Archive for May 2012

CORRUPTION RUNS AMOK IN NIGERIA

Much as Nigeria has always been noted for extreme corruption, thus far in 2012, corruption has run amok, prompting Transparency International (TI) to state that “the political situation in Nigeria is more of criminality than governance.” Indeed, in a May 4 letter to President Jonathan, a group of lawyers representing TI decried “the rate and scale of scams and corruption probes coming out of Nigeria in 2012,” noting that “the scope and speed of corruption in [the] country this year is beyond anything our client has ever dealt with.”

TI is right. From January, Nigerians have witnessed a stream of corruption scams involving plenty of stolen state funds. Intriguingly, almost every scam has come with wild accusations and counter-accusations of malfeasance.

The first major corruption scandal in 2012 was that which saw the director of Nigeria’s sports commission, Patrick Ekeji, summoned by the House of Representatives for questioning over misappropriated funds, including ₦1.2mn to create a Facebook account! Closely following that, on February 14, the Senate appropriation committee chairman, Ahmed Maccido, said ₦1tn worth of projects had been smuggled into the 2012 budget by some ministries and departments.

Both cases above were nothing compared to the big three corruption scandals that were soon to roll. These are the capital market scam, the police pension scam and the jumbo fuel subsidy scam.

Firstly, during a March 23 public hearing on the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the body charged with regulating Nigeria’s capital market, SEC director, Arunma Oteh, accused Herman Hembe, the house committee chairman, of demanding a ₦44mn bribe from the institution. Oteh also said that Hembe had not returned the estacode he collected for an abortive SEC-sponsored trip. Hembe countered that SEC generated an internal memorandum to “support” the public hearing with a donation of ₦30mn. Hembe since resigned as chairman of the committee on account of the allegations.

When the dust on those bribery allegations settled, on May 7, Oteh said that the former director of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), Ndidi Okereke-Onyiuke, spent a whopping ₦1.3bn on business travels during her tenure. She also said a report handed over to her when she assumed office showed that “the NSE spent ₦186mn on 165 Rolex wristwatches as gifts for awardees,” out of which only “73 were presented to the awardees while the outstanding 92 watches valued at ₦99.5mn remain unaccounted for.” A day later, Okereke-Onyuike refuted Oteh’s allegations, rather blaming the capital market’s crash on poor regulation by the SEC and Nigeria’s Central Bank.

Enter the Police Pension Scam. On February 14, former permanent secretary at the Police Pension Fund, Atiku Kigo, admitted to investigators that ₦32.8bn was pilfered from the fund by public officials under his watch. He acknowledged that they deliberately ignored the mechanism put in place to prevent the looting of government funds. On April 2, the senate committee probing the management of the pension fund announced another illegal police pension account with ₦3bn.

Next to surface was the former governor of Nigeria’s Delta State, James Ibori, who pleaded guilty in a British court on February 27, to stealing $250mn of state funds, $50mn more than what China exclusively spent on constructing the new and ultra-modern AU headquarters! Ibori, a sybarite, who had been mysteriously exonerated of similar charges in Nigeria, was sentenced on April 17, to 13 years in prison and is still making money through his companies in Delta State as he either owns or has a major share in a leading construction firm handling several juicy government projects in the state such as that of the new governor’s office and a demolition contract at the Asaba International Airport awarded at ₦7.4bn.

Then came the biggest one – the Fuel Subsidy Scam! Following the widespread public protests that greeted the removal of the fuel subsidy in January, Nigeria’s House of Reps set up a committee to probe the management of the subsidy regime. The committee submitted its report on April 18, with startling revelations of gargantuan fraud of more than ₦1tn between 2009 and December 2011. The report laid much of the blame for the subsidy absurdities on Nigeria’s national oil company, the NNPC, whose board is chaired by Petroleum Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke, and other top former and current federal officers, as well as related agencies like the PPPRA. On the whole, the committee found that ₦2.6tn was spent on the subsidy in 2011 – 900% more than the appropriated sum of ₦245bn! Also, evidence garnered suggests that a huge chunk of the 2011 subsidy funds was paid to select oil marketers during the period immediately preceding and following the April 2011 presidential elections [February to April 2011 and April to August 2011]. Even prima-facie, the sudden quantum-leap in the fuel subsidy payments was not a mistake. Fake submissions for the payments were approved and disbursements were made – and used to finance President Jonathan’s 2011 election. This begs the question about what Jonathan knew concerning the fraudulent subsidy payments and credits allegations that Jonathan put pressure on the Lawan subsidy probe committee to water down its report in the “interest of the nation”. It also supposes that Jonathan perfunctorily removed the fuel subsidy in January to keep his friends off the hook.

It is very shameful, still, that Jonathan, whose government maintains a 72% recurrent expenditure for 2012 as against a paltry 28% for capital, allocated ₦857mn to feed himself in one year. This, in itself, is corruption!

Reacting to the mind-boggling proportions of corruption, Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka said: “One can no longer use words like disdain and contempt. We are being dehumanized. Just as we thought we had recovered from the pension scam, along came a humongous, material assault on the resources of the ordinary people.”

