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NEMAGate is reflection of corruption, weak corporate governance — Experts

By Mathias Okwe, Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Adamu Abu and Terhemba Daka (Abuja)
18 November 2018   |   4:30 am
Economists and corporate governance experts are united in their submission that alleged infractions in disbursements of N5.8b by the National Emergency Management Agency...


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Economists and corporate governance experts are united in their submission that alleged infractions in disbursements of N5.8b by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), at the instance of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, was a reflection of poor corporate governance, weak accounting and financial controls in government.

They are also worried that the weighty scandal, which holds grave consequences for the entire country received the kind of shoddy investigation it did in the National Assembly.

Furthermore, they also maintained that the emergency expenditure, which was allegedly to provide relief “to save the lives” of some internally displaced Nigerians in the North East, was equally reflective of the fact that corruption has remained elevated in the public service because the government has refused recommendations and modern recipe offered by professional bodies on how to curb corruption in public life.

A former chairman of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), Mr. Fred Okonta, who described as “lip service,” the current administration’s anti-corruption fight said the alleged “massive fraud is a reflection of the quantum of graft still ongoing in the public sector brought about by weak accounting and internal controls system. And this is being promoted by several factors including the lethargic nature of public officials to new ideas from professional bodies on how to curb the menace.

“Every year, ICAN for instance after its annual conferences, makes recommendations to the Federal Government through its president, but hardly would such recommendations be implemented because some officials ostensibly benefit from the loopholes that we identify and try to block.

“Again, there are no sanctions to serve as deterrence for to keep others from committing the same infractions. Hardly has any chief executive been punished for lifting their fingers against what belongs to the public. Therefore, this lack of political will to punish corrupt officials is serving as a motivation to others to perpetrate greater crimes. This phenomenon is going to continue until Government musters the political will to punish those who steal from it, by making sure that they are made to refund all they have stolen, and thereafter sent to jail, including even those that are in the good books of the administration,” Okonta stated.

A governance and macroeconomics expert, who is the Chairman, Society for Analytical Economics, Prof. Godwin Owoh, said the allegations against Osinbajo were so weighty, and laden with grave consequences for the entire country to have received the kind of shoddy investigation in the legislature. According to Owoh, even though Section 88 of the Nigerian Constitution vests the legislature with the power to oversight/investigate, “the House of Representatives Committee has done a shoddy job because, in my view, what we have so far has not indicted anybody and no prosecution body has enough evidence to prosecute anybody with what they have thrown up, whereas, their investigation is supposed to be so thorough to the extent that we should not require anybody to be petitioning the EFCC or the Police to investigate anybody. Their investigation should rather represent the people ‘s petition.

“For instance in this case, it is not enough to say certain companies received the funds meant for the IDPs. Who are the owners of the companies? That should be made open because that is the import of Section 88 of the Nigerian Constitution, which empowers them to expose those who are corrupt. The legislature must list all the beneficiaries because that is what the Constitution means when it said they should expose those that are corrupt. It means the NASS should go to the markets and announce their names; go from house-to-house and announce their names everywhere so that it can serve as a deterrence, and can also fire up the prosecuting agencies and the judiciary that we are ready to fight corruption.”

Economist and public affairs commentator, Mr. Odilim Enwegbara, who differed from Owoh’s submission that the NASS’ investigation was not conclusive enough to prosecute anyone, said Osinbajo should be held culpable for the diversion and alleged sharing of public funds.

He accordingly advised the National Assembly to begin impeachment processes against the professor of law.

“I disagree completely with the claim that the investigation was not comprehensive. It should be the vice president, who while defending himself in his impeachment proceedings that should state why he spent funds outside appropriation, including how he conducted the procurement. He should be the one to say that even though procurement process was not followed, here are what he did in terms of procurement and disbursement, and how he ‘transparently’ conducted the exercise.

“If every citizen, politician and philosopher king like Prof. Osinbajo is this reckless with public funds and ignores the Fiscal Responsibility Act and set rules, it could be the reason why we have a highly corrupt nation. I think that there should be a full-blown hearing, where Osinbajo must appear before a joint House/Senate Impeachment Committee to defend and justify his actions before the public, so that Nigerians should know what transpired,” he submitted.

When The Guardian sought clarification from the Office of the Vice President on what contracts the different companies got, and whether they delivered on them, the Senior Special Assistant Media and Publicity, Mr. Laolu Akande simply responded: “Ask NEMA my bro.”

Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has asked Osinbajo to refund the N5.8b he approved and released “illegally to NEMA to provide food and general welfare for the IDPs.”

The party in a statement released by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, Saturday, advised Osinbajo to “seek forgiveness and make restitution for allegedly entangling himself in corruption and sharp practices, instead of his lame effort at concealment in the N5.8b North East Intervention Fund scandal.”

The PDP noted: “It is heart-rending that Prof. Osinbajo, despite his sanctimonious posturing is being fingered in the frittering of the N5.8b meant for the purchase of food and general welfare of suffering Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Northeast.

“Prof. Osinbajo should know that he has come to the end of the road and that Nigerians have completely lost faith in him, since the House of Representatives exposed his complicity in this unpardonable debauchery against weak and vulnerable citizens.”

The Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Malam Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, has called on the EFCC, and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to ensure that all those found wanting in the relief materials scandal are immediately prosecuted.

Rafsanjani, who described the outcome of the probe by the Ali Isa-led House Committee on Emergency and Disaster Preparedness as a welcome development, said the House has suddenly woken up from slumber to exercise its oversight function on NEMA.

According to him: “It is important to let the EFCC and ICPC have a copy of that report and ask them to thoroughly investigate the operation of the agency accused of wrongdoing. The EFCC has the responsibility to ensure that public fund are not wasted or diverted. The action of the House committee is in order.

“It is not today that people have been complaining about the way and manner NEMA executive secretary has been doing things, and the officials have not helped matters when it comes to the agency’s operation as an interventionist agency out to ameliorate the suffering of Nigerians,” he said.

The executive director called on the National Assembly to strengthen the Act establishing NEMA to avert a re-occurrence of the unfortunate incident, and canvassed the merger of NEMA with the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI) to ensure efficiency on issues relating to IDPs, migrants and disaster management in the country.

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