Corruption is a cancer: a cancer that eats away at a citizen’s faith in democracy, diminishes the instinct for innovation and creativity; already-tight national budgets, crowding out important national investments. It wastes the talent of entire generations. It scares away investments and jobs.
Since the year 2018 when Nigeria entered the inglorious record as the nation with the largest population of members of the human race that are absolutely poor, I have learnt not to regard poverty simply as an academic concept but as a concrete existential experience that we feel, touch and smell all around us in Nigeria.
A practical demonstration of this shift in outlook was in the year 2020 during the heat of COVID -19 pandemic and the concomitant lockdown of the economy that followed strenuous efforts by World’s government to defeat the newly found virus.
For us in Nigeria, the period of Covid-19 lock down was that of survival by the fittest especially for millions of those commoners already classified as being absolutely poor.
This unfortunate scenario forced hundreds of thousands of starving Nigerians to pour out on the streets in search of houses of very affluent Nigerians to search for food to stay alive.
Coincidentally, the massive hunger that buffeted millions of Nigerians and forced them to fight to stay alive, happened together with the nationwide protests by Nigerians against police brutality.
Eventually, for some of these hundreds of thousands of desperately hungry Nigerians who were famished to the point of near- death, the discovery of many warehouses of government and those of prominent politically connected individuals whereby edibles and ready to cook foodstuffs such as indomie noodles in thousands of cartons provided the much needed succour for these people and as is said, a hungry man is an angry man, these warehouses and private residences were looted and all these concealed foodstuffs of assorted varieties were carted away by the poorest of the poor who went wild and uncontrollable.
This recollection is in no way a provision of some forms of moral justifications for the crime of looting these foodstuffs, but again, what should the starving populace do when deaths were inevitable from starvation and there they came face to face with foodstuffs? To make matters worse, most of these publicly procured foodstuffs found were meant to be distributed to the wretched population who nevertheless were shortchanged.
Those who hid foodstuffs meant for the poor were simply exhibiting the tendency of corruption and kleptocracy that dominate public life even today and which is posing serious challenges to governance as it were.
One would ordinarily think that the record breaking and laudable breakthrough of scientists in finding some medical means like vaccines to ameliorate the global impact of the once dreaded Covid -19 virus would at least reduce the rate of poverty in Nigeria.
However, rather than abate, poverty in Nigeria is ballooning out of control just as many more Nigerians are falling into poverty due to corruption by government officials of all levels.
One of the most troubling sources of corruption in Nigeria is crude oil theft which has dovetailed into the scarcity of foreign exchange that has gradually crippled the economy thereby shooting up the costs of living. This much was disclosed by the central bank governor who nevertheless did not hit the nail on the head by not naming crude oil theft as the primary source of corruption that dried up the much needed foreign exchange to power many productive businesses and services to yield incimes and give succour to the population of Nigerians.
But we all know that crude oil theft is the fundamental kind of corruption today. By the way, President Muhammadu Buhari just awarded the security of crude oil pipelines to Government Ekpemupolo, also known as Tompolo, a former Niger Delta armed militant.
So you then begin to wonder about the unchecked trends of Crude oil theft amidst the presence of the armed forces which made President Muhammadu Buhari take this seemingly illegal step of assigning the job of securing crude oil pipelines to a private person. This shows that corruption has crippled the operational capacity of the military. This much was also disclosed recently by the chairman of the independent corrupt practices and related offences commission. The ICPC chairman confessed that Nigeria is endowed with the required resources to make life better for Nigerians but that government officials are stealing these cash.
Then again, there is another subset of governmental corruption which has to do with the so-called subsidy payments for fuel importation which constitute the bulk of petrol consumed in Nigeria. The Nigerian Customs and the NNPC are at logger head on which of these institutions is more corrupt in this area.
We will take all these one after the other but first, let us read what the central bank of Nigeria has to say on why there is no foreign exchange for local manufacturers for the local economy to stay alive so millions of our people won’t continue to cascade into the poverty trap.
The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, had blamed the low revenue inflow from oil sales for the nation’s current foreign exchange crises.
Mr. Emefiele stated this during a panel session at the Nigeria International Economic Partnership Forum held in New York, United States of America.
Emefiele may have backed the President who claimed that Nigeria has for several months, failed to meet its Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries(OPEC).
The CBN governor said that the nation’s crude oil revenue further dropped in August as oil production slumped to 900,000 barrels from one million barrels recorded in July according to the latest OPEC monthly oil report.