Lamenting that “The fuel subsidy [probe] revealed an organised banditry which, in the words of Farouk Lawan, “can hardly be rivalled in the history of a warped budget management of any nation anywhere in the world,” Pastor Tunde Bakare, a paladin for justice, and his Save Nigeria Group, on May 14, instituted a legal action against Nigeria’s government for disbursing ₦2.5tn for subsidy payments instead of the approved ₦245bn, promising that it would not allow the probe reports to be swept under the carpet like others in the past, and calling on Nigerians to be vigilant.

In all, a situation in which the Petroleum Minister claimed that “the NNPC no longer imports petrol” and the Customs countered that “the NNPC still does; they imported petrol in December,” as well as where Nigeria’s Central Bank on January 24 put the “actual” total subsidy payments on fuel imports in 2011 at ₦1.7tn, an excess of ₦300bn above the ₦1.4tn figure given a week before by the Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, speaks volumes of the systemic laxity that makes frugality to be farfetched, and aids and abets corruption, to the benefit of Nigeria’s putrid and ignoble oligarchs.

Follow me on Twitter, @Raymond_Eyo

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LESSONS FOR NIGERIA FROM FRANCE’S ELECTIONS   20 comments

President Goodluck Jonathan visited France in November 2011 to meet with some French investors. He also secured a French loan to the tune of $100 million after he met his counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy. Jonathan used the Sarkozy audience to, among other things, solicit France’s assistance to tackle the Boko Haram menace.

Beyond that, however, and whilst not justifying the French loan Jonathan took, Nigeria must now appreciate the unsolicited ‘gift’ of France’s exemplary political culture that was once again on sublime display at her just ended 2012 presidential elections. Nigeria has plenty of lessons to learn from this latest amiable chapter of French politics! Such of these lessons include the following…

First and foremost, French politics is particularly unique for its solid ideological blueprint. Fair enough, extreme ideological persuasions could sometimes lead to democratic stalemate as the recent case with the US Congress shows. But, almost all the time, a politics of ideology where fine distinctions could be made between the candidates and their various parties’ platforms and manifestos, such as is in vogue in France, is a joker for the strengthening of democracy in that it makes it easy for the electorate to rationally decipher where to pitch their tent.

Secondly, Nigeria must copy from French politics the practice that denies a governing party the selfish, divisive perception that it can remain in power for as long it desires. Nigeria’s ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) likes to think of itself as politically disposed to governing Nigeria for generations. A former national chairman of the party once said the PDP will be in power for at least the next 60 years! When politicians make such silly comments, it simply shows that their interest is not in governing aright but in wielding power at any cost for their own selfish interests. Harvard Professor of International Development, Calestous Juma, says: “Political parties [are] tools of democracy, not delivery vehicles for political leaders.” When asked what would happen if he lost the elections, defeated French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, simply and unhesitatingly said, “There will be a handover of power. The nation is stronger than the destinies of the men who serve it!”

Yet another lesson Nigeria should endeavour to learn from France is that of a politics that guarantees an incumbent’s defeat if he doesn’t deliver irrespective of whether he created prevailing problems or not! I have encountered a handful of Nigerians who attempt to excuse the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan, on the premise that many of the problems Nigeria is faced with today didn’t begin with him! No one denies that. But then, when someone puts himself up to be president, he is accepting responsibility for all that the country is facing. We must evolve a system wherein, like the French, if a president or any other elected official cannot deliver, even in his first term, he or she should be fired! For all his merits, especially on the international scene, Sarkozy understood this fact. Indeed, he fully accepted responsibility for his defeat at the polls! The presidency is not a platform for on-the-job training. The welfare, and in some cases, the survival, of many people depends on the policies and actions that the president makes and takes. There is no room for mediocrity!

In addition, the overall civility and tolerance of the French political establishment throughout this hotly contested campaign should further remind us that politics is not a do-or-die affair! It is only in an atmosphere of maturity, civility and tolerance such as the French have shown, that an incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy, lost an election by 48.33% to his opponent’s 51.67% and yet we don’t hear of any civil uprising or threats of violence by his supporters.

Above all, one pertinent lesson Nigerians must themselves learn from the sterling example of the latest episode of France’s inspiring democratic practice is that sovereignty lies with the people and they must not fail to use it at every given opportunity in determining those who should govern them. Turnout was very high in both the first and second rounds of the 2012 French presidential elections. Whilst the first round was pegged at above 80%, the second round was said to hover around 75%! Indeed, the high turnout was majorly influenced by prevailing economic hardships. This explains what Prof. Juma meant when he said: “French voters have made it clear that economies serve people and not the other way round.”

In life, we excel when we emulate the positive examples of those who have gone ahead of us. From the French Revolution in 1789 till date, France has evolved a sound political-cum-democratic culture worthy to be emulated by a nation with a nascent democracy like Nigeria.

NB: The French President-Elect, Francois Hollande, told his friends at age 15 that his dream was to become president someday! Today, at age 57, he has fulfilled that dream! Hopefully, Hollande’s motivation, rooted in his psyche, will urge him to do his utmost best for his country. For Nigeria, this is a lesson that indicts our system which has produced mostly unwilling and accidental folks as our president – with unsurprisingly below par leadership performances.

GOD bless Nigeria!

Follow me on Twitter @Raymond_Eyo