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Unexplained wealth and anti-graft campaign

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President Muhammadu Buhari Photo:Twitter

The desire expressed by former Senate Leader, Mohammed Ali Ndume for President Muhammadu Buhari to issue an executive order to curtail the increasing case of unexplained wealth in the country raises a fundamental question on the government’s anti-corruption campaign so far. There is a patent misnomer in the hype with which the campaign is being made while at the same time, many Nigerians are springing up in sudden wealth with no visible source, and no queries. This phenomenon surely needs more than cursory attention if it is not to make a mockery of the government’s campaign.

The narrative of Nigeria as a nation of fraudsters and conmen is totally wrong. However, the activities of a few Nigerians have led to this unwholesome blanket stigmatisation of a whole populace of hardworking and honest people. When President Muhammadu Buhari was campaigning for office in 2015, he made the now popular proclamation that “if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria”. Candidate Buhari then was expected to, as a “man of integrity”, give corruption a big fight. Surprisingly, the tempo of corruption has not abated since he became president and many have marvelled that in spite of the effort of his administration in this fight against corruption, the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index for Nigeria has even worsened since 2015 when Buhari came into power.

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A clear manifestation of corruption in the country is the preponderance of unexplained wealth in Nigerian society. Many Nigerians display wealth that cannot be legitimately traceable to their means of livelihood. This is pervasive and sickening. People acquire assets that are way beyond what their legitimate incomes can justify. A great number of civil servants who ordinarily should live modestly, given their income levels, are known to own expensive real estate locally and abroad. Many of the houses in estates in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja are owned by civil servants and nobody is asking questions. The salary and earnings of public servants are publicly available information. The display of unexplained wealth is one area where the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) can focus on, particularly at this time when the agency has a newly appointed young and vibrant Chairman.

In this connection, the issue raised by Ndume is worth serious consideration, going forward. Certainly, unexplained wealth is in abundance in this country and is a pointer to deep corruption and crime. For the few that get apprehended in this matter, the resort to plea-bargaining by the judicial system tends to grant these fraudsters some undeserving soft landing. In as much as some stolen wealth are recovered by this means, a review of its implementation may be necessary so that inadvertently, crime would not be encouraged, with looters of the people’s commonwealth giving up a little portion of their ill-gotten wealth to buy their freedom.

Indeed government needs to look beyond proclaiming an executive order, to promulgating stringent laws to tackle unexplained wealth, if this will be more effective. Asset declaration by civil servants and political office holders needs to be enforced and judiciously implemented. A society cannot thrive when “never-do-wells” constitute the rich and affluent while the hardworking and diligent are the impoverished. Lopsided appointments and the seeming promotion of nepotism as state policy, particularly under the Buhari administration have made life more difficult for people from some parts of the country, relative to others. Failure to address unexplained wealth has encouraged crimes such as kidnapping and cybercrime, which some people indulge in just to show that they too can “make it” and become “big boys and girls”. Not addressing this issue of unexplained wealth has made the government, by extension to lose revenue through unpaid taxes.

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Apart from public officials involved in fraud and financial crimes, the focus should also be on ritualists, internet fraudsters, and scammers or “yahoo plus” boys as well as kidnappers, among others. Sadly, Nigerian society is complicit in this matter because it worships rich men without bothering about their sources of wealth. These unwholesome manifestations have clearly brought out the distortions in the Nigerian society, where hardworking young men and women find it difficult to eke out a living while dubious characters come out quickly as “successful” to the detriment of societal values and national development. Currently, young ladies prefer to join brothels, as prostitutes in Europe than focus on legitimate businesses or studies at home. The argument has been that those who have “played to the rules” in Nigerian society end up being jobless, impoverished, and hopeless, without anything tangible to show for their efforts and integrity.

The need for a well-articulated legal instrument is necessary to address unexplained wealth, unjust plea-bargaining, and the need to promote a culture of hard work and earning of honest income, as a means of instilling in the youths that hard work pays and that crime does not. Nigeria needs to improve on its ranking on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. Contrary to its claims or its promises during the electioneering campaign, this government has not done enough to fight corruption. The Buhari government needs to turn the corner, at least for the remaining period of its tenure. The new EFCC boss needs some new fillip to intensify this momentum in the quest to minimise the incidence of corruption in Nigeria.

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