Bringing corruption to its knees, by Ayobami Ismail Akanji
“Corruption is a true enemy to development.” – Sakhiagiin Elbegdorjt
The fight against corruption by the present administration has to be critically and objectively assessed to be able to understand its dialectics and dynamics.
No patriotic Nigerian should see corruption expanding in scope as if it is a productive venture. Criticising the way and manner it is being fought at present is not the issue; the fact is that it must be collectively fought to a halt.
Now let us go through a preview of how the Buhari administration has been handling financial recklessness and gross leadership indiscipline that dominated the Nigerian economy.
Nigerians are horrified by the mind boggling reports on sabotage of the national economy by past government officials, through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. The revitalized anti-corruption agency, from indications, has performed creditably in spearheading the fight against the monster of corruption which in the past had threatened to pull down Nigeria. One of the shocking recoveries made by the EFCC involves forfeiture of $153.3 million dollars or N33.1 billion by former minister of petroleum allegedly stolen from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, $9.2 million and £750,000 seized in cash from a former GMD of the NNPC.
The Muhammadu Buhari administration has devised multiple tactics in fighting corruption, one of which is the whistle blowing policy, yet to be a law but being implemented as an executive order, with the sole aim of encouraging Nigerians to expose corruption and also protect the identity of the whistle-blower. The policy guarantees 2.5 per cent or 5 per cent of the money recovered for the whistle-blower. This policy is yielding the requisite results as $151 million and N8 billion looted funds were recovered within two months of its launch.
However, this seems to be a droplet in the ocean of sleaze perpetuated. Not too long ago, a Federal High Court ordered the interim forfeiture of Oil Prospecting Licence (OPL 245) christened Malabu Oil, considered to be the most enormous oil block in Africa with proven crude in the region of 9 billion barrels, with a larger volume of gas reserves with a market value of $1.1 billion already shared by few individuals at the detriment of Nigeria and currently subject of investigation in Italy and the United Kingdom.
Corruption over the years has been at the heart of Nigeria’s problem. Regimes were changed in the past on accounts of phenomenal acts of corruption allegedly perpetrated by leaders, all eroding public trust in government, undermining the rule of law, weakening the state’s ability to raise revenue for critical projects, while fuelling violent extremism.
The social media savvy politician, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, aptly captured the fears of the witch-hunt mongers when he tweeted – “the administration’s anticorruption war isn’t a witch hunt, in my opinion, we need it. If you’re innocent, prove your innocence. Don’t say witch hunt”.
So far EFCC has secured 187 convictions, frozen N126 billion in just 120 accounts, the disclosure by the interim forfeiture of funds that over N1.9 trillion has been recovered from leaders who were trusted with public funds but lacked the capacity to treat the nation’s treasury with discipline and integrity. Add N32.8 billion from suspects implicated in the Police Pension Office.
The Attorney General of the Federation mentioned that his office recovered N15 billion and $10.5 million when he met the Senate committee on Judiciary. Little wonder Nigeria is in an economic mess.
Corruption has been so entrenched in the past that it somewhat took a garb of a government policy, wherein funds meant for development of critical infrastructure were doled out as patronage. Today the story is different. All loopholes for stealing of government funds have been blocked. This has informed the new cliché “no food for the boys” or “Baba no dey play ball”. The bad old days now appears gone forever.
The good news is that the current Sherriff abhors corruption ab initio; he is enthroning a new financial order whose sole objective is to curtail financial indiscipline and implement probity in the institutions of governance.
We have seen a deliberate policy thrust of government in restructuring cash flow, viewed through the all-encompassing implementation of the Treasury Single Account to reduce the number of accounts in operation and monitor government funds while the Efficiency Unit (E-Unit) serves as benchmark for government spending in the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). The TSA has helped in reducing the number of accounts in operation, while monitoring and firm control has significantly improved, with 976 MDAs currently subscribed to the TSA.
The Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, disclosed that the TSA has significantly witnessed an increase to the tune of N4.3 trillion, noting the Ministry’s inclusion of additional revenues hubs; shipping levies, airport landing charges, visa fess will increase revenue.
President Buhari’s commitment to the fight against corruption is boosting Nigeria leadership role internationally, the badge of honour is Nigeria’s membership of the Open Government Partnership, a global body committed to accountability and transparency in the management of public office.
To underscore his commitment, the president will sign an executive order mandating over 500 MDAs to embrace open contracting. The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative is already keying into this laudable policy, its beneficial ownership disclosure makes it compulsory to report owners of companies operating in the extractive industries and have a public register of owners and corporate entities. This will eliminate corruption through transparency and accountability in the extractive industry and help track illicit financial flow.
Meanwhile, pragmatic efforts are apace to sanitise the federal payroll of 1.2 million public servants with a wage bill of N165 billion per month inherited by the current administration.
“The Federal government payroll has been rid of 50,000 ghost workers, saving the country a huge amount of N200 billion while 11 persons championing the syndicate of ghost workers have been handed over to the EFCC,” presidential spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu, revealed recently.
The stamping out of large-scale corruption and inefficiency which characterized the Nigerian polity in the past has started to propel governance as an institution under President Buhari. It is also pertinent to allude to the political will in loosening the economy from the firm grip of corruption, while the problem of unnecessary bureaucratic bottle neck is being addressed. Indeed, the present government is providing the enabling environment for growth and job creation now being spearheaded by the private sector.
It is obvious even to the doubting Thomas that President Buhari is establishing a formidable structure and institutional reforms that will outlive his presidency.
. Akanji, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja.