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Fighting corruption vs fighting corrupt people


Martins Oloja

Martins Oloja

Writing about corruption has become quite boring here these days. People are becoming increasingly un-shock-able (about corruption stories) as Dele Giwa observed in his Parallax Snaps years ago. Most interested people like Seun Onigbinde, the big-data man, are now observing the figures, data behind the facts rather than facts behind the figures. Some others care simply about who has been caught again with how much and where the arrested persons hail from. The latest and the juiciest graft story in global context has been tales from the infamous “Panama Papers”.

Despite the banality of the stories about corruption in Nigeria, I was attracted last Saturday by a contextualization of the corruption story by a financial expert, Taiwo Oyedele, Tax Partner at PwC, Nigeria who was speaking to the issue of untapped revenue sources in Nigeria at Poju Oyemade’s Covenant Christian Centre’s “The Platform, Abuja”.

Mr. Oyedele, the record youngest partner at PwC Nigeria who lamented the paucity of Nigeria’s annual revenue from oil put at paltry $30 billion at the current exchange rate, noted that, that was barely the U.S Justice Department’s annual budget.

He quoted from a report of a recent survey of 189 countries on tax revenue and reported that Nigeria ranked 181. The tax master raised more consciousness and received some plaudit when he contextually reported that it could be mind-bugling how it has been possible for public officers to loot from the paltry $30 billion worth of budget.

The man who was also concerned that Nigeria could only get one per cent (1%) of GDP on real estate, for instance, decried absence of political will to build institutions that can deal with corruption that has ruthlessly diminished the country. It was in this context he noted that from the look of things in Nigeria at the moment, “we are not fighting corruption, we are only fighting some corrupt people” and this resonated with the audience that cheered him.

According to him “if you want to fight corruption, you have to put some political and economic institutions in place.” He rounded off his submission on Nigeria beyond oil with a caveat to Nigerians who believe so much in prayer without work when he said, “It is a disrespect to God for asking Him to do what He has empowered us to do… Prayer is good but we must act…”

All told, citizen Oladele is not a politician. He may not be a prominent Nigerian but he is a significant technocrat whose view should not be read in political context as we often do in the country. Instead of listening to the message most times here, we go for the jugular of the messenger. We label the messenger, no matter how significant, as an irredentist who is speaking for a tribe or religion. Citizen Oladele who consults for the World Bank as a writer on the “Doing Business” annual index, should be regarded as a remarkable voice from the office of citizen. A U.S Supreme Court Justice (1939-1962) Felix Frankfurter who died in February 1965 had noted that, “In a democracy, the highest office is the office of citizen”.

It is, therefore, pertinent to advise the president and his men that this expert’s view that there is a significant difference between “fighting corruption” and “fighting just corrupt people” should be contextually examined in a seminar that should be geared towards building institutions. As the administration will be marking one year in office this month, there is a need to shift focus from blaming past governments about corruption. Walter Rodney, a Guyanese scholar wrote his classic, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa in 1973. But since then, Africa has done nothing to reshape its destiny from the debris of architecture in the ruins that Rodney drew attention to 43 years ago.

Unfortunately, corruption is as old as the country itself. As a corollary, ten years after Rodney’s scholarly book, Professor Chinua Achebe in 1983, wrote his own classic entitled, The Trouble with Nigeria. On page 37 of the 68-page book is chapter 8 on Corruption. Here is the opening paragraph of the chapter:

Quite recently, an astonishing statement credited to President Shagari was given some publicity in Nigeria and abroad. According to the media, our President said words to the effect that there was corruption in Nigeria but that it had not yet reached alarming proportions. My frank and honest opinion is that anybody who can say that corruption is Nigeria has not yet become alarming is either a fool, a crook or else does not live in this country. Shagari is neither a fool nor a crook. So, I must assume that he lives abroad. Which is not strange or fanciful as some might think. Many Presidents, especially Third World Presidents, do not live in their country…

The first chapter of the book is “Where the problem lies. And here is the first paragraph on that same page 1:
The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example, which are hallmarks of true leadership…

What all this means is that in Nigeria, corruption has for long been a bad ulcer that thrives on the medications applied to it. And sadly as it is in India, as an Indian writer, C. P. Srivastava observed since 2001, corruption is the real enemy within. The Indian author wrote a well-researched book in 2001 entitled, Corruption: India’s Enemy Within. And so it is with Nigeria: Corruption, yes, corruption is “the trouble with Nigeria”. It is the “enemy within”. It is Nigeria’s bogeyman, its cankerworm, its grand old party. It is Nigeria’s stronghold that must be brought down.

