Let’s face it, corruption is presently the most popular culture in our nation today. It has been entrenched so deeply in our national consciousness that it now seems odd not to practice it. And anyone who sticks out his/her neck in an attempt to check it would likely have his/her neck chopped off.
So, it is no surprise that those calling for the head of the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, are those whose means of livelihood are tied to the corrupt sources that are under ferocious attack from the former World Bank czar who is putting measures in place to block leakages in the system.
To have a proper understanding of my point, we need to take a mental flight from where we were to our present state. We live in an interesting time in the history of our nation. Things are happening so fast. While Boko Haram is wreaking havoc in the northern part of the country, our lower legislative chamber is clawing its way out of a mire of bribery scandal.
Let us recollect that shortly before the arrival of Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala in the cabinet of Goodluck Jonathan in the latter part of 2011, the recurrent expenditure in our national budget for that year stood at an embarrassing 74%. But, she would have none of it, and proceeded to reduce it to 71.47% in the 2012 budget, much to the chagrin of some vested interests. Still not satisfied with that, she affirmed that the sum would be further reduced to 68.66% in the proposed 2013 budget.
Mind you, this reduction in the recurrent expenditure started with cuts in personnel cost without the sack of any worker. What this means is that the minister has succeeded in checking the menace of ghost workers in the Nigerian system to a considerable extent. Yet, she seems not done, as she has also publicly announced her intention to keep reducing the recurrent expenditure from the present figure to about 50 per cent in the coming years.
Let us look at the budget implementation palaver which generated so much heat lately. In a far departure to what was obtainable in the country’s finance landscape, where disbursement of funds to MDAs was much like a bazar, the finance minister told us that she has instituted a due diligence process whereby all funds expended by MDAs have to be acknowledged and accounted for before further funds are released to them. This measure, more than anything, put the MDAs on their toes, because subsequent disbursements to them are now tied to performance that would impact on Nigerians and not just the usual hoo-hah about grandiose initiatives which never got implemented, whilst taxpayers’ monies are stocked up in high interest-yielding private accounts of crooked civil servants, government officials and politicians.
In the wake of the brouhaha of this budget implementation saga, the minister is once quoted to have affirmed that, “The issue at stake is more than MDAs getting money. MDAs should get money, but only when the purposes for which they are released are accomplished and properly accounted for. Nigerians deserve no less!”
This makes it clear that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala is as concerned as the social crusader next door that Nigerians get the best deal in budget implementation and not just media hypes of projects that are only implemented on paper.
But, it seems our lawmakers see things differently. Their ranting about budget implementation betrayed their impatience with the finance minister whom they seem to expect to disburse funds without checks – they way it’s always been done in our clime. Perhaps, they can’t bear the thought of losing their cut from monies disbursed to the MDAs when they go in the guise of oversight functions.
The waves of checks instituted by the finance ministry also extended to the country’s goose-that-lays-the-golden-egg – the petroleum industry – where a clam on fraudulent claims by oil marketers has pitched the minister against fuel marketers and their sympathisers in NUPENG. We could recall that, prior to this period, oil marketers were having a field day, as any claim brought forward were speedily processed and paid without a second look. But when Okonjo Wahala, as madam minister is dreadfully called by those at the receiving end of her reforms, business ceased to be done as usual.
At a press conference to announce the NUPENG’s intention to side with crooked oil marketers over dispute on subsidy claims, the President of the union, Mr. Achese Igwe, brazenly called for the resignation of the finance minister. To observers, the call for the resignation of Mrs Okonjo-Iweala was quite ridiculous. Because, rather than commending her for ensuring that taxpayers’ money is prudently managed, the hitherto noble union chose to side with the “enemies of Nigerians” whose sole aim is to sap the nation dry.
The foregoing confirms the homegrown truism that ‘when you fight corruption, corruption fights you back’; and it fights back with even greater vigour. It is, therefore, no surprise that calls for the resignation of madam minister are coming from those threatened by her determination to restore fiscal discipline and accountability in our economic system, which already has a global reputation for sleaze.
Since it is now so apparent that those against madam Ngozi’s anti-corruption stance are unrelenting in their bid to see her through the exit door, it is therefore imperative that those discerning amongst us rise up to join forces with the reforms army and resist the enemies of our collective resources and wellbeing.
We must be wise and know who is truly on the side of Nigerians.
Omoade Adelani is a Lagos-based social commentator.