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Sleaze festers as anti-graft war gasps for breathe

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The coincidence is instructive. Barely 24 hours after Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, last Wednesday, carpeted the Federal Government for allegedly giving up on the battle against corruption, the Transparency International (TI) released its annual global corruption index whose fatwa aligned with Soyinka’s verdict.

Soyinka, while appearing on Africa Independent Television (AIT’s) morning magazine programme, Kakaaki, noted that the system had been so corrupted that cases are allowed to extend and eventually go silent with the deployment of all kinds of technicalities.

“There are so many people who should be in prison if this government had not run out of steam, and so the system is being manipulated, the laureate said, adding, “there are cases where the prosecution had reached the level where evidence had been given on governors who had been stealing and depositing in bits and pieces so as not to flout a certain regulation.

“I mean cases have been taken to that level and suddenly, silence. The EFCC, which I backed solidly ever since the days of (Nuhu) Ribadu, in all kinds of ways; we no longer can distinguish from right and left.”

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On whether the All Progressives Congress (APC)-dominated National Assembly (NASS) was not putting enough pressure on President Muhammadu Buhari, to give corruption a bloody nose, the playwright and essayist said the NASS has a lot of work as far as its relationship with Buhari is concerned.

He alleged that lawmakers scramble for committee positions “where I think all the goodies are shared” has compromised them. So, “it is the responsibility of the constituency to remind them of these derelictions; these failures to come up to scratch as expected when they come round next for election.”

In releasing its 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), the Berlin-based TI disclosed that Nigeria’s ratings plunged to 149 on a categorised scale for “highly corrupt” countries- three places down from its 146th position in 2019. The country had previously dropped from its 144th position on the CPI in 2018 to 146 in 2019.

The worsening public sector corruption ratings represent a consecutive decline in the country’s CPI performance under Buhari, who had launched an anti-corruption war when he assumed office in 2015.

In 2015, Nigeria was rated 154th on the global corruption index, but dropped five places to 159 in 2016. From there, it slumped to 171 in 2017.

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Last Thursday’s report listed Nigeria amongst countries that made little or no progress in the fight against corruption in recent years, citing propellants such as bribery and embezzlement, corruption in healthcare amongst others.

With the new rating, Nigeria is now officially the 13th most corrupt nation in Africa, and the second in West Africa.

Delia Ferreira Rubio, chairperson of TI, pointed out that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak fuelled sharp practices in the management of public finances, especially in highly corrupt countries.

Besides numerous allegations of unending looting of public resources by government officials and their cronies upon, which anti-graft agencies are yet to discharge their responsibilities creditably, the Kogi Governor, Yahaya Bello, recently queried how N3.5tn was purportedly spent by the Federal Government on COVID-19, in 10 months, by the administration.

In his 1, 909-word inaugural speech on May 29, 2015, Buhari promised to rid the country of corruption, while also calling on the judiciary “to act with dispatch on all cases, especially on corruption, serious financial crimes, or abuse of office.”

Almost six years after this pledge, the administration, rather than furnish Nigerians with a catalogue of its major achievements in this direction, is constantly lamenting how deep corruption has eaten into the society’s fabric, including government agencies.

Senate leader, Lawan. Photo: TWITTER/DRAHMADLAWAN

In the midst of this lamentation, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, two week ago, said that corruption, and inefficiency in regulatory agencies remain a worrisome phenomenon, stressing that henceforth heads of affected agencies must be held accountable for such misdemeanours.

Osinbajo, while presenting the “Cost of Compliance Report,” by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), to the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC), said that heads of regulatory agencies involved in several anti-business dispositions, including persistent corruption, duplicity of functions, and poor service orientation should be held accountable for service failures in the public sector.

Osinbajo’s frustrations were made known via a statement by his senior special assistant on media, Laolu Akande, titled, “Osinbajo To Regulatory Agencies: Everything We Do To Grow The Economy, Change Lives Of Nigerians Depends On Conducive Business Environment.”

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The statement read: “The Cost of Compliance Report, which was presented to the council at its first virtual meeting of the year on Tuesday (January 19) revealed persistent corruption, duplicity of functions, poor service orientation, and several anti-business disposition in some of the regulatory agencies.

“Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, who presided over the meeting directed that CEOs and heads of such government regulatory agencies involved should be presented with the outcomes and interaction should take place regarding some of the worrying disclosures in the report of the survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, PwC.”

The vice president was also quoted as saying that if the environment, on account of regulatory authorities, was so difficult, or expensive to the point that people were discouraged to do business, then the country would be harming itself with self-inflicted injuries.

His words: “If the environment on account of regulatory authorities is so difficult or expensive, such that people are discouraged or it doesn’t make sense for people to do business, then we are shooting ourselves in the foot in a manner we can only blame ourselves. These are human issues and we must do something very serious about them.”

He added: “I am in full support of holding our CEOs to account because they, in turn, must hold their staff to account. If there is systemic corruption, bribery, and extortion, and nobody is held to account, there is a problem.”

Within a few days of Osinbajo’s observation, a leaked memo also accused paramilitary agencies, including the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corp (NSCDC), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), and the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS), of monumental corruption and abuse of due process.

The document titled, “Fraud in all the agencies under the Federal Ministry of Interior,” which was sent to the minister, Rauf Aregbesola, and the media, made several corruption allegations against heads of the affected agencies.

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Electronically signed by some officers, the petitioners also appealed to the minister to investigate the deployment of all foreign aid in the last five years, adding that they were constrained to urgently draw the attention of the minister to “the perennial and undermining fraudulent acts being perpetrated by the leadership of all the paramilitary agencies and their shameless collaborators before it gets out of hand.”

Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila PHOTO:Twitter

They also urged Aregbesola to look into “disparities” in emoluments of officers with those outside the ministry “such as the Nigeria Police, as well as the payment of promotion arrears of men of the NSCDC, as officers were paid less than N4, 000 in respect of over two years promotion arrears.”

The complainants went on: “Sir, the following are our prayers: Probe into the reason for the non-implementation of the 2018 salary review in NSCDC, NIS, and NCoS which had been implemented in the police and other Federal Government agencies.

“Probe into the callous, sadistic and arbitrary removal of the Shift Allowance from the salaries of NSCDC officers in the year 2016, and the incomplete refund of the said allowance, as well as the refund for eight months of the allowance that is still outstanding, including promotion allowances of 2016-2017.”

Other issues raised in the document, include “45 per cent salary deductions made in the name of loans that were never taken and other salary deductions.”

LATELY, policy analysts, members of the organised labour, and the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), have slammed the government for paying lip service to corruption war, even as they are united in their submission that the fight against corruption has waned under the Buhari-led administration.

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In fact, they stressed that efforts of the current administration in tackling corruption, even within government circle was, at best, a losing battle, just as they maintained that inability of the government to curb corruption has several negative implications for the country such as high cost of doing businesses, low investors’ confidence and reduction in the rate of Direct Foreign Investment (FDI), which would have gone a long way in tackling unemployment.

According to the Assistant General Secretary, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Lagos Office, Chris Onyeka, the current corruption transparency rating has confirmed that the country has become more corrupt as reflected in the indices, which have all gone higher, adding that the level of inaction on the part of government, insecurity, and policy somersaults have joined forces to ensure that economy goes into a horrible situation.

He warned that until the basic needs of the citizenry and necessity of life are taken into cognisance, corruption would continue to thrive.

Giving NECA’S perspective to why Buhari has found it difficult to tackle corruption even in government circle five years after coming to power promising to improve the security environment and reviving the fight against corruption, its director-general, Dr. Timothy Olawale said Nigerians’ hope has been largely dashed following several evidence of high-level corruption and ineptitude displayed by both government officials and the public.

“We are cognisant of President Muhammadu Buhari’s aspirations and pledge to lead the anti-corruption campaign since the inception of this administration, through strengthening the whistleblowing initiative and protection, high-profile investigation of prominent individuals for large-scale theft of public funds, and the recovery of billions of naira by anti-corruption agencies like the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practice and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC). These efforts are essential, but cannot by themselves foster a sustainable, comprehensive reversal of long-established assumptions and practices in the absence of a decisive shift in public apathy, and a collective will to achieve behavioural change. In our opinion, good governance and promotion of accountability and desensitising citizens to its impacts will go a long way in curbing corruption in the society, and in the public sector.”

