Fighting Bribery and Corruption in Nigeria: Mission Impossible? III

FADE Weekly Column 0

The word corruption has been used in Nigeria in both a loose and all-encompassing sense, as well as a synonym for bribery, fraud, or stealing. Even our President thinks that fighting corruption begins and ends with kickbacks and embezzlement. As I have said in my previous article, corruption is nepotism, cronyism, tribalism, justice denied, poor wages, poor projects implementation, inaccurate billing, poor service provision, voter registration and rigging, inaccurate census, bad policies, and bad politics. Those of us who are old enough would remember the famous carpet crossing act of the then Western House of Parliament by members of the NCNC who had won the majority in the 1963 elections only to subsequently defect en-mass to Action Group, thereby making the former a minority party. That was a betrayal of the electorate. Today we have politicians who having lost power in one party, would easily work across to the party in power to declare their allegiances, jettisoning whatever ideology and programmes they had embraced for years. Of course, there is nothing wrong in the exercise of free choice if it is done with the interest of the electorate in mind, which unfortunately is not the case most times.

With the broad definition of corruption given above, as well as some of the stories narrated here, it must be clear to the discerning mind that the fight against corruption cannot all be about catching and prosecuting those who embezzled public funds. The apprehension of these people will not end kickbacks/pay it forwards; it would not end tribalism, or cronyism, or mediocrity; it would not improve the economy, nor service delivery, nor social services; you cannot apprehend everyone that is compromised for that matter. But good governance will do all of the above, including the elimination and reduction of public funds embezzlement.

Good governance would ensure that the right people, who are capable, qualified, and experienced are appointed into positions of authority. It would ensure that the right policies are put in place for the benefit of the country, and not to favour cronies. Good governance would ensure the rule of law exists in all aspects of our lives. It would ensure that the institutions that support democracy are established, adequately funded and strengthened to perform their oversight functions. A little insight about strong democratic institutions is relevant here. A strong and independent judiciary is the foundation for a nation where the rule of law is upheld at all times. This is crucial for equity and fairness, where every citizen, resident, businessman, and visitor is equally protected, can seek, and obtain justice if aggrieved. We have democratic institutions to check excesses. These should be adequately staffed and funded and must rely on the rule of law to execute their mandates. We have in our criminal codes, statutes for the prosecution of thieves, fraudsters, funds embezzlers, etc. The law enforcers must be free to go after these. We need to establish ethical institutions that will investigate cronyism and breaches of ethics and codes of conduct in government at all levels, including the presidency. No sacred cows.

A while ago, it was reported that over 75% of our police force is engaged in the provision of third party security services all over the country. That leaves just about 25% of the force to be engaged in actual police duties. The outcry that rightly greeted this revelation prompted the directive from the presidency instructing the IGP to withdraw all those police officers engaged in extra-curricular duties. But that directive has not been fully implemented. This, amongst other reasons, has intensified the call for state police. This call should not be ignored; we need state policing, with federal oversight, and a federal investigative bureau that is modeled after the USA’s FBI, charged with securing our democratic institutions. The system we have now is modeled after that of the British. Due to our diversity, and thanks to the military governments of the past, it has not worked. Besides, our current population which will be in the region of 200 million in a few years is too populated to be managed by a central police force. The police force must be decentralized just like our courts.

Above all, good governance would ensure that workers are paid living wages. The issue of a Living Wage is central to our fight against bribery and corruption. A family who earns enough to put food on their table, pay their bills, stay healthy, put a roof over their heads, and train their children in schools and university will be happy with their status. Such people will have little to no incentive to steal from their employers. They will spend less or no time worrying about their survival. But they will spend more time being creative, starting other businesses, or working other jobs. The laws that bar public servants and teachers from having other means of income need to be abrogated, and quickly too. Such ill-thought out laws stifle creativity and innovation, while encouraging brain drain and corrupt practices.

