For most dispassionate observers of the Nigerian political scene, the only thing which has destroyed the fabric of this country even more than any conventional war, is corruption. This hydra-headed monster has become Nigeria’s middle name. Aside from the untoward image this menace has wrought on the country and the insult and embarrassment it has caused innocent Nigerians abroad, it has inflicted irreparable damage to the basic foundations that held the country together. Corruption has stunted our economic growth, our social and physical infrastructure, our technological and industrial advancement and has decapitated our institutions, which is why our over 40 research institutes are no longer functional because they are headless. Even our academic and military establishments and other security agencies cannot in all sincerity be exonerated from the deadly effects of unbridled corruption.
The determination of President Muhammadu Buhari to combat corruption and to go after suspects irrespective of their ethnic or political leanings should enlist the sympathy of all well-meaning Nigerians. It is the more reason why even the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which controlled the central government and a greater number of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, recently endorsed the corruption war.
As Nigerians we certainly do not need any soothsayer to tell us that ours is a corrupt country. We see corruption live everyday. We see Mr. Corruption stalk the streets, the roads and the highways across the country. We see Mr. Corruption bid us goodbye at the airports and welcome us back into the country. We Nigerians greet Mr. Corruption at the seaports and border posts as we clear our cargoes into the country. We shake the juicy hands of Mr. Corruption as we savour the winning of a lucrative contract. Truly, Nigeria, which in 1996 was ranked by Transparency International as the second most corrupt country in the world, achieved the utmost when in 1997, it was voted the most corrupt country on the face of the earth. Ever since, the country has had the misfortune of being grouped among the five most corrupt countries in the world. There can never be any stigma as heinous as this in the comity of nations across the world.
Since the current democratic political experiment started in May 1999, all successive governments have had to place anti-corruption war as part of their programmes of action, popularly known as manifestos or agendas. Yet, all had paid lip service to the fight against corruption except the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari which is showing signs of its determination to tackle the monster head on. As can be deduced from the body language and actions of the President himself, Nigerians are now confident that this battle will commence with the resoluteness it deserves. Successive administrations, in spite of their much vaunted hoopla over corruption war, were ironically refuting the claims of the Berlin-based Transparency International (TI) that Nigeria was stinking with the evil stench of corruption.
For instance, in 2004 following TI’s categorization of Nigeria as the third most corrupt country in the world, the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, instead of looking inwards and soberly reassessing its anti-corruption programme to find out why the campaign had neither secured credibility even among Nigerians nor yielded any positive dividends worth commending, decided to lambast the agency. Unfortunately, the government did not sound convincing to Nigerians. That the government had tried to dismiss the TI verdict did not make the unwholesome factors that informed the reports disappear. Besides the COJA profligacy and bazaar and the allegation that various state governors were exporting state allocations monthly, there was also the theatre of shame in the National Assembly where quarrels over sharing of state funds had led lawmakers to assault each other.
Indeed, until the exit of the former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Malam Nuhu Ribadu, the Commission saw nothing wrong, heard nothing wrong and did nothing about former President Obasanjo or any of his ministers and advisers in spite of mounting evidence of stinking corruption that is now in the public domain, including the Siemens bribery scandal, the Petroleum Technology Development Fund, the Transcorp shares, and the Schneider scandals. As if there is an atmosphere of total impunity, we behave as though we don’t care about other corruption scandals that have rocked the national boat. These include the National Integrated Power Projects in which over $16.5 Billion was stolen, the Aviation Fund, the Petroleum Equalisation Fund, the Rural Electrification Agency scandal, the Federal Government Borehole Project, and the Halliburton Bribery scandals. There are still the Universal Basic Education Commission scandal, the National Identity Cards Project scandal, the National Examination Council fraud, the Independent National Electoral Commission, the Nigerian Ports Authority scandals, and the N1.1Billion National Gallery of Arts fraud, etcetera.
Lest we forget, the Jonathan administration actually exposed some of these frauds but lacked the political will to prosecute the offenders. While the Managing Director and Executive Vice Chairman of the Power Holdings Company of Nigeria, PHCN, and two of his Executive Directors were being sacked as a result of the turmoil in the power sector against the backdrop of the $16.5Billion House of Representatives Power Probe, the then Chairman of National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and six of his commissioners were removed over an alleged N1.5Billion fraud. At the time, the Senate also directed the probe of the National Poverty Eradication Programme, NAPEP, citing lack of direction, administrative perfidy and the failure of the programme to register a formidable impact on the lives of Nigerians despite huge government investment in it. Nothing came out of the exercise.Indeed, the blossoming of corruption in Nigeria has been precipitated by the reign of free oil money and the absence of a true federal system of government in which the people are made to eat what they kill.
For instance, the wanton display of ill-gotten wealth by politicians and other questionable characters whose sources of income are never investigated by government, encourages corruption. For once, let Nigerians of goodwill, irrespective of political affiliation support President Buhari’s call for a new national order. The order by the President that henceforth, all monies emanating from revenue generating agencies be paid into a Treasury Single Account as stipulated in Sections 90 and132 of the 1999 Constitution ( as amended) is a step in the right direction. In fact, a comprehensive audit of the oil and gas industry conducted by the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) which exposed the sharp practices in the oil and gas sub-sector of the economy was grossly discountenanced by respective Federal Governments since 1999.The upshot is that several billions of Naira oil sales were never paid into the Federation Account since 1999 by the nation’s apex oil company, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC.
The Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission has had to raise several alarms and threatened court actions, all to no avail. Even with the appointment by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, of a foreign firm, Cobatt International Services Limited as pre-shipment inspectors of crude oil exports, the rot in the oil and gas sector knows no bounds as every activity in that sector appears to be shrouded in secrecy. At a point, President Yar’Adua had to confess to a bemused nation that he was overwhelmed by what he referred to as “entrenched interests” in the oil and gas industry. Yet, with the terrifying preponderance of fraud in our country, it seems as though ‘Praise Of Folly’, the classic testament of Erasmus that chronicles the emptiness or moral atrophy of his age, was written with Nigeria at heart. Supposing our country was not this corrupt, we know where we would have been by now. Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of the United States of America signed the Freedom of Information Bill in 1967 to fight corruption.
India and modern China, to mention just a few, were able to free themselves from the shackles of underdevelopment because they launched deliberate and devastating war on corruption. There cannot be a better time to tackle this malady than now. Let’s support PMB with all our heart, head and all to extricate our dear country from this terrible enemy of growth.
Amor, public policy analyst, writes from Abuja