There is growing and justified local and international concern about public corruption in Nigeria. But how deep is corruption in the country? Most Nigerians, including public officials, who are at the centre of corruption in the country, know it is pervasive and that, to a large extent, it is directly responsible for poor service delivery and mass poverty in Nigeria. Public corruption polarises the state and constrains economic growth. But President Jonathan pretends it is not all that bad. While addressing the Nigerian community recently in far away Namibia, he said media reports about corruption in Nigeria were exaggerated, and that his government was tackling it. The Nigerian community in Namibia will not believe him. It has easy access to the Internet and is well informed. Most of our nationals President Jonathan met in Namibia left Nigeria in the first place to escape the crushing poverty at home, brought about by mass corruption in Nigeria. In fact, President Jonathan’s rebuttal of the full extent of public corruption in Nigeria was in direct response to the damning comments by President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, the week before, about widespread corruption in Nigeria.
The Nigerian public too will find President Jonathan’s denial of the full extent of corruption in Nigeria bemusing, if not downright irritating. Internationally, Nigeria is notorious for its massive corruption. The global anti-corruption organisation, Transparency International, has, in its annual reports, consistently ranked Nigeria among the lowest in the global country league of transparency. It is estimated by respected financial experts that corruption accounts for over 40 per cent of public expenditure in Nigeria. Vital public projects cannot be completed because of official corruption. All branches of the government are hugely corrupt. Of three high court judges recently sacked, one, a female, owned over 20 properties and other assets. If it were not for its vast oil resources, very few foreign investors will seek to do business in Nigeria where, because of public corruption, the cost of doing business is one of the highest in the world. As Mr. Yakubu, head of the NNPC, confirmed last week, even the international oil majors, the biggest investors in Nigeria, are getting less enthusiastic about making further investments in the Nigerian oil sector. They see Angola, which is less corrupt, as a better investment destination than Nigeria.
The fact is that, on a daily basis, Nigerians are made to live with horrendous massive corruption in all facets of their lives, ranging from the corrupt police, the pensions scam, to the petty and corrupt local and state government officials. Issuance of official licences, permits, approvals for land and property development require the payment of bribes to public officials. Houses and markets built by the state for the poor are corruptly snatched from them and sold to the rich. President Jonathan cannot pretend not to know this. The Grandmaster of this cesspool of corruption is the Federal Government, the biggest spender and controller of the largest financial resources in the country. It is at the centre that corruption takes place on a scale that cannot even be imagined by the Nigerian public. Public corruption in Nigeria was rife before President Jonathan came to power. But it has since grown worse during his tenure as President. It is now systemic, and the President appears unwilling, or unable, for reasons of political expediency, to tackle it effectively. Recently, the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was reported as saying that Nigeria’s vast oil resources had become a curse to the nation. She was badly misunderstood and sharply criticised for her comments. But she was right. If we did not have so much oil, we would be compelled to manage our resources better, like other African countries, such as Botswana that are not so richly endowed with natural resources. Nigeria would be less corrupt. The truth is that our oil wealth has fuelled corruption in the country. It has made the rich richer and the poor poorer. It has polarised our nation.
A few days after President Jonathan downplayed the extent of corruption in Nigeria, there was a stampede in Abuja and other cities in Nigeria over recruitment by the Immigration Services. Nineteen people died in the stampede. But as it turned out, the recruitment exercise was unauthorised by the Board of the Immigration Services. The candidates, over 700, 000 of them, were made to pay N5,000 each as so-called ‘processing fees’ for 4,000 jobs that did not exist or, if they existed, had already been filled by the same authorities that advertised those jobs, and stood to make N3.5 billion, or more, from the fatal recruitment exercise. The collection of N5, 000 as ‘processing fees’ by a consulting firm was plainly illegal and fraudulent. Application for recruitment into the civil service is free. The Minister of Internal Affairs, Alhaji Abba Moro, who masterminded the massive and fatal fraud of which he would have been a beneficiary, was aware of this. But he has neither resigned as minister, nor has he been fired by President Jonathan. He was not even remorseful over the loss of 19 innocent lives during the Immigration recruitment exercise, which he blamed on the victims. How callous can Nigerian officials be? It is the impunity with which public officials are treated that accounts for their brazen corruption.
