Civil Society Engagement in Anti-Corruption Crusade: Protecting the Whistle Blower Essay

Corruption has been painted as a horrible monster. Every attempt to tame or destroy it has resulted in the monster destroying the agency or institution fighting it. Agencies created by government to fight corruption, with passage of time becomes ineffectual, a tool of the government to witch-hunt perceived enemies or become corrupt in themselves, making corruption to continue unabated. For effective fight and control of the monster, those who bear the brunt of corruption – the citizens- need to own and prosecute the war as it obtains in other countries such as Singapore.

But engaging the citizens demands that their capacity be built around anti-corruption, to resist, report and fight corruption. Engaging the citizens demand that the civil society and non-governmental organisations spearhead and lead the crusade because revolutions, as recorded in history were never led by the multitude but by the few activists who were fired by their passion in the pursuit of their vision. However, the civil society groups have low capacity to lead the fight as most of them lack legitimacy and transparency.

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Again, they operate in the same environment where corruption thrives. The whistle-blower operates in an insecure environment and the insecurity associated with whistleblowing has made most anti-corruption activists to acquiesce, since there is no legal framework to protect and reward whistle-blowers in Nigeria. Besides, public support for anti-corruption is low because of ignorance, poverty, ethnicity, lack of national values, low capacity of anti-corruption CSO’s to carry out awareness creation, and lack of institutional integrity of anti-corruption commissions.

Therefore, for the masses to support and own the anticorruption crusade there is the need to build the capacity of both the people and the civil society groups. There should be reward for those who have lost their lives in promoting integrity in the society. Every Ministry, Department and Agency of government should have a whistleblowing and complaints’ handling policy that protects whistle-blowers from retaliations such as discrimination, reprisal, harassment, vengeance, among many others. Introduction It gives me great pleasure to be part of this international conference to discuss issues of corruption.

No time is more apt than now seeing the devastating consequences of corruption on our nation. The issues are critical and if the people in attendance at this conference will go home with the resolution to fight corruption as change agents, then there is still hope for this country, but should this be one of the intellectual jamborees, where grammars are assessed, passions raised and news items made of the program without positive pointer to Nigeria getting better, then it goes to confirm the euphemism that Nigerians are all motion without movement.

Corruption seems intractable in this country that one wonders if corruption should be accepted as a necessary way of life. Agencies put in place to fight corruption soon get corrupt, and corruption comes back with greater vengeance, making mockery of government, her institutions, and the people. Can the civil society engagement in corruption fighting yield results seeing that the civil society are part of the same black pot? Is there protection for those the corrupt see as ‘bad belle, no-do-wells and enemies of progress?

This paper titled “ Civil Society Engagement in Anti-Corruption Crusade: Protecting the Whistle Blower” will look at the foregoing issues with the aim of inspiring us as members of the civil society, the third force and change agents to promote a new Nigeria, for sincerely the old order is about to collapse and must collapse! In this paper, we shall examine the concept, evolution and identification of the civil society, roles of the civil society groups, civil society and social change.

We shall also look at the civil society engagement in anti-corruption crusade, as well as the options or environment on which the whistle blower operates and try to suggest the roles of both the government, the civil society and the business community in ensuring corruption free Nigeria as well as posit ways forward. Concept of the Civil Society There is no generally accepted definition of civil society. The London School of Economics, Centre for Civil Society’s working definition is one of illustrative example. Civil society, according to it, refers to the arena of un-coerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and values.

In theory, its institutional forms are distinct from those of the state. Civil society commonly embraces a diversity of spaces, actors and institutional forms, varying in their degree of formality, autonomy and power. Civil societies are often populated by organizations such as registered charities, development non-governmental organizations, community groups, women’s organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, trade unions, self-help groups, social movements, business associations, coalitions and advocacy groups.

The Wikipedia Free Encyclopaedia sees the civil society as composed of the totality of many voluntary social relationships, civic and social organizations, and institutions that form the basis of a functioning society, as distinct from the force-backed structures of a state (regardless of that state’s political system), the commercial institutions of the market, and even private criminal organizations like the mafia. Together, state, market, and civil society constitute the entirety of a society, and the relations among these components determine the character of a society and its structure.

As part of their research on the state of civil society in over 50 countries around the world, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation has adopted the following definition as means of dealing with this issue: “the arena, outside of the family, the state, and the market where people associate to advance common interests. ” Civil society organizations are also known as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) — or non-state actors. They are critical actors in the advancement of values around human rights, the environment, labour standards and anti-corruption.

As global integration becomes more advanced, the role of the civil society continues to gain particular importance in aligning economic activities with social, environmental and developmental priorities. Evolution of the Civil Society The post-modern way of understanding civil society was first developed by political opposition in the former Soviet Block East European countries in the 1980s. From then stemmed a practice within the political field of using the idea of civil society instead of political society.

However, in the 1990s with the emergence of non-governmental organizations and the New Social Movements (NSMs) on a global scale, civil society as a third sector became a key terrain of strategic action to construct ‘an alternative social and world order. ’ The Washington Consensus of the 1990s, which involved conditioned loans by the World Bank and IMF to debt-laden developing states, also created pressures for states in poorer countries to shrink.

This in turn led to practical changes for civil society that went on to influence the theoretical debate. Initially, the new conditionality led to an even greater emphasis on “civil society” as a panacea, replacing the state’s service provision and social care. By the end of the 1990s, the civil society was seen less as a panacea amid the growth of anti-globalization movement and the transition of many countries to democracy; instead, civil society was increasingly called on to justify its legitimacy and democratic credentials.

This led to the creation by the UN of a high level panel on civil society. Post-modern civil society theory has now largely returned to a more neutral stance, but with marked differences between the study of the phenomena in richer societies and writing on civil society in developing states. Civil society in both areas is, however, often viewed as a counter-poise and complement rather than an alternative in relation to the state, or as Whaites (1996) stated; “the state is seen as a precondition of civil society.

In the areas of development, the environment or human rights, NGOs have added a new dimension to traditional politics and have helped humankind to find new forms of addressing our global problems. Today, it is no longer contentious to say that without the active involvement of civil society we would live in a world ridden with much more violence and human rights abuses, burdened with greater social injustice and equipped with less sensitivity to the environmental problems we are facing.

Mobilisation of the Civil Society The mobilisation of the civil society is crucial to achieving success in the anti-corruption crusade. It has been canvassed in some quarters that in dealing with this overwhelming problem of corruption, the best position for civil society is a coalition consisting of three pillars: the government, the private sector, and the civil society. All three partners have to be involved for the fight against corruption to be legitimate, formidable as well as effective and sustainable.

I believe it is in realisation of this tripartite union that the anti-corruption agents in Nigeria such as the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFFC) midwifed the National Anti-corruption Volunteer Corps (NAVC), among others and the Anti-corruption Revolution (ANCOR) to engage the civil society “through strategic partnership and collaboration to drive a people oriented anti-corruption process. Experience has shown that the so called people driven movement established by the ICPC and EFCC are regulated and moderated by those who set them up.

The civil society lacks capacity to operate independently and is often ignorant of the processes that should drive transparent society. The ICPC and EFCC determine the enlistment processes, draft the code of conduct and demand that their operations and programs should receive their approval and any deviant is sanctioned. The people must come together to determine what they want and the constitution should give recognition and legitimacy for civil society led anti-corruption movement, so that such groups are never unnecessarily haunted by the agents of government. The Role of Civil Society in Fighting Corruption

According to UNODC (2010) report, building a culture of integrity that resists corruption requires not only the active participation of government and business sectors but also of ordinary citizens. Civil society organisations can push governments and the business sector to be more transparent by serving as watch-dogs and public educators and maintain momentum to bring about positive change. When we look at the failure of past attempts at fighting corruption, it becomes clearer why this co-operation is so vital. The majority of military coups in post-independent Nigeria were publicly justified by the need to fight corruption.

Most civilian governments have also made anti-corruption zero tolerance as party manifestoes, yet we are not getting out of the woods because there is disconnection between the government and the people. Ignorance and subtle repressive acts of the government with direct collaboration of the law enforcement agents have resulted in failure to tackle corruption by those pained and devastated by the consequences of corruption. As a result, most of these battles against corruption are lost. What is true for government is just as truer for the private sector.

Even if there is strong dedication in the business community and by individuals not to get involved in any acts of corruption, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to hold on to these principles within a framework which does not reward honesty and competition. The business community in a capitalist environment is driven by profits. One can say there is no morality in business. Therefore, corporate organisations cut corners, sponsor governments and determine cause of affairs because they wish to remain afloat in the murky waters of Nigerian business that lack government control and standards.

Nicely crafted codes of conduct will wither away in a climate where government is unaccountable and where the public decision making process does not serve the public but has become a hostage of market forces of supply and demand And there can be no doubt that the civil society would become engaged in a noble fight against corruption, if it attempted to confront corruption without involving those that set the very framework in which corruption could be fought – government – and those who have the strongest interest not to replace the competition of goods and services with a competition of corruption – the private sector.

To state what does not work does not automatically tell us what will work. Looking at the cases where unilateral action by just one sector failed does not by itself explain why the collaboration of all three pillars, (government, private sector and civil society) is so vital for the fight against corruption to bear fruit. So why have the collaboration of all three? Would it not be sufficient if government and the private sector came up with an action plan against corruption themselves?

