FG’s anti-corruption fallacy

LAST week, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Mr. Abubakar Mallami (SAN), attempted to dress the Muhammadu Buhari’s administration in the robe of an anti-corruption czar. Speaking during an appearance on Good Morning Nigeria, a programme on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) network, Malami averred that the president had adopted the right model in tackling corruption, buttressing his point with the 2019 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) and Buhari’s designation as an anti-graft champion by the African Union (AU). He said: “At the international level, it is common knowledge that President Muhammadu Buhari has been adjudged as the champion of anti-corruption by the African Union (AU). That, by international assessment, is a pass mark of what model President Buhari is adopting in the fight against corruption, both for the model and the fact that we are indeed getting it right.”

To be sure, the Buhari administration has made anti-corruption rhetoric a cardinal feature of its operations since 2015. It has deplored corruption, especially by past administrations, and vowed to ensure that things are done differently. In that regard, it has helped to draw attention to the need to combat corruption and corruptive tendencies frontally, which is admittedly a plus. But as we have pointed out on countless occasions, its rhetoric has not been matched with concrete action, which is why, for instance, the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the Federal Government have literally been robbing the country blind without suffering any consequences. Contrary to the AGF’s postulation, Nigeria’s corruption situation remains messy, and there is little or no evidence that corruption has reduced under the Buhari administration.

For one thing, the relevant statistical agencies and international organisations have consistently presented precisely the opposite picture, dealing a huge blow to the false assumption that the international community is enamoured of the administration’s anti-graft efforts. For instance, as shown by media reports, the country has consistently fared very poorly on the corruption ranking released by Transparency International (TI). In the 2020 corruption ranking, for example, the country dropped three places and scored lower in the number of points than in the 2019 record, an indication that corruption was perceived to have worsened in the country. Going by the 2021 rating, Nigeria scored 25/100 on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), one point less than its previous 26 points.

In November last year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) thumbed down Nigeria’s anti-graft outlook, declaring that the country was bedeviled by  low tax compliance and low buy-in of reforms as a result of the high perception of corruption. Although it acknowledged the Buhari government’s “ongoing efforts to improve transparency and governance”, it pointed out that much more was needed to build public trust to implement difficult but needed reforms. It noted, among others, that implementation of transparency and accountability measures had been slow,  and that access and quality of information on the COVID-19 spending on the Ministry of Finance’s Transparency Portal had been uneven.

In any case, the AGF’s claim contradicts the various reports by the monitoring agencies of the Federal Government showing that corruption remains endemic in public service. Those reports consistently indict the administration’s lackadaisical and desultory approach to governance. Time and again, the reports by the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation on the Presidency, the National Assembly and the MDAs, in particular, have shown that corruption is thriving, not reducing, in the country. Only in August 2021, the Auditor-General, Mr. Adolphus Aghughu, revealed that as of 2019, the MDAs could not account for a total sum of N 4.97 trillion. It is not known when, if ever, they will stop the practice of unretired advances, irregular award of contracts, dubious spending, unapproved allowances, payment for services not executed and payment without voucher. If the MDAs are a cesspit of corruption, then it cannot be true that corruption has reduced in the country.

Enter the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), which has also deplored the monumental corruption in the MDAs. In November last year, its chairman, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, traced the high cost of governance and rising personnel budget in the country to illegal recruitment, illegal and unilateral increase in wages and remuneration by some MDAs, indiscriminate local and international travels, unreasonable demands by some board members of MDAs without regard for extant circulars on cost management, procurement fraud, and budget padding. Previously, in 2019, the ICPC boss had revealed that many of the institutions were guilty of gross abuse of personnel budget and padding of nominal rolls. On November 30, 2021, the chairman, at the third  National Summit on Diminishing Corruption in the Public Service and Presentation of Public Service Integrity Award, revealed that the commission had uncovered gross abuse of personnel budget as well as duplication of projects by some MDAs amounting to over N20.138 bn. He said that the agency, through project tracking, found that the skyrocketing personnel cost in many of the MDAs was attributable to massive budgetary scams, including illegal recruitment, unilateral increase in wages and indiscriminate travels, among others. The AGF apparently ignored these infractions in his assessment of the Buhari administration’s corruption record. He said corruption was reduced, but without mentioning what it did to accomplish such a feat. Actually, he was only regurgitating the administration’s talking points.

Reduced corruption cannot simply be wished into existence: it must be pursued vigorously. Sadly, the administration’s orientation  and  management style do not suggest a willingness to change the way governance in the country has always been run.

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