Wole Soyinka

The association regretted that, “despite a number of high-profile prosecutions in the early days of the Buhari-led administration, investigations have seldom led to significant convictions, anti-corruption institutions are still largely weak, while the challenging economy means that institutions like the EFCC does not have the resources, or the capacity to successfully prosecute a large number of complex fraud cases.

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“Also, the slow pace of court cases, and financial settlements made by wealthy individuals and entities outside of the courtroom have also impeded successful prosecutions, and corruption in the judicial system and challenges in securing sufficient evidence have also impeded prosecutions.”

“Corruption charges against some public officials and politicians have been put on hold, as some of the accused are now part of President’s Buhari’s administration,” he stated, adding that, “the president is saddled with several responsibilities, which include good governance – especially in the public sector, hence he has to take decisions that would either ensure the growth and development of the nation and to some extent the well-being of the citizens.”

Olawale continued: “One of the factors that appears to have made it difficult for the president to tackle corruption is lack of political will. This has been displayed on several occasions. For instance, Nigerians had expected that the Ahmed Joda Panel Report, and the Allison Ayida Report, which recommended the rationalisation of government agencies and parastatals would have been implemented, but they were not. The same fate would have been that of the Steve Oronsanye Report, but for outcry by the citizens.

“It has become worrisome that the president has not demonstrated the political will to confront corruption and all other malfeasance beyond rhetoric. This has emboldened aides and other corrupt officials to do as they like, with the economy being the worse for it.

Among others, NECA said the inability of the Federal Government to curb corruption has several negative implications for the country, “such as the high cost of doing businesses, low investors’ confidence and a reduction in the rate of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), which would have gone a long way in reducing the high rate unemployment. Nigerians can only continue to wage war against corruption by displaying sufficient political will, and by empowering anti-corruptions institutions, and the judiciary with the powers to carry out their duties without fear, or favour.

“Nigerians should also do their part to respect the law, and ensure that they vote in qualified candidates into electoral offices, not minding their tribe, or recourse to stomach infrastructure. Focus should be on political candidates’ vision and track record of performance.

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“Further more, the current administration efforts towards tackling corruption, even within the government circle seem a Herculean task and superficially a lost battle. In the eye of the Nigerian business community, corruption remains the bane of good governance; corruption tends to foster more corruption, perpetuating and entrenching social injustice in our daily lives. Going further, the architecture to tackle corruption should change from the traditional to innovative and complementary approaches. “

NECA particularly noted that if corruption is not wrestled to the floor, it would leave the nation operating in circles, and at the mercy of corrupt officials. This would affect the perception of the youths – who would be discouraged and unwilling to trust government. The resultant effect is brain drain. Corruption in whatever form destroys the fabric of the nation, be it in the health, financial, manufacturing, or any other sector. The resultant effect is that the country becomes import-driven and not production-driven.  Also, personal interests are promoted as against national interest. This does not aid in growth and development of nationhood.”

Kaigama

Sadly, “the lack of action by the government only fuels more corruption, ineptitude and desecration of our national institutions. Incapacitating of national institutions has the tendency to reduce investors’ confidence. In all, the economy suffers, and the people’s living standard reduces.

On the economic consequences of regulatory agencies being involved in persistent corruption and several anti-business dispositions, NECA maintains that corruption lowers investment and retards economic growth to a significant extent; reduces the effectiveness of aid flows through the diversion of funds. This ultimately helps support unproductive and wasteful government expenditures. It also leads to the loss of direct tax revenue, which reduces resources available for capital expenditure, while businesses are confronted with the challenge of attention to two or more regulatory agencies on the same subject matter. These Agencies might all be from either the Federal Government, or from each of the three tiers of government.

Many are still not satisfied with reforms in the nation’s business environment. Are there better ways that the government can turn things around, especially tackling institutional corruption? Olawale responded: “Government should strengthen the institutions to do their jobs and refrain from political interference. It should also provide an enabling environment for businesses to thrive through consultation with the private sector. This will encourage high rate of employment and wages. Efforts should also be made to strengthen the economy so that citizens are able to live a quality lives within their income.”

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NECA while commending the administration for identifying that corruption is an issue of concern, however, said it was not impressed on the general handling and tackling of corruption. “While the government has shown some grit, more can still be done to stop the seemingly rampant corruption. The government should strengthen institutions and shun interferrences to enable them perform optimally.

