On Thursday, October 25th, NYU Africa House and its partner organization, the Center for Technology and Economic Development, welcomed Mr. Ekpo Una Owo Nta for an informal discussion on his work with the Nigerian Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offenses Commission (ICPC). Mr. Una Owo Nta was introduced to us by Prof. Offiong Aqua of NYU Steinhardt as a monolith standing boldly in the face of corruption, who had been sworn into office just a coupled of days prior with the warning from the President of Nigeria, “If he fails, it is almost like the country fails.”
Behind the grandeur and ferocity of his reputation, however, the Chairman of the Nigerian ICPC is a human being. He is a passionate man with a candid smile and a transparent sense of duty to the Nigerian people, especially the younger generations. Mr. Ekpo Nta operates the ICPC on the principle that investigation and prosecution can help decrease the amount of corruption today, but “Agencies designed to investigate and prosecute, in every country, are still arresting. New generations of people continue to get arrested.” The only way to change the practices inherited by the next generation of Nigerians is through the growth of preventative institutions and education. He explained carefully the necessity of bringing the idea to communities that accepting corrupt money is giving up community resources, schools, and hospitals that could be built instead.
It was the education of students, though, that really brought a spark into Mr. Ekpo Nta. Once ethical governance becomes known as a serious subject for study, beginning with primary school civics classes and following all the way through to rigorous academic inquiry at the university level, the road will be paved for a new generation of active citizens who are educated about the standards of democracy and government participation. With this kind of transparency and honesty, Nigeria will be able to re-engage itself with the global community as a country that is fertile for foreign investment and business partnerships.
Despite his idealism, Mr. Ekpo Nta is a man who realizes that his task will never be easy. Waking up in the morning thinking about corruption and laying down in bed at night still thinking about corruption takes a toll on the mind and body. He finished his talk with a somber confession: “At times I am so scared of the powers that have been bestowed on me. You have to always, always advise yourself that you have such powers and you must exercise them with due diligence.”