The financial losses the country suffers from as a consequence of frauds, outright thievery, wastes, and inadequate supervision when quantified accurately is so colossal that I imagine many will find it unbelievable. In 2017, Siemens Nigeria estimated that at the present level, corruption in Nigeria will cost the nation the equivalent of 37% of its GDP in the year 2030. Siemens would know, for they have been implicated in corruption in Nigeria in the past. In 2018, Nigeria’s GDP was US$397.47 billion. Focus Economics, a leading provider of economic analyses and forecasts in 130 countries in four continents, has estimated that Nigeria’s GDP will grow by 2.3% and 2.8% for the years, 2019 and 2020. At this growth rate, our estimated total GDP in 2020 would be, US$417.997 billion. I am going to assume a steady and modest GDP growth for the next 10 years thereafter to 2030. At that rate, the total estimated GDP for 2030 would be US$716.73 billion. Therefore, according to the Siemens model, if corruption continues at present levels, we would be losing US$265.19 billion in 2030. In other words, our total projected GDP in 2030 would have been US$981.92 billion, if thievery could be eliminated. Andrew S. Nevin of Proshare Business, showed in a 2016 paper that was also presented to our own sitting Vice-President, that if Nigeria’s level of corruption had remained at that of Ghana since our return to democracy in 1999, our economy in 2016 would have been larger by US$100 billion. This I believe is conservative, even for the time period in consideration. But let us just go beyond 1999, for the first military intervention in Nigeria in 1966 came as a result of the unabashed show of wealth and the corrupt government of the First Republic.

As I have severally explained, here and in my other written treatises; fraud, thievery, and bribery can be separated from corruption. However, I recognize that it is usually easier for all to understand the term, corruption, when it is denominated in monetary terms. When money is stolen or misappropriated from our public purse that is money that is no longer available for its intended use. And if that money has to be replaced then or another time, another program suffers from poor funding. Hence, the reason for the following:

  • Inadequate electricity. Because our electricity services are poor; factories, businesses, hospitals, schools, and individuals spend colossal amount in providing their privately sourced power. This is a very expensive process that removes monies from individuals and institutions that could have been used for expansion and improvement of services and service delivery. The result is high costs of goods, low quality services, equipment breakdowns, and low productivity. The cost of this epileptic power supply is not only in the funds employed by private power providers, but also lie in the revenue lost through productions that never happened and new businesses that could not be started.
  • Poor Transportation Infrastructure. Here, I will focus on road networks and railroad systems. Nigeria is in the tropics, so we must build our roads to withstand just one hazard; flooding from intense rainfall. We do not have winter so we cannot build for permafrost. Neither do we have earthquakes so that we have to accommodate that in our design. So why should we build expensive roads that will not last two rainy seasons? It is due to bad design, lack of informed supervision, little or no maintenance,poor funding, and poor transport policy.

The case of the railroad is down-right pathetic. In 59 years of independence, we have only built under 400km of railroad, and more than half of this are single carriage rail tracks. How can a nation of 189m people be moving goods and passengers on single gauge railroads in the 21st century when other nations have rail tracks that support bullet trains travelling at over 450 km/h.

  • Poor health delivery. When this current President came into power in 2015, he declared that the end to medical tourism outside Nigerian shores by Nigerians would soon be extinct. He spoke too soon, for he was the first to break the law for upwards of eight months. Nigeria has top medical schools and turn out doctors that can stand with their peers form other parts of the world. But we cannot say the same of our hospitals, which appear no better that dispensaries meant to clean up cuts and bruises. The hospitals lack equipment, drugs, power, and water. If patients do not die from lack of money for treatments, they easily die from infections during, or post-hospitalization.  This is because funding for the hospitals’ services and equipment has been stolen or misappropriated for some politicians’ constituency projects or some officials secret bank accounts, or some directors’ allowances to run the fourth house in one remote village, or some governors’ security votes. The people keep dying and we are doing nothing about it.
  • Poor Education. Of all our failings as a nation state, the crash of our educational system is the most incongruous. The human development of any nation is key to the growth of that nation. This is no brainer, and it is as true today as it was a century ago. Nigeria has the singular distinction of being one of the few countries in the world that does not believe in this. The actions of our leaders are very clear on this. As I write, the teaching staff in all public Nigerian Universities just called off a 4 month strike. Their complaints? Inadequate conditions of service, poor funding of the institutions, poor and obsolete facilities, overcrowding of lecture rooms, and inadequate infrastructure. Now what kind of universities will lack all these? Incidentally, these are not unique to the tertiary institutions; the secondary and primary schools are not fairing better.

I could go on listing the many effects of corruption in our nation but I believe we are only too aware of these issues. So for now I’ll stop here as I resume work in my farm planting yam and enjoying the nature around in my village which I have escaped to for some much needed break from the politics of the day.

The next article which will also be the concluding part of these series will realistically put forward what I’d like to call, optimistic solutions that I can only hope would one day be fully utilized.


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