When and Why Do Corrupt Politicians Champion Corruption Reform? A Character Study

Can corrupt leaders enact effective anticorruption reform? The brief answer seems to be yes: Leaders who are (perceived as) corrupt can initiate and support effective anticorruption reform efforts. For example, as this blog has previously discussed, President Peña-Nieto (who has repeatedly been accused of corruption and graft) supported constitutional anticorruption reforms in Mexico. Egypt’s current President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has similarly launched various anticorruption campaigns, even while fending off numerous corruption allegations.

But why do corrupt leaders institute anticorruption reforms? While there’s no universal explanation, there appear to be at least three archetypes that might help anticorruption activists identify and push unlikely reformers: The Power Player, The Top-Down Director, and The Born-Again Reformer. Continue reading

The Lawyers’ Role in Perpetuating Corruption in Nigeria

Nuhu Ribadu, the former head of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, spoke to lawyers in Abuja on December 1 on his experience fighting corruption in Nigeria and the role the bar played.

Ribadu came to international attention in the mid-2000s for his audacious efforts to combat the high level corruption then rampant in the country, a fight that led to attempts on his life and ultimately his illegal removal from office despite protests from Nigerian civil society and the international community.  Although Ribadu remains active in Nigerian public life, chairing a high level commission on corruption in the Nigerian oil industry and running twice (unsuccessfully) for public office, he has been relatively silent on the obstacles he faced as head of the EFCC.  In his December 1 speech, unfortunately at this writing still not available online, he explains how some of Nigeria’s most prestigious lawyers, known as SANs or Senior Advocate Nigeria, collaborate with some of Nigeria’s most corrupt actors to frustrate the country’s effort to eradicate corruption at the highest levels of government.

For the benefit of his friends in the international community (of which this writer is one) as well as for a useful insight on one of the challenges of tackling grand corruption, below are excerpts from that speech as reported in the Nigerian press. Continue reading

Suing Governments For Corruption Before International Tribunals: SERAP v. Nigeria

Last week I reported that the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project or SERAP , a Nigerian NGO, was being sued by the country’s former first lady for urging the authorities to investigate her for receiving “small gifts” ($15 million in total) while her husband served in government, first as Governor of the oil-rich state of Bayelsa, then as Vice-President and later President.  While the saga of the first lady and her “small gifts” recently took another unusual (bizarre?) legal twist, this week the focus is on SERAP and one its most creative approaches to combating corruption in Nigeria: the precedent setting suit it brought against the Government of Nigeria in the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States  for corruption in education.

The ECOWAS Court is one of several regional international tribunals established to hear disputes between neighboring countries, in its case 15 states in West Africa.  The Court’s statute also grants it jurisdiction to entertain actions against a member state for human rights violations.  In 2007 SERAP took advantage of this provision to bring the Government of Nigeria before the bar of justice for its failure to curb massive corruption in the agency funding schools in disadvantaged areas of the country.  While SERAP’s argument was straightforward — Nigeria’s inability to curb corruption denied citizens’ their constitutionally guaranteed right to education – the SERAP suit appears to be a first: a human rights action based on a state’s failure to control corruption.

The Nigerian government lodged several objections in opposition: SERAP had to take its case first to Nigerian courts; the ECOWAS Court had no jurisdiction to hear the matter; SERAP had no standing to sue; the right to education was not justiciable.  But in its landmark decision in favor of SERAP the Court swept all of them aside, ruling that corruption in education could constitute a violation of the right to education if government did not make a serious effort to prosecute the corrupt officials and recover the stolen funds.  SERAP v. Nigeria stands as an important precedent for civil society groups in countries where governments are unwilling to address deeply-ingrained, high level corruption that denies citizens constitutionally guaranteed rights.  It also demonstrates how an energetic civil society group committed to fighting corruption can find a creative legal argument to unlock the courthouse door.