JIDE Ojo, a development consultant, author and public affairs analyst, sees no sufficient political will on the part of the people, who are supposed to help the president fight corruption.

He recalled the 2017 Auditor-General’s report, which called out several government functionaries for their failure to leave above board, stressing that no serious action has been taken against indicted persons up till now.
He canvassed for a whistleblower protection law, noting that in the last one year, whistleblowing has taken a back seat.

Ojo, who equally expressed displeasure with the anti-corruption fight of the present administration, said that the country was enmeshed in grand corruption, which is already an endemic challenge.
Going by the Corruption Perception Index, he said: “Nigeria is still not doing well. The position we are in is not an enviable position, 149 out of 180.”

Ojo recommended the infusion of technology in the fight against corruption, noting that there was the need to have creative and technology-driven anti-corruption mechanisms to fend off corruption.

“We need to elaborately deploy technology, and come up with the whistleblower protection law. We also need to have fool-proof ways where people can prove their sources of wealth, and the ability to track people’s assets through unique identity numbers..

“When civil servants and public office holders summit their assets declaration forms, the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) does not have enough resources to go and track and verify those assets. Without verification, somebody can make false claims. If you don’t mobilise resources for the CCB to be able to do effective, and efficient asset declaration verification, we are just wasting our time,” he said.

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The immediate past president of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Bobboi Kaigama, corroborates the view that corruption has been handled poorly by present administration.

While looking forward to a new dawn, especially now that the National Assembly and executive arm of government are on the same page when it comes to delivering the dividend of democracy, he said there should not be any slow down in the battle, rather a vigourous reinvigoration of the fight against corruption.

According to him: “The economy cannot develop when infrastructure are not put in place. So, the government should create an enabling environment for businesses to thrive. If educational infrastructure, and health systems are in place, nobody will wait for the government; investors will come. And if the level of corruption is brought to the barest minimum, the investment climate will be conducive for business. Buhari alone cannot tackle corruption, it is for everyone.”

For Paul Omoijiade, a labour expert, there is the compelling need for the government to put in place control measures to reduce incidences of corruption in its agencies and institutions.

Director-General of NECA, Mr Timothy Olawale

“For an economy that is struggling, we need the best to head such positions, and they must be willing to be above board. There is also the need to attract men that are experienced, knowledgeable and courageous enough to perform their duties and safeguard the interest of the nation,” Omoijiade said.

In her contribution, Country Programmes Director, Global Society for Anti-corruption (GSAC), Mrs. Amaka Nweke, noted that corruption has thrived because of the inability to create a strong system that holds people accountable, rather than following the slow judicial process that takes ages before justice is served.

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“If there are strong institutions that tackle corrupt cases and every day we see people go to jail for involving in corruption and their position withdrawn from them without pay, it would have served as lessons to others. A country where political office holders, who embezzle funds meant for projects, still move about freely simply encourages corruption. A situation, where it seems that only those that belong to the opposition that are found guilty of corruption makes it difficult for the citizens to believe in the corruption fight of this administration. But it should be pointed out that Buhari is not serious in the first place and does not possess the necessary attributes and ingredients of an anti-corruption agent,” she said.

The President of the International Solidarity for Peace and Human Rights Initiative (ISPHRI), Comrade Osmond Ugwu, said he had reservations about Buhari’s sincerity regarding the fight against corruption when it became a debate, and a struggle for him to declare his assets after being sworn in as the president in 2015. That was when I knew that he was not serious with his so-called fight against corruption. A man who has that genuine intention to fight against corruption must lead by example. The late resident Musa Yar’ Adua didn’t wait for anybody to make a demand before declaring his asset publicly. He did it with dispatch immediately after being sworn in.”

Ugwu, who claimed that the country was merely pretending to fight corruption in the last five years, stressed that the situation at hand could lead into anarchy as the president does not seem to understand what really constitutes corrupt acts.

“Even the president cannot objectively absolve himself of corruption judging from certain appointments and policies that he has made that are considered nepotistic in nature.

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Another development expert, Dr. Chiwuike Uba, is of the opinion that the anti-corruption fight has been politicised, ethnicised, and religionised, stressing therefore that no real effort is being made to genuinely wean the country of corruption.

Said he: “The case of the former Secretary to the Government of Federation, Babachir Lawal, and the Governor Abdulahi Ganduje of Kano State are clear examples of politicising the fight against corruption. It took months of pressure from the National Assembly and citizens for him to be sacked, and over two years before he was charged to court.