Couldn’t the government introduce new laws, impose tougher sanctions and invent new control mechanisms all by itself and still fight corruption effectively? To find answers to these questions, it is important to look at the underlying nature of all three sectors, to understand what specific contributions they could, and have to make to overcome corrupt practices. The kind of input each of them could provide is intricately linked to the sources of legitimacy of each, with each source opening new dimensions. It is commonly held that the legitimacy of governments is derived from the people.

If government is accountable to democratic control, if it is bound by the rule of law and if it respects universally accepted standards of human rights, government can rightly claim to act on behalf of the people. It is this legitimacy which gives government the strength to undertake reforms to quell corruption that may reach far into people’s lives. It is this legitimacy which makes government a strong and reliable partner and which enables it to set a framework better equipped to deal with corruption. The legitimacy of civil society also rests with the people although it is differently structured.

While many non-governmental organisations can claim a mandate to speak on global concerns and represent those interests unrepresented in the traditional political process, they are not open to direct democratic control. Often, these organisations are not even democratically structured internally. What legitimises them is a passion about issues that are not being dealt with adequately by government and social institutions. Again, their concerns do not arise out of self-interest or profit-orientation but from people who care about the public interest, the well-being of both the local and the global community.

In contrast to the other two pillars, the business community can claim to be an essential partner in the fight against corruption on a somewhat different basis. One may begin with the good feeling that the one, who earns the money, pays the bill, and he who pays the bill “makes the world go around. ” There is some truth in that. It is the private sector we all rely on as the very fabric of our market economy and it is economic life which is a necessary condition for all social life that is built thereon.

This does not mean that the private sector enjoys supremacy over the other spheres–it simply means that there is mutual dependence between the economic foundations of a society and the social structures it builds thereupon. Having assessed the different sources of legitimacy of government, the private sector and civil society, one now has a better understanding of the input each of them can make to the battle we are all here to join. What one should expect from governments is, above all, productive political leadership. A strong dedication to come to terms with corruption will obilise society and, if genuine, can liberate resources no government could possibly muster. Governments will be expected to reform national and international integrity systems. It is they who should set the framework of legal and economic rules which make it harder or easier to engage in bribery and extortion. It is governments that should reform political systems marred by lack of transparency and accountability. Both the private sector and civil society will have to help identify the problem areas, and, judging from their experience, should help to devise remedies.

The private sector also has a unique input to make; it is the engine of the economy, and no sustainable anti-corruption campaign can be fought against the corporate community. It is this sector’s experience which has to be accounted for, its interests that need to be understood. Sound business has to be practised, not preached. The private sector thus is the testing ground for all anti-corruption models –no rules and regulations will check corruption if the gap between ethical standards and competitive forces is too wide to be bridged.

Against this background, the civil society will increasingly have to become active where government does not reach and where the forces of the market leave us with unwanted results. It is conventional wisdom that the forces of the market are socially blind. That co-operation is needed on all levels in our common quest to curb what we see as the ‘abuse of public power for private profit’ is stating the obvious. In this collaboration, the government, the private sector and the civil society will have to come together to diagnose the problem, each sector bringing in its special experience and its own perspective.

Learning from each other’s experience in that first phase will then help to define the problem and to see the underlying issues more sharply, which in turn will enable us to develop counter strategies. Again, a joint approach is needed to effectively implement and monitor the concrete measures agreed upon to stem the tide of corruption – each sector needs the support of the others in this final phase. Therefore, if the civil society must play the watch-dog role, the players need to live to see their children and enjoy some measure of security as provided for law enforcement agents.

It would be the natural role of the civil society to convince the private sector that action is better than inaction and that corruption does not have to be accepted as a necessary evil. Towards government, civil society will have to play the roles of critic, catalyst and advocate of those interests unrepresented or underrepresented. Where government fails – because it is too weak or because problems cannot be solved through central planning or from above – civil society comes in.

It can mobilise the people and it is needed to reach the hearts and minds of ordinary citizens who may find it hard to believe that their governments are making genuine effort to tackle corruption. And, above all, it is essential to raise public awareness, to awaken society to the disastrous effects of corruption and to get across the message that fighting and winning the battle against corruption is possible and rewarding. It is therefore incontestable that the civil society is the watchdog, the whistle-blower and the vanguard to warrant that government and – to a lesser extent –the private sector respect their borders.

No anti-corruption effort will succeed which infringes upon the most basic human rights, which, instead of reforming unaccountable and undemocratic systems, relies on mere repression and prosecution. This would mean curing the symptoms, not the disease. Civil society gains legitimacy from the people because it reminds the governments from time to time that it is not enough for a country to organise conferences or anti-corruption campaigns or to kick out corrupt judges.

