In this analysis, BIYI ADEGOROYE looks at the tirade between the Presidency and Transparency International over the level of corruption in the country and its impact on development
Against expectations from many quarters, rising corruption rate in the country as captured by the Transparency International (TI) and its development partners has become the crux of controversies especially respecting its authenticity against the seeming progress recorded by the Buhari administration in the battle against graft. In the TI’s 2020 report, Nigeria occupied the 149th position out of 180 countries around the world and the second most corrupt country in West Africa – the lowest since 2013- coming closely behind Guinea-Bissau, the most corrupt country sub-region.
Falling two steps behind the 2019 report, the unfavourable rating of the country on the global Corruption Perception Index (CPI) has been met with dismissal from government officials, apparently because right from his pre-election campaigns, the battle against graft was one of his cardinal objectives besides the war on terror and he economy. Globally, corruption has been a major obstacle to development and that explains while CPI results are taken seriously by many governments as barometer for determining terms of investments and cooperation.
Development experts say corruption stifles growth, erodes trust, weakens democracy, hampers economic development, exacerbates inequality, poverty, social divisions and impact positively on environmental degradation.
The cumulative effect of corruption fleeces revenue from oil and other sectors which would have been plowed into defence, health, agriculture, food security, healthcare, transportation, road infrastructure, power, education, environment, leaving the people to bear the brunt.
That informed the fact that from the onset of the administration, the antigraft campaign received more fillip as the anti-corruption agencies reinvigorated, leading to the arrest of not few politicians, politically exposed individuals, a number of them jailed. It was expected therefore, that the scorecard of the government would be of interest to all groups, including development partners, international and local organisations, the media, oppositions parties and the electorate.
However, Nigeria’s retrogressing status as contained in the report has pitched the Presidency against TI, as the former challenges the latter, especially its representatives in Nigeria, Auwal Rafsanjani it to provide indices and statistic for arriving at its conclusions. Mr. Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President asserted that the administration deserves credit for what he described as diminishing corruption in the public service and urged TI to stop rehashing old tales.
“We have repeatedly challenged TI to provide indices and statistics of its own to justify its sensational and baseless rating on Nigeria and the fight against corruption. We expect them to come clean and desist from further rehashing of old tales.
“In the coming days, the Government’s Technical Unit on Governance Research (TUGAR) will be providing more detailed information on the sources of the TI data. While this is being awaited, the examination carried out on their 2019 report showed that 60 per cent of their data was collected from businesses and other entities with issues bordering on transparency and the ease of doing business at the ports,” he said.
He alluded to recoveries by the anti- graft agencies put at N939 billion between 2015- 2019, while the administration has deployed preventative instruments such as the Treasury Single Account (TSA), Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) coverage expansion and the removal of 54,000 ghost workers from the federal civil service thereby saving it N200 billion annually. Shehu wants organisations to be factual in their analysis and update that reflect today’s reality in Nigeria, even as he expressed government readiness to learn from mistakes and make corrections. However, to Rafsanjani, such remarks border on insincerity and an attempt to discredit the report which emanated from academic rigor, principles of impartiality and accuracy.
He wondered why the government moved to discredit TI report in 2021 when as an opposition party in 2014, the All Progressives Congress (APC), via a press release by Chief John Odigie- Oyegun, its chairman then, supported that year’s report, as a confirmation of widespread corruption in Nigeria. Rafsanjani advocated an honest assessment of the nation’s anti-graft policies and processes, warning that “every attack on widely accepted research methodology is rather a sign of desperation and lack of a policy that would make a difference.”
Factual as government’s recoveries are, they hardly move in sync expectations as available reports of corruption in the judicial system, electoral fraud and sundry corrupt practices indicate how deeply entrenched corruption is in the least expected places in the country. For instance, a survey conducted by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences revealed that an estimated N9.4 billion bribes exchanged hands in the judicial sector between 2018 and 2020!
The 84-page survey entitled, “Nigeria Corruption Index: Report of a pilot survey 2020,” stated that the level of corruption in the justice sector was heightened by the “stupendously high amounts of money offered as bribes to judges by lawyers handling high electoral and political cases.”
The ICPC’s more reliable experience- based rather than perception-related report compiled by the TI stated that the private sector came next to the judicial sector in corruption levels, noting that the graft in private business sector contributed greatly to the national level of corruption.
The mere fact that this highly disturbing humongous bribe was discovered by the ICPC in no less a place as the judiciary, the temple of justice, the last hope of the common man and a critical sector in the anti-graft war is a fatal blow in itself.
As if giving further credence to TI report, an investigation conducted by The Guardian Newspaper recently suggested some level of sleaze, lack of transparency and contract inflation in the handling of the Nigeria’s rail projects. It stated that the “average cost per kilometer (km) of the newly contracted Kano-Maradi rail line exceeds similar projects under the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), as estimated by the African Union (AU) by, at least, 100 per cent.”
