Counting the Cost of Corruption

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Abimbola Akosile examines the impact of corruption on the economic and social progress of Nigeria, and the attendant cost on her development process

The analogy was startling but very apt. Nigeria has been called many names, both flattering and uncomplimentary in nature; but this was the first time this reporter would hear it being called a mango tree.

A friend of this reporter recently described Nigeria as a tall mango tree with ripe, juicy fruits dangling at its topmost levels.

To his imaginative mind, the corrupt and the rich climb regularly on the heads of the poor masses at the bottom to get to the lofty, juicy fruits, which symbolise the country’s commonwealth. Correspondingly, the hopeful, hungry masses who surround the tree’s base only get to lick the skins and seeds (if any) thrown down by the corrupt elite climbers.

His clincher was simple: the privileged climbers who get to the top find the few available branches and perch there to perpetually feast on the country’s proceeds (ripe mangoes), while the poor get hungrier and angrier right at the bottom of the tree.

Nigeria’s economic and development process does not appear any better than that graphic mango tree illustration. While the juicy mangoes portray a healthy fruit-bearing tree or country, the actual enjoyment of those fruits or the country’s resources are kept for only a few privileged citizens and the persistent corrupt individuals who trawl the corridors of power.

Although this nation has amassed billions and billions of dollars since crude oil was first discovered in Oloibiri, Bayelsa State in 1958, the majority of the country’s 160 million citizens have not really benefitted from such huge resources and generated revenue.

One word that keeps running through the whole depressing equation is corruption and its negative effect on the economy and development process of this potentially-great nation.

Though Nigeria can ironically proudly point to countries like Brazil, India and Malaysia as her contemporaries, she cannot claim to be at par with the now obviously more advanced nations; and experts and analysts have identified persistent and pervasive corruption as the major cause of this worrying trend. In this report, that is the crux of the matter.

Woeful Perception

Nigeria remains one of the most corrupt nations in the world, according to the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2013 released by Transparency International, a global watchdog.

In the last survey released on December 2, 2013, Nigeria ranked 144th out of 177 nations in the world, scoring 25 points out of a possible 100 points. Her corruption performance in 2013 was worse than 2012, when it scored 27 points. The regional giant was ranked alongside crisis-torn Central African Republic and Cameroon.

In December, 2012, Nigeria was ranked 139 out of the 176 countries surveyed on public sector corruption perception by Transparency International (TI), the global civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption.

From that ranking, Nigeria scored 27 marks out of a possible 100, where zero (0) denotes the worst form of corruption perception in the public sector, and 100 signifies the highest form of cleanliness.

From past survey results, the West African giant was ranked 143rd in 2011 out of the 183 nations surveyed by TI. She was ranked 134th out of 178 surveyed nations in 2010; 130th out of 180 nations in 2009; 121 out of 180 in 2008; 147 out of 180 countries in 2007, and 153 globally out of 180 surveyed nations in 2006.

Denmark and New Zealand were the cleanest countries in the world in 2013, sharing the first spot in the index, with scores of 91. Afghanistan, North Korea and strife torn, Somalia was the worst, with scores of 8 points. Finland, Sweden, Norway, Singapore, Switzerland, Netherlands, Australia and Canada emerged in the top ten of least corrupt nations in the world.

Transparency International said the 2013 report underscored the global reality that the abuse of power, secret dealings and bribery have continued to ravage societies around the world as more than two thirds of the 177 countries in the 2013 index score below 50, on a scale from 0 (perceived to be highly corrupt) to 100 (perceived to be very clean).

“The Corruption Perceptions Index 2013 demonstrates that all countries still face the threat of corruption at all levels of government, from the issuing of local permits to the enforcement of laws and regulations,” said Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International.

“The top performers clearly reveal how transparency supports accountability and can stop corruption,” said Labelle. “Still, the better performers face issues like state capture, campaign finance and the oversight of big public contracts which remain major corruption risks.” The Corruption Perceptions Index is based on experts’ opinions of public sector corruption.

Corruption within the public sector remains one of the world’s biggest challenges, Transparency International said, particularly in areas such as political parties, police, and justice systems. According to the global watchdog, public institutions need to be more open about their work and officials must be more transparent in their decision-making.

Corruption remains notoriously difficult to investigate and prosecute. Future efforts to respond to climate change, economic crisis and extreme poverty will face a massive roadblock in the shape of corruption, Transparency International warned.

Unresolved Cases

Despite the seeming efforts of anti-corruption agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), several cases of high-profile corruption in the public sector are still unresolved.

A recent report in a national daily disclosed unresolved high-profile cases of corruption in which prosecution had gone on for several years without any conclusion. Some of those affected include former governors such as Senator Joshua Dariye (Plateau) and Alhaji Aminu Turaki (Jigawa), as well as former ministers such as Prof. Fabian Osuji.

There are also pending cases involving the Police Pension scam where billions of naira were allegedly diverted into private pockets with the culprits still walking freely. The oil subsidy scam cases are also pending and the interest of the masses has waned due to government’s painfully slow pace of prosecution, with accusing fingers being pointed at the judiciary.

