On Friday 10th November, 2017, the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC held an interactive session with stakeholders in Abuja. It was an opportunity for the PACAC to present a two-year scorecard against some of the negative backlash it has received from the media and the Nigerian political elite. I held the same view with the generality of Nigerians and that view has been supported by the PACAC itself: based on allegations that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari was being ‘selective’ with its anti-corruption effort, I’d written to and called the PACAC chair Itse Sagay. I sent him a salvo of questions in relation to that argument. I suspect that he was too busy to respond to those questions and I eventually did not get any response from him.
Think tanks like the PACAC are usually ineffective if there is a virile political ideology on ground, especially to the extent that Nigerians interpreted the body language of Mr. President as largely skewed. Therefore, the advisory body has received negative feedback in relation to its key term of reference – the promotion of the reform agenda of government on the anti-corruption effort and the coordination and implementation of all anti-corruption legislation and interventions. I believe that part of the reason for that negative feedback is the problem of perception and the failure of the PACAC to address that negative perception innovatively.
The opportunity of this meeting for me therefore was to examine the PACAC up close. The night before, I’d gone through its August 25-July 2017 report. Like a true think-tank, I found out that the committee is made up very well-respected professors – Sagay, Odekunle, Alemika, Radda and Owasanoye. And that – having 90% of the committee as professors – is in itself is a problem because even though the PACAC has churned out paper after paper after paper after paper, and has held workshop after workshop and after workshop (there are 54 of these workshops in two years) with key stakeholders the negative feedback which holds the PACAC as an effete government body persists.
Therefore up close at that meeting some of my worst fears about the PACAC were confirmed. First was the fact that the PACAC, contrary to our expectations, is not a strong government agency like the EFCC or ICPC. It is but just an advisory committee. Even though it got and gets good funding from Norway, the United States and the Open Society Foundation, the PACAC still contends with the many quasi-advisory bodies in and out of Aso Rock for relevance. It has no firm control of the anti-corruption fight, and whatever advice it gives to Mr. President, there is no guarantee that it will be taken into account against the centrifugal and centripetal forces at play currently in Nigeria today. What however has made the PACAC as prominent as it is today has been the passionate disposition of its chairman. He has taken on very powerful members of the political elite, and treaded where angels would fly instead of performing a miracle. But his mistake is that while blaming the corrupt political elite in the Jonathan administration as the stumbling blocks to the work of PACAC and the fight against corruption, he is just as well beginning to realize that there is also a very corrupt political elite within government fighting very hard to scuttle the anti-corruption effort.
The PACAC chairman said that his committee has been a success. Among areas which the PACAC said it has succeeded included asset recovery, sanctions, enforcement and prevention. But I believe it has failed, and very woefully too with one key area of its strategic areas of focus – public engagement and ethical revolution. As far as I am concerned, public engagement and ethical re-evaluation are bride and bridegroom. One comes the other follows, and for PACAC to succeed, it must redefine its understanding of those terms – public engagement and ethical re-evaluation. To engage looters, beat them at their game, and get the common people as allies goes beyond fraternizing with the elite and the press. As we speak, the PACAC has no signature achievement beyond its media presence and papers and workshops to which it can be Eureka about.
With this in mind, I made my suggestion to the PACAC. I told them at that meeting that it must consider the innovative method of producing movies, to be aired on national and private television, distributed in primary and secondary schools, in villages and hamlets right across Nigeria. My suggestion is based on my conviction that if the PACAC does not want to go down in history as an effete think tank, and that if it is really serious about taking the fight from the national to the sub-national level where corruption is greatest, it must get the people behind it as allies. How to do that is an experiment we carried out in ANEEJ: realizing that press releases, opinion articles and advocacy visits/workshops with stakeholders are marginal and one dimensional as a methodology as a tool for fighting societal problems, we took to producing movies which focused on the spectre of rape at three levels of our educational institutions. We did that realizing that all that Tanzanians, Ugandans, Liberians, Sierra Leoneans and Cameroonians and the rest of Africa know about Nigeria is not from the Network news at 9, Nigerian newspapers, the Nigerian embassy or the Nigerian website but from our ‘home videos’.
My suggestion at that meeting did not fly. So I met one of the members who told me that using movies as a weapon against corruption is a good idea but is not within the terms of reference of the PACAC. Therefore my memo to the PACAC after I learnt about this from the prof is that they could use their good offices to advise the authorities on the relevance of using extra methods like movies, short drama pieces on television and radio to get Nigerians behind it in the next two years. As we speak, the PACAC has no strategy for devolving the anti-corruption fight to the sub-national level. Using movies, drama pieces in local languages and pidgin, and targeted at looters and recipients of a loot is one strategy. Movies/pictures leave messages in the mind stronger than words. Even though rape has not disappeared from Nigeria, and even though we didn’t have the money/funds to make our movie a box office hit, at least ANEEJ did not close its minds to the option of using multimedia methods at fighting corruption.
Written by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku, ANEEJ Communications Manager.