Daily Trust

The anti-corruption war hasn’t started (I)

We have seen how tough it will be to even push back, much less eradicate corruption in Nigeria. A government that came in with the sole agenda of doing so has bumbled its way through and some will argue that corruption is stronger in many ways than it was before. It may not be done casually these days but most of our budget still disappears into the pockets of a few.  Indeed what we now have is corruption plus impunity in many regards. A glance at the newspapers reveal how civil servants resume daily and divide every taxpayers’ funds that is in their custody. Our civil service has become more and more where nothing escapes the top operatives. Every contract is obtained through a top executive to whom the contract has been allocated. Look at the revelations from NEMA, NHIS, and the rest? The problem of ghost workers still continues and we know who benefits from that huge windfall. A top General once informed me there could be as many as 50,000 ghost soldiers in Nigeria. Just last month, the police announced there were actually 50,000 ghost policemen.  There are many dead policemen, soldiers and civil servants whose salaries and pensions are being collected monthly by powerful people. I was speaking to someone who knows a lot about the pension industry a few days back, and he told me of how directors share people’s pensions. Imagine a single director taking N800million from people’s hard-earned pensions in just three months. The devil himself must be a Nigerian! Currently we hear dozens of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) are being investigated for all sorts of collusion – contract inflation, asset stripping and what have you. Nigeria has lost it.  Desperation has met rudderless-ness in our land.


The tap roots of corruption was never addressed by Buhari, the man in whom the world had hoped; the fixation was with some branches and flowers of corruption. The gardeners employed for the job would even smell the flowers to be sure it belonged to the right gang/specie before any action was taken. One senator made an apt analogy about insecticides and deodorants the other day. The standard excuse, invented by no less than Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the first EFCC Chairman, is that “when you fight corruption, corruption fights back”. It is the most dangerous and fraudulent of excuses ever invented, used and abused by people who are simply not ready to get on with the job. Who said it was going to be easy? But the worst thing to do is give the psychological advantage to the adversary.  Once that excuse is whipped out of the magical arsenal of the corruption fighter, everybody goes to sleep.  Everyone gives up. The public is lulled into despair, even if and when the anti-corruption fighter is loading his babbanriga and abeti-aja cap with dollars!  So long as they aren’t caught, it is corruption fighting back.  Standard excuse for non-achievement or under-achievement, or letting favoured thieves get away with murder.   Anyone who intends to criticize the process for efficiency, is deemed part of the corruptors fighting back.  The first lesson here perhaps, is that those who are purportedly fighting corruption in Nigeria, are themselves often the most corrupt.

Corruption in Nigeria has now developed wings and morphed because of this labyrinth of deception. Years and decades of free rein has conferred legitimacy in many places. Taxpayers’ money is so easy and sweet to take and spend. Those closest to it merely help themselves.  There is a silent conspiracy between some strategic and/or top civil servants and top politicians. I was in the office of a director in the service a few years back when one staff came and presented a document for approval. The director, a smart Yoruba guy, looked at the document and smiled. Then he looked at the staff and broke into a song by Sunny Ade “se ‘kan ko mi o, ko tun se ‘kan ko rare, ka jo maa je loo”.  With that song, he signed off on the document having instructed the staff to go and arrange that type of transaction for him as well. The song says we should continue and ‘eat’ Nigeria to death.  This director friend of mine only spent US Dollars.  He is a free man today, though retired.  Between top civil servants (DG’s, ES’s, Legislators, etc), this same conspiracy against the public is solid. Indeed it’s like a race to determine who grabs the most and who liquidates Nigeria first. In those circles, people don’t really believe in the existence of Nigeria, even though they often mouth some fake patriotism. Some were not always like that, but they have seen enough to lose hope and join the gang. They say if you can’t beat them you join them. The Mafia that is the corruption cabal in Nigeria is uber-powerful. Don’t ever think you can change them from inside. We need serious disruptors to make a dent.  For it is that gang that the Adamu Fika report referred to when it stated that 18,000 top civil servants and politicians took N1.13trillion out of the then budget of N4trillion (over 25% of the national budget as at 2010/2011). Things have only got worse, even under the Buhari government. If they took 25% of the budget before, today they take over 60% when you consider the fact that corruption eats most of the budget. That is why I am aloof with this recent accusation by the president that the National Assembly padded the budget with 6,400 new projects worth N587billion. The NA itself knows that very little in the federal budget is meant for the people. All line items are OWNED by powerful individuals. 

How do we solve this problem

Let us just define corruption in a Nigerian way, to begin to get an idea of what is going on and how to solve the problem – if that is still a possibility. 

The traditional, old-school corruption is where civil servants, politicians and private sector players demand for kickbacks before approving or facilitating contracts, or before performing their normal duties. But now, it is important to add other strains, some of which are new:

1. Where civil servants, politicians and private sector workers create the companies that get the contracts.

2. Where all contracts are first allocated to big men and middle managers from within before being advertised and so rigged from the beginning. If you don’t know who is really in control of this process, forget it. 

3. Where contracts are cloned, and payments made years ago (on which kickbacks were collected), are resurrected as new projects and passed through the system for approval, sometimes with the knowledge of the initial contractor, but most times with fake accounts having been opened in the name of initial contractor where civil servants are the signatories

4. Procurement frauds of all sorts whereby goods are delivered, documented in the morning and removed in the evening after documentation has been made. Tracks are covered by procurement officers that the goods (eg laptops) have been distributed around the country.

More next week