No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves or if Police can be bought off by drug traffickers. No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. – Barack Obama during a visit to Ghana, 2009.
It was a glad news, as reported in The Tide newspaper, Monday, September 9, 2019, that the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) saved the Federal Government of Nigeria more than N26.86 billion in 2018 alone, by revising down inflated contract sums by government contractors. It was reported that the highest saving of N22.22 billion was recorded from the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing. From the Ministry of Petroleum Resources the sum of N271 million was saved and other ministries included Transportation N1.37 bn, Water Resources N521m, Finance N143.72m, etc.
From the Central Bank of Nigeria’s initial request of N1.47 billion, the sum of N33.65 million was saved; from military contracts about N494.96 million was saved. What is vital about the afore-mentioned pruning down of inflated contract values for 2018 alone, is that the exercise is a credit to the federal government, via the BPP. If such pruning exercises and searchlight could continue and be extended to other years and other public sectors, the results would be quite salutary for Nigeria.
In 2009 during the visit of Mrs Hillary Clinton to Nigeria, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) presented her with a letter of requests, which she was to mention to President Umaru Yar’adua in their meeting. The issues included the following: Explain to Nigerians how the government spent recovered stolen public funds, since 1999; Ensure full compliance with the provisions of the UN Convention against corruption; Demonstrate the required political will to fight corruption in a meaningful, consistent and effective way; Monitor and track the spending of recovered stolen funds and publish the purposes the finds were used; Establish a trust fund from the recovered stolen funds, and use such funds to address urgent developmental needs, etc.
One Adetokumbo Mumuni who conveyed SERAP’s letter to Mrs. Clinton emphasized that the spending of recovered loots was characterized by secrecy and absence of transparency and accountability. As at that time, 1.9 billion dollars was said to have been recovered from a former Head of State, late Gen. Sani Abacha, N10 billion from a former Inspector-General of Police, Tafa Balogun and 1.9 million dollars from late Diepreye Alamieseigha.
SERAP’s grouse was that there were no transparency and openness in the spending of recovered stolen public funds estimated at N600 billion then, and that such funds were relooted or mismanaged. As a human rights non-governmental organization whose mandate include the promotion and protection of socio-economic rights of Nigerians, SERAP’s insistence on transparency and accountability in public and private sectors is quite commendable.
That there are public agencies such as the Bureau of Public Procurement, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) would mean that there are determined efforts to save the government from financial abuses. But the fact that government contractors can deliberately inflate contract values would also mean that such malpractices fall within the category of financial crimes.
That there are non-governmental organizations such as SERAP and other pressure groups, including the Ethnic Nationalities Movement, means that there are provisions for the protection of helpless segments of people in the society. What SERAP did in 2009 by demanding that recovered looted public funds should be accounted for properly, was commendable.
Like SERAP, the Ethnic Nationalities Movement in 2008 raised a voice of protest against statements of some highly placed Nigerians in laundering the image of late Abacha. Such advocacy and image laundering activities are nothing short of corruption as well as attempts to discourage honest Nigerians who, in spite of prevailing temptations, try to remain up-right.
It was particularly disturbing to a large number of Nigerians that three Military Generals and former Military Heads of State, Generals Buhari, Babangida and Abubakar, tried to portray their late colleague as a patriot and hero rather than a treasury looter. Such statements like: rather than malign Abacha, the later ruler deserves to be praised …”; “It is quite unfortunate and unfair to accuse the family of late Sani Abacha of looting public funds” etc, are attempts to make foul fair and fair foul.
If massive looting of public funds by highly-placed Nigerians can be defended and glossed over by friends and loyalists, then why do we demonise petty thieves? The issues of recovery of looted public funds, transparency in accounting for such recovered loots and ensuring that such lootings in various clever ways are blocked, are issues that must not be addressed by rhetoric or sanctimony, but by penalizing the culprits. Image laundering of looters is nothing short of corruption. The BPP should neither slumber nor sleep now that it is waking up to its responsibility.
Dr. Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.
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