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‘How corruption is plunging Nigerians further into poverty’

By Joseph Onyekwere
02 November 2021   |   3:23 am
A new report by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has revealed how “widespread and systemic corruption in Ministries, Departments and Agencies ....

A new report by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has revealed how “widespread and systemic corruption in Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) especially in the education, health and water sectors are plunging millions of Nigerians further into poverty.”

According to the report, “Budget fraud, procurement fraud, embezzlement of funds among other illegal actions, lead to failure in the delivery of services including education, water and health. People living in poor neighbourhoods have suffered so much that they consider poor service delivery as being good enough.”

The 61 pages report recently launched in Lagos, is titled: “The Ignored Pandemic: How Corruption in the Health, Education and Water Sectors is plunging Nigerians further into Poverty. The report, which was presented to the media by Dr. Elijah Okebukola disclosed that “61 per cent of people living in poor neighbourhoods ranged between having no formal education and senior secondary education.”

The report showed that corruption contributes to poverty and consequential suffering of people living in poor neighbourhoods. It noted that 57.30 per cent of people living in poor neighbourhoods were youths between 18 and 35 years old. Poor people, it says, are victims and not perpetrators of corruption in the health, education and water sectors.

The report stated that: “Many of the 36 states in Nigeria have no documented policies for helping people living in poverty or people earning low income to have access to health, education and water. Even if these policies existed, they were not known to the public officers who serve the people living in poor neighbourhoods.”

The report, therefore, charged President Muhammadu Buhari to “promptly propose an executive bill to amend the 1999 Constitution of Nigerian to recognise Nigerians’ socio-economic rights, including the rights to an adequate standard of living, education, quality healthcare and clean water as legally enforceable human rights”

The report also urged the Federal Government to “ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which allows individuals and groups whose socio-economic rights are violated to access international accountability mechanisms in the form of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.”

During the launch, Secretary to the government of the federation, Boss Mustapha, said President Buhari is an unrepentant advocate of anti-corruption, which had propelled the policies, programmes and initiatives of his administration from inception.

“Definitely, we have not reached the end point of Mr. President’s desire in tackling corruption but we are getting there. A major hindrance to the current fight against corruption is the consistent push back not only by the elites, which put up the most vociferous resistance because they are the direct first-line beneficiaries of a corrupt system, but also the ordinary Nigerian that a corruption free society would benefit the most.

“You would all agree with me that governments all over the world suffer from a trust deficit but this is most of the time worsened by inappropriate dissemination of government efforts to address development needs of the people. It is, therefore, important that civil society groups that intend to offer corrective suggestions to government do so on the basis of credible and current information that is easily verifiable.

“I do agree with most of the findings of this report as captured in the summary of findings shared with me. However, it is important that we contextualise the finding that “States did not have documented policies for helping people living in poverty or people earning low income to have access to health, education and water. Even if these policies existed, they were not known to the public officers who serve the people living in poor neighbourhoods,” Mustapha declared.

He pointed out that some of the recommendations contained in the report are already being addressed by the government, but would require consistent and focused engagement by Nigerians, especially the civil society groups. According to him, the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP), under the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, has further strengthened strategies to eliminate corruption in Nigeria’s social assistance programmes with the recent recruitment of monitors in the country.

He assured that besides the work of the conventional anti-corruption agencies, the Social Assistance programmes have in-built mechanisms to check corruption and ensure that benefits get to the people it is intended for. “Government is gradually increasing investments in the health sector as is obvious from our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic further exposed deficiencies in our health sector, in which the government, in partnership with the private sector, sub-national levels of government and development partners are all working together to improve,” he stated, and pledged government’s commitment to work with SERAP on an implementable action plan.

Among the people who attended the report launch were the Permanent Secretary, Office of the Head of Service of the Federation, Mr. Ibrahim Yusuf; Agugro R.I., of the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation; and Permanent Secretary, Political and Economic Affairs, Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mrs. Veronica Agugu.

The report launch was also attended by Professor Akin Oyebode; Femi Falana (SAN); Dr. Oby Ezekwesili; Ms. Funmi Iyanda; Sina Fagbenro; Hamza Lawal; Ade Adam of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC); Dr. Ifeyemi Adeniran of the Lagos State Ministry of Health and Ibeh Ikem of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC).

Others were the Director-General, Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR), Dasuki Ibrahim Arabi; Director at National Orientation Agency, Waheed Ishola; Adelaja Odukoya of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU); Olayinla Oyeyemi, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC); Adebusiyi Isaac of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); and Dr. Francis Ojie of the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies.

All the participants expressed commitment to ensure the full implementation of the recommendations contained in the report. In its summary of findings, the report held that 48.90 per cent of people living in poverty, that is, more than 27,453,154 earned less than N100, 000 yearly. 27.9 per cent, which is more than 15,663,456 earned between N100, 000 and N200, 000 yearly.

It reported: “10.70 per cent earned between N201, 000 and N300, 000 yearly. 12.50 per cent earned more than N300, 000 yearly. 65 per cent of people living in poor neighbourhoods stayed in either one-bedroom or two-bedroom accommodation. Up to four per cent of people living in poverty, that is, about 2,245,657 had physical disabilities.

“Only 4.20 per cent, that is, about 2,357,940 of people living in poverty, had received any direct poverty alleviation donation or support from the government in the past one year. 81 per cent of people living in poor neighbourhoods believed that those who held top public office had better access to education, water and health.

“92.60 per cent, 93.80 per cent and 94.30 per cent believed that they would have had better access to education, water and health respectively if they had a higher income. Among people living in poverty, 28.10 per cent, 29.30 per cent and 31.70 per cent did not believe that things would get better in the next one year while 51.20 per cent, 48.90 per cent and 46.80 per cent believed the situation would be better in terms of access to health, education and water respectively.”

The survey adopted a mixed-method approach, combining quantitative and qualitative research methods. The assessment covered the six geopolitical zones of the country, relying on data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), while the states with the highest and lowest population of people living in poverty were selected from each geopolitical zone.

The report in its summary of findings charged President Buhari to widely publish the criteria for eligibility for the National Social Register of Poor and Vulnerable Households, cash transfers and other social assistance programmes, and work with community-based organizations and civil society groups to disseminate information to urban poor communities about how to be part of those programmes.

“President Buhari should increase investment in public health, the healthcare system, education services, provision of clean water and other basic public goods and services that will benefit the majority of the population. He should re-direct budgetary allocations to renovate the National Assembly complex and take urgent steps to ensure that essential public goods and services are available to poor and vulnerable Nigerians, including women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.”

“The leadership of the National Assembly should ensure that the relevant parliamentary committees collaborate to initiate independent public enquiries and fact-finding on how public funds have been spent on education, healthcare and water, since the return of democracy in 1999 and look into allegations/Reports of mismanagement, misuse or diversion of public funds.

“The leadership of the National Assembly should make public the findings of any such investigations or inquiries by the relevant parliamentary committees on the use of public funds meant for provision of public goods and services such as education, healthcare, and water.”

The report also called on the leadership of the National Assembly to make public all reports of investigations into allegations of corruption in MDAs, including in the education, health and water sectors, and send any such reports to appropriate anti-corruption agencies for further investigation and prosecution.