Details on the case are in this paper by Adetokunbo Mumuni, SERAP’s Executive Director and its lead counsel in the action.  The paper is the eighth in a series commissioned by the Open Society Justice Initiative on civil society and anticorruption litigation.  It follows earlier ones on i) standing by GAB editor-in-chief Matthew Stephenson, ii) civil society litigation in India by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy Director Arghya Sengupta, iii) private suits for defrauding government by Houston Law School Professor David Kwok, iv) private prosecution in the U.K. by Tamlyn Edmonds and David Jugnarain, v) damages for bribery under American law by this writer, vi) public trust theory by Professor Elmarie van der Schyff, a professor of law at South Africa’s North-West University, and vii) private suits for corruption in public procurement by Abiola Makinwa, a lecturer in commercial law at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.  All papers are available here on the JI Web site.

Can U.S. Efforts To Fight Vote Buying Offer Lessons for Others?

Vote buying—the practice of providing or promising cash, gifts, jobs, or other things of value to voters to induce them to support a candidate in an election—is illegal in 163 countries, yet it is a widespread and seemingly intractable problem in many parts of the developing world. In Ghana, for example, incumbents distribute outboard motors to fishermen and food to the rural electorate. In the Philippines, politicians distribute cash and plum short-term jobs. In 2015, Nigerian incumbents delivered bags of rice with images of the president ahead of the election. And Werner Herzog’s 2010 documentary film Happy People shows a politician cheerfully delivering dried goods along with musical entertainment to an utterly isolated village of trappers in Siberia (49 minutes into the film). Thus, recent instances of vote buying are more varied than the simple cash for vote exchange; they include awarding patronage jobs and purposefully targeting social spending as a reward for political support.

Vote buying not only distorts the outcomes of elections, but it also hurts the (usually poor) communities where this practice is rampant. It might be tempting to say that at least those who sell their votes receive something from their government, but in fact, once these citizens are bought off, their broader interests are left out of the government’s decision-making process, as the incentive to provide public goods to that group disappears. A study in the Philippines, for example, found that vote buying correlates with lower public investments in health and higher rates of malnourishment in children.

While some commentators occasionally (and condescendingly) suggest that vote buying is a product of non-Western political norms and expectations, this could not be further from the truth. Although wealthy democracies like the United States today experience very little crude vote buying, vote buying in the U.S. was once just as severe as anything we see today in the developing world. In fact, during George Washington’s first campaign for public office in 1758, he spent his entire campaign budget on alcohol in an effort to woo voters to the polls. By the 19th century, cash and food occasionally supplemented the booze, particularly in times of depression. Even as late as 1948, a future president won his senate campaign through vote buying and outright fraud.

Yet while U.S. politics today is certainly not corruption-free (see here, here, and here), it has managed to (mostly) solve the particular problem of vote buying. Does the relative success of certain U.S. efforts hold any lessons for younger democracies? One must always be cautious in drawing lessons from the historical experience of countries like the U.S. for modern postcolonial states, both because the contexts are quite different and because suggesting that other countries can learn from the U.S. experience can sometimes come off as patronizing. Nevertheless, certain aspects of the United States’ historical strategy to combat vote buying might be relevant to those countries struggling with the problem today. Let me highlight a few of them: Continue reading

Nigeria’s Former First Lady: Stop Attacking Me for Gifts I Received

Ex-Nigerian First Lady Patience Jonathan’s patience is being tested by a campaign of calumny being waged against her.  Since her husband left office in 2015 she has been under constant attack merely because she recieved some small gifts from friends and well-wishers while her husband served in government.   The Nigerian NGO Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project is trying to force the authorities to open a criminal case against her and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Nigeria’s anticorruption agency, wants to seize the gifts.

It is easy to see why the attacks are testing Patience’s patience.  The gifts were all small, some as little as $800, and altogether they total just $15 million.  Moreover, as she has repeatedly explained, she had nothing to do with the money being deposited into bank accounts in someone else’s name.  An assistant did that without telling her, and in any event why does it matter?  She was the only one authorized to write checks on the account.