Also, not much has been heard recently about the final outcome of a bribery scandal involving a renowned member of the House of Representatives, who allegedly collected a lump sum of dollars from one of those allegedly involved in the oil subsidy mess, in return for a soft landing.

Many Nigerians believe that several elite citizens, who currently bestride the country’s political, economic and governance landscape, have no business being in such privileged positions, had the outcomes of corruption allegations against them being positively concluded.

In his inaugural address on May 29, 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan had pledged, in his words, to “Fight corruption regardless of the position of the person involved.”

However, critics of the president have expressed concern at so many inconclusive cases of prosecution involving high-ranking former political office holders, and also wondered if the anti-corruption programme pledged at the outset of the administration, is still being pursued at all.

Many citizens now view the anti-corruption campaign in the country as a flagging fight, due to the seeming inability of the country’s anti-graft agencies to prosecute and conclude several longstanding cases against high-profile former public officeholders in the books of the EFCC.

A recent disclosure by the EFCC that it has budgeted N284 million this year to prosecute 17 former governors for alleged corruption appears encouraging but different meanings could be read into that submission, especially given the country’s tense situation in a pre-election year.

Analysing the Crux

From a cross-section of analysts and experts who spoke on the issue of corruption, THISDAY gathered that the cost of corruption on the economy and development and livelihood of the people appear incalculable and enormous.

In his reaction, the Chairman of Transparency International, Nigerian Chapter, Major-General Ishola Williams (rtd.), said it is near impossible to estimate the cost of corruption in this country.

General Williams, who is also working to address conflicts in Africa with the African Strategic and Peace Research Group (AFSTRAG) as their Executive Secretary, said “corruption is on because majority of the society know that it is very bad but do not care; thus breeding tolerance for illicit acquisition of wealth.

“We are in the era of primitive accumulation, therefore impunity reigns and there is no time limit for cases and no special courts. There is a strong Federal Centre and weak states. We must de-federalise corruption to State up to community level. Scrap Local Governments and replace them with Metropolitan (Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano e.t.c.) City, Town, and District Councils, through innovative resource control”, the anti-corruption crusader stated.

According to him, “Huge funds are needed for campaign into elected offices, and business and wealthy individuals are taking over political selection and primary elections. There is also bad social services delivery with ‘un-living wage’, leading to gross inequality.”

Ishola, who urged Nigerians to look at the Scandinavian political system for its welfare system and low corruption, suggested a few vital tips to check corruption in Nigeria.

“We must name and shame corrupt individuals; publish Impunity Index quarterly; encourage, protect and reward whistleblowers; enact Anti-Corruption Civil/Administrative laws  for an empowered Code of Conduct Tribunal and Public Complaints Commission.

“Establish a Private Foundation (e.g. Danjuma Foundation) to support incorruptible candidates and parties with actionable manifestoes; publish annual Performance Index of all Anti -corruption Agencies including Code of Conduct Bureau and Public Complaints Commission but first merge ICPC and EFCC with separation of the Executive from the Board and eradicate the prevailing Police culture. We must also establish Special Courts to conclude cases of official corruption within six months”, the former general added.

In his own response, the Executive Director of the Niger Delta Budget Monitoring Group (NDEBUMOG), Mr. George-Hill Anthony, described the fight against corruption as nothing but hypocrisy, which is why the scourge persists despite all efforts.

According to him, “It is corrupt people that are fighting corruption in Nigeria, where everybody pretends to be saints. It’s all about hypocrisy. Other countries have been able to tackle corruption, countries like China and Singapore applied capital punishment against corruption, but in Nigeria even the mildest penalties have not been effected.

“Presently the country is heading into chaos because politicians are gambling with corruption and the governance process. If these are not addressed immediately, we are heading towards revolution. The impact of corruption on development is huge. The cost cannot be estimated or quantified, right from when oil was discovered in Oloibiri. Nigeria has earned hundreds of billions of dollars and there is nothing to show for it”, Anthony added.

Commenting on the issue, Chairman, Partners for Electoral Reform and Convener, Say No Campaign Nigeria, Mr. Ezenwa Nwagwu, said grand corruption is not unique to Nigeria but it is pervasive essentially because of absence of law and order, which “in simple word is impunity”.

“People are emboldened knowing there are no sanctions. Take for instance, the plethora of reports on alleged sleaze and dodgy transactions in the oil, aviation, pension e.t.c gathering dust for sheer lack of political will to act on them. The cost of corruption is huge, enormous, apart from the fact that the people are short-changed, the economic loss has a spiral effect on our lives and sectors”, Nwagwu added. According to a Lagos-based analyst and author, Mr. Odey Ochicha, “corruption is persistent because of poor, visionless, passionless and selfish leadership that lacks the will and conscience to punish corrupt officials.

To him, “Institutions are weak and the rule of law does not apply. The cost in terms of development is enormous: mass poverty, brain drain, capital flight, insecurity, mass illiteracy, unemployment, epileptic sectors, poor infrastructure e.t.c.”

