By Ayo Oyoze Baje
AS the ping-pong blame game over corruption charges unfolds between two former military generals-incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari and erstwhile counterpart, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo –what matters at the end of the day is that the cause of justice be served.
That such public funds brazenly stolen be recovered back into the national till, the culprits must be made to pay for their crimes against the Nigerian state. And more importantly, that such funds be judiciously utilized to lift the quality of life of the average citizen.
The significance of this clarion call is hinged on the fact that successive administrations have made promises in this regard but much more has been said than done. Indeed, discerning Nigerians are tired of being regaled daily by the reeling out of humungous sums of money so far recovered from thieves of state. The issue took a new dimension when the All Progressives Congress, (APC) administration went to town to list the names of the public treasury looters( without any of their members) and the huge amounts of money recovered.
For instance, according to media reports, from the former Petroleum Minster alone stupendous sums such as $153m,$ 40m, $5m and N23.4 b are listed! From NIMASA came 578,080 pounds sterling, while the sleazy Ikoyi cash haul stood at $43,449,947, 27, 800 pounds and N23million. Some others include N449.6m from the Lagos shop cash,N1.8b traced to ex-Naval chiefs and N500m Paris Club funds amongst several funds.
But peeved by what it calls a one-sided listing of corrupt politicians, Reno Omokiri, the spokesman to former President Goodluck Jonathan made public his own list to include some of the ministers serving under the current President Buhari-led administration. Some, he claimed surreptitiously used such funds to facilitate some top-notch APC political helmsmen into positions of power. The funds so stolen, he insists come from the same treasury and belong to the same country, Nigeria. Why then should they be excluded from the infamous list? That is some food-for-thought.
Be that as it may, one can only imagine how much of the mind-boggling funds could have assisted Nigerians to enjoy stable electric power supply, build stable infrastructure, act as catalyst for job and wealth creation, ensure food security and provide quality education and healthcare delivery to the citizenry.
What about taking care of the over 10 million school-aged children that are currently out there turning into denizens of the street? What about the need to stem the rising wave of human trafficking and the ever-increasing urge of the youth to travel outside our shores in search of the elusive greener pasture? What about reining in the monster of kidnapping for ransom, spates of bloody armed robbery attacks, the Boko Haram insurgency and sundry crimes with their roots in pervasive poverty across the land?
It would, therefore, do this country a whole world of good if President Buhari implements his recent promise to channel the $320 million Abacha loot recovered from Switzerland to the poor. With only a year to go to the end of this tenure, and the political campaigns inching closer by the day, the time for him to act is now! But how best can this be done? That is the million-naira question. The first sure step is to have a credible data base, state by state to rely upon. Answers should be provided to those in need of financial assistance and sustainable livelihood on the basis of age, gender, educational qualification. Others include entrepreneurial need and the cost implication to provide the enabling environment for them to start jobs that would make them self-dependent.
There are some vulnerable members of the society such as pregnant women, nursing mothers, the aged, orphans, victims of terminal illnesses, the blind and the helpless deformed citizens who should be catered for by the government. There should be well articulated social buffer security system to meet their daily needs as it obtains in Germany.
Truth be told, however, we are not doing enough in this direction. The National Bureau of Statistics(NBS) should be well funded and equipped with the requisite machines and personnel to do so. The next step is to fully engage in Public Private Partnerships that would galvanize industrialization. No nation, as erudite economist Professor Francis Ogbimi would always insist, can grow without the citizens of productive age being actively engaged in local production of goods and services instead of over-reliance on massive importation.
As one has canvassed for long, issues that bother on poverty alleviation through job creation and ensuring that the average Nigerian has food on his table, is best achieved with politico-economic restructuring. With so much concentration of funds at the centre, the ordinary Nigerian, especially at the grassroots is far removed from the efforts at the federal level.
For instance, the claim by the presidency that 8,260,984 pupils, drawn from 45,394 public primary schools in 24 states are being served free meals daily under the National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme though noble is not making the desired effect. But why, one may ask?
The answer is simple. It would have made more positive impact if the states control their resources as they would be better placed to identify the critical areas of need than the federal government does.
By and large, the socio-economic challenges we are bedeviled with go beyond shedding more heat than light on corruption charges. Yes, it is good to know who has stolen what but what would put a permanent smile on our faces and in our pockets too is the direct effect such recovered funds have on the average Nigerian. From Shomolu to Sokoto, from Maiduguri to Mushin and from Uyo to Oyo, Nigerians deserve quality leadership.
Nigeria is abundantly blessed with natural resources such as oil and gas, solid mineral deposits, vast agricultural potentials and places of tourism attraction, all enough to provide quality wellbeing. Our leaders should act right. We cannot continue to stand by the Atlantic shore and be washing our hands with spittle.
Baje writes from Lagos.