Damning US corruption report on Nigeria – Punch

The United States government’s recent report on the role of the government in the proliferation of corruption in Nigeria offers a fresh and undeniable insight into why graft is so deeply entrenched in the Nigerian system. If the government that should stamp out corruption is now actively protecting corrupt individuals, then no amount of posturing will produce results.

However, for a government that is responsive to constructive criticism – a government that means well for the people – the report is an opportunity for the Goodluck Jonathan Administration to act by taking firm, honest and decisive steps to rid Nigeria of the perennial tag of one of the world’s most corrupt nations.

In a detailed and frank assessment that could only be described as stating the obvious, the report, entitled, “Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government,” confirmed the often-stated view that the efforts of the anti-graft agencies are deliberately stymied by the government. The allegation of deliberately emasculating the anti-corruption agencies brings to mind reports last year in which the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission confessed that it was broke.

In one of such reports, the EFCC Secretary, Emmanuel Adegboyega, told the Senate Committee on Drugs, Narcotics, Financial Crimes and Anti-Corruption in December last year, “We (EFCC) have been complaining that no money has been released to us for operations. As of now, we don’t have up to N2 million. If we can afford to pay salaries this month that is all.” For an agency whose functions are defined by the number of arrests and prosecution of corrupt individuals across the country, how can those functions be effectively discharged without money for legal fees and travel expenses? How can they be motivated if salaries are not paid?

Interestingly, one of the other cases of corrupt practices the US report cited was the curious state pardon granted a former Bayelsa State governor, Diepriye Alamieyeseigha. Aside from his conviction for treasury looting and money laundering, Alamieyeseigha, who is still a wanted person in the United Kingdom, served time in Nigeria and also had his tenure as governor truncated, paving the way for Jonathan, then his deputy, to replace him. The state pardon implies that the former governor, who, as an ex-convict, could not occupy public office, whether appointive or elective, can now do so. Indeed, Jonathan has nominated him to the ongoing National Conference. That is a dangerous signal to the outside world for a government that professes commitment to fighting corruption.

In a similar damning report last year, the then US Ambassador to Nigeria, Terence McCulley, reportedly told the Nigerian government to demonstrate more courage and conviction in its crusade against graft, insisting that it was the only way to “send a clear signal that the country is indeed committed to good governance, to the security of its citizens, and to its rightful place as a significant actor on the global stage.”

Unfortunately, corruption has been identified as the major reason for the arrested development in the country. It is responsible for reduced public spending, which results in huge infrastructure deficits, especially poor roads, lack of electricity, inadequately-equipped hospitals and low quality of education. It is also fingered in the pervasive insecurity in the country, low quality of governance and general poor standard of living.

Under the current administration, corruption has become particularly daring, even more than anytime before. Even when the President stated clearly his readiness to fight corruption, the government had been less than convincing in its manner of handling corruption cases. For instance, after ordering a series of probes into stolen oil subsidy money in which the country lost more than N2 trillion, an amount far in excess of Nigeria’s capital budget for this year, nobody has been convicted more than two years after.

Faced with brazen and self-evident corruption case in the purchase of two cars for N255 million for a former Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah, it still took the President four months to reluctantly fire her. He initially set up a committee to investigate a straightforward case, apparently to find a way to avoid sacking the minister.

The US report alleges that, in Nigeria, “Massive, widespread and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government and the security forces.” While alleging that judges were not left out of the massive corruption ring, the report accused the government of not implementing the law on corruption effectively, thus deliberately allowing “officials (to) frequently engage in corrupt practices with impunity.” These are, possibly, part of what the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, saw when he cried out that the President’s “body language” encouraged corruption.

Indeed, the US report went far, but only to the extent of the period it covered, which was 2013. Since the beginning of this year, there have been allegations of missing funds, meant for the Federation Account, and for further distribution among federal, state and local governments. But, for alleging that about $12 billion – later $20 billion – had not been accounted for, the Central Bank Governor, Lamido Sanusi, was placed on suspension and a forensic audit ordered later. Why the hurry in suspending the CBN governor instead of investigating his allegations first? The government says the suspension will pave the way for the investigation of allegations of financial recklessness against the CBN governor.

Although both the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the government said only $10.8 billion was unaccounted for, it is still a huge sum of money. Only a fraction of that money can build the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the East-West Road and the Second Niger Bridge. It is money that could have staved off the prolonged university teachers’ strike that nearly cost the institutions a full academic session.

The Nigerian government owes the people a duty to tackle corruption boldly by adequately funding the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission. Besides, corrupt individuals should never be allowed to go scot-free; that is the only way to stem the tide of impunity in the country.

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