But the challenge before the present leadership in Nigeria that has declared war on the scourge is to spot the real difference between “fighting corruption” and “fighting corrupt people” as is being done now through an ill-equipped agency and uncooperative legal and judicial systems. Corrupt people can be defeated somehow but corruption may continue to grow luxuriantly like yam tendrils in the raining season if the institutions of governance are not reformed to prevent it.

Specifically, it should be noted that it is too early to begin campaigns for 2019 as some ruling party strategists have started doing. After all, the best campaign platform without violence is performance index of the ruling party. Therefore, real focus should be on how to reform the public service to prevent corruption. A system that allows the National Security Adviser’s Office to have more slush funds than budgets of the Ministries of Defence, Interior, Works and Power together needs an urgent reform. A system that allows permanent secretaries and directors to collaborate with ministers and chief executives to loot a national treasury without any audit alarms needs a comprehensive overhaul. Even a National Assembly bureaucracy that cannot raise audit queries to the presiding officers and raise alarms when they collaborate in executive sessions to ‘legisloot’ needs to be crashed for a rejig. What is more, a bureaucratic mechanism even in the judiciary that allows judges in the Temple of Justice to be perceived to be wealthier than the Dangote’s needs some operational review. And as the Vice President observed recently, a system that does not check lifestyles of its public officers needs to be thoroughly overhauled for operational efficiency. Any financial services system that cannot scan apparent wealth without work needs a quick diagnosis.

Corrupt people can be defeated somehow but corruption may continue to grow luxuriantly like yam tendrils in the raining season if the institutions of governance are not reformed to prevent it.

Therefore, the starting point is for the president’s men to begin asking hard questions about impotence or absence of certain institutions that should assist in fighting corruption. They should, for instance, ask why even the EFCC and Mr. Steve Oronsaye have been at loggerheads over the Financial Intelligence Bill (FIB) that has been stalled in the National Assembly. Oronsaye’s trouble may be remotely connected with a dispute over where the Financial Intelligence Unit should be domiciled, after all. The EFCC wants it while Oronsaye who has been the arrowhead of the Bill and has been facing implications of its absence in Nigeria at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meetings wants it domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria. FATF officials always wonder why Nigeria that is grossly entombed in corruption pool has not enacted this law since 2004 when EFCC was established. After all, the EFCC was primarily established to obtain FATF certification. The “Panama Papers” issues would have been expeditiously dealt with if we had had the Financial Intelligence Unit (anywhere) in Nigeria. The Bill has suffered many reverses in the National Assembly.

The EFCC-Oronsaye silent war killed it in the last session. Besides, as corruption has begun to fight corruption, the president’s men need to hold a serious seminar on how to get the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation to work. If it is allowed to work according to the enabling law, that office will do better than the EFCC. That is the powerful office that India uses to fight corruption instead of fighting corrupt people. The Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation is the only (anti-graft) office that has the authority of the constitution to query appropriations to even the president’s office. The Office reports to only the Public Accounts Committees of the National Assembly, again only to the extent of submitting annual audit reports.

Therefore, the President should spring forth today and pay attention to a ruthless reorganization and purge of the civil service, no matter the owner of the ass that brays. It is only a reformed civil service with the backing of a strong presidency that can handle sustainable fight on corruption. If this is not done, perception will persist that Abuja is only fighting corrupt people instead of fighting corruption. And the consequence will be noisy articles soon on whether integrity is overrated, after all.

Inside Stuff Grammar School

Round Up Vs Round Off:
This school has observed that some users mix up these phrasal verbs. When you mean to end a course of events, you should use “round off”, not “round up”. “Round off” means to finish, complete or perfect. “Round Up” means “ to drive or bring (cattle, sheep, etc) together; to assemble, gather: as in to “round up” all the suspects in an investigation. “Round Off”: As I round off my presentation, please note the key points.
It is incorrect to “round up” a discussion point.

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