Public corruption galore – by Dapo Fafowora



 

THE NATION

14/8/2008

Public corruption galore

 

Dapo Fafowora

Is it really possible now to eliminate, or reduce, public corruption in Nigeria? I ask this question in the light of high level public corruption being exposed in the media on a daily basis. And I am not talking here of petty corruption involving small amounts of money. Even that is bad enough. Rather, I refer to huge amounts of public funds, running into billions of naira, that have, corruptly, found their way into private pockets. The Senate Panel probe has revealed how trillions of naira was wasted on power sector projects that were not executed at all. Contracts were awarded to companies that were not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission, or that do not even exist at all. Is it any wonder then that the nation has been in darkness despite the vast amount of public funds allegedly committed to the reform of the sector?

And now we are told of how over N100 billion was wasted by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) in the award of frivolous contracts, most of them to former heads of state, and their wives. Bode George who, as chairman, presided over this colossal mismanagement of public funds, is currently facing charges for massive corruption in the Ports Authority. He will, of course, try to exonerate himself by pleading that the contracts in question were awarded to the big wigs of the ruling Party, the PDP. There is also the huge scam in the petroleum sector with oil blocks being randomly allocated to the cronies and errand boys and girls of the PDP. And the chairman of the NDDC, the so-called ‘Ambassador’ Sam Edem, is currently facing corruption charges for allegedly embezzling nearly N300 million, money meant for the development of the Niger Delta, his own home.

But the high level of corruption is not confined to federal establishments. The situation is certainly not different in the states, and the local governments, where public corruption is equally extensive and persuasive. Nor is the malaise limited to the executive branch of government alone. The public perception is that both the National Assembly and the Judiciary are equally corrupt. Ministers, members of the House, and some judges have been accused of corruption too. When the Judiciary is perceived as being corrupt, then the entire system of justice breaks down completely.

As I have once observed in this column, with deep regrets, there is virtually no public sector agency that can survive rigorous auditing. Public corruption is alive and thriving. And it is hurting our economy badly. Vast sums of public funds meant for economic development disappear into private pockets. The roads, hospitals, schools, railways that could improve the lives of the people are abandoned, as are electricity and water supplies. In virtually all areas of social services Nigeria, despite its vast human and natural resources, ranks very low in the world. Even in Africa, Nigeria has some of the worst social services, including health care delivery and education. We have the highest percentage of school drop outs in Africa, and the largest number of those living below the poverty line of one US dollar per day. In the 70s, Nigeria was ranked as a middle income country with a per capita income four or five times what it is now.

Recently, the APRM mission to Nigeria, led by the President of Tanzania, reported that Nigeria had not met any of its economic targets, that the government had no focus, that economic policies were largely un-coordinated, and that even sound economic policies were being randomly abandoned, and in some cases reversed. The mission as well as a recent World Bank report also alluded to the massive public corruption in the country. Nigeria is not short of sound economic ideas that can move the country forward. We have NEEDS, NEPAD, Vision 2010 and Vision 2020, all of which, if fully implemented, will move this country forward. But the governments of the federation are not wholly committed to these economic programmes and strategies, all of which are being undermined by the perceived and real public corruption in governance.

The Yar’Adua PDP government says its economic objective is to move Nigeria forward to rank among the 20 largest economies in the world. But this is a pipe dream that is extremely unlikely to materialize. Certainly, Nigeria has the resources to achieve that goal. But it is not going to achieve that objective because of the high level of corruption in the country. It is estimated that of every N100 of public expenditure less than 20 per cent is actually spent, with the balance ending up in private pockets.

Now and then, some party big wigs are charged to court for corruption. But only a few of these have actually been gaoled, or had their properties seized by the state. Many of them get away with only a light slap on the wrist. The former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun, after entering a plea bargaining, was virtually let off the hook. His successor , Ehindero, is not even facing any charges yet for charges of corruption leveled against him. It is as if these charges are being swept under the carpet. The EFFC is, on the whole, doing a good job in its fight against public corruption. But political interference in its operations does tend to negate its commitment to the fight against public corruption. When, as chairman of the EFFC, Ribadu wanted to move against Bode George and prosecute him for corruption, he was not allowed to do so by the federal authorities during the Obasanjo administration. If Obasanjo were still in power, he would have covered up the misdemeanour of Bode George in the NPA contracts award scam.

But fighting public corruption is not simply a matter for the government alone. All of us do share in this responsibility, and have a role in assisting the government to fight public corruption, a crime against the people. I am disheartened when I find those known to be corrupt being treated publicly as heroes, when they should, instead, be socially ostracized, and treated as outcasts. Poverty in Nigeria is the direct consequence of public corruption. It accounts for the failure of the state to address the grave economic and social problems that have made living conditions so difficult for the average Nigerian. If the vast majority of Nigerian children have no worthwhile future to look forward to it is because their future has been mortgaged on the altar of public corruption.

 

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