By Samuel Malik
Corruption has become so steeped in Nigeria that it has become the only thing that seems to always work, a special report by The Economist of London has said.
Corruption: The only thing that works, Saturday’s caption, was derived from a quote from Mathew Kukah, the catholic Bishop famed for his willingness to speak truth to power, no matter who is involved – “This is not a country that is morally convinced about [the evils of] corruption: corruption is the only thing that works.”
The report narrates how corruption has virtually become a norm in a country so wealthy and yet poverty stares one in the face, with all arms of government, from local government to the presidency, involved and making the task of changing the trend daunting.
However, there have been attempts to end the scourge and improvements have been made. Officials at airports are now more conscious of being caught asking for bribe. The usual “what have you got for me” or “what did you bring for me” are no longer prevalent due largely to technology and social media, the report pointed out.
“In one video, viewed more than 100,000 times, policemen demand cash from an American of Nigerian parentage. When their victim says he has no dollars, they amiably point him to a place where he can change money,” the report said of progress made in the fight against corruption. In addition to social media, there are websites dedicated to exposing corruption, for instance, stopthebribes.net and Nigeriapolicewatch.com.
But as corruption in small places waned, the publication said, it increased in huge proportion in government circles, including the presidency. There have been reports in the local media of aides demanding thousands of dollars from people who wanted to see the immediate past president or his wife. “Don’t bring $20,000, bring $200,000,” The Economist quotes a businessman, who was asked to bring money, as saying.
While former president Goodluck Jonathan was not accused of corruption, he was blamed for overlooking, pretending not to know what members of his cabinet were doing. One way of washing corrupt money was to acquire properties and pay in cash, while some prefer to take the money out of the country. “There was a chartered plane flying cash to Lebanon and Cyprus,” a business man said, according to the report. Some stored the money in their houses.
The past government’s record in fighting corruption, The Economist reckon, was poor. When former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, said $20 billion was missing from government coffers, he did not last long in office, as he was unceremoniously ushered out.
Due to public outcry, a forensic audit was done, on the behest of government, by PriceWaterhouse Coopers and the revelations were mindboggling, including the subsidy on kerosene, a commodity that sells for as much as three times the official price at many filling stations.
Oil theft, or bunkering, as Nigerians prefer to call it, also increased under Jonathan, with as much as 500, 000 barrels of crude stolen daily, despite the contracts awarded to local militias worth billions to secure oil facilities and guard the country’s waters. President Muhammadu Buhari recently cancelled the contracts for securing pipelines, ordering the military to take charge.
There has been a controversy, recently, surrounding a consultancy contract worth more than N900 million given to a legal firm for the liquidation of the ineffective Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, which shows how most government contracts are awarded. The Bureau of Public Procurement, BPP, complained that it did not give the mandatory certificate of “No Objection” before the contract was awarded by the Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE.
Government contracts are easy ways of getting kickbacks, which usually mean inflation of the contracts’ worth. “The bigger the project, and the longer it takes to complete, the greater the opportunity to divert cash,” the report states.
Extravagant lifestyle is also one way sleaze thrives. Private jet travels, bullet-proof cars, etc. are the ways of government officials. Stella Oduah, former aviation minister was fired after acquiring two armoured cars without budgetary allocation. She is now a Senator.
The legislature also does not lag behind in the act. To get smooth sails during hearings or budget passage, lawmakers want their palms greased. Arunma Oteh, the former Securities and Exchange Commission boss, Femi Otedola, an oil magnate, Abdurasheed Maina, the former pension reform taskforce boss, etc. all accused lawmakers of demanding bribes. Nothing happened to the accused.
The government also used its powers to shield and pardon corrupt individuals. Former governor of Bayelsa State, Depriye Alamieyeseigha, who jumped bail in the UK, where $1 million cash was found in his house, was pardoned by Jonathan, despite his conviction by a Nigerian court. Bode George, in prison for corruption, was celebrated and welcomed into the fold by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, upon his release. He became a decision maker in the party.
President Buhari, who came to power on the back of his modest lifestyle and abhorrence for corruption, has promised to fight the scourge but many say he has his battle cut out for him. Some of his party stalwarts, who helped bankroll his campaign and expect to be part of his cabinet, have been accused of corruption.
How he deals with them, some say, will show whether Nigerians can take him for his words, even though he has said a line would be drawn to put the past in the past.