The policy thrust of President Muhammadu Buhari administration is a war against corruption and malfeasance but can he succeed without the support of an already corruption-infested judiciary? For the war against corruption to succeed, the judiciary must be thoroughly cleansed.
Murder Inc. (or Murder Incorporated) was the name given by the American media to organized crime groups in the 1920s – 1940s that resulted in hundreds of murders on behalf of the American and Jewish Mafia groups who together formed the early organized crime groups in New York and elsewhere. The name was a journalistic invention.
This same phrase should be applied to Nigeria’s thriving industry of nowadays – Corruption since it is beyond doubt that it has become a well-organized form of criminal art endeavour. Lucrative and a thriving business for those who prefer to indulge in it.
I once read the editorial of a national newspaper titled, “Corruption Incorporated” which quoted a former President of the Senate, Adolphus Wabara, bemoaning the extent to which corruption ate deep into the fabric of the nation saying, “Sometimes I watch the television and feel that the other name for Nigeria is corruption. In America and other countries, they have hurricanes and other natural disasters. It, however, appears Nigeria has corruption as its natural disaster”.
Most Nigerians share the same frustration with Wabara, but that should not becloud our thinking that it was the same Wabara as senate president that allowed corruption to consume him. Was he frustrated by the level of corrupt practices in Nigeria as he claimed? Most Nigerians doubt.
One becomes more frustrated whenever anti-corruption agencies release figures of stolen public funds by well-connected public officers who drive pleasure and pride in stealing with impunity and display of same stolen funds with pride on the face of the helplessly shortchanged. Nigerians get sickened, angry and more frustrated because various past governments were incapacitated to stem the tide of corruption that deluged and dehumanized Nigerians for over 50 years.
Whatever the misgivings anybody may have about the seeming generalization, we should have cause to be worried about the rate at which our country was systematically looted on virtually all fronts. The continuous revelations oozing out of monumental fraud perpetrated at the judiciary alone lend credence to Wabara’s assertion. Perhaps more bizarre in this incredible story of graft is the arrest of Supreme Court judges who were said to have amassed billions in local and foreign currencies apart from the fleet of exotic limousines and choice properties scattered within Nigeria and overseas. Imagine, a Rolls Royce limousine found in the residence of a Justice of the Supreme Court. Rolls Royce has a showroom value of over N150million.
Compatriots, this is sheer greed and madness typical of a Nigerian trusted public official. In the forefront of perfecting corrupt practices in government are the civil servants. Severally, Nigerians listened patiently to the baseless defence of the civil servants by past Heads of the Federal and States Civil Service and exonerating the civil servants from corruption, but Nigerians have always known differently.
By what is obtainable in the system, Nigerians have to deal with the civil servants – federal, state and local governments – daily, to get their lives better and it has been clear that those people are neither civil nor serving the people they are supposed to serve.
In those horrible days of past administration now painstakingly being corrected, hardly could one need something officially from the MDAs (as Nigerians call them – Ministries, Departments and Agencies) that one will not have to deep into his pocket to offer a bribe to get things officially done including the police and the judiciary. Security and human right are for the highest bidder just as justice is for sale. To crown, it all, those selfish, greedy and corrupt breed of people can carry out their nefarious activities in their little, sometimes windowless and shabby offices. Every ministry, federal, state or local, is pockmarked with those offices which confers privacy to the civil servants to allow them to make deals, carry files all over the place and loot billions of the commonwealth. Those to checkmate them had compromised.
A digression: to reduce or manage corruption in the civil service, it is suggested that open-plan offices be provided; so that every cadre from messenger to permanent secretary will be seen in action. The lazy ones and conniving breed may find it difficult to perfect their nefarious deals in an open environment. They are usually shielded to execute their stealing behind closed doors with the connivance and support of their superior officers.
With due respect to the few sincere ones, from my assessment, Nigerian civil servants are the laziest, most indolent, most ineffective and most corrupt breed in the world. They collude very enthusiastically and very willingly with politicians and bankers to loot the country. And they are so hypocritical that they can bury a leader alive for peanuts through the pretence of loyalty. It is almost unbelievable. They have absolutely no sense of fiscal or financial integrity or ethics, nor a sense of their responsibilities to the citizens. They are in some quarters referred to as “sinful servants” – experts in sin and corruption.
