Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Fight Continues

Today is the second day of the U.S. Embassy hosted program on anti-corruption.  The Speaker, Peter Ainsworth, who is Senior Deputy Chief for Litigation - Public Integrity Section, Criminal Division in the Department of Justice, was at the Nigerian Law School, Abuja.  There he interacted with members of the faculty lead by Head of Academics, Bob Osamor.

Just as in his interaction with civil society, Mr. Ainsworth emphasized that fighting corruption is a continuous process and hope must never be lost.   He said, although systems and approaches in the U.S. and Nigeria may differ, the goal is still the same and that is to successfully enforce anti-corruption laws as deterrence for future behavior.  As simple as this goal seems, achieving it is not simple at all and the U.S., after working on this for two hundred years still makes mistakes.

He recounted U.S. history to indicate how his office was formed as a result of the Watergate scandal.  The Watergate scandal happened during the Presidency of Richard Nixon.  It started with the arrest of some men who tried to burgle the offices of the Democratic Party situated at the Watergate Hotel complex in Washington DC.  It turned out that they were not regular burglars but were hired to install listening devices at the offices of the opposing party to that of the President.  Investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation led to the President’s office.  A court case to get recordings of the Presidents meetings ended at the U.S. Supreme Court with a judgment against the President and he was forced to resign ultimately.

An interesting interaction followed as the law professors shared their concerns about the difficulties in prosecuting corruption cases.  They mentioned problems like restraining orders that public officers accused of corruption obtain from courts that make it impossible to continue prosecuting the cases.  They also expressed concerns about the effect on their students and the attendant pessimism that some have shown about fighting corruption.  Mr. Ainsworth again noted that the process of evolving and learning from your mistakes is needed to fight corruption and no country is perfect.

At the end of the interaction the law professors were positive that despite the enormity of the challenges in fighting corruption in Nigeria, it could be done.  They expressed hope because corrupt public officials are getting named and shamed today and because of the use of plea bargain, although it still needs improvement.  They also concluded that strong institutions are not only needed but should be allowed to grow in order to successfully tackle the problem.

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