Thankfully for the former first lady, members of the Union of Niger Delta Youth Organisation for Equity, Justice and Good Governance have come to her defense.  In a complaint filed in early October for themselves and Mrs. Jonathan the group asked the Federal High Court in Lagos to enjoin the NGO SERAP from “taking any further steps in further vilification, condemnation and conviction of the Former First Lady Mrs Dame Patience Jonathan . . . and in the use of the judicial process for that purpose by the extremely publicized pursuit of any application for the coercion of the Attorney General of the Federation to prosecute the Plaintiff/Applicant for owning legitimate private property . . . .”  The group’s complaint seeking the injunction against SERPA goes on to detail just how unjust the criticism of Dame Patience is – Continue reading

Guest Post: 43 Government Reps Walked Into a Summit…. What Next?

Maggie Murphy, Senior Global Advocacy Manager for Transparency International, contributes the following guest post:

International summits come and go, and all too often the promises made at these summits are quickly forgotten, lost in an online catacomb or otherwise hard to track. We at Transparency International are determined that the commitments made by government representatives at last May’s London Anticorruption Summit (648 total commitments by 41 of the 43 participating governments) must not slide into oblivion in this way. That’s why, as Matthew announced in a post earlier this month, we’ve gone through every single country statement and compiled all commitments into one central database, sortable by country, theme, and region. Our goal is for this database to be used by anticorruption advocates and activists to monitor what their countries have committed to, and whether and where they are making progress.

We’ve done our own preliminary analysis of the commitments, assessing the extent to which each commitment is (1) “concrete” (i.e measurable), (2) “new” (i.e., generated by the Summit), and (3) “ambitious” (according to country partners). We found that more than half of the commitments were concrete, about a third were brand new, and about a third seen to be ambitious by our country partners. That’s encouraging, and certainly better than I would have expected.

We’ve put together a more formal analysis here, including a description of how we came to our conclusions. Let me highlight some of the most interesting ones: Continue reading

Due Process and its Discontents: Nigeria’s Case Against Sambo Dasuki Encounters an Unwelcome (but Necessary) Hurdle

Just over a year ago, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari took office. He had run on a platform of anticorruption and military reform and, while I wanted to be hopeful, I expressed measured skepticism that he would be able to make substantial headway on either issue. For all he has received his fair share of criticism over the past year, President Buhari has made considerable efforts to tackle corruption, including graft in the military. In addition to advancing somewhat controversial legal reforms aimed at whistleblower protection and anti-money laundering, among other things, the Buhari administration has stepped up prosecution of high-level officials for corruption-related crimes.

The most prominent case is that of Colonel Mohammed Sambo Dasuki, who served as former President Goodluck Jonathan’s National Security Adviser from 2012 to 2015. Following an investigation into arms procurement under the Jonathan administration, authorities arrested Dasuki in late 2015 and indicted him on numerous counts of fraud and money laundering. The initial investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), one of Nigeria’s anticorruption units, uncovered evidence that Dasuki had orchestrated a fraudulent $2 billion arms deal and had engaged in other criminally corrupt activity. The charging documents accuse Dasuki of funneling state funds to politicians of the former ruling party, real estate developers, consultants, and religious leaders. The money had been intended to purchase helicopters and military planes for the fight against Boko Haram, the terrorist group responsible for the death of thousands and the displacement of millions in northern Nigeria. The purported criminal conduct involved high-profile co-conspirators, including former Minister of Finance Bashir Yuguda and former governor of Sokoto State Attahiru Dalhatu Bafarawa. If the alleged facts are true, Dasuki and his accomplices are guilty of heinous crimes.

Given the severity – and plausibility – of the purported misconduct, I was not shocked to see that the case had reached the ECOWAS Court of Justice – a regional body with jurisdiction over human rights abuses committed by Member States. I was shocked to see that Dasuki was the complainant, and that the Court of Justice had issued a preliminary ruling in his favor. Upon taking a step back, though, I realized that the Court of Justice ruling is not outrageous; in fact, it has sent a critically important message to the Nigerian government that respecting the rule of law is just as important as convicting corrupt officials.

Continue reading