A public debate organised by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) brought together stakeholders from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Civil Society Organisations, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, the Nigerian Customs Service, National Defence College, academics, and the media. The issue up for debate was the societal impact of Organised Crime and its effect on governance. The event also served to explore and publicly circulate a study, which had been conducted in four sub-regions of West Africa under the purview of the FES over the past two years.
The proceedings were chaired by Mrs Kemi Okenyodo, Executive Director of CLEEN Foundation. Mrs Mariam Sissoko, Country Director, UNODC, emphasised the need for law enforcement and sensitisation to work hand in hand in order to be effective. Prof Etannibi Alemika, NINSED, stressed the need for citizens to work with local authorities instead of putting their trust in the government alone. Dr. Ayokunle Fagbemi, Director, CEPSERD, pointed out the obligation of citizens to look for ways to improve transparency and accountability. Mr Isaac Armstrong, Principal Program Officer, ECOWAS, emphatically stated that the regional organisation’s means were quite limited without the active involvement and political support of member states.
Panellists agreed that the lack of state capacity in the region had created easy entry points for criminals. They emphasised the need for acknowledging corruption as a crime on its own behalf as opposed to a mere means employed by criminal elements or a cultural peculiarity. Further, the debate highlighted data collation, the socio-cultural roots of ‘godfatherism’, the penetration of highest circles of government, mislead expectations by people deciding to ‘seek their fate in Europe’, the lack of basic amenities and states’ shortcomings in the delivery of public goods as main challenges. From ECOWAS’ point of view, the key task was to implement existing protocols and conventions on the national level.
On a brighter note, synergies were identified among West Africa and Europe, since both were adversely affected by transnational organised crime and thus shared an interest in mitigating the problem. Also, potential was seen in improving sensitisation efforts or, preferably, in establishing encompassing education and cultural policies. Above all, a democratic political culture of transparency was deemed key to holding decision-makers accountable for their actions.