Buhari’s Corruption War and US’s Damming Report

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RingTrue with Yemi Adebowale, yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com; 08054699539 (text only)

Ring true

Phone 08054699539
Email: yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com

I have spent quality time reading the United States’ 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices released last Tuesday in which it alleged massive corruption and stifling of free speech in 2020, under the Buhari government. On sleaze, the US Department of State’s report stated that it was widespread and pervasive at all levels of government, including the judiciary and security services. It asserted that there were numerous allegations of government corruption last year, citing the arrest and investigation of the former acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, for graft.

The report stated that many corruption cases, particularly the high-profile ones, remained pending before courts due to administrative or procedural delays: “Although the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not consistently implement the law, and government employees frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.” It was a damming report. This is against the backdrop of President Muhammadu Buhari regime’s anti-graft stance.

I thought there would be an energetic reaction from the Buhari government on this report, with facts and figures to contradict it. None came along these lines. I guess there is really nothing to promote in this government’s fantasy war against corruption. The United States only emphasised what many of us have always known about Buhari’s failed war against corruption. I persistently point out the flaws, with a long list of untamed sleaze cases – NNPCgate, Maihajagate, Mainagate, Barugate, Yusufgate, Babachirgate and the rest of them.

The story is the same in virtually all the MDAs. Yes, corruption in MDAs predates the Buhari government, but he told us that it won’t be business as usual under him. This avowal was a sham. Under Buhari, corruption in almost all the MDAs is a bigger monster, depriving Nigeria huge revenues. The sleaze in Nigeria’s defence and security budgets for almost six years is most disgusting. Security agents are losing grounds to terrorists, yet, money for equipment to help reverse the trend is obstinately mismanaged. The National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno pointed this out, but recanted under pressure.
In this country, a serving army chief under Buhari bought a $2 million property in Dubai and shamelessly defended it with impunity. A recent report by global auditing firm, PwC, revealed persistent corruption and several anti-business dispositions in some of Nigeria’s regulatory agencies. Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo was worried by the report and demanded sanction. Nothing happened thereafter.

Can you imagine a government that is fighting corruption approving a frightening N1.4 billion for the design of a 12-floor head office building in Abuja for the Department of Petroleum Resources? Yes, N1.4 billion. The Federal Executive Council gladly approved the contract. The total projected cost of the building is N36.4 billion. I guess it would be made all of gold.

What about the re-looting of recovered Abacha loot under Buhari’s watch? Despite outcry, dubious fees amounting to $17 million were allegedly paid to two lawyers for the recovery of $321 million stolen by former military ruler, Sani Abacha. The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, allegedly engaged the two Nigerian lawyers after the job had been completed by Enrico Monfrini, a Swiss lawyer hired by previous Nigerian government to work on the recovery. Monfrini openly declared that fresh lawyers were absolutely unnecessary because he had concluded all legal work.

But for persistent protest by Nigerians, Babachir Lawal, the legendary grass cutter, would have remained as the SGF after allegedly mismanaging about N2.5 billion in the account of the Presidential Initiative on the North East, PINE.

What about the sleaze allegations against the then Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, Prof. Usman Yusuf? This public servant, under investigation by anti-graft agencies, was reinstated with fiat. What about the then Director-General of the National Emergency Management Agency, Mustapha Maihaja, struggling to explain how he spent billions of Naira allocated to his agency?

Money gobbling has been the name of NNPC’s game under Buhari. The memo written by the former Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu on sleaze at the corporation remains fresh in my memory. The cabal in charge of this government tightened the noose on Kachikwu, forcing him to recant. In 2017, this corporation told a bewildered nation that petrol consumption had jumped to 60 million litres daily, with N1.7 trillion paid as subsidy. NNPC’s petrol import and expenditure claims are cloaked. Rent seekers in the oil industry are obviously still collecting the proceeds of crude oil sales. The four refineries owned and operated by the NNPC are in shambles; yet, they gulp billions of Naira annually for turn-around maintenance. There is now a prickly $1.5 billion approved to repair one of them. It can only happen in Nigeria.

Many of the sleaze allegations under the Buhari government are waved aside with impunity. I will never forget that of the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu. In 2019, the sacked Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TeTFund), Abdullahi Baffa, had alleged that he was forced out of office owing to his refusal to provide monetary kickbacks to Adamu. Baffa told BBC Hausa Service that the Minister had sent a contractor to him demanding his share of N200 billion disbursed by the agency to tertiary institutions in Nigeria.

Bafa alleged: “If they bring any evidence indicting me, I’m ready to accept death punishment. I do not regret my refusal to obey the minister’s directives because I cannot sabotage my country. Go and ask the minister. Eight months ago, Mallam Adamu Adamu sent one of his biggest contractors to tell me that the minister was angry with me for three reasons. The issue was that TeTFund disbursed over N200 billion to universities without remitting the per cent kickback, amounting to at least N20 billion at 10 per cent rate.” Bafa was never questioned.

