There used to be a running joke American, Asian and European diplomats delight in sharing at the expense of Nigeria concerning corruption among its public officials, institutions and government contractors.
A Nigerian contractor visits his Indonesian counterpart and finds two snazzy cars parked in his host’s garage in Jakarta. Pointing at them, the Nigerian asks his Asian friend: how did you acquire them?
With a benign smile, the Indonesian points to a long stretch of newly constructed road and replies: 10 percent. The understanding is that he creamed off 10 percent for a road contract he executed for his government and the people of Indonesia.
Years later, the Indonesian visits his friend in Abuja and finds his garage bursting with expensive American, German and Japanese marques. The Indonesian asks: How did you buy all these? Laughing, with a generous display of dentition, the Nigerian points to a vast land of uncleared bush and replies: 100 percent.
That might be apocryphal but there certainly is a ring of truth in it for a country that, for decades, achieved infamy as one of the most corrupt in the entire world. Almost anywhere you travelled in the world – east or west, north and south – that unenviable appellation was just waiting to be flung at you as a Nigerian. It got so bad at one time that erstwhile Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe, admonished his countrymen and women not to behave like Nigerians. Translation: don’t be corrupt like them.
However unpalatable it may seem to Nigerians, the exchange between the Indonesian and Nigerian captures so very well the attitude of those in positions of authority as public servants – whether politicians, top government functionaries or contractors – to the people they govern.
The inference is that while the Indonesian awarded himself a self-compensatory fraction of public funds, he nonetheless completed a job he was mandated to do, thus adding/ contributing to his country’s development. It is the direct opposite for the Nigerian contractor: not only did he keep to himself entirely what was meant for his country’s growth and development, he deprived others of what should have benefitted their lives.
To say that successive Nigerian governments from long ago have carried on in that manner isn’t quite off the mark. Only recently, the Federal Government recovered $311 million Sani Abacha loot from the U.S and Jersey – only one example of stolen money. And that, as legions of Nigerian and foreign analysts have agonised over time, is why Nigeria is where it is today: a country where those in power divert public funds for personal use; a country awash with vast human and natural resources but has not moved on correspondingly with the human and economic potentials it possesses.
Nigerians remember very well the controversy that surrounded funds provided by the Federal Government – not this – for the reconstruction/ renovation of Lagos/ Ore/ Benin Road that was never executed. Nothing came off it. Nothing happened to the minister in charge of works, either.
Asked once about allegations of corruption in his government, a former president famously declared on national television there was no such thing under his watch. His declaration made the headlines, drawing sharp criticism from Nigerians who thought and believed otherwise.
Not too long ago, a sitting British Prime Minister described Nigeria as “a fantastically corrupt” country. Before him, no former PM had made any such public declaration, perhaps out of decorum for one of its closest allies in Africa, a country the UK colonised and gave Independence. For David Cameron, however, the PM at the time, it was simply too much, it was just so surreal he couldn’t remain silent for long. He had to speak up. And speak up he did!
Today, as records have shown from investigations by Nigerian law enforcement agents with cooperation from their international counterparts, government officials have routinely corruptly enriched themselves that many Nigerians simply went wide-eyed at the humongous amounts they diverted. We all know the mind-boggling sums allegedly parcelled out by a former National Security Adviser to cronies of the government in power then. Also, Nigerians have not forgotten that a former Minister of Petroleum is still on the lam for the dizzying sums – in foreign and local currencies – she allegedly stole from her country.
There are many more instances of brazen theft of public funds by those in government to mention here. Needless to say that a catalogue of such criminal acts can fill tomes many times over. But in the last five years, a new sherrif – in the person of President Muhammadu Buhari – has been in town, as they say, to turn things around. Is he succeeding in his quest to rid Nigeria of looters of publc funds?
A resounding yes is the answer. During his campaign for the 2015 presidential election, one of his campaign promises was to fight the scourge of corruption in government. On becoming president in May of the same year, he followed up his words with action, adopting a boots-on-the-ground approach to tackle head-on what some say and believe has chained the country down for far too long.