The development, according to him, led to massive depreciation of the Naira with the exchange rate at the Import and Export window crashing to N436 to $1.
He said the CBN was already addressing the situation with its RT 200 project which will help boost foreign exchange supply with non-oil export proceeds repatriation.
Emefiele said in the first quarter of 2022, export repatriation was about $64 million, second quarter rose to $622 million, while the third quarter increased to $954 million,with projections that by the last quarter, the figures would have increased further.
He regretted that Nigeria is still highly dependent on oil revenue to support its import obligations, while assuring that the government was aggressively looking at non- export for foreign exchange proceeds, to shore up the deficit in the months to come.
The CBN boss assured that Nigeria remains the best investment haven where returns on investment is guaranteed.
This was even as he noted that the country’s foreign exchange repatriations have equally dropped.
The Central Bank governor was so shy to identify the cause of this shortage of foreign exchange but not so with the man heading the Nigerian Customs. He has so much to tell us about the corruption perpetrated by officials and bureaucrats in the NNPC.
The Nigeria Customs Service recently questioned the National Petroleum Company Limited’s claim that the country consumes 60 million litres of petrol daily.
The Customs comptroller-general, Hameed Ali, during a session with the House of Representatives’ Committee on Finance on Thursday, said if the company puts daily consumption of petrol at 60 million litres, why does it allow 98 million litres to be lifted daily.
“I remember that last year we spoke about this. Unfortunately, this year, we are talking about subsidy again. The over N11 trillion we are going to take as debt, more than half of it is going for subsidy. The issue is not about the smuggling of petroleum products. I have always argued this with NNPC,” Mr Ali said.
“If we are consuming 60 million litres of PMS per day, by their own computation, why would you allow the release of 98 million litres per day? If you know this is our consumption, why would you allow that release?” he asked.
“Scientifically, you cannot tell me that if I fill my tank today, or tomorrow, I will fill the same tank with the same quantity of fuel. If I am operating a fuel station today and I go to Minna depot, lift petrol and take it to Kaduna, I may get to Kaduna in the evening and offload that fuel. There is no way I would have sold off that petrol immediately to warrant another load. So, how did you get to 60 million litres per day?
“That computation, to me, is not believable, because scientifically you cannot tell me that if I fill my tank today, tomorrow I will fill my tank with the same quantity of fuel. And if I’m running a petrol station today, if I go to Minna depot and lift, and I’m taking to Kaduna, I may reach Kaduna in the evening and offload that product; there’s no way I could have sold that petrol immediately to warrant another load.”
Mr Ali also opposed claims that the smuggling of petroleum contributes to the huge amounts being paid for subsidy.
“So, how did you get to 60 million litres per day? That is my question. The issue of smuggling, if you release 98 million litres in actuality and 60 million litres are used, the balance should be 38 million litres. How many trucks will carry 38 million litres every day? Which road are they following and where are they carrying this thing to?”
Here however is the biggest of the revelations from the ICPC.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC raised the alarm that money to fix Nigeria is in the country, but being stolen on a daily basis and made possible through pervasive systemic or malignant corruption in the country.
According to ICPC, on electronic transactions alone, N24trillion has been transacted between January to June this year , which is always about N50trillion yearly, adding that Corruption in Nigeria is highly systemic or malignant by being carried out in most of the government owned agencies , particularly the revenue generating ones .
Speaking on Wednesday in Abuja as Guest Speaker at the 2 – day Capacity – Building Workshop organized for members of the House of Representatives Committee on Anti – Corruption and Military Officers by the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies ( NILDS) , Chairman of ICPC, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye declared that from 19 of such agencies, he disclosed, ICPC intercepted N181million attempted to be diverted or stolen by corrupt public officers between January and June this year, saying ” we are not in short supply of anti – corruption legislations but grossly in short supply of integrity.
“If not for lack of integrity from affected public officers , Nigeria has enough anti – corruption agencies or institutions to stem the tide of systemic corruption.
” Aside from ICPC and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission ( EFCC) , public institutions like the Bureau for Public Procurement ( BPP), the Central Bank of Nigeria ( CBN) and 45 others are anti-corruption regulatory bodies.
“The CBN is an anticorruption gatekeeper, the Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission, ICRC is an anticorruption gatekeeper…I could go on, many of them like that, if you aggregate them, you would get like about 50.
“Most regulatory bodies also play an anti-corruption role. Virtually, all professions are regulated…and every unethical practice that is carried out by these professionals is already prohibited by their rules, so we are not in short supply of anti corruption institutions but what we are in short supply of, is integrity. We have a generous supply of hypocrisy, and we also deceive ourselves.
