By Josef Omorotionmwan
CORRUPTION and the fight against it are as old as man. Over the years, what might have changed are the methods of acquiring the ill-gotten wealth as well as our approach to the fight. With our burgeoning population and the explosion in the number of those who have been exposed to Western education, things could not remain the same. We have seen it all – the good, the bad and the ugly.
We started hearing of real massive acquisition of wealth in the First Republic – after our nominal Independence. Authorities were disturbed and they set up Commissions of Inquiry, which came up with sordid revelations of how crude the original methods were. Funds were siphoned from the public till with the award of contracts to cronies, under fictitious names. Agreements for such fictitious contracts were signed, in some cases, with tow-prints instead of finger-prints to avoid detection.
As the population grew in size, it also grew in crime and criminality. The sordid affair was wide-spread. For example, at a very junior level in the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, a staff who narrowly missed out in the year’s promotion exercise expressed his annoyance this way: “Promotion or no promotion, I know I am richer than the CBN Governor”. Why not? The young lad was attached to the section of the CBN charged with the destruction of old currency notes. They burnt all the old exercise books and newspapers they could collect; and hauled home the currency notes that were intended for destruction.
In the military, people paid millions to influence their posting to the Pay and Records Corps, which in local parlance, was better known as “Pay and Roll” because they paid a few living soldiers and rolled the balance into their personal pockets. Here, the more of our soldiers that died in the war, the higher their profits. It was understandable, therefore, that deliberate efforts were made to push more and more of the inexperienced soldiers to the war front to perish. And we still wondered why the war was increasingly difficult!
It is not unusual to find some single individuals in such Blue Chips like the Customs, NNPC, Pension Boards, etc., who became virtually richer than their Organizations.
No section of our government has been spared in all this. From the First Republic to the present, our immediate reaction has been to seize the assets of those accused of corruption and that is where the zero-sum game begins.
There was this Uncle of ours who was a top Military brass. We once accosted him of why he was selling off the assets he acquired during his service years. He explained that he was tired of having the property OFF and ON – one day, an administration would come and seize the assets; and another day, a friendly regime would come and hand the same assets back to him. The assets kept travelling back and forth.
When the assets got back to him again, he decided to sell them so that any subsequent administration that might want to seize them would find that they were only confiscating assets that belonged entirely to a different person.
The war against corruption is such that if not carefully handled, it could trigger off worse corruption on the part of those fighting it!
Undoubtedly, Nigeria today has a man, President Muhammadu Buhari, who is totally allergic to corruption, at the helm of affairs. The fight against corruption has been vigorous. We hear that various assets have been seized from numerous offenders. A few days ago, in a meeting with Elders in Daura, Katsina State, President Buhari averred that the confiscated assets will soon be sold off and the proceeds paid into the Treasury Single Account, TSA, if only as a way of averting the assets finding their ways back to their original owners after he leaves office.
We have consistently maintained that the only panacea for the success of the anti-graft war is full disclosure. For now, the success or otherwise of that noble fight is simply a matter for conjecture – nobody outside the Presidency and the EFCC knows exactly what is happening. From a distance, it may be impossible to know the fine details about why certain steps are shrouded in secrecy. All the same, fair is fair. Nigerians cannot escape the crucial moments when they must demand that full disclosure and transparency are the panacea for the success of the anti-graft war. We have insisted consistently that the people must be regularly informed of what have been recovered along with the names of the people from whom the recoveries were made. How else do we know where the recoveries belong? For example, any asset recovered from the Governor or any functionary of a State belongs to the State. It would be inappropriate to plough such recoveries into the TSA for redistribution to all.
Full disclosure also presupposes that there is a proper inventory of all the assets that are being confiscated. The inventory must be regularly up-dated and made open to the citizenry. This full disclosure and accountability is in the interest of the government and the governed.
It is not enough to reel out the amounts – N78.325 billion; $185 million; £ 3.508 million; and €11,250 as the recoveries between May 2015 and May 2016. This account is deficient in many ways: The recoveries lack details; and they are out-dated. What has been collected in the more than 20 months since June 2016? In fact, the account should be up-dated at the end of every month.
More than ever before, the plan to sell the assets is a call for full disclosure and transparency. The assets must be properly evaluated by renowned Estate and Quantity Surveyors. The sale and purchase of the property cannot be another job for the boys. And if there are cases where disposals should be delayed because of some legal encumbrances, we also deserve to know. The end of anything is more important than the beginning. It is more so in the anti-graft war!