BEN AGANDE, ABUJA
Since he assumed office on May 29, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari has elevated the fight against corruption to a level that has never before been witnessed in the country. From top military officers to heads of government agencies and heavy weight politicians, this government through its anti graft agencies, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has relentlessly pursued those it felt used their positions to corner unnecessary favours or corruptly enriched themselves.
At the last count, the former Chief of Defence Staff, the former Chief of Air Staff, the former National Security Adviser and several other politicians who had allegedly lived fat on the proceeds of corruption are either in detention or on bail from various courts being prosecuted for corrupt practices. Even the judiciary has not been spared.
But while Nigerians and indeed the world over celebrate this unprecedented clamp down on corruption, many analysts believe that the centre piece of corruption in the country is the various government officials who work either as civil servants of members of the security services like the police, the customs, immigration and even officials of the anti corruption agencies. There also the Public servants.
While many Nigerians contend that the Nigeria police force is unarguably peopled by the most corrupt officials in the country, the epicentre of corruption in the country appears to be the civil servants. There is no greater proof of this apparent truism than the display of wealth by civil servants whose salaries cannot justify the luxurious life style they live.
But how are civil servants able to accumulate stupendous wealth and evade the ever prying eyes of the anti corruption agencies? Are they deliberately side stepped by the anti graft agencies while beaming their search light on politicians?
Investigations by Saturday Vanguard have however revealed that through a combination of guile, subterfuge and adept manipulation of the rules, civil servants are able to expertly skim government of funds without leaving trace that would expose them.
HOW THEY STEAL US BLIND
Though there are several ingenious ways that civil servants have devised to steal from the public purse, one of the commonest used is through allocation of phoney projects and huge sums of money that ab initio, they know would not be executed. According to a retired civil servant, Anjorin Ademuyiwa, the practice of inserting phoney projects into the budget began during the military era when monitoring the execution of budgetary provisions was none existent.
“Since the civil servants were the ones determining what should be included in the budget, some people took advantage to deliberately insert projects that they know would not be implemented but money would be allocated to it. Since supervision was lax, it was easy for the top officers to connive and get the money out of the system. It was from this money that Civil servants are able to acquire properties and other luxury items” he said.
With the country’s return to democratic rule and the election of members of the National Assembly, the expectation was that with the over sight function of the various committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate, the era of having projects in the budget without executing them was over. But in a typically deft move, the civil servants co-opted members of the National Assembly by inducing them to look the other way when Budgets are deliberately not implemented.
But beyond this, Civil servants are known to have deliberately corrupted political office holders as a way of having a leeway to have their hand in the commonwealth of the nation. A classical case of how civil servants deliberately mislead political office holders was the case of the former Minister of Health, Professor Adenike Grange. She was arrested and later arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for allegedly misusing about N300Million of the Ministry’s unspent funds from the 2007 fiscal year. President Umaru Yaradua had given directive that all unspent funds of government agencies, ministries and Departments must be returned to the federal government on or before the 31stof December.
But in a move that had become a familiar practice with civil servants, the Minister was advised that rather than return unspent funds to government, series of contracts could be ‘awarded’ in order to justify ‘payments’ that would be made to the benefiting companies. They assured her that it was a normal practice in the civil service. Though the minister was arrested and arraigned in court, she was later cleared of any wrong doing. But her ordeal demonstrated how wily civil servants are in getting away with corrupt practices.
Immediately a minister is appointed, the civil servants guide him through the various schemes that can fetch him money in the ministry. They lead the way in corrupting the ministers and a sharing game begins.
Perhaps the most audacious way civil servants corruptly enrich themselves to the detriment of the society is the award of contracts to themselves through some companies. Although the public procurement act provides that chief executives officers of government agencies, parastatals and ministries are insulated from such abuses, the civil servants have found a creative way to sidetrack the measures put in place to check these. For instance, while the chief executive office of a government department has an approval limit of N2.5 Million for any capital project, he does not have any restriction in the hiring of a consultant for a job. So while the chief executive officer of a government agency may necessarily have to subject a tender for a N50 million job for instance to the various tenders board, he is not restricted from hiring a consultant to prepare a bill of quantity that may cost as much as N20 million for such jobs. That way, he may get a friendly consultant who may not necessarily do anything but will incur a bill of twenty million.
And while the federal government emphasises training and retraining as a necessary tool to keep the civil service abreast of latest trend, what happens in reality is an avenue for chief executives and their minions to fleece the country in most cases, while training schedules are drawn up and staff sent for such programmes, the reality is that in most cases, no such training takes place. What happens is people who have been earmarked for such training are placated with small sums of money to meet their immediate needs while the powers that be expend a fraction of the money budgeted for such programmes to print certificate of attendance for trainings that never took place.
But the most worrisome corruption in the civil service is the manipulation of pensions for retired personnel. Until the recent reforms in the administration of pension in the country, civil servants through very ingenious ways fleeced pensioners by diverting pension meant for retired workers.
Another instance was the payment of salaries to ghost workers. The salaries were always drawn by the civil servants who cooked the papers to justify the payments. This ran into hundreds of millions in various ministries and parastatals.
For president Muhammadu Buhari, while it is important that he basks in the euphoria of bringing in high profile people to book for dipping their hands in our common till, the war against corruption will remain a mirage if the very institution that is corruption personified remains untouched in this very important battle that all well-meaning Nigerians are agreed that must be fought to its rightful conclusion.