By Bola A. Akinterinwa
A former British Prime Minister, David Cameron, observed on May 10, 2016 that Nigeria was ‘fantastically corrupt.’ It was an affirmative statement which, according to the reports of The Punch, President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) agreed with in a Commonwealth conference in London. What meaning he intended to give the word, ‘fantastic,’ was not explained. However, ‘fantastic’ can have a positive meaning such as ‘extraordinarily good’, hence we can talk about an ‘extraordinary corruption,’ that is attractive. But why should any act of corruption be considered as good? The word ‘fantastic’ can allso mean ‘imaginative or fanciful, as well as remote from reality. What former Prime Minister might have had in mind by describing Nigeria as fantastically corrupt appears to be the last meaning, remoteness from reality or imaginative dimension to the issue of corruption. In this case, he must be thinking about Nigeria being a country of monumental corruption.
Put differently, David Cameron might be also looking at the capacity of Nigerians to be very imaginative, very scientific, and very committed to the promotion of corruption. It is this factor of an imaginative techniques of corruption that might have prompted the looking at Nigeria as fancifully corrupt. If something is fanciful but tainted with corruption, it is good for nothing. This is precisely how the anti-indiscipline and anti-corruption efforts of the Government of Nigeria should be seen. I strongly believe that, no matter the efforts of both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and those of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), in fighting corruption and societal indiscipline, not to mention the case of the National Anti-corruption Volunteers Corps (NAVC), there is no way Nigeria will not continue to remain fantastically more corrupt in the foreseeable future for one obvious reason: high-level public institutional corruption. It is always on the increase. So is the situation at the level of private business institutions.
My unanimous election and inauguration as State Coordinator for the National Anti-Corruption Volunteers Corps on Tuesday, July 30, 2019 at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, by the Chairman of the ICPC, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye and the NAVC National Coordinator, Mr. Mike Sowe, has considerably widened my scope of vision on what really constitutes corruption. Even though David Cameron did not give the elements of fantastic corruption, there is no disputing the fact that it is the Nigerian system, the Nigerian way of self-governance, self-deceit, business operations, that largely make corruption quite interesting and fantastic. The NAVC secretariat in Yaba, Lagos has been receiving and looking into some cases of fraud brought to its attention, how they are perpetrated and how they are sustained by government policies and public acquiescence.
Let me begin with one of my personal experiences, that of how the Guarantee Trust Bank (GTB) and the Mallmart engaged in defrauding their clients. GTB is undoubtedly one of the leading banks in Nigeria by virtue of service quality. Mallmart is an emerging big shopping centre located in between Alagomeji and Sabo bus stops in Yaba Mainland Local Government. I went to the Mallmart in the afternoon of Saturday, August 31, 2019 and made a purchase of some items that cost N7,420= (Seven thousand, four hundred and twenty naira only). At the point of payment, I gave my GTB card. After two attempts to deduct the amount, the cashier told me that the Point of Sale (POS) transaction failed, allegedly because of internet network failure. She, therefore, gave me a ‘decline receipt.’ On this basis, I accepted to find an alternative payment. A colleague of mine, with who I went to the Mallmart, Mr. Mumuni Adeoti, offered his GTB card to pay the sum of N7,420= on my behalf, with the use of a First Bank POS on the spot. I transferred the same amount to his own account with my mobile banking platform.
Most unfortunately, however, on that same day, by evening time, I received an alert from my bank, Polaris Bank, indicating that the sum of N7,420= had been deducted from my account. I wondered why this should be so, as it amounted to double payment. I went to the Mallmart the following Monday to lodge a complaint. I went there in company of Mr. Adeoti with evidence of double payments. I requested for refund or to replace the amount with new items worth the amount. The Mallmart rejected the proposition, explaining that the amount in dispute was not yet credited to its own account and therefore, there would not have been any good basis for refunding or allowing me to take new items in lieu of the amount. The Mallmart pleaded with me to refer the matter to the GTB, since it was the GTB POS that was used and that it was owned by the GTB.
I took my dilemma the following day to the GTB in Alagomeji bus stop, where it was admitted that it was true that the amount had not been credited to the account of Mallmart, and that the money was still hanging at the level of the NIBSS Instant Payment Solution, that is, online real time inter-bank payment solution. The NIBSS is Nigerian Instant Banking Settlement System. The explanation also given was that the bank was simply complying with the directives of the Central Bank of Nigeria on issues similar to mine.
In this regard, which directive of the Central Bank of Nigeria will have it that money be deducted from my account and not be transferred to the desired ultimate destination? I was told that the amount would be re-credited into my account within the following eight days. I complained against the long period and asked if there would be interest on the amount in the period of delay. There was to be no interest. It is already more than eight days now. For already two weeks now, my money, deducted from my account, has neither been returned to me nor to Mallmart. Where is the location of the money? I am told that it is with the NIBSS-NIPS. Why should my money be there for two weeks when it was not stolen or embezzled? I have not invested the money in the NIBSS-NIPS. What really is the money being used for? Or why is it still being kept as at this time of writing? Why was my money quickly deducted within minutes but it is taking weeks to pay either the Mallmart or refund my money? This is corruption per excellence, stealing by scientific arguments, and killing Nigeria softly.