If judges are fired, the independence of the judiciary is jeopardised, as is the freedom of the press when the freedom of information is repressed. Why Engage the Civil Society? How necessary is it to engage the civil society in fighting corruption. To answer these questions it may be helpful to look at the underlying problem of corruption first. There is global agreement about its disastrous effects–the sheer number and diversity of people attending this very conference is ample testimony to that.

Corruption occurs in every single society. Even in those countries perceived to be least affected by that disease, the abuse of public power for private benefit is a constant threat. And as no society remains at that stage in its development where differences between public and private sectors are non-existent, there also is no society which condones practices where this line is transgressed in an abusive manner – every country has laws against corruption and no culture exists where corruption is a socially accepted behaviour.

However, causes of corruption differ from country to country. While a dysfunctional legal system may be the cause in one country, the transition from a hierarchical, traditional, rural society to today’s global village may be the principal cause elsewhere. Also, what may be described as corruption varies tremendously from country to country. This is particularly true for all questions connected with cultural peculiarities such as practices surrounding gifts, legitimate and illegitimate hospitality and the use of personal connections.

The line between culturally and socially accepted behaviour on the one hand and nepotism and corruption on the other is difficult to draw and has to be defined differently in each society. It is accepted that corruption is a violation of human rights and make the weak and the poor vulnerable. Corruption despoils the greater majority of the people of their wealth and natural resources. Again, most of the corruption in a society involves two principal actors; the government and the private sector. Civil society is typically the major victim.

Civil society will indeed be needed everywhere; it is the key for access to that cultural diversity. What we need then is not only agreement that the collaboration of government, the private sector and civil society is vital but also some agreement on how that collaboration can be organised and structured. One of the principles should be that of coalition-building. Another guiding principle is that of a nonpartisan approach to combating corruption. The non-partisan approach should ensure the full participation of the private sector and the civil society as well.

In order to undertake those far-reaching reforms that are often necessary to counter corruption, a broad consensus throughout all layers of society is needed Protecting the Whistle Blower A whistle-blower is any party who, in good faith, conveys or is proven to be about to convey a concern, an allegation or any information indicating that prohibited practices such as fraud or corruption is occurring or has occurred in the public sector or public financed project. Whistle blowers often suffer from retaliation.

Retaliation is any act direct or indirect, recommended, threatened or taken against a whistle-blower or a complainant because the whistle-blower or the complainant has made a disclosure. Retaliation shall not be permissible against any whistle-blower or complainant. Retaliation may be in the form of discrimination, reprisal, harassment, vengeance, among others. The ICPC ACT 2000 tends to give some measure of protection to its agents such as the NAVC and NACC. But such protection is limited to the discharge of the duties assigned to that individual or group by the anti-graft agency.

Though there is provision for the protection of the informant, this is not always assured. There are cases where the identity of the informant is disclosed by corrupt officers of the commission, thereby jeopardising the security of the informant. My personal experience attests to this. The insecurity associated with whistleblowing has made most anti-corruption activists to acquiesce, since there is no legal framework to protect and reward whistle-blowers in Nigeria. The global integrity (2009) report showed that whistle blowing measures in Nigeria is very weak (13%).

Public support for anti-corruption is low because of fear of reprisal from agents of governments and the might of the corrupt. Also, poverty, ethnicity, lack of corporate values, low capacity of anti-corruption CSO’s to carry out awareness creation, and lack of institutional integrity of anti-corruption commissions to even protect its agents makes the people detest the whistle-blowing activity. Conclusion For the masses to support and own the anti-corruption crusade there is the need to build the capacity of the civil society organisations to drive the change.

As many activists and whistle-blowers have lost their lives in the cause of promoting integrity in the society, there should be life insurance scheme and reward policy contained in the constitution of Nigeria for whistle-blowers or their next-of-kins. Government should establish an independent agency that should address wage imbalances, create national values and ethos, motivate and reward integrity, as well as overhaul the institutions fighting corruption.

Given the pivotal role of the civil society in the anti-corruption crusade, there should be adequate and effective provision for the protection of the whistle-blower and the civil society organisations that engages in the war against corruption in our country. May I conclude by repeating what Winston Churchill said in the face of the seemingly helplessness of the civil society against the financial and economic terrorism of the rich and the privileged; “you ask what is our aim; I can answer in one word, victory.

Victory at all cost, victory in spite of all terrors, victory however long and hard the road may seem, for without victory there is no survival. ” The victory against corruption must be won by the civil society and the time to build a transparent nation is now!

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