Nigeria, A Nation Crippled By Public Servants

Casmir Igbokwe

The joke in town now is that the letter ‘C’ in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the North-East Development Commission (NEDC), and some other Nigerian government agencies represents one word – Corruption. As simplistic as this appears, it draws our attention to the plight of a nation crippled by the ministries and agencies established to salvage it.

For now, the major attention is on the NDDC. The commission reportedly got N81.5 billion between October 29, 2019, and May 31, 2020. It expended all. Not on major infrastructural projects but on frivolities and inanities. The House of Representatives is probing it. The Senate has turned in its own verdict. And the forensic audit ordered by the Federal Government will likely turn in mind-boggling sleaze in this agency.

The Senate verdict is straightforward – sack the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the commission, led by Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei. The upper legislative chamber also asked the management of the commission to refund extra budgetary expenditure of N4.923 billion made between March and May 2020 to the Federal Government. The beneficiaries of this money are members of the NDDC IMC, other staff members and the Police High Command. The Senate vowed to review the act establishing the NDDC and asked the Federal Government to constitute a new board for the commission, which should be under the Presidency for proper supervision. It indicted the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, headed by Senator Godswill Akpabio, and accused it of negligent supervision.

Simply put, this interventionist agency has raped the resources of Nigeria. Over the years, it has been a cash cow for corrupt contractors and staff. It is common knowledge that once one gets a job in the NDDC, one’s fortune is made for life. Imagine sharing N1.3 billion as COVID-19 palliative to staff!

Meanwhile, while the staff and contractors took good care of themselves, the major reason for setting up the agency in 2000 – development of the Niger Delta – suffered. All over the region, abandoned projects are more than the completed ones.

For instance, the NDDC reportedly paid millions of naira for non-existent and abandoned projects in some communities in Delta State. In one community called Ifiekporo, in Warri South Local Government Area of Delta State, NDDC awarded contract for water project. But, according to Premium Times investigation, the project was not executed. Out of about 20 water projects the NDDC reportedly commissioned in some parts of the state, only five were said to be functioning. The rest were either not executed at all or abandoned. A certain Bienci Resources Nigeria, which secured the contract to reactivate the water supply scheme at Ifiekporo community, was discovered to be non-existent. There are many other fake companies, which got paid for roads, water, power and some other contracts. Many of these projects were never executed. In Imo, Cross River, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Edo states, the story is the same.

While the equally corrupt lawmakers regaled us with the sleaze in the NDDC, the alleged disappearance of N100 billion in the North-East Development Commission (NEDC) surfaced. The North-East region is directly bearing the brunt of the Boko Haram insurgency. Millions of people have been displaced from their homes. Thousands of others have died. And the agency created to intervene and ameliorate the suffering of the people has in itself become the problem. The House of Representatives is set to probe the commission over alleged corrupt practices, ranging from inflation of contracts to award of non-existent contracts to contract splitting, among others.

At the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and many other agencies of the government, it is the same story. Money meant for development and critical intervention in areas of need has been wasted with impunity. And we have moved on, as if nothing is amiss. Last November, the Senate Committee on Public Accounts accused 25 government agencies of funds mismanagement. Problem is, these accusations and probes yield nothing at the end of the day. Remember power probe and fuel subsidy probe? They are all nothing but circus shows.

The fact remains that corruption and the perception of it have worsened in Nigeria. At the inception of this administration in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari made fighting corruption one of the cardinal targets of his administration. But from the look of things, the more they try to fight this monster, the more it festers.

Sincerely speaking, there is no country where you won’t find corrupt people. The difference is in the commitment and seriousness in tackling it. In a place like China, corruption is considered a mortal sin. It carries the death sentence, if convicted. Some senior government officials in that Asian country have actually been executed on account of corruption. This may appear too harsh, but it is working for them.

If we go the China way, perhaps, not up to 10 per cent of Nigerians will survive. Hence, it is not recommended. But there are tough measures the incumbent government can take to redeem itself. President Buhari, in particular, must do something to salvage whatever is remaining of his battered image. Most people believed so much in his ability to cage corruption. Many of them are disappointed today.

If the President were to be alive to his responsibilities, some of his appointees should not remain in office by now. With the allegations and counter-allegations hovering around the NDDC, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Akpabio, has no moral right to remain in office. He should go with the members of the IMC as recommended by the Senate.

If the President were alive to his responsibilities, he would have set examples with public officers indicted for corrupt practices in the recent past.

It all boils down to leadership deficit, which has been the bane of Nigeria. It is not just the problem of the central government. It permeates through the states, local governments, ministries, departments and agencies of government. The tragedy is that there doesn’t seem to be any hope on the horizon. The two major political parties that should provide us with good leaders are surrounded by wolves in human clothing. All you see and hear are infantile bickering that lowers the estimation of our politics before right-thinking members of civilised societies.

Go through the verbal exchanges between the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and you will understand my point. Last week, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, reportedly returned to the APC from the PDP. The ruling party was happy such that when the opposition party asked the President to resign on account of the widespread corruption and insecurity that have hit his administration, the APC’s response was that the PDP was disturbed by the gale of defections threatening it. Jokers!

For us to tackle corruption effectively, we must first of all solve the country’s leadership problem. The best way to do it is to reform our electoral and political systems. We should be able to vote out any corrupt government that fails in its responsibilities. If people in power know that there is an effective way of rejecting them at the polls, it will make them to sit up. If we get this right, other things will follow. But will the powers that be go for such reforms? It is very doubtful. After all, they are direct beneficiaries of the shenanigans.

  • Also published in the Daily Sun of Monday, July 27, 2020

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