There is another dimension to this fraudulent system of fund transfer. When payments are to be made, the Mallmart has different POS belonging to different banks. I took time to monitor the choice of which POS to be used by the cashier. I noted that cashiers hardly want to use the POS of the card presented. I challenged one cashier at the Mallmart why she should use a different POS for me when the POS from my bank was available. I complained simply because I am always charged N50 for banking service in addition to N2.50 tax (N52.50k), whereas there is no charge if the POS of my bank is used. There was no explanation, good or bad, offered by Mallmart. This suggests that the cashier simply wants to promote a bank of his or her choice, especially if such a bank of choice has, in the Nigerian parlance, has made a ‘settlement plan.’
The import of the foregoing is to note that financial transactions, on the basis of the alleged directives of the Central Bank of Nigeria, are, at best, very fraudulent. It is an inefficiency-driven fraud, which is neither new nor a big deal. Political governance in Nigeria has been largely characterised by inefficiency, indiscipline and corruption from one government to another. No matter how anyone wants to make noise, use loudspeakers to tell any Government of Nigeria about corruption and other societal ills, such noises can only fall on deaf ears.
Perhaps for the umpteenth time, how do we explain the fact that the Federal Government of Nigeria collected deposits from the people of Nigeria for the building and allocation of houses in 1994, when Alhaji Lateef Jakande was Minister of Works and Housing, and as at 2019, or 25 years thereafter, no building has been constructed for purposes of allocation? This is an expression of governmental defrauding of innocent Nigerians. Why should Government sanction any citizen for corruption offences when the same Government is the main source, the main terrain, and the terra cognita of sharp practices that are ingredients of corruption? True, corruption is increasingly becoming scientific in style of engagement.
What about the sale of government houses to public and civil servants under the administration of former President Olusegun Okikiola Obasanjo? President Obasanjo tried to bring efficiency and effectiveness into Government’s official accommodation policies by selling non-critical houses and flat to the general public, but with priority given to the incumbent officials. Thus, flats, houses were purchased and fully paid for but the relevant Certificates of Occupancy have not been given to many buyers who have refused to lobby for their entitlements. The style of public administration in Nigeria has never been to inform applicants of developments about their purchases. The style is to keep quiet about it and expect applicants to come forward to lobby in order to allow room for extortions. What is this if it not again an expression of systemic corruption?
Why is it that it is always in Nigeria that there are complaints of poor internet connections when faced with complaints of poor services? Why is it that it is in Nigeria that telephone connectivity is always a problem? Every social service in other African countries, especially the territorially smaller states, is efficient. If the challenge is the territorial size of Nigeria, what about Lagos State, the self-declared ‘State of Excellence’? It is territorially small, yet it is not free from administrative inefficiency that is the characteristic of public governance in Nigeria.
In fact, how do we explain the fact that the allocations of land under the Isheri North Development Project, begun under Military Governor Buba Marwa in the mid-1990s have not gone with the allocation of the Certificates of Occupancy? Arguments of the land space being water-locked have been advanced for the delay. But why should applicants have to go to Government to have information on the matter? Why is it difficult for public officials to notify all applicants by individual letters or by public notice? For over two decades, applicants, again including me, are yet to be given land.
It is important to also note the corrupt and fraudulent aspect of the allocations. When the allocation was made under Brigadier-General Buba Marwa, the size of the plot was 800 square metres. I paid over N500,000 (five hundred thousand naira) for the 800 square metre- plot. When Asiwaju Bola Tinubu succeeded Buba Marwa as Governor of Lagos State, he not only increased the cost of purchase for buyers who had not made full payments for their land, but reduced the size of the plot from 800 to 700 square metres without reduction in the costs of purchase.
And perhaps more disturbingly, it should be said that Lagos State, the very State of Excellence, is visibly the State of reckless indiscipline. It is a state of road and traffic lawlessness, a State of double standard. Governor Sanwoolu’s new traffic rules are commendable in theory but meaningless in application. LASTMA officials are more interested in extortions, rather than arresting commercial buses and motor cyclists or tri-cyclists which openly defy the traffic rules in the presence of law enforcement agents.
Put differently, why is it that motorcycle riders do not obey traffic lights in Lagos State? Are they not part of the road users or are they exempted by law? Why are the commercial vehicles disregarding with impunity traffic light and the traffic wardens? Without any shadow of doubt, dishing out regulations designed not to be implemented or which are flagrantly flouted but condoned by Government, is nothing more than an expression of corruption per excellence. It is self-deceit and self-mockery. It does not give any respect to Government. This is why Nigeria is permanently in a junction of confusion and problems. Most unfortunate!!
Why is it that, more often than not, it has not always been possible for Government to have people who would promote efficiency and effectiveness in public governance? Why is it that public officials are always the people involved in embezzling public funds? Why is it that those officials specifically put in office to prevent societal ills are also the very people diverting public funds they are required to protect? Again, most unfortunate!!! Let us espy two published recent cases of systemic corruption in order to show the depth of institutional corruption in Nigeria. The revelation of how contractual funds are shared and the reported case of looting of Amnesty funds will serve as illustration.