As I write this, the riddle over the missing $20 billion oil revenue, which is more than the annual budgets of most African countries, remains unresolved, with both the Federal Ministry of Finance and the NNPC blaming each other and trying desperately to cover up the massive financial leakage and fraud involved. It will probably be swept under the carpet by the authorities in the end, after a perfunctory and inconclusive investigation. Instead of fully probing the allegation the whistleblower, Lamido Sanusi, the loquacious former Governor of the CBN, has been effectively fired by the President. Sanusi has since claimed that the charge of ‘financial recklessness and mismanagement’ made against him by the Financial Reporting Council regarding the intervention funds was baseless, as the President himself had often requested for such interventions by the CBN and had approved them. The President has not denied this and was aware of it as far back as March last year when he first received the FRCN report indicting the Governor of the CBN for ‘financial recklessness’. He waited nearly a whole year before acting on such a scathing report about the sleuth and sleaze in the CBN. Some of the so-called beneficiaries of the intervention funds, a veritable source of massive corruption, have denied receiving from the CBN the funds allegedly donated to them. So, the CBN, the major financial institution in the country, the so-called ‘bank of last resort’, has proved to be a major source of corruption as well. In effect, all major public institutions in Nigeria, including the major financial institutions, are corrupt. The fact of the matter is that very few, if any, public institutions and agencies in Nigeria can stand a vigorous audit of their financial operations. Many of them have not been audited for years.
Nigeria loses about 20 per cent of its oil production and exports to massive oil bunkering and theft. President Jonathan is fully aware of this, but he appears unwilling or helpless in tackling the problem in spite of the massive loss of revenue involved. The NNPC is known to be a cesspool of massive corruption, but the President is under some inexplicable constraint that makes it difficult for him to tackle the problem headlong. It is as if he is simply overwhelmed by the vast scale of public corruption in the country. How about the Abacha loot, the allegations regarding the private jet of the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison- Madueke, and the prevarications in sacking the former Minister of Aviation, Ms Oduah? How about the fraud and scam discovered in the oil subsidy in which companies that did not even import oil received in 2012 subsidies, unbudgeted for, totalling N1.3 tr. from the Federal Government, or the NNPC? How about the issue of unresolved discrepancies in the funds of the SURE-P which the government has simply swept under the carpet? These are only a few of the reported scams that President Jonathan has refused to tackle expeditiously. In the circumstances, how can he be taken seriously, either here, or abroad, when he says media reports on corruption in Nigeria are exaggerated and that he is fighting it? Where is the evidence that he is doing so, when he has been hesitant to move against public officials facing charges of corruption? Instead, the President has become increasingly hostile to public criticism, threatening that governors of states that criticise him on corruption should not expect federal projects in their states. But he is president of the whole country.
Now there is talk in official circles of removing the so-called oil subsidy. The Federal Government says it is not sustainable. But the high cost of imported refined oil is also due to the massive fraud in the oil sector. Public resistance to the proposed removal of the oil subsidy is justified in the circumstances. But whatever one’s reservations might be about the oil subsidy, it is better to remove it, once and for all, as it has for long, been another veritable source of massive corruption in the country. It was not the public that was benefiting from the oil subsidy, but the fraudulent oil importers, and the fat cats in the Ministry of Finance and the NNPC. Let us close this window of massive fraud and scam in the Nigerian oil sector.
So, Mr. President, public corruption is alive and well in Nigeria. It is, in fact, becoming increasingly acceptable socially. Denial by the President of this fact, known locally and internationally, will not do him or our country any good at all, as it will dent both the image and credibility of our President and the entire country.