EVEN for a nation inured to scandals, the revelation of the Speaker of the House of Representatives Dimeji Bankole eight months ago that civil servants embezzle N700 billion annually should shock and make Nigerians act against this sort of brazen corruption â€“ if at all it is of that magnitude.
It remains an allegation and given the fact that several hundred of thousands of people work in the service, it still needs to be substantiated; otherwise everybody would be condemned for the actions of a few.
The figure is so staggering, representing 25 per cent of this yearâ€™s total budget and a higher percentage of last yearâ€™s appropriations. It dwarfs the budgetary allocations and expenditures on roads, education, agriculture, and aviation in the last four years. It is almost the equivalent of the federal allocation to capital projects this year.
Yet eight months after the Speakerâ€™s revelation, the matter has received no further action. We ask the Speaker again to provide convincing proof of the allegation. It is too weighty to be treated as â€œeverybody knows civil servants are corruptâ€.
Suspicions that many civil servants live far above their published entitlements, exclude the fact that they may be enterprising farmers, a business the Constitution rates legitimate for public officers.
Officials of the Federal Capital Territory Ministry like the Speaker alleged that most buildings in Abuja belonged to civil servants. They too provided no concrete proof. Suspicion, no matter how strong cannot substitute for facts. The Speaker must offer proof for necessary action to be taken on this allegation.
The Speaker can conduct an inquiry, even if skeptics will point to the number of probes embarked upon by the House without any reports issued or culprits handed over for prosecution. He has enough powers and resources to do better than complaining which is the recourse for majority of Nigerians.
If the Speaker knows so much about corruption, including the figures like the one he presented, it behooves him to act, otherwise he condones corruption, and he becomes part of the problem.
A situation where civil servants, representing less than one per cent of the population, embezzle more than 25 per cent of the annual budget cannot continue. The Speaker has started the job; he should take it to its logical conclusion.
However, the Speaker should not be left alone with the assignment. Law enforcement agencies, ICPC, EFCC, and the Nigeria Police, should approach the Speaker for the information at his disposal for their respective actions.
Civil society groups should write to the Speaker as well as their legislators in Abuja to help unravel the facts of this matter. Investigative research should be funded to track down the owners of various buildings, as a start, with the ultimate goal being to uncover the bad eggs in the service and their collaborators.
A fraction of this alleged loot, if recovered, and properly applied, can provide better education for our children. It would, more importantly, dissuade some from looting public funds.