And this is because everybody is looking out for only his pocket to line with ill-gotten money. In all countries of the world, civil servants serve the people, drive and oil government machinery and try to make life better for the people. In Nigeria, it is the opposite as civil servants and security agents are at the forefront of extorting the people they are serving on oath.
Looking back, can one tell me if this is not corruption syndicate or incorporation? Take the Pension Board scam, NNPC scam, FCDA land swap scandal and other scams, NIMASA scam, Immigration recruitment scandal, Armsgate, Dasukigate, Oduahgate, IDP’s sex and feeding scandals and now judicial scam. Take the Pension Board scam, which shows how highly-organized the syndicate was – falsification of documents to withdraw N24billion from the Budget Office for the payment of pensions that required the only N3.5billion; falsification of death certificates to claim the accrued benefits of supposedly dead pensioners; daily withdrawals of up to N300million from compromised banks through issuance of multiple cheques with fictitious names – all with the knowledge and collaboration of government officials.
In a recent report on judicial scandal sourced from investigating detectives and published by a cross-section of Nigerian media, it was uncovered that huge cash payments were made to Supreme Court Justices, members of the management and staff of the Supreme Court despite their legitimate monthly salaries and allowances.
Some of the payments which were made through a Secret/Operation Account are outrageous and outside the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) approved allowances.
The reports shows a breakdown of what past and present Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and Justices have been cornering ‘illegally’ since 2009: Salary – N750,000 (paid into an account of each Justice); N750,000 monthly subsidy – (payment in cash); N950,000 quarterly subsidy (payment in cash); 10,000-pound sterling (estacode) for trips (payment in cash); $25,000 (medical fees yearly and payment in cash); Unspecified payment for Business Class to them and spouses in cash depending on airline; $750 per night for number of days abroad in cash; N350,000 cash as welfare for each of the festivities (Easter, Christmas, Ramadan, Ed-el-Kabeer); Chief Registrar – N700,000 as robe allowance; N200,000 for each of the stated festivities (in cash); and other lawyers – N500,000 as yearly dress allowance (in cash).
Further investigation into the celebrated judicial scandal shows that RMAFC had only approved for the CJN and the Justices including regular salary and allowances: Monthly Basic Salary; Vehicle Maintenance/Fuelling; Personal Assistant; Domestic Staff; Entertainment; Utilities; Outfit; and Newspapers/Periodicals. Their non-regular salary and allowances include Accommodation (once annually); furniture (once in four years); annual leave bonus; severance/gratuity (after successful tenure); vehicle loan (optional); Duty Tour Allowance per night (where applicable)and estacode per night (where applicable).
If one is at liberty to ask, what kind of system are we operating in Nigeria that allows such massive amounts of money easily ‘stolen’ by those in charge of administering public funds? And this is happening all over the country – federal, state and local government levels, in the executive, legislature, judiciary, law enforcement, military, financial institutions, ivory towers etc.
All these corrupt practices are perfected with the connivance of civil servants if not, it is near impossible for a governor or any politician to steal public funds without the connivance and active participation of civil servants. They are in most cases the arrangements that end up with crumbs.
Nigeria is one big corruption industry! It is incorporated. There is nothing, getting done without a whiff (sorry, did I say a whiff? It is more of a stink) of corruption. The leaders will not provide education, healthcare, food, potable water, electricity, transportation, communication, trade facilities and infrastructural development without recourse to corruption.
Having said this, I’m not letting off the politicians of our time; they are also a big chunk of the problem, of course. What with federal and state legislators, with their spurious committees overseeing every ministry and agencies, and demanding bribes before they could pass budgets, or forcing those government arms to inflate their respective budgets.
‘Hon’ Salisu Buhari and Evans Ewarem certificate forgery, Dimeji Bankole fraud, 2012 SEC N44million fraud allegation, Farouk Lawal fuel subsidy scandal and 2016 budget padding and several other cases of unabated corruption, greed and selfishness are still fresh in our minds. These are organized corrupt practices. Corruption unlimited and incorporated in Nigeria. RC No. C-O-R-R-U-P-T-I-O-N. Even the incorporating institution, the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) was enmeshed in sharp corrupt practices. All MDAs were swimming with corrupt civil servants. There was no clean exception, and if any, let Nigerians be told that there has never been corruption in that Ministry, Department or Agency including the EFCC under Farida Waziri and Ibrahim Lamorde.
