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Stakeholders examine impact of corruption

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• As Nigeria drops to lowest point on corruption index since 2013
• Buhari deserves credit for diminishing corruption, says Presidency
• ‘War against corruption requires participation of all citizens’

Transparency International (TI) has, again, passed a damning verdict on Nigeria’s anti-corruption war, ranking the country 149th on its yearly Corruption Perception Index (CPI) after it picked 25 points, the worst since 2013.

With the rating, Nigeria dropped three points from its last (2019) ranking when it sat 146th on the table. The 2020’s index was co-led by New Zealand and Denmark after they polled 88 points individually. They were followed by Finland, Switzerland and Singapore (a country that emerged from a stinky official corruption history under the late Lee Kuan Yew) in that order.

In the latest assessment, Nigeria picked the same point with Cameroon, Mozambique, Madagascar and Tajikistan for the 149th position out of 179 countries surveyed. Nigeria ranks ahead of Somalia, which sits at the bottom, South Sudan, Sudan, Congo, Chad, Burundi, Guinea Bissau and a few other African countries. It, however, falls short of its peers such as Angola, Egypt, Algeria, Kenya and many others.

Stakeholders have described the latest rating as an open testimony of President Muhammadu Buhari’s inability to tame corruption in fulfillment of his electioneering promises ab
out six year ago.

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The Centre for Democracy and Development, Civil Society Legislative and Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria (CITN), Budgit Nigeria and other stakeholders are worried that the government’s inability to stem the tide is pushing the country to the extreme.

They have also noted that corruption has continued to manifest in the handling of COVID-19 relief disbursement, appointments and promotions in public offices, growing bribery and extortion in the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), lack of commitment to framework that would enable anti-graft agencies to succeed, poor justice system and lack of commitment to implementing reports on cases of corruption by public officials.

President of the CITN, Dame Gladys Olajumoke Simplice, told The Guardian that rising cases of official corruption “makes the jobs of professionals very difficult” and the investment market unattractive to foreigners. She said “it is most unfortunate and sad” that the government appears helpless.

“There is no sanction for wrong doing. If people know that if they steal N1 billion they will be able to bribe their ways through with N500 million and get away with the balance, they will continue to steal. This is taxpayers’ money. How do you then encourage the people to pay their taxes?” she asked.

Also speaking, a former Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Monday Ubani, described the TI ranking as a true reflection of the government’s handling of pending corruption cases. He recalled that the government has failed to take a firm and fair position on the case involving the former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu.

Stressing that it makes no difference if the country agrees with the rating or not, Ubani said: “TI assessed all the previous administrations. When the All Progressives Congress (APC) was in opposition, it agreed with the rating. So, they must agree with it this time.”

The Executive Director of CISLAC, Auwal Rafsanjani, referencing data from the World Bank, said impacts of the prevailing challenges could force Nigeria into a decade of economic backwardness and where it was in the 1980s.

Rafsanjani, who said the government has been tackling civil society organisations instead of addressing the deteriorating corruption in the country, stressed that growing cases of kidnapping, standing at 2,860 between 2019 and 2020, 27.1 per cent unemployment rate and other issues are direct consequences of corruption.

A Senior Officer with CDD, Austin Aigbe, noted that there is a lack of transparency in the emergency response of government on the COVID-19, adding that the processes were fraught with “incessant flouting of procurement guidelines, hoarding of relief materials and diversion of items for personal use.”

He also raised alarm over growing nepotism in public service appointments and promotions, pointing to the controversies that followed the decision of the National Judicial Council (NJC) when eight of 33 judges recommended for appointment were children and relatives of current and retired justices of the Supreme or Appeal courts as a classic case of high-level corruption.
Commercialisation of employment into public offices, extortion and other issues were also, according to him, reasons Nigeria’s corruption perception is deteriorating.

Manager, Open Government and Institutional Partnership, BudgIT Nigeria, Tolulope Agunloye, lamented the inability of the administration to stop corruption in the security sector.
He decried the bribery and extortion in the Police, citing the recent protest against police brutality as direct implications of decades of corruption in the force. A public policy expert and Principal Partner at Nextier, Patrick Okigbo, said the country is not yet ready to fight corruption.

“When we are ready to fight corruption, many of the pragmatic ideas to adopt are well documented,” Okigbo told The Guardian. A development economist, Dr. Chiwuike Uba, described the cost of rising corruption is “immeasurable”. “It has economic, social, financial, and even cultural and spiritual implications,” he said.

Uba, who is also the Board Chairman of Amaka Chiwuike-Uba Foundation (ACUF), continued: “The financial costs include the direct stealing of money that would have been deployed to the provision of public goods and services – quality and accessible healthcare, good education, human capital development, good roads, and other facilities.

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“The standard of living is very poor, many people are falling into poverty daily and more people are waiting for the opportunity to join the corruption team. Would you blame them when corruption has become the way of life, our culture?”He said the war against terrorism has become unending because of nepotism whereas, “we do not understand that nepotism is corruption.

“Therefore, part of the cost of corruption is the increase in deaths occasioned by terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, among other social vices. Nigerian passport and Nigerians are now treated as ones with leprosy due to corruption in Nigeria; hence, denying Nigerians the opportunity to compete favourably globally.

