By Francis Ejiroghene Waive
Except that it was a public slap on our face, the British Prime Minister’s description of corruption in Nigeria as fantastic is true. Many blame President Buhari for referring to our country as corrupt on the international scene and so hold him responsible for the label. We forget that Transparency International has held this position for years. Perhaps, our grouping with a failed or failing State like Afghanistan is what shocks our sensibilities this time. To some Nigerians, however, this could be the wakeup call to kill corruption in our country before it kills all of us.
While social media is filled with Nigerians claiming not to be corrupt I doubt if there is any Nigerian who has not been a victim of the scourge of corruption. I agree that not all of us are perpetrators of this ugly phenomenon but the malaise is so widespread that one brush seems to fit all. There is no sector of our economy that is not affected. As a young person starts life, you encounter it when you want to get into school and while in school. When you rent your first house and need electricity and other utilities, it stares you in the face. When you begin looking for a job or you start a business, you will be overwhelmed by it. For a foreigner, you first meet it at our borders or entry points into the country. The harassment and extortion of staff of the several agencies will cow you. Even our religious institutions and leaders are not immune from this disease.
All our public institutions are infected by it. What document do you want to process in our courts or ministries, government agencies or departments that you won’t pay a bribe for? What business do you want to transact that won’t involve kick-backs and kick-fronts? Shamelessly, even the private sector is now an integral part of corruption. Private companies are wrecked by mangers and other officials. Is it a bank loan you are processing or a dealership in a product manufactured by a local company? There is no need to discuss the image of our police force battered by corruption. Most of our parastatals are simply run aground with corruption. Nigeria Airways, Railways, NITEL, NEPA and an unending list of many others. Even the privatization option was compromised as our leaders used government money to appropriate our national assets to themselves and their cronies. Top civil servants ensure ghost workers exist and they pad budgets and thereafter award contracts for capital projects to themselves and political office holders.
The present happenings in Venezuela, a major oil-producing country bedeviled by corruption, should be a lesson for us. For those who may not be familiar with the on-goings in Venezuela, the economy of that country has fallen so badly that essential commodities and food have become scarce and the local currency, a waste paper. Widespread hunger is causing unrest in a nation where corrupt politicians are richer than their country. Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gun powder. Hunger is in the land. Those in power and accessing our common wealth will not understand. One of them said in the second republic and another has recently affirmed that there is no hunger in Nigeria. What a dis-connect!
The dishonest conduct transcends our country and is more prevalent among the ruling class. There are Nigerian politicians and former rulers who are so wealthy that if they actually earned a million naira a month for a hundred years without spending a kobo, they will not be able to amass the wealth they presently command. And there is no shame about it. From the former leaders who own oil blocks to the politicians of the Third Republic who are multi-billionaires just because they were in government, the country bleeds from corruption. Beneficiaries of corruption spend foreign exchange on things as common as toothpick. They travel abroad for everything, including shopping,weddings, health care and education. Some own homes in several countries in Europe, America, South Africa and Dubai! All this while, development is halted, salaries owed, infrastructure decayed, utility services like electricity, water, transportation is comatose, education and health care services ruined while inflation goes hyper!
Against this backdrop, it is heart-warming that President Buhari vowed to wipe away corruption from our country. However, the method of fighting corruption adopted by this government whereby people perceived to be corrupt are arrested in gestapo style, keeping them illegally behind bars despite court orders and always sounding braggadocios when speaking about the anti-corruption war is either a hoax to deceive the uninformed or an attempt at militarization which is unlawful, unproductive and unsustainable. It is important to stress this as it is common knowledge that many members of the ruling class are also guilty of the crime. The solutions applied must be workable, result-oriented and sustainable. .
There is, therefore, a dire need to address the root of corruption in this country. The crave to illegally collect a slice of the national cake largely emanates from the unitary system of government which the military bequeathed to us. Adoption and strict application of fiscal federalism is the place to begin. If Buhari is serious about fighting corruption he should do the needful. Free or cheap money at the center is attractive to corruption. Take that away and we are on the way to salvation. It will take institutional changes like this to save Nigeria. Another major source of corruption in Nigeria is the oil subsidy. Removal of fuel subsidy is the single most important action taken by this government in fighting corruption. Government must insist on this and never bow to labour leaders.
The secretive nature of running government business is also a major factor in fueling corruption. Sadly the Buhari regime has continued in this trend. If everything were laid bare before the public in the one year that Buhari came to power, things would have started looking up. The Company and Allied Matters Act must be amended to give legal bite to the unveiling of those behind registered companies. And it is the duty of Mr President to forward a bill to the National Assembly to this effect. Details of every government contract must be disclosed from initiation, award to execution. And this must include the names of directors. Those government functionaries who use ghost names or kids as directors will think twice. The morbid “Due Process” office must be given legal bite, just as the Freedom of Information Act is fully implemented.
The famous ‘Bank Verification Number’ (BVN) must be transformed into a National Security Identity Number and used for all transactions and identification in the country. Again a Bill must go to the National Assembly for this. This implies that all government payments, whether they are payments for goods or services (including salaries), must be by direct electronic credits to bank accounts. The Banks and other Financial Matters Act will also need to be amended in this regard.
Corruption in the oil sector is the mother of all corruption in Nigeria and government must tackle this. Transactions in this sector must be open, transparent and free from manipulation. We must begin by publishing ownership of all oil blocks and whenever new blocks are to be sold, government must adequately publicize the process. Who lifts what quantity of crude daily? Who measures the quantity lifted? All these and others must be in the public domain if we must move forward. Secrecy breeds corruption!
•Rev. Waive is the General Overseer, Fresh Anointing Missionary Ministries Inc.