Stephenson, an expert in anti-corruption law and legislation, was one of the speakers at the Virtual Reporting Tour on United States Anti-Corruption Efforts, organised over the weekend by the Foreign Press Centres under the US Department of State. The virtual programme hosted about 50 journalists from different countries.
He noted that countries desirous of addressing the menace should also pay serious attention to what goes on in their revenue-generating institutions, their electoral system, especially election campaign funding, and the procurement process.
He stressed that to successfully address corruption, it was important not to just focus on an individual’s corrupt act, but the systems and institutions that make those corrupt acts more likely; the incentives.
Meanwhile, for years, Nigeria has been ranked among the most corrupt countries globally. In the last rating by Transparency International in 2020, the country, with a score of 25 out of 100, ranked 149 out of the 180 countries and territories examined. The ranking placed Nigeria on the same level with Iran, Lebanon, Madagascar, Mozambique, Tajikistan, Cameroon and Guatemala.
Many Nigerians, including lawyers, academics, statesmen and public affairs analysts, have lamented the level of corruption in the judiciary. A report by one of the anti-graft agencies, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission, lent some credence to the rot when it said in a report in January 2021 that N9.4bn bribes exchanged hands in the judicial sector between 2018 and 2020.
However, speaking on how best to fight corruption, which he described as a major impediment to sustainable and inclusive development, Stephenson stated, “Sometimes, I get asked questions like, where are the most important areas to start if you want to try and fight corruption in an environment where corruption is very widespread? Nobody knows the full answer to this question.
“However, my standard answer to this question is that your top priority should be the institutions of justice, by which I mean courts, prosecutors, investigators which stand by in this context to include officers and the other people who are responsible for whistleblowers’ protection.
“If those are compromised, it is virtually impossible to enforce anything else. Fighting corruption in any other arm of government often relies on institutions of justice.”
On the impact of excessive delays in the judicial process, the type that plagues the Nigerian judiciary, he stated, “Long delays can undermine public confidence in the justice system, and create the perception that powerful people will not be held accountable for their misdeeds, or may create more opportunities for the allies of those powerful people to sow doubt about whether they actually did anything wrong.
“This is one of the reasons many countries have created special anti-corruption courts—there is a sense that especially for this set of cases, long delays are particularly damaging.”
He said the second area to clean up is government institutions responsible for revenue, especially in developing countries. He added, “So what I say is institutions of justice and revenue, and maybe three would be the electoral system and procurement would, in my view, be the fourth place corruption thrives.”
The don pointed out that no country has totally eliminated corruption, but that it is more prevalent in some countries because the people with the greatest power to address the problem often have the least incentive to address it because almost by definition they benefit from the corrupt system.
“Typically, I think you get successful anti-corruption reform when, for whatever reason, the people who have political and economic power find it in their interests to finally get serious,” he added.
On the major triggers for corruption, Stephenson identified badly designed regulatory systems that create too much inefficiency, bureaucracy, insufficient social safety nets, low morale and poor working condition for bureaucrats and corrupt electoral or campaign financing system.