The recent revelation by the Finance Minister, Dr Kemi Adeosun, that the Federal Government intends to pay 5% of recovered loot to whistle blowers, as an incentive in the fight against corruption, has expectedly generated a lot of debate. On the one hand are supporters of the scheme who argue that it bodes well for the fight, while on the other hand are those who are convinced that the move would be counterproductive. I think I will pitch my tent with the latter group.
For starters this latest scheme, though novel, highlights this administration’s apparent inability or unwillingness to fix the country’s many problems and its penchant for drawing attention from its ineptitude and, permit me to use that well-worn word, ‘cluelessness’. Do not get me wrong. Corruption indeed is a very grave issue and needs to be tackled decisively, but the way and manner the present administration goes about the issue tends to suggest that at the end of the day, if the victory is ever won, it might well turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory. We have been one year into the fight already and yet for all the resources that have been committed into this war of attrition, there is very little to show for it. This writer thinks, and many discerning people have also begin to come to that conclusion, that the war against corruption as presently fought may be a smokescreen; a very striking case of the more you look, the less you see.
A number of developments emphasize this assertion. Curiously enough all the fight against corruption is squarely centered in the opposition camp. They are the ones who are hounded, arrested, hand cuffed and where possible confined to detention, even when competent law courts grant them bail. As soon as a complaint is made against any of the members of the opposition, they are immediately picked up and paraded before the public as conscience-less rogues and robbers of the public patrimony, even before they are given the benefit of a fair hearing. The DSS, EFCC, CCT and all other concerned government apparatchiks turn judge and jury, effectively condemning the accused before the public court as felons who must face the full wrath of the law. But when the shoe is on the other foot, the same very zealous and dogged public watchdogs become suddenly tongue-tied and very deliberate, if not ponderous in pursuing the cases. Ever before the current saga involving no less a person than the Secretary to the Federal Government went viral, there has been reports of the daylight roguery happening under his watch in the lamentable displaced persons camp. A particular example was the deal in which a whopping ₦270 million naira was spent for clearing weeds. Reproduced here is a section of that report as was carried by one of the national dailies.
House of Representatives committee investigating alleged diversion of funds and materials meant for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPS), especially the alleged use of N270m just to clear grass by the office of the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) said it was being frustrated by the refusal of the SGF, Mr Babachir Lawal to appear before it. Vanguard Newspapers October 7 2016.
Typically not even a mention was made of the matter by the relevant authorities. They all kept mum. That the matter is finally open into the public domain like this is probably because there is some in-fighting among the President’s men as has severally been suggested by analysts. It could also be because certain members of the opposition have decided to fight back. “Why should I watch you continually throw mud at me, when very close to you are some of the stuff which I can smear you with?” Mind you the latter may not simply be a case of ‘corruption fighting back’ as the apologists of this ‘we versus them’ corruption fight would have us believe but an indication that the new sheriff in town has a case to answer with the law himself. In fact if corruption fighting back entails that we get to know more of all the sleazy deals that have been done this past eighteen months, then this writer says encore!
Here is another. Hardly any day passes without one government functionary or the other mentioning one huge amount as the money recovered from looters but funny enough none of the figures bandied about agree. The claims made so far concerning the loot recovered from past corrupt government officials are so conflicting that one is at loss which to believe. Even putting that aside, and one agrees that the vast sums mentioned have been recovered, the question naturally arises, “Where is this money?” How come the Federal Government has been unable to work out an arrangement to channel this money into vital sectors of the economy? Or were such sums never recovered at all? indeed the secrecy surrounding the whole issue tends to suggest that either nothing has been recovered (in which case all that media hype is uncalled for) or that somebody somewhere is playing a game that is inimical to the finances of the nation.
Coming back to the revelations emanating about the main figures behind the corruption fight of this administration, one cannot but be completely unsurprised, and for me, this is the crux of the matter. The reality is that we cannot operate the system we do now and hope that corruption can be completely eradicated or even reduced to that bearable minimum so often talked about but which no one has taken pains to properly define. There is something inherently faulty with our system which makes corruption possible, nay, makes corruption inevitable. There is something about the Nigerian set-up that makes sinners out of saints. We cannot have our common patrimony regularly remitted to and concentrated in a central purse to be administered by one powerful individual or his appointees and hope that they will not be tempted. A situation where our financial officers and administrators are more empowered by the constitution to ‘share’ rather than to ‘generate’ wealth makes it very easy for public officials to suddenly acquire wealth that cannot be accounted for. We say we practice a system of federation based on the American model but at no time do we see the American President and the various state governors regularly meet together to share ‘allocations’ as we do. The so-called revenue sharing formula we hold on to end up being more of a burden than a help. The result is that we continue to recycle for administrators, the same group of individuals who do everything to hold on to power or to remain in the corridors of power, fully aware that their closeness to the seat of power guarantees an unending supply of wealth. And it does not matter whether they belong to the PDP or the APC. Because of the very enormous and loose money there to be made at the centre, each election periods witnesses a huge chest of resources being spent by the protagonists to outdo each other and capture the treasure chest. In the last general elections, it is widely believed that the PDP spent about ₦1.3 trillion naira to execute the presidential elections, while the APC spent about ₦800 billion naira. Now tell me, what politician would not want to recoup that kind of investment when he gets into power? Especially with a system like ours that encourages reckless public spending.
Back to the matter of whistle blowing. The federal government should tow another path. Before now we had people called upon to testify in other cases of felon, what incentives were they given? Why should this one be different? What is so special about whistle blowers that their motivation for doing so should be monetized? What are we trying to encourage? Witch-hunting and slander? Yes, agreed that cases of larceny and corrupt enrichment are high –profile and could endanger the lives of would-be witnesses. But will the danger be reduced by the monetary gift? A man who really wants to get at you can do so, even from within prison walls, especially given our kind of security arrangement.
Again, how can we be sure that the prosecutors would not do deals with whistle blowers. If the stakes are high, corrupt security operatives can collude with informants for a hefty pay-out. Mind you we are talking about billions of naira here. For a pay-out of about ₦50 million naira or there about anything is possible. People have been killed for far less.
Besides, what is the guarantee that the people to handle the claims and the pay-out on behalf of the government would not end up short-changing the intended beneficiaries? In fact this idea of fighting financial crimes with financial inducements can eventually throw up more problems than it set out to solve.
If the government is indeed desirous of seeing the back of corruption in Nigeria, the way to go is to ensure social justice. Let there be fairness as was suggested in an article contributed recently by Chidi Odinkalu in the Vanguard Newspapers of 22nd December 2016.
“[w]ithout social equality there can be no social justice. And without social justice, corruption and patronage will continue to flourish.” In the absence of a shared sense of ownership of the Nigerian nation-space, most of those with the opportunity set upon what should be our common patrimony. What we call corruption is in fact competitive asset stripping of the country.
A good starting point is making sure that the war against corruption is not selective; like the setting up of a committee to look into the corruption allegations against Magu and Babachir, when if it were to be the opposition, they would be cooling their heels in EFCC or DSS cells by now.
Another thing would be to completely restructure our present arrangement. Let’s really practice true federalism based on the American model and not this quasi structure that makes ‘dependents’ out of state governments. Restructuring the country into fiscal regional governments would reduce the incidence of having too much money and power at the centre. When each region is entirely responsible for its economic development and sustenance, then there would be no allocations to share, and no loose money to siphon.