Samuel Obuekwu returns to the issue of corruption, with a focus on Nigeria. He provides a preface: "
Every night, millions of Nigerians go to bed in empty stomachs. They hope that the following day will be better, but that hope is becoming hopeless everyday. The most astonishing thing is that the Government of Nigeria behaves as if all is well in the country. In fact, the government has become the proverbial ostrich. However, unknown to them, the whole world is watching and taking notes. Below is the report card issued by the Transparency International for 2004. Do you think that can have any effect on Nigerian government? The Guardian Newspaper has written what I would call an eloquent editorial on this issue." Please read on.......
"The 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index, released the other day by Transparency International (TI), the watchdog on global corruption, ranks Nigeria as the third most corrupt country in the world. In 2003, the organisation ranked Nigeria second, a one-step improvement from the previous position as the most corrupt country in the world.
In launching the 2004 index, the organisation's chairman, Dr. Peter Eigen, described corruption as "a daunting obstacle to sustainable development", a constraint on education, health care and poverty alleviation, and a great impediment to the Millennium Development Goal of reducing by half the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015.
In the last three years of the Obasanjo administration, Nigeria's ranking in the global corruption index has moved from the first to the third most corrupt country in the world, behind Bangladesh and Haiti. That Nigeria is playing in the same league as these two countries is a sad commentary on the extent to which the nation has deviated from the path of its destiny. In terms of the power configuration in the international system, economic output, human and material resources, financial capabilities, Nigeria should be better rated than is now the case.
Sadly but truly, TI is not altogether off the mark, no thanks to a rapacious, corrupt, and
buccaneering ruling elite whose inept and visionless policies have pauperised our citizens and
rendered the country prostrate. The cancer of corruption is the barometer by which the ruling elite measure their worth. Corruption is their norm; social responsibility and service to fatherland, an aberration. The Nigerian system promotes the interest of the elite and keeps the mass of our people in abject poverty. Not surprisingly, Nigerians celebrated and looked to the future with hope when President Olusegun Obasanjo pledged in his inaugural address in May 1999 to tackle corruption head-on.
At the same time, Transparency International's chairman, Dr. Eigen, issued a statement describing the new President as "a courageous and highly-principled anti-corruption fighter" whose victory "bodes well for the future of all Nigerians." The statement noted that General Obasanjo had been a key figure at the organisation's inaugural conference in May 1993 where he stated, apparently in reference to the situation in Nigeria that "young people now have as their role models the leaders who have made money as a result of corruption." Corruption, he went on to say, "destroys the future of our society."
Nevertheless the Obasanjo administration responded almost immediately to the TI report by describing it as unfair to Nigeria. Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, faulted the methodology employed by Transparency International, which she claimed did not recognise countries like Nigeria that are undertaking reforms. The government has introduced procurement and contract reforms, international bidding and total competitive bidding. It has also established anti-corruption agencies, particularly the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC). Since corruption is systemic in the country these measures would take time to bear fruit. But, at least, the administration has recognised the problem and is taking action against it. The government, she emphasised, is committed to curbing the incidence of corruption in the country.
The Director-General of the Debt Management Office, Dr. Mansur Muhtar, also responded to the TI index along the lines advanced by the finance minister. In his view the ranking is misleading and is likely to have a "negative impact on Nigeria's image in the comity of nations." It would also make the country's crusade for debt relief even more difficult.
We believe that the government's attempt to question Transparency International's methodology is diversionary; it ignores the substance and chases shadows. The organisation's methodology does not in any way eliminate the obvious fact that corruption is endemic in this country. In any case is our president not a founding member of the organisation? Why is the organisation's method acceptable to citizen Obasanjo, and questionable to the government of President Obasanjo?
It is no longer necessary to list the numerous instances of corruption in our country. Suffice it to say that the report on the 2001 financial year which the former Auditor-General, Mr. Vincent Azie, submitted to the National Assembly, cataloguing the numerous instances of financial recklessness and corruption in all sectors of the public service, including the
Presidency, provided ample proof of the pervasiveness of corruption in spite of the government's anti-corruption programme. And, as in the case of the TI report in which the government has questioned methodology, the then Minister of Information, Professor Jerry
Gana, responding to the Azie report, was more concerned with procedure rather than the substance. He claimed that the submission of the report to the National Assembly was procedurally wrong and political: it ought to have been submitted to the Accountant General of the Federation! Since then not much has changed in the culture of corruption in spite of the government's efforts.
On December 9, 2004 the world will celebrate the first ever United Nations International Anti-Corruption Day. This and the TI report offer all the three tiers of government in the
country the opportunity for introspection. To be sure, the federal government's anti-corruption campaign is laudable and necessary. It appears however long on rhetoric and short on implementation and results. Nigerians have seen institutional structures; they
are yet to see their effects. The elite continue to flaunt their ill-gotten wealth on the faces of Nigerians with so much impunity and contempt, and it appears as if it is business as usual. That is the message in the Transparency International rankings of corrupt countries. The government should heed that message and revitalise its anti-corruption crusade."
Tuesday, November 02, 2004