The Federal Government had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Mota-Engil Group for the construction of the 283.75 Kano-Maradi standardgauge rails at a contract cost of $1.959 billion.
The line would traverse Jigawa and Katsina to get to Maradi in the Niger Republic, costing the Federal Government approximately $6.91 million (or N2.6 billion) per km to deliver the project expected to be ready in the next three years!
In a country where contract inflation is a regular occurrence and source of funds for election funding, such revelation about over-costing of rail project should be of great concern, especially by a government which has anti-graft was as its mantra.
Similarly, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) recently called on the Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, and Speaker of House of Representatives Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila to urgently probe and refer to appropriate anti-corruption agencies alleged disappearance of N4.4 billion of public money budgeted for the National Assembly as documented in three audited reports by the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation..
In the open letter dated January 30, 2021 and signed by SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation also wanted a probe into allegation of the Auditor-General in his 2015 report that the National Assembly spent N8.800 billion as unauthorised overdraft, contrary to Financial Regulations 710.
It lamented that the National Assembly also reportedly spent N115,947,016.00 without any documents and another N158,193,066.00 spent as cash advances to 17 staff between January and June 2015 is yet to be retired. The letter, a copy of which was sent to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami SAN, Chairman Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, and Acting Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Mohammed Abba.
If the plethora allegation of corruption in various forms in public and private sectors across the country are being scuffed at, the audit queries raised by no less a person as the Auditor-General of the Federation against a key government institution like the legislature should hardly be said to be of no consequence. Worst still, Nigerians can still recall the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) probe where the Niger Delta Minister, Senator Goodswill Akpabio, alleged and later recant that a huge number of contracts were awarded to federal lawmakers and funds paid up front without any execution – a major reason development has eluded the oil-bearing states. Before he was hushed and the interim board of NDDC dissolved, Akpabio was quoted as saying “People were treating the place (NDDC) as an ATM, where you just walk in there to go and pluck money and go away; NDDC has 12,000 abandoned projects in the Niger Delta.” Several investigations conducted by governors of the region into NDDC projects in the states revealed that thousands of abandoned projects despite the fact that billions of money have sunk into the commission. Engineer Charles Ambawowei, Chairman, Bayelsa State Committee on Verification of NDDC projects identified over 1,000 contracts/ projects most of which exists only on paper.
A Niger Delta activist once spoke of its impact, saying: “They didn’t only steal ‘NDDC money’, they stole the development of the region; they stole the future of a people. By their corruption, they stole education and made countless Niger Deltans illiterate; they stole healthcare and killed countless children, they stole money meant for generating employment and made millions jobless.
They stole money for road construction and caused the death of our people through accidents.” So disconcerting is the level of corruption that Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, said that the Buhari administration has lost steam in the anti-graft war.
He alluded to the fact that fewer looters being convicted and jailed, just as the prosecution process is manipulated – especially when over N9billion bribe was given in the judicial sector. Soyinka said: “There are so many people who should be in prison, if this government had not run out of steam, and so, the system is being manipulated.
There are cases where the prosecution had reached the level where evidence had been given on governors who had been stealing and depositing in bits and pieces so as not to flout a certain regulation. “I mean cases have been taken to that level and suddenly, silence.
The EFCC, which I back solidly ever since the days of Nuhu Ribadu, in all kinds of ways, we no longer know the distinguishing from rights and left.” Though a saint in itself, the main opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP), lauded the TI 2020 corruption index report on Nigeria, stating it had further confirmed that President Buhari government “is a citadel of corruption and the most corrupt in the history of our nation.”
Mr. Kola Ologbodiyan, the party’s spokesman said that the IT report which shows Nigeria plunging to 149th on the corruption perception index in 2020; dropping 13 places since 2015, under this government “is an incontrovertible confirmation that our nation is more corrupt under President Buhari and the APC, than it was in 2015 when they took office.”
A Certified Fraud Examiners (CFE), who recognizes the role of legislature and judiciary in the anti-graft war believe that the situation is more despondent when these critical sectors are enmeshed in a cesspool of corruption. The CFE, who is an accountant, lawyer and Vice Chancellor of one of Nigeria’s universities said that mechanisms for stemming corruption should be stepped up and the various anti-corruption institutions strengthened.
“Naming and shaming corrupt people, irrespective of their position, arrest, trial and sentencing, healthy financial control, legislations and enforcement of such without political interference are key in a successful anti-graft war.
“This is no time to trade blames with TI or to live a denial. Rather, the nation should do a kind of soul-searching. ICPC and TI cannot be wrong at the same time. Look, as we speak, a former President of South Korea, Park Geun-hye is serving a 25-year jail term for corruption. That is a country that takes corruption war seriously.”