“Many investors (domestic and international) are also wary of investing as a result of rising corruption in Nigeria. Do you know the economic costs of poor education and healthcare? The productive hours wasted due to poor quality education and weak human capital? Do you know how many deaths are recorded from poorly-constructed roads, fake drugs approved by the government, among others,” Uba said.

Chief Executive Officer, Niger Delta Budget Monitoring Group (NDEBUMOG), Dr. George-Hill Anthony, said the war against corruption requires the participation of all citizens in holding public officials accountable. He noted that democratic accountability has several pillars beyond the tripods of Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) or publications of fiscal documents.

According to him, these are pillars that citizens could leverage to hold political actors accountable, stating that politicians have oftentimes turned deaf ears against the rhythm of fiscal transparency and democratic accountability.

He added that the fight against corruption should be owned by Nigerians, bemoaning that at present, most arrests for corruption are interpreted with political intention, which should not be the situation.

BUHARI came into office in 2015 on the wing of perceived incapacity to fight corruption. Yet, Nigeria’s position in the CPI has got worse consistently in the past five years. As of 2012, Nigeria had lost an estimated $400 billion to corruption since independence. In 2018, the country ranked 144th in the 180 countries listed. In 2019, it ranked 146 out of 180 countries.

The oil and gas sector where Nigeria makes over 60 per cent of revenue and about 90 per cent of export commodities is fraught with corruption. Just last month, the Senate uncovered how the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, which is headed by Buhari, spent N14 million on procurement of biros and N46 million on letterhead papers.

Within last December, the Senate had raised corruption allegations of over N4.1 billion and another $21 billion, which indicted the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the Ministry of Information and Culture and others.

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TI, in its report, insisted that Nigeria could take some strategic steps to address corruption, particularly ensuring transparency in the utilisation of Covid-19 relief funds by state and non-state actors.

The report also called for appointment, appraisal and promotion of public servants on merit, adding that the National Assembly must speed up the passage of relevant anti-graft laws.

The body equally called for police reform, a transparent monitoring framework for votes, the constitution of the national council on public procurement as well as enthroning democratic and free civil space.

“We call on revenue-generating agencies like Federal Inland Revenue Services, Nigerian Port Authority and the Nigerian Customs Service to ensure that they improve efforts to curb extortion and bribery among their officials,” TI noted.

IN response to TI’s rating, the Presidency yesterday said the Buhari administration deserves credit for diminishing corruption in the public service and will continue to vigorously support prevention, enforcement, public education and enlightenment activities of anti-corruption agencies.

A statement issued by Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media & Publicity) Mallam Garba Shehu said: “We are currently analyzing the sources of data used in arriving at the latest Transparency International (TI) report on Corruption Perceptions Index in Nigeria since by their own admission, they don’t gather their own data. 
 
“This report is not an accurate portrayal of the facts on ground.  In the coming days, the Government’s Technical Unit on Governance Research (TUGAR) will be providing more detailed information on the sources of the TI data. 
 
“ While this is being awaited, the examination carried out on their 2019 report showed that 60 percent of their data was collected from businesses and other entities with issues bordering on transparency and the ease of doing business at the ports.
 
“Although this is a government ready to learn from mistakes and make corrections, the economy of this country, in its fullness, is bigger than the sea ports we have.
 
“We are also not unaware of the characters behind the TI in Nigeria whose opposition to the Buhari administration is not hidden.  
 
“We have repeatedly challenged TI to provide indices and statistics of its own to justify its sensational and baseless rating on Nigeria and the fight against corruption. We expect them to come clean and desist from further rehashing of old tales. 
 
“A Naira denominated review that excludes recoveries in Dollars, Pounds, Euro shows that a sum of N1.2tn was recovered by EFCC between 2009 — 2019. N939bn of that total was recovered between 2015 – 2019 with less than N300bn recovered in the first six years. 

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“Additionally, preventative instruments deployed by this administration such as Treasury Single Account (TSA), Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) coverage expansion and the removal of 54,000 ghost workers from federal civil service saving us N200bn annually serve as evidence that perception is not reality.

 “Reality is based on verifiable facts and data. And any evidence-based analysis would prove that whether it is by prevention or punitive measures in recoveries and prosecution, this administration would be rising fast up these rankings rather than standing still.
 
“Organizations should be factual in their analysis and be prepared to rely on inputs outside of sensational media reports and age-old narratives which have not been updated to reflect today’s reality in Nigeria concerning its globally-respected war on corruption.”
 
“In the existential fight against this multi-pronged malice and manifestations of corruption, President Muhammadu Buhari has avowed that he would take-no-prisoners, guided by respect for the rule of law. 
 
“We invite Nigerians to stand with an administration that has done so much on asset recovery, prosecution, legislation, political will and leadership by example in the fight against corruption.
 
“Equally, we urge our friends in the media, development partners and the civil society organizations to continue to support efforts to strengthen accountability, transparency, ethical values and integrity in Nigeria’s public sector.
 
“President Buhari has put his hand to the plough and will not relent in working with those passionate about the welfare, stability and prosperity of future generations to come in Nigeria.”

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