Expenses on the provocative School Feeding Programme of the Buhari government are dizzying. Our children, as at last year, had been fed with N196.6 billion since the inception of the programme in 2016. So says the federal government.

Even with COVID-19 lockdown and schools shut, our blessed children were still being fed at home. Only God knows how this magic was done. The House of Representatives’ Committee on Public Accounts was not impressed with a recent presentation on the feeding programme and resolved to summon the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Director General of the National Bureau of Statistics, to appear and tender records of payments/details of the nine million children and 84,000 schools across the country benefiting from the school feeding programme.

The Chairman of the Committee, Oluwole Oke, frowned at the breach of the Public Procurement Act during the implementation of the feeding programme and demanded for relevant authorisations from the Bureau of Public Procurement. He also demanded for budgetary approvals for the scheme from inception, as well as the lists of schools, locations, cooks and full details of expenditure. On this mess, our compromised lawmakers did not go beyond threats.

Spending on the N-Power Scheme, another arm of FG’s Social Investment Programme, has also been puzzling. This scheme has gulped N421 billion from 2016 to 2020, so says the federal government; but complaints of unpaid stipends pour daily. The statistics of participants is also contentious. The House of Representatives’ Committee on Public Accounts queried the expenses on N-Power when its managers appeared before it. There were discrepancies in the figures declared, when asked to give account of the amount expended so far, against what they have on paper.

Worried by the inconsistency in the documents presented to the House of Representatives’ Committee on Public Accounts, Oke argued that N-Power was out to “ambush the Parliament”. He directed all the lawmakers to go to their various constituencies and verify the details of all the beneficiaries of N-Power listed, with a view to ensuring accountability.

The situation at the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), as reflected in a 2019 presentation to the Senate’s Joint Committee on Finance and Planning, represents the corruption, mismanagement and ineptitude in virtually all federal revenue-generating agencies. The DPR, one of the agencies that have failed to remit good money to the Federation Account as expected, was queried by the Senate for sending a meagre N44.5 billion into the Consolidated Revenue Fund out of the N2.4 trillion it generated in 2019. The agency’s Head of Planning, Johnson Ajewole, who stood in for his DG, Sarki Auwalu, during the enquiry at the Senate, confirmed the frightening gap between amount realised and money remitted. The DPR management deducted N88 billion from the N2.4 trillion generated in 2019 as “four per cent approved collection fee.” That’s a monstrous N88 billion as cost of collection in one year. I wonder who approved this.

The DPR could not even convincingly account for the remaining unremitted 2019 collections, as it simply said overhead and operational costs swallowed the remaining money, without specific figures tied to them. We are talking about over N2 trillion balance here; that’s about 20 per cent of Nigeria’s 2020 budget.

Also recently, a N7 billion under-remittance by the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) was confirmed. The agency collected the revenue and claimed it was spent on inspection of factories. Over N7 billion spent on inspection! At the Securities and Exchange Commission, N10.3 billion is spent annually on the salaries of 600 staff. That’s an average of N15.7 million per person. SEC is one of the most lucrative places to work in Nigeria. Revenue of N8.36 billion generated in 2019 could not even cover its salaries. So, SEC hardly remits anything to the Consolidated Revenue Fund Account. That was why it projected revenue of N8.3 billion in 2021 while its expenditure was put at N14.4 billion.

The other day, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila raised the alarm over the continuous diversion of revenue by federal government agencies. “We have credible reports that these desperately needed funds have in many cases, been diverted to finance unnecessary trivialities,” remarked the Speaker.

Good that Gbajabiamila recognises that corruption in almost all the MDAs is depriving Nigeria huge revenue. It is not enough to just query these MDAs. The Speaker and his colleagues in the National Assembly should take pragmatic action to end this mess. They should back their tough talks with action, by putting pressure on the Executive to do the needful. A serious Executive, genuinely fighting corruption, would have ended poor remittance of revenue.

A huge N1.7 trillion! Yes, that is the amount of tax payers’ money injected into the power sector in five years as intervention fund by the Buhari government; yet, there is no corresponding improvement in electricity supply. I recall President of the Senate Ahmed Lawan, during an inquiry on the power sector saying “government cannot afford to just spend money that it can hardly understand why it is given.” It’s so depressing that Nigeria still wallows in darkness despite this enormous expenditure. There is nothing for this government to defend on this N1.7 trillion expenditure on power, even if it makes public who got what, when, why and how.

Payments for comical services often leave me wondering whether the interest of the public is paramount. There was this $4 million paid to a lawyer in 2019 from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) for God knows what. The Senate asked the Accountant General of the Federation to supply details of the lawyer who was paid the $4 million from the already depleted excess crude account, and the nature of the job done. The office of the AGF is still struggling to come up with this information.

The Convener, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, noted: “The report from the US is not far from the truth.

Corruption is not only alarming, it has now been fully institutionalised by the Buhari administration. Impunity has become the order of the day such that we are now in a government where graft is thicker than justice.”

For Nigeria to move forward, our dear President must stop all the showboating and genuinely fight corruption by focusing more on the people around him.