“The president cannot genuinely fight corruption when corruption is still endemic and encouraged by his administration. Focusing on bribery and stealing without addressing rent-seeking, political settlement, nepotism, elitist capture, and predatory corruption. Fighting corruption requires a holistic and integrated approach. For now, we have not started.”

On the implication of the government’s alleged lack of capacity to tackle corruption Uba stressed that the development has political, social, economic and spiritual implications.

“Obviously, if nothing is done to address the rioting, devouring, and devastating state of corruption in the country, Nigeria will experience civil unrests like never before. The poor and oppressed masses shall rise against the rich and the different levels of governments. This may even affect those who are genuinely right. It may lead to the shedding of blood,” she said.

Uba continued: “The inequality nightmare will certainly set in. As Sam Aluko said, ‘if the poor cannot sleep because they are hungry, the rich cannot also sleep because the poor are awake and hungry.’ We are reminded in the scriptures, that, ‘the sleep of a working man is sweet, whether he eats little, or much; but the full stomach (greed) of the rich (who hungers for even more) will not let him sleep.’ It is a call to duty for all. The citizens must continue to demand accountability.”

Uba, who is the Chairman of Amaka – Chiwuba Foundation, noted that corruption has a huge social impact and economic consequences.

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Citing another recent report by the PwC, where it was estimated that corruption could cost the country up to 37 per cent of GDP by 2030, which would be around $2, 000 (N1, 000, 000.00) per person that lives in the country by 2030, he stated that in addition to having negative implications on growth, investment activity, international trade, price stability, among others, it would reduce public trust and limit the ability of the government to collect taxes in a fair and efficient way.

He added: “Many people are also being denied basic public goods such as infrastructure for businesses, education and healthcare for households because government’s expenditure on the provision of public infrastructure is based on personal interests, rather than the public interest. We are all living witnesses to the cost of nepotism, cronyism, and patronage on the human capital development, the standard of living, security, and overall development of Nigeria.”

Ugwu who also spoke on the economic consequences of regulatory agencies being involved in persistent corruption, stated that such situations affect performance and businesses growth adversely. Also, “the economy will continue to dwindle with the danger of uncontrollable inflation and depression,” he stressed.

He added that since corruption was like waging a war against the collective interest of the people, winning such a war entails deep thinking, conception and imaginative ability of the leader, his deposition to make sacrifices in the interest of his people, and the kind of people he selects or chooses as his lieutenants, and soldiers for the war and their own depositions too.

“I do not see these in the present regime. There are a lot of biases that would make it impossible for this government to turn things around for the better in terms of the fight against institutional corruption. Ordinarily, I would have recommended a committed monetary mechanism, but where is the will? In the alternative, what government can do is to devote its energy and strength to creating an enabling environment for credible election that can give Nigerians credible leadership that will mean business in the fight against corruption,” Ugwu added.

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But turning things around, especially tackling institutional corruption, according to Uba, requires the deployment of modern technology, long-term integrated and coordinated strategy, institutional building for enforcement, judicial and correctional organisations, and the political will to hold those who break the law accountable, irrespective of the persons and the positions.

“In addition, there is a need to create an environment that encourages strong and accountable civil society organisations that oversight the government. Unfortunately, the Nigerian government is doing everything to stifle the civic space.

“One key approach to holding the government accountable in a sustainable manner will be to strengthen citizens’ demand for anti-corruption. The government must also guarantee openness, freedom of the press, transparency, and access to information. Transparency promotes demand for accountability. Finally, it is also very critical to ensure successful enforcement approaches that are supported by strong legal frameworks, well-trained and motivated law enforcement officers, and an independent and effective court system,” he explained.

“I am deeply in pain because the president has failed to leverage his political and social capital to weed corruption out of Nigeria. On his watch, according to various international and national reports, corruption has increased and developed stronger roots. His ‘95% -5% syndrome’ engraved corruption and made nepotism and cronyism the ‘rule of law’ in Nigeria, despite its attendant negative implications on the country’s economy. We are more divided now than we were in 2015. Thankfully, he still has about two years in office and it is my prayers that he is able to save Nigeria from crumbling completely, under the burden of corruption,” he said.

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