President Muhammadu Buhari’s buck-passing 11 months after assuming office is no longer acceptable, writes Vera Osuji
In recent times, we have become familiar with uttering popular clichés like “Jonathan put this country into the mess we are in today”; “We are faced with the mess the past administration left us with” and “We must probe the immediate past administration”, among others. I can go on and on but for the sake of time I choose to be more prudent.
If we truly take stock and make an unbiased assessment of the immediate past administration, we would see that the administration, like any other previous government-in-charge that led this great country, had its many shortcomings. No doubt, we the citizens had high expectations from a president we voted in, who apparently came from unprivileged beginnings – remember his campaign mantra of having no shoes at one time in his life – and as a result, felt he was in a unique position to relate with the sufferings of the deprived populace. Secondly, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ) happened to be the first lecturer with a graduate degree to lead our nation and so, for all intent and purposes, he was perceived as the Messiah of the time.
We are all aware of the political undercurrent of 2009 and the country’s need then (and now) to have a decisive, firm and upright leader to step in and restrain the strong elite cabal from strangulating the state machinery. At the time, Yar’adua had become incapacitated and shortly afterwards died. This scenario gave rise to his cohorts hijacking state powers and wielding it for their selfish interests and motives.
Recall, we reached a logjam, which led to all well-meaning Nigerians matching and protesting the provisions of the constitution, which empower the vice-president to be appointed as the Acting President. It was at this juncture, that GEJ came to the limelight for the very first time in the matter.
More so, his quiet demeanor and calmness throughout the dilemma worked to his favour as pundits pondered his humble disposition to either reflect the makings of a highly articulate individual positioning alongside the tunes of the piper or that of a meek servant without the courage or wherewithal to lead a great country like Nigeria.
Whatever side of the pendulum you choose to look at Jonathan, the truth remains: Nigeria is a difficult country to rule and no aspersions should be made by associating corruption with only the immediate past administration. History would always repeat itself and providence has a way of making all men sober up to their actions and inactions.
With that, I cast your memory back to 1962 when Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the first Premier of the Western Region, was investigated and found guilty of corruption by the Coker Commission of Inquiry. In 1954, the Western Region Marketing Board could boast of £6.2 million. However, by May 1962, the corporation had to exist on overdrafts amounting to over £2.5 million. A loan of £6.7 million was made to the Western Region government-owned National Investment and Properties Co., Ltd. for building projects out of which only £500,000 was repaid. The Western Region Finance Corporation and the Western Nigeria Development Corporation also received loans of millions of pounds. None of these loans were ever repaid.
In 1978, about N2.8 billion of oil revenue was allegedly declared missing from the state affairs as reckless spending characterised by unaccountable governance. The disappearance of the $12.4 billion Gulf War oil windfall from 1991 to date added some credibility to this speculation. Other events include the 2002 case of $214 million National Identity Card project that involved the Internal Affairs Ministry and SAGEM and the case of about $16 billion in oil revenues lost between 1979 and 1983 during the reign of President Shehu Shagari.
During the first four years of the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, federal ministers allegedly stole more than N23 billion from the public coffers. An audit report released by Vincent Azie, acting Auditor-General of the Federation, showed that the amount represented financial frauds ranging from embezzlement, payments for jobs not done, over-invoicing, double-debiting, inflation of contract figures to release of money without the consent of the approving authority in ten major ministries.
Corrupt practices pre-date Jonathan’s administration, reaching as far back as the colonial days. Even the process of handing over of power after the fight for independence was corrupt in itself and objectivity and equity were not brought into the picture. So permit me to say that “this country was birthed corruptly” by our colonial masters to safeguard their business and pecuniary interests.
However, I will say that if corruption in the 1990s was endemic, corruption since the return of democracy in 1999 has become legendary. Between the period 2010 and 2015 corruption became institutionalised in the DNA and workings of businesses and society at large.
Within the stated period, it was revealed that $6bn (£4bn) was defrauded from the fuel subsidy fund. We have the Police Pension Fund Fraud, in which the accused got a two-year sentence or $750,000 fine; and payment of 750,000 was made. We also have the NNPC missing $20 billion naira. The punishment was that the whistle blower was fired and the corporation asked to refund $1.48 billion after an Audit report later indicted the NNPC.
We have the $6bn Fuel Subsidy Scam. There is also N123 billion fraud in which Mr. Stephen Oronsaye, a former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation was indicted by a report by the Office of the Auditor- General over an alleged N123 billion fraud perpetrated during his tenure, between 2009 and 2010.
After all investigations were completed, no action was taken. We have the $15 million Private Jet Arm Scandal, of which the government claimed involvement. However, no further explanations were given, while the United States of America was blamed for black market arms deal. The Abba Moro Immigration recruitment scandal of which he remained a minister after supervising extortion from graduates and death of 20 graduates is another. On Friday, March 13, 2015, he stood by the President as 33 recruitment letters and N75 million was given to the families of slain applicants as compensation.
Crude oil theft scandal, according to the ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, 300,000 to 400,000 barrels of oil per day, or more than 10% of all Nigeria’s production, was being lost at a cost to the state and oil companies of around £1bn a month. Instead of punishing the culpable individuals, ex militants were given contract worth billions to secure waterways. Rather than a decrease in oil theft, a marked increase was seen. A school dropout militant became a force that could hold the government to ransom.
And the list goes on and on. It is clear that the colonial masters and founding fathers of Nigeria are to be blamed for allowing the seeds of corruption to flourish in Nigeria and not necessarily GEJ. Looking at this present administration, what is the conclusion on the illegal recruitment exercise that involved the president’s nephew and other high profile political elite? Has the president given a speech in that regard? Does this contradict what this president stands for in the minds of Nigerians?
The delay in passing “the budget of change” as a result of characterised smuggling of frivolous allocations, accusations and controversies points to the fact that corruption is wired in the DNA of most Nigerians. It is everywhere in our families, market, mosque, churches, street etc.
That said, it is now time for the Government of the day to take an honest and sincere approach towards addressing corruption. Name-calling and bulk passing is an idle man’s past-time. What is needed is the putting of the right policy frameworks that can strengthen our judiciary – laws that can ring-fence and empower our institutions against the malaise of corruption. These are herculean tasks that can only be achieved with a forward and right-thinking government. We pray the current administration can take this mantle of leadership and quit the blame-game once and for all.
-Osuji wrote from Lagos
That said, it is now time for the Government of the day to take an honest and sincere approach towards addressing corruption. Name-calling and bulk passing is an idle man’s past-time. What is needed is the putting of the right policy frameworks that can strengthen our judiciary – laws that can ring-fence and empower our institutions against the malaise of corruption