Ochicha’s suggested remedies include leadership by example, prudent management, application of the rule of law, minimum of 25-year jail term for offenders, confiscation of all assets bought with stolen wealth by public officers, their wives and children e.t.c.

To a legal practitioner and Notary Public, Mr. Adetokunbo Mumuni, corruption is so pervasive because government has been selective in the war against corruption.

Mumuni, who is also the Executive Director of the Socio Economic Rights Advocacy Project (SERAP), said, “We have not punished acts of corruption, which breeds impunity. Most corrupt offenders are highly-connected and they escape punishment.

“We promote corruption by honouring the corrupt by giving them social recognition. The cost of corruption is unquantifiable and it reflects in every facet of our lives, especially in provision of infrastructure and impact of poverty.

To the lawyer-activist, the best remedy is consistency in enforcement of the various laws against corrupt acts. “We need to re-order our value system. It never used to be so. We should not praise the corrupt rich”, he added.

A don in the Department of Business Administration, Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, Mr. Ik Muo, looked at the issue of corruption from a similar angle to Mumuni.

According to Muo, “Because people are not being punished for corruption, this encourages others to follow suit”. The lecturer likened corruption to the act of one person driving against the traffic (one-way) and his escape tempting others to pull out of the normal lane to follow the offender.

“People see corrupt people and are tempted to follow. Overseas, they are corrupt, but they practice naming and shaming there, unlike in Nigeria. The cost of corruption has been monumental. Nigeria is not working. If roads and schools are in bad shape, it is down to corruption. People are dying in accidents and governance is poor.

“We need a wholistic view of corruption, from the economic and social viewpoints. We must punish corrupt people and make a statement. The oil subsidy scam is very clear and they ought to make examples of the scapegoats. Once that is done, all other things will fall into place”, he added.

In his own remarks, the Director, Centre for Transparency and Advocacy in Abuja, Mr. Babatunde Oluajo, declared that Nigeria has failed to go to the very root of corruption. To him, corruption was synonymous with the formation of the modern state where undermining the colonial state through corruption was regarded as a form of resistance.

Oluajo, who is also a Member, representing sub-Saharan Africa on the Coordinating Committee of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) coalition, said corruption in Nigeria and Africa is an evolution of the colonial state.

“Those who took over after the exit of the colonialists only differed in skin colour. We don’t see Nigeria as our own and the apparatus of state conduct themselves as aliens and instruments of domination. That resistance was carried over by those in power and those elite who stole from the state were applauded.

“The mindset is that one cannot steal from your community because of the implications, but against the state it is allowed because it is nobody’s business,” he added.

According to Oluajo, “the cost of corruption is unquantifiable from lives lost to lack of proper equipment or bad roads or even basic knowledge or infrastructural development; in terms of ridicule from lesser neighbouring countries and even bad leadership”.

The best remedy, to him, is the people themselves. “The only people who can stop corruption are the people themselves, not the Police or EFCC. By the time people start stopping looters, through citizens’ action, from enjoying the proceeds of corruption, nobody will tell them when to stop. We know them but the citizens must deny them the enjoyment of the proceeds,” Oluajo added.

Nip in the Bud

At the certification ceremony of Corruption Risk Assessors (CRA) in Calabar, Cross River State on February20, 2013, the Chairman, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Mr. Ekpo Nta, said, “There is no denying the fact that corruption remains a big challenge to our national aspirations, therefore all legitimate means within the bounds of the law must be used to fight it.

“With corruption as with most other undesirable conditions, it is much better and wiser to prevent occurrence than to expend huge resources after the damage has been done. Even though the law eventually catches up with corrupt persons, a lot of time and resources can be saved if we flag corruption risks in systems and plug loopholes to prevent the incidence of corruption”, Nta added.

To this end, through the efforts of the Technical Unit on Governance and Anti-corruption Reforms (TUGAR) and the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the ICPC, 96 trainees comprising public officers at Federal and State levels, media and civil society members enrolled for a ten-week long training programme.

The training involved two weeks of intensive “face to face” and eight weeks online interactions. However, only 69 qualified to receive full certification as Corruption Risk Assessors (CRAs).

To Nta, “a Corruption Risk Assessor is not a criminal investigator, neither is the conduct of a CRA a witch-hunting exercise. It is common to hear that corruption is endemic in Nigeria because of the system. The purpose of CRA is to minimise systemic vulnerabilities and strengthen organisational processes and procedures against corruption.”

Enough for All

Although analysts believe the cost of corruption is monumental and has had adverse effects on the livelihoods and wellbeing of majority of Nigerians, fortunately Nigeria’s wealth appears inexhaustible, to corroborate the comments of a bemused military ruler in the 80s.

With the huge reserves in gas and the federal government’s economic diversification moves, the expectation is that, beyond the seemingly cosmetic figures of hollow economic growth, the huge commonwealth would be equitably applied for the benefit of every deserving citizen.

The mango tree is still there and the fruits are still ripe for the picking. The focus now should be on plucking the juicy mangoes into one huge basket and sharing them equitably among the waiting, hungry and angry Nigerians. Any other corrupt formula may trigger dire consequences, and the cost of that is better imagined than experienced.

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