Engaging Corruption At The Roots

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Engaging Corruption At The Roots
 

By

 

Edwin Madunagu

 

 

 

culled from GUARDIAN, April 21, 2005

 

My interest at this moment is not in the particular high-profile cases of corruption now being investigated or in President Olusegun Obasanjo's current anti-corruption campaign. My interest, at this point, can be formulated as questions: How do we construct a political economy, a political system, and a public service, such that there would be little incentive for engaging in high-profile corruption? How do we construct a political economy, a political system, a state system, and a public service, such that, even if a corrupt and criminally-minded person manages to find an incentive, he or she will find a high-profile corrupt act very difficult to commit? What type of punishment can be an effective deterrent in high-profile corruption?

This is my response to Obasanjo's campaign and the revelations of March and April, 2005. I think one way of engaging my questions is to go through, in slow motion, some reported high-profile corruption cases in Nigeria. I learnt long ago that to confront a particular phenomenon you may need to start with some case studies, review them, ask some "unorthodox" questions and make some "heretical" marginal notes. I wish to adopt this method in looking at of high-profile corruption in Nigeria. And by high-profile, I mean high-profile: National Assembly, Ministers, Governors...I start with some cases in the Second Republic (1979-1983), at least to show that the phenomenon we are witnessing now emerged long ago. Only that it has now assumed monstrous proportions.

On Tuesday, September 15, 1981, the House of Representatives ordered the cancellation of all overseas tours by its members "in view of the state of the Nigerian economy and the drain on foreign exchange that these tours constitute". To ensure that the order was complied with, "the Sergeant-at-Arms and some policemen were sent to the Murtala Mohammed International Airport to stop members who might want to flout the House's order". But, in spite of this measure by the House of Representatives, 16 members of its Committee on Internal Affairs flew out of the country that same night. They claimed to be going on tour of overseas countries "to see how their borders were made impenetrable to aliens"! The pertinent comment here is that the legislators were able to defy the order of the House first, because the order was not serious, and secondly because the money was there and the will was there to spend it.

Sometime in August 1981, the Senate Committee on Education divided itself into two teams (A and B) for the purpose of visiting a dozen countries in virtually all the continents of the world. Team A visited London, Stockholm, Amsterdam, New Delhi, Bombay, Peking, Tokyo and New York, in that order. They spend only a Saturday night in Amsterdam! Each Senator travelled by first-class. Team B visited Dar-es-Salem, Rome, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Havana, Kingston, Ontario and New York, in that order. Their self-appointed and, of course, self-serving, task was to study the systems of education in the countries to be visited! Again, how was it possible for these legislators to embark on this money-yielding and self-enriching adventure? The answer is simple and straightforward: the money was there, and all were committed to spending it.

In May 1982, a member of the Oyo State House of Assembly made 20 allegations of corruption against the Executive. In particular, he alleged that "a top official in the state got N2 million from a N24 million contract". The legislator was promptly kicked out of the government party to which he belonged, while the reporter who filed the report for publication in the government-owned newspaper was dismissed. The Speaker of the House narrowly escaped impeachment for allowing the legislator to make the allegations. Having escaped impeachment, the Speaker announced the dissolution of the Commission of Inquiry earlier set up by the House to probe the allegations.

Finally, the Speaker ruled that, henceforth, members wishing to speak on motions on adjournment must notify him in advance. That same month, the Majority Leader of the Ogun State House of Assembly alleged that the Deputy Governor had corruptly amassed N3 million to fight the 1983 election. He was promptly expelled from the ruling party and removed from his legislative post - without debate. These two incidents took place in states ruled by an opposition party reputed to be progressive.

Also in May 1982 the Governor of Sokoto State attempted to increase his contingency fund by 40 per cent. When the Speaker of the State House of Assembly resisted this, he was promptly impeached, removed from office and expelled from the ruling party. Any of these stories could have referred to actual events in the current dispensation called the Fourth Republic. But they are separated from the current dispensation by about 22 years. Furthermore, every state in the Second Republic --with the exception of Kaduna State under Balarabe Musa, and possibly Kano State under Abubakar Rimi - recorded numerous stories of this type. In the case of kaduna State, Governor Musa was impeached in June 1981 precisely for resisting this type of high-profile corruption. We may now go to the current dispensation.

At least three "explosions" have so far taken place this year in President Olusegun Obasanjo's anti-corruption campaign. The earliest took place in the Nigeria Police Force; then followed by the one which took place simultaneously in the National Assembly and the Federal Ministry of Education and then the explosion in the Ministry of Housing. We may start with the National Assembly and the Ministry of Education. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not assuming that the official reports were true in every "material particular". Rather, my insistence is that this story and the others reported below could have referred to actual events in several public institutions of the Fourth Republic.

The "facts of the case", as presented by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) were as follows: Sometime before March 22, 2005, an allegation of official corruption was levelled against a Minister and some Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. "The specific allegation", said the EFCC chairman in an official report, "was that some members of the National Assembly demanded from the Minister of Education who in turn offered to the members of the National Assembly some amount of money in order to smoothen the process of passing the ministry's 2005 budget. The amount of money involved is the sum of N55 million". The money was raised via a "loan" from the NUC and a "grant" from the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), and then shared by some Assemblymen - with a small "dash" for a Senate bureaucrat who was accordingly instructed to adjust the Ministry's budget upwards.

When I asked a journalist comrade of mine what a minister could have personally gained by bribing some lawmakers with such a large sum of money, he laughed, and told me that the money could be recovered ten-fold in just one contract made possible by the National Assembly and awarded by the ministry. It was then that I recalled what Yusufu Bala Usman said during the Second Republic: "The total wage bill of a state government can be realised as profit or commission on a single contract of construction, supply, or sale of crude oil" (Behind the Oil Smokescreen).

On January 17, 2005, the Federal Government announced that the Inspector-General of Police (IG) had requested to be allowed to proceed immediately on terminal leave and then retire from service at the end of that leave, on March 6, 2005. The request was granted. He was subsequently arrested by EFCC on Friday, March 28. Then, on Monday, April 4, 2005, he was charged to court on a 70-count charge. The summary of the charge was that "he was into money laundering and theft of police funds". He also "allegedly invested stolen funds in blue-chip firms and banks, and owned several accounts where huge sums of money were lodged in pseudo names". Altogether, the former IG was accused of stealing N10 billion from the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) in the three years he was in office (March 6, 2002 to March 6, 2005). The pertinent question is this: In what type of political economy and public service is it possible for a single individual to steal - or even attempt to steal - such a huge sum of money?

On Monday, April 4, 2005 - President Olusegun dismissed his Housing and Urban Development Minister, a woman. The official reason was the "embarrassing handling of the sale of the Federal Government property in Lagos, in violation of the Federal Executive Council decision and the clear and repeated directives from President Olusegun Obasanjo on how the sale should be conducted in a fair and transparent". The official statement of dismissal indicated that the Minister's explanation was "unsatisfactory". The pertinent questions are: Why the sale at all, given that there are many public institutions, middle and lower cadres of the public service and homeless people that could take up such property - without changing the capitalist character of the Nigerian political economy? And, even if the sale had been done in a "fair and transparent manner", as directed by the President, how many Nigerians could have benefitted from the sale of houses, each of which was offered for an average of N100 million.?

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