”But despite the required legislations or laws to fight the cankerworm, lack of integrity and political will from those saddled with running of the agencies , make corruption to be so pervasive in the country.
”Unfortunately, since corruption erodes the capacity of the state or government to provide welfare for the people it is also fueling and aggravating insecurity in the land.
”If corruption is fought to standstill by all relevant agencies and public officers , it will be discovered that the money to fix Nigeria , is in Nigeria and not elsewhere because N24trillion was spent on monitored electronic transactions alone among Nigerians within Nigerians from January to June this year, which runs to about N50trillion yearly.
“Corruption is an existential issue for us as a country, and so, we need to have conversation around it.”
The ICPC boss who noted that factors like weak legislative oversights by relevant committees of the National Assembly, contracts variations and duplications by MDAs, tax avoidance, evasion and underserved waivers etc are the channels through which corrupt practices are carried out in Nigeria, however blamed his colleagues in the legal profession, who at times would be acting for clients against the Commission, who are serving public servants involved in corrupt practices of using public funds for execution of projects through companies they have interests in.
According to him, it is illegal for such clients to be involved in such businesses at that time, and also ethically wrong for them to award such contracts to companies where they have interests, adding that such ethical breaches ought to be dealt with properly. From the aforementioned, it is clear that fighting corruption has really never formed the strategic interest of the current administration. If truly, President Muhammadu Buhari is out to fight corruption, why is there no effort to kick out and prosecute persons in those anti-graft institutions mentioned by the Chairman of the ICPC that are not enforcing the required laws against procurement corruption in the ministries and other agencies of government? The developed nations are however still doing business with a government under whose watch corruption has ballooned out of control. So what is the essence of setting up an initiative against corruption when the government of America initiating this step is deeply in business with such corrupt governments like we have in Nigeria or Uganda?
From a Fact Sheet of December 9th 2021 endorsed by President Joe Biden announcing the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal, the President of the UnitedStates summed up why he is introducing that anti corruption initiative and stated that “In the face of the sustained and alarming challenges to democracy and universal human rights around the world, more than ever, democracy needs champions.”
The fact Sheet says that the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal represents a significant, targeted expansion of U.S. Government efforts to defend, sustain, and grow democratic resilience with likeminded governmental and non-governmental partners. In the coming year, the United States is planning to provide up to $424.4 million toward the Presidential Initiative, working with Congress and subject to the availability of appropriations. These efforts will center on five areas of work crucial to the functioning of transparent, accountable governance:
Supporting Free and Independent Media;Fighting Corruption;Bolstering Democratic Reformers;Advancing Technology for Democracy;Defending Free and Fair Elections and Political Processes;Fighting Corruption. It will also be Supporting Anti-corruption Change Agents.To support and connect anti-corruption actors across civil society, media, academia, and labor organizations, USAID will provide up to $5 million to launch the Empowering Anti-Corruption Change Agents Program, which will promote protective measures for whistleblowers, civil society activists, journalists, and others at risk due to their anti-corruption work. The State Department, joined by other donors, will build on its support for the Global Anti-Corruption Consortium (GACC) by providing up to $6 million to enhance the GACC’s work to connect media and civil society organizations with one another, expose ill-gotten gains, and support legal or policy changes in support of anti-corruption objectives.
It will work towards Curbing Corruption through Strategic and Regulatory Action. Earlier that week, (December 9th 2021) the U.S. Government unveiled its first-ever United States Strategy on Countering Corruption, which provides a blueprint for cracking down on corruption at home and abroad. In support of this strategy, the Treasury Department will enact regulations to increase transparency in the U.S. real estate market by establishing reporting requirements for those closest to real estate transactions. In parallel, the State Department, working with the Departments of Treasury and Justice, will provide up to $15.1 million to launch the Democracies Against Safe Havens Initiative, which will work to build the capacity of partner governments to deny corrupt actors the ability to hide ill-gotten gains through anti-money laundering measures, to encourage like-minded partners to adopt anti-corruption sanctions and visa restriction regimes, and to detect and disrupt complex corruption schemes.
For us commoners, fighting corruption vigorously from home and finding strong institutional supporting platforms such as the initiative just unveiled by President Joe Biden, is a dream come through if meticulously implemented and not tainted by bureaucracy. We need to fight corruption to overcome mass poverty if Nigeria won’t slide into full blown anarchy whereby MIGHT BECOMES RIGHT.
EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and one time National commissioner of the NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.