Height of High-level Corruption
Corruption is undoubtedly deepening in Nigeria. While we strongly believe that the main dynamic for this is the factor of institutionalisation of corruption, a former director of the Kenyan anti-corruption agency, Professor Patrick Lumumba, observed at the Opening Session of the 49th Annual Conference of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, that corruption thrives in Nigeria because Nigerians are still not tired about corruption or that they are still much in love with it. As he put it, ‘corruption is a crime against humanity. Experiences have demonstrated that if a people in a country are sufficiently fed up, they will rise up. In Romanian, we saw that the people themselves were dissatisfied with the conduct of their party officials and they changed the attitude of the leadership. sometimes, I think Nigerians and many Africans are not fed up. Because the day we are fed up, things will begin to change.’
There is no doubt that Professor Lumumba’s hypothesis is valid and quite tenable for further investigation. This is why it is also apt to ask why the people of Nigeria are not yet fed up with corruption and why in Nigeria, ‘people still celebrate those that fraudulently enriched themselves,’ to borrow the words of Professor Lumumba.
One possible rationale for not still being fed up is the fact that the political system serves as a lubricator of the wheel of corruption to the extent of eventually institutionalising it. If there is no catalytic agent sustaining corruption, the hypothesis of Professor Lumumba can end up being considered a theory. We argue in this case that the problem is not simply that Nigerians are not fed up with corruption but essentially because Nigerians are simply compelled to acquiesce to it. This is why it is ordinarily submitted by struggling Nigerians that ‘if you cannot beat them, join them.’ In other words, beating people who undermine the polity and survival of the nation is an issue. If leaders prefer to wreck havoc, why not join them for selfish reasons of survival. This is the major problem. Let us first espy, at this juncture, the revelations of Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State.
In marking the first 100 days of Governor Makinde in office, the story of how an ex-governor of Oyo State had allocated 26,000 hectares of Forest Land Reserve to himself and his cronies was told by Honourable Kehinde Ayoola, the Oyo State Commissioner for Environment and Natural resources. If the ex-governor, whose name was not specifically mentioned but who is referred to as the immediate predecessor, had not been in office, there was no way he would have had the opportunity of such an allocation to himself or to his cronies.
The real problem therefore, is not only the act of corruption itself, but also the direct assault on a reserved land that would be required to serve as an antidote to global warming charges in the future. Forest land reserve is for humanity but single individuals are now sharing the common patrimony because of the official position they occupy. Good enough, the Government of Oyo State has revoked the allocation in favour of public interest. This is a critical issue, but still not big a deal. The big deal is the sharing structure of contract funds. This explains to a great extent of how and why Nigeria is perceived to be fantastically corrupt. And yet, those who steal are celebrated minute after minute and the people of Nigeria will still go prayer grounds to ask God for blessings and not even for forgiveness. This is most unfortunate!
As revealed by the Governor, Mr. Makinde, 90% of the total cost of project implementation is diverted and only 10% is often earmarked for the actual execution of contracts. In the words of Governor Makinde, ‘I declare my assets because I want to be held accountable. What we met on ground is a situation where a project for which money is allocated, gets only about 10% of the total funds for execution.’ In other words, the governor has it that ‘because as we were told, 50% goes back to the Governor, 30% to the appointee who allocated the project, out of which 10% goes to the Governor’s wife.’ Who is an appointee in this case? If the Governor takes the huge percent, is it only for him? Has he not done so for the purposes of his political party? When public officials steal public money, is the loot only for the thief? Do members of his or her family not share in the loot? What Governor is simply saying is that only 10% of the total amount generally paid is the real cost of a project. The other 90% is theft or public embezzlement. And yet thieves go to churches and mosques, they are given national honours for destroying Nigeria.
And perhaps more disturbingly, there is the report by the Point Blank News according to which ‘Professor Charles Quaker Dokubo, Coordinator of the Niger Delta Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), with the assistance of his Senior Management Staff, allegedly laundered over $14 million (N5 billion) in two Turkish banks.’ The laundering of over $14 million is not really the big story but the fact of involvement of many of PMB’s associates. As the report has it, ‘the few registered companies on the long list that got huge contract sums are linked to some powerful individuals in the villa. Most of the contracts they got were either never done or abandoned but were paid for in full.’ And most disturbingly, the report says EFCC officials are ‘currently piqued by the sudden discontinuation of the probe that led to the discovery of the huge cash in two banks in Turkey.’ This is the crescendo of the challenge in the continuum of corruption and why the future of the anti-corruption struggle is, indeed, very bleak.
Who really should be held responsible for money laundering: PMB and his associates or the amnesty boss that Professor Charles Dokubo is? The essential point of this edition of vie internationale is to show how corruption is systemic and how the security guards of non-corruption are the very people engaging in it. It is most unfortunate. For a Long Time, therefore, Nigeria cannot but remain ‘Fantastically Corrupt’ simply because of the factor of high-level institutional corruption and its dynamics.