The fight against corruption in Nigeria is one of the main agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari. Prior to his assumption of office as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Buhari outlined the blueprint for his government with his campaign strategy principally anchored on the fight against corruption and the massive looting of Nigeria’s wealth by political cabals.
For the past two years, his administration had effortlessly strived to expose several corrupt public officials through its Nation anti-corruption agency – The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). But while his public rhetoric galvanised the anti-graft agency, his actions, when presented with a chance to mop out corruption within his own government, haven’t always matched his rhetoric.
While several high-profile members of his predecessor’s government have been arrested, there have been claims that the anti-corruption campaign has exempted members of the current administration. But with the recent suspension of two high-profile government officials, – Babachir Lawal, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Ayo Oke, Director-General of Nigeria’s National Intelligence Agency (NIA) – that seems to have changed.
More significantly, the EFCC had over the years been successful in exposing and arresting several public officials who had misappropriated the public funds in their care but it has been difficult for the anti-graft agency to successfully prosecute the several accused looters of public fund. This is because there are many legal issues surrounding the successful prosecution of corrupt individuals.
For instance, section 308 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and subsection 35 provides immunity from prosecution for certain elected officials. This can be counter-productive in the fight against corruption, as it mostly protects the highest looters of public funds.
Most times when the corrupt officials that are covered under the immunity clause in 308 are out of public office, it is often too late to prosecute as evidence is lost, witnesses die or are otherwise unavailable, and the statute of limitations can come into play. This has drastically affected the flow of income to the Nigerian Economy.
The Former World Bank vice-president and former Minister of Education Oby Ezekwesili at a conference stated that more than $400 billion of Nigeria’s oil revenue has been stolen or misused by corrupt leaders. According to her, more than 20% of capital expenditures ends up in “private pockets” annually.
The International monetary fund also stated that corruption in Nigeria could cost up to 37% of GDP by 2030 if it is not dealt with immediately. This cost is equated to around $1,000 per person in 2017 and nearly $2,000 per person by 2030. The boost in average income that we estimate, given the current per capita income, can significantly improve the lives of many in Nigeria.
The high level of distress in the Nigerian economy which could not be far-fetched from President Buhari’s fight against corruption has perhaps unintentionally, exacerbated the instability in the polity to the extent that the political tension is now having a contagious effect on the economy.
For instance, on the eve of an anti-corruption summit in London last year, the then British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron described Nigeria as a “fantastically corrupt” country. President Buhari reacted by requesting the British government to return the country’s wealth which has been looted and kept in the United Kingdom. Mr. Cameron has since left office without taking up President’s Buhari’s challenge.
In the same vein, the immediate past president of the United States, Mr. Barack Obama never fulfilled his promise of assisting Nigeria in the recovery of her looted wealth. As the beneficiaries of grand corruption will not assist the victims, the federal government should set up a team of lawyers to pursue to recovery of the looted wealth warehoused by Western countries and the United Arab Emirates.
The president also declared that the economic situation in the country was completely out of the control of the government, as the crash in oil prices was having a negative spiral effect on it. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released figures that buttressed his remark, showing that Buhari had indeed lost control. Nigeria recorded its first negative growth, -0.36 per cent, in many years in the first quarter of 2016 and thereafter, slipped into recession in the second quarter, with a -2.06 per cent growth, the first in 25 years and sank deeper into recession, contracting by 2.26 per cent in the third quarter.
Instead of embarking on the aggressive recovery of the looted wealth of the nation and the huge fund withheld from the federation account, the federal government has opted to mortgage the destiny of the nation by taking jumbo loans from China, the World Bank and the African Development Bank for infrastructural development.
It has also been reported that talks have reached an advanced stage in the negotiations for a loan of $1.4 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with dangerous conditionality, including the further devaluation of the beleaguered national currency. This is worrying.
Gbenga Sijuade writes from Ilorin, Kwara State.