI implementing countries in the world, Nigeria became the 10th to attain this status in February, 2011. She also doubles as the largest country to have achieved the status. What many may not know is that to be rated among the world’s compliant nations does not mean that the country has achieved 100 per cent transparency in the management of its revenue.
Like the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) has always explained, being compliant means that Nigeria has accepted, in principal and policy, to open itself to public scrutiny in the management of revenue flows in the extractive sector, which is basically the oil and gas, as well as the solid minerals sectors. This invariably means that attaining compliant status is rather the beginning of the process and not the end.
The need therefore to sustain this status was once again brought to the front burner recently, when the Technical Unit on Governance and Anti-corruption Reforms (TUGAR), launched its scoping survey and gap analysis of anti-corruption initiatives in Nigeria.
Various speakers at the forum harped on the need for the country to uphold the prestigious compliant status, noting that it would help the nation go a long way in the fight against corruption, and promote sustainable development and enhancement of poverty reduction.

It is no longer news that Nigeria is a resource-rich country stricken by the ‘resource curse’. However, the federal government, in a move to address the situation has taken several steps to create several specialised institutions to confront the evil of corruption. It has also signed up to several international anti-corruption conventions such as the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), the African Union Convention on Prevention and Combating Corruption, AUCPC, and the ECOWAS PROTOCOL, among others.
Speaking during the launch of the TUGAR report, secretary to the federal government, Senator Pius Anyim, admitted that Nigeria has greatly encountered the damaging effects of corruption. He listed the by-products of the evil to include dishonesty, inefficiency and all sorts of vices, saying they constitute the biggest obstacle to national development.
Political experts have also argued that the Niger Delta militancy and the currently raging ‘Boko Haram’ crises are all fallouts of severe corruption which has bedeviled the nation for too long.

Quoting section 15[5] of the 1999 constitution which provides that, “the State shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power,” Anyim said it was with the intent of ridding the nation of corruption that bold steps have been taken since the return to civil rule in 1999 to put an end to it with the creation of several anti-corruption agencies, as well as signing up to various international anti-corruption conventions.

Despite these interventionist moves, the recently released report by TUGAR still identified critical gaps in Nigeria’s anti-corruption agenda. It must be noted here that TUGAR was established to provide synergy, coordinated data and access public feed-back to serve as inputs for policy-making and engender necessary reforms, following coordination and holistic monitoring challenges provided by the myriad of institutions with anti-corruption and accountability mandates.
The report particularly showed that while Nigeria has a strong policy to combat corruption, there was no over-arching holistic mechanism and strategic framework. This, it noted, was greatly important, especially in view of the number of responsible agencies and the federal structure of the government.
In the area of criminality, it was also observed that although Nigeria has substantially criminalised most corruption-related offenses, however, effective prosecution was being hampered by administrative issues within the justice system. It was further revealed that prosecution and recovery of stolen assets will be further enhanced by enactment of the Witness and Whistle-Blowers Protection Law, Non-Conviction Based Asset Forfeiture Law, as well as a law to provide guidelines on plea bargaining.

Another area where the report showed lapses was on the issue that core anti-corruption agencies do not have laws which provide adequate security of tenure for their heads and boards. Financial autonomy, a key ingredient of independence was also found to be absent across all the anti-corruption agencies. The study also highlighted the need for a structured approach to engagement with civil society in the fight against corruption, and harped on the full implementation of the Freedom of Information Act.
The executive secretary of NEITI, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, while speaking at the event, noted that NEITI’s major objective is to enthrone good governance, accountability and transparency by ensuring that revenues from the nation’s abundant natural resources translate to good roads, clean water, housing, stable electricity, security, health care and quality education.

While describing the report as timely, Ahmed said, “As a subset of the global EITI, NEITI focuses on ensuring that duties paid by companies and revenue accruing to government are made public through regular and independent NEITI audits. The goal is to provide the public, especially the civil society, basic information and data through the audit findings, to ask informed questions, promote debate, discussions and dialogue on how prudent management of the resources can aid development and reduce poverty.”
It is against this background that she further described the TUGAR’s report as an important document which NEITI would find very useful in its current effort to sustain and consolidate on its compliant status in the global EITI.

“The TUGAR scoping survey and gap analysis report is an important document which NEITI will find very useful in its current effort to sustain and consolidate on its compliant status in the global EITI.

“I therefore recommend the report to all to read, digest, appreciate and apply its findings and recommendations to strengthen the fight against corruption and promote the desire of all Nigerians for good governance, transparency and accountability in the conduct of government business,” she added.
The report covered a comprehensive scoping of anti-corruption initiative at the federal and state levels, a gap analysis and compliance audit of initiative at the federal level, and a gap analysis and compliance audit of the public finance system in selected states which include Bauchi, Enugu, Kano, Lagos, Plateau and Rivers.
Deputy country director, UNDP, Janthomas Hiemstra, who spoke during the launch of the report, re-emphasised the United Nations commitment to the fight against corruption in Nigeria, while commending the country’s commitment to open up to all standards on anti-corruption fight to enthrone transparency and accountability.

He called on the federal government to take the fight to the state level, so as to ensure that funds are used for the development of the people, even as he urged government to pass more laws on the whistle-blowers and witness protection in the interest of people who are at the forefront of the anti-corruption campaign.
Even the EITI secretariat had earlier told the Nigerian government to be consistent in its transparency drive, saying that the country’s status would be reviewed within five years from the date of attaining compliant status in line with its new rules. Consequently, Nigeria’s status would be reviewed on the 29th of February, 2016, according to a letter to President Goodluck Jonathan, by the EITI chairperson, Ms Clare Short.

Short stated that maintaining EITI compliant status requires regular and timely audit reporting, and called on the government and the NEITI board to agree to a schedule for the publication of future reports, including those planned for the Joint Development zones (JDZ) and the solid minerals sector.
She noted that Nigeria is poised to demonstrate that revenue transparency and a firm commitment to multi-stakeholders dialogue can play a key- role in combating the ‘resource-curse’ that is prevalent in so many resource-rich countries.
Bearing in mind that Nigeria signed up to EITI in 2003, and began implementation in 2004, with a view to achieving transparency in revenue flow, the challenge is now up to NEITI to ensure that these high standards are maintained and sustained, as it would be an invitation to investors to explore the opportunities in Nigeria’s extractive sector and promote national development.