Nigeria, a Harvest of Fraud

Nigeria: For those who would always blame certain “jinx” for the perennial infrastructural decay and general systemic collapse that have often held back the country’s development, recent revelations of widespread graft in key sectors of the economy and the polity should be an eye opener.

They should, by now, be better informed that the problem is not in our stars but in our beings. Ours is the practical demonstration of the saying that “corruption begets underdevelopment”. That is perhaps why, for instance, despite all efforts by government to fix the power sector the blanket of darkness seems to spread even thicker. It perhaps explains why basic socio-economic infrastructure taken for granted in other countries would continue to deteriorate here. It is also why the nation’s number one sport, football, has suffered serious setbacks in recent times.

Within one week in May, no fewer than three high profile corruption cases were made public. Following the multi-billion naira Rural Electrification Commission scandal, a fresh N6.2 billion contract scam was uncovered in the same power sector. This involved the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Power, Senator Nicholas Ugbane, his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu and three other federal lawmakers. In the same week, some senators were accused of compromising their integrity over the proposed Petroleum Industry Reform Bill. Yet, that is the same National Assembly that ought to make laws for the good governance of Nigeria.

About the same period too, the Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the National Communications Commission (NCC), Engineer Ernest Ndukwe was quizzed over some alleged impropriety in telecommunication licence award. Reports say the situation has got to a point where the licences may be withdrawn.

In the all vital education sector, some officials of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) were also arraigned over a scam running into millions of naira.

And in the private sector, the Group Managing Director of Transcorp, Tom Iseghohi and some top executives of the company were arraigned over N15 billion alleged contract fraud.

The nation’s football house is also riddled with theft allegations, the most notable one being the recent loss of over $200, 000 cash by the Nigerian Football Federation to “office rats”.

All these are outside the pending $80 million Halliburton bribe-for-contract scandal allegedly involving some former heads of state and other top Nigerian officials.

It is worrisome that incidents of graft have become so widespread in the country that it is fast assuming an epidemic proportion. This, we believe, is a function of our society’s warped value system, whereby too much premium is placed on material wealth without minding how it is acquired. It is also a throwback to the culture of impunity, whereby nobody is actually held accountable or adequately sanctioned for financial misdeeds. Equally worrisome is the culture of shamelessness on display. It is a common sight in our court premises for arraigned corrupt officials to appear in court rooms beaming with broad smiles and back slapping one another instead of showing some sobriety. Some of them would even hire crowds in a common dress code who hail them outside the court rooms as if they were some kinds of heroes. What a shame!

It is such an unfortunate situation, for which we seek a reversal through personal moral rearmament and attitudinal rejuvenation among Nigerians as well as institutional reorientation through visionary leadership.

We call on the government to strengthen the existing institutions to check corruption and corrupt tendencies among public officials. Essentially, these calls for the political will to enforce the law on corruption without fear or favour. The large harvest is a sign of growing intolerance for corruption but it would appear that in this country, after all the noise about such allegations, the suspects are left to walk the streets and even flaunt their wealth. A situation wherein certain corrupt officials get the kid-glove treatment does not help the anti-graft war effort. If people know they could get away with any crime or get light punishment for big infractions, the tendency to be more audacious in committing crimes will be potentially high. But the most potent curb on corruption is self-restraint, which, if fired by patriotism, could persuade public officials on the futility of pocketing funds set aside for public utilities meant to improve the people’s living standards

Read also Nigeria; Still corrupt and happy

and Capital Loss and Corruption: The Example of Nigeria – Ribadu