In five years, President Buhari has made unimaginable strides in not only courageously doing what previous governments turned a blind eye to but recovered monies stolen by public officials. How did he do it?
Anti-Corruption & Transparency, Fiscal Reforms and Plugging Leakages
True, governments in the past adopted certain measures to curb corruption in Nigeria. But never before has there been this much success as Buhari’s government has recorded.
Barely two years into his administration, for instance, in a report by Yinka Adegoke Africa Editor of Quartz Africa of January 7 2017, he wrote that “Buhari promised to end corruption in Nigeria’s government and institutions when he campaigned for presidency in 2015.” As of the period Adegoke wrote, Buhari’s government “had recovered up to $9.1 billion in stolen funds,” a figure that will increase geometrically with time.
Between 2015 and 2019, for instance, EFCC recovered N794 billion and hundreds of properties and assets. On its part, ICPC recovered more than N41 billion in inflated personal budgets. Also, in 2019 alone, ICPC recovered N32 billion worth of land, buildings and vehicles. In the same vein, the agency’s probe of Constituency Projects covering 2015 to 2018 recovered N2 billion of diverted funds and assets.
How were most of these recoveries made possible? Through the Whistleblowing Policy set up by the Ministry of Finance in December 2017.
Of course, it is true that one individual cannot by himself just dip his hand in the treasury. No. There has to be a chain of accomplices, from ministers to directors down to accountants and so on. The Whistleblowing Policy under Buhari put an end to all that.
A minister or director who is an inveterate thief may flinch from purloining public funds because he wouldn’t know who, among his staff or where the loot is stashed, might do him in. The policy became so effective that in the first two years alone, it yielded N7.8 billion, US$378million, and 27,800 Pounds in recoveries from public officials targeted by whistleblowers. To shore up on the success, the Federal Government developed and drafted Whistleblowing and Witness Protection Bill in 2019.
Not only that, Buhari’s government also addressed the issue of poor level remittance of operating surplus by MDAs. Gains from such measures became blindingly obvious. For instance, from remitting only N15 million for six years from 2010, JAMB has gone on to remit more than N20 billion to the Federal Government since 2017. That was made possible through Increased Oversight of MDAs.
What about the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit (PICA)?
It was set up by Buhari to strenghten controls over government finance through a continuous internal audit process across all MDAs, particularly in respect of all payroll. Through this means, more than 54, 000 fraudulent payroll entries have been identified and removed. The result? Payroll savings of N200 billion annually.
One of the greatest and commendable measures President Buhari issued was the Expansion of TSA Coverage.
Issued on August 7, 2015, only months after he assumed office, all MDAs received a directive from the presidency that they should close their accounts with Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) and transfer their balance to CBN on or before November 15 of the same year.
To be sure, TSA was launched in 2012 but failed to gain traction until Buhari’s arrival. Since then, TSA system has been implemented in 92 percent of all MDAs. TSA, as most Nigerians have come to understand it, allows managers of the government’s finances, including but not limited to the Ministry of Finance and the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, to have, at any point in time, a comprehensive overview of cash flows across the entire government.
Thus, TSA has consolidated more than 17, 000 bank accounts previously spread across DMBs and saved the government an average of N4 billion in banking charges. That is even the least of the benefits.
One, it has improved transparency and accountability in management of of all FGN receipts by providing a consolidated view of government’s cash flow. Two, it has blocked avenues through which money was siphoned. Three, it has made available funds for execution of government policies, programmes and projects. Four, the TSA system controls aggregate cash flows, improves management of domestic programme and enables investment of idle funds.
The Ministry of Finance continues to fine-tune the system to improve its efficiency, and has also commenced an audit to ensure that all funds due to the TSA are remitted into it.
Indeed, in terms of transparency and accountability, a new sheriff is truly in town.
*Mike Jimoh wrote in from Lagos.