Another causative factor in the quagmire of massive corruption is the percentage of the national income or revenue (52%) thing at goes to the federal coffer; while the states and local governments share the remaining 48%. This is too much, disproportionate and not commensurate with the services that Nigerians get and the expected developments at the grassroots. This is why there is so much money to steal at the federal level, more than in the states and local governments. It is so much that high officials who are in-charge to monitor the spending such as the Accountant-General, Auditor-General etc are either overwhelmed by the sheer figures of complexity or they are also in cahoots with the looters.
So where do we go from here without sound alarmist, if not to support the efforts of President Buhari to fight corruption?
As the President fights the odds, we must realize and accept that we still lack good governments that have the ability and sincerity to tackle corruption at states and local governments. We, therefore, need to change the changers in 2019, or the people, the corrupt cabal who have grounded and pushed the country into recession. With the present crop of leaders in power, I fear, corruption can’t tackle corruption. We have to admit that the system of governance or the democracy we pretend to practice has inbuilt corruption, and must be changed.
Let us face it, the euphoria over Nigeria’s experiment in democracy is over. Reality is once again at our doorstep with the unsettling questions about our future. Our country, home to brilliant minds, rich traditions, rich in natural and mineral resources and centuries of wisdom, is withering in poverty while most other nations rapidly moved ahead of us.
Nigeria, it is indeed a sovereign nation, is drifting aimlessly, without direction or clear vision, and the current systems, economic, political and social, are limiting us in this era of intense global competition among nations.
As Nigerians, we can no longer afford to stand by and watch while brazen, mindless and feckless official corruption, political instability, religious strife, and rudderless administrations, flagrant wastefulness, ethnicity, maladministration and administrative lapses, overloaded and corruption infested judiciary, bloated, corrupt and unwieldy civil service, and unbelievable personal greed to continue to demoralize our society and negate any advances we make. Why the raw deal from our various governments over the years? Few past and present leaders had cursed and still cursing perpetrators of fraud and stealing, while equally culpable as other Nigerians. They are only being hypocritical, pretentious and self-seeking.
President Buhari should be extra-prepared to punish anybody involved in any racket, as the organized cabal of corruption now fighting back with looted funds must be rooted out and if possible, posted to their ancestors through the ‘laws’ of jungle justice.
The law enforcement agencies, including EFCC and ICPC, were lagging in their statutory responsibilities as they severally admitted. Those agencies were hitherto ‘gold’ mines to their operators and agents. They were as corrupt as the crooks they were meant to investigate and post to face justice. The EFCC under Farida Waziri and Ibrahim Lamorde was a toothless bulldog and mired in bureaucracy and corruption. The judiciary and the financial institutions, including the Central Bank of Nigeria, were not different – clueless, inefficient, ineffective, greedy and extremely corrupt.
A causative factor of our fondness for corruption could be found in our culture and our general disregard for discipline. Our psyche and mind-set were also major factors. This was borne out in the way we carried on in our daily lives: drivers try to overtake other vehicles to beat the traffic light, jumping queues; cutting corners anytime there are officialdom – university admission, police/military checkpoints; queuing in the bank for transaction, updated vehicle particulars; paying taxes, applying for international passport, evading payment of stipulated tariff on imports etc. In some cases, if those tasked with enforcing the laws forget to demand bribes, those involved readily offer just to cut corners for ease.
A bad disease requires a bitter medicine; we must be prepared to go to the extreme to tackle corruption as President Buhari is determined. Corruption may fight back more viciously and dirtily if not tackled brutally. Several people have lost their lives as a result of attempts to fight corruption and several others had attempts made on their lives by Corruption Incorporated Nigeria Limited. General Murtala Muhammed and Colonel Ibrahim Taiwo of blessed memories are typical examples.
Wait a minute do I hear a call for the introduction of the death penalty for corruption? That may be a good idea, but how do we get the law enacted and by who? Can the same corruption personified politicians, civil servants, compromised security agents and others of their ilk subscribe to the idea? Your guess is as good as mine. God Save Nigeria for the deprived Nigerians.
Muhammad is a commentator on national issues