The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the dark underbelly of many African societies, where nepotism, corruption, and authoritarianism deprive the citizens of their countries from living with dignity and in freedom. Anthony Aduaka writes how corruption in his native Nigeria has escalated to such an extent that billions of dollars disappear without explanation.
Each time Nigerians sing their national anthem, it brings back memories of hope in the struggle for a better Nigeria. It is a hope anchored in the unity of purpose to bring a corruption-free society into being. It is embodied by the line: “The labours of our heroes past, shall never be in vain.” This is the hope that makes every Nigerian endure the hardship and financial difficulties to which the country’s past and present elected officials have subjected her.
I remember the day in 2015 when Muhammadu Buhari became the 15th president of Nigeria. Together with many of my countrymen, I said a silent prayer for my country and wished her new leaders wisdom to manage the country’s affairs. Little did I know that the calls for change were just the usual empty electoral promises of politicians seeking victory at the polls.
During his campaign trail, Buhari had promised Nigerians that his administration would fight corruption down to its roots, but the events of the past few days, months and years, tells a different story.
Corruption has been Nigeria’s greatest problem since her independence. It challenges the very foundation of democracy and her people’s freedom of existence. It makes a caricature of Nigerians’ effort to make an honest and decent living in a country blessed with abundant mineral and natural resources.
Three tales of corruption
Earlier this year, charges against former Minister of Petroleum Resources Diezani Alison-Madueke resurfaced in the news, social media and international news networks because the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was trying to repatriate her from the UK to face corruption charges. The EFCC said that $20 billion in oil money went missing under her watch between 2011 and 2015. The EFCC also accused her of mismanaging a $115million slush fund, stealing and concealing properties to the value of $153 million.
Diezani denied the charges but hurriedly left the country and is now a diplomatic citizen of the Dominican Republic according to Al Jazeera. Public opinion in Nigeria is that the corruption allegations are true. Why else would she have skipped the country?
In July, the Guardian newspaper carried the story of a probe by the House of Representatives committee into the misuse of $211.8 million by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) from February to July. Investigations derailed when NDDC Acting Managing Director, Prof Kemebradikumo Pondei, collapsed during questioning after appearing unable to explain how these monies were spent under his leadership.
His attempted explanations are mind-boggling at best, saying that about $5.5 million were spent on the COVID-19 stimulus package. It is not clear how this stimulus was allocated, prompting calls for his dismissal. Prior to this investigation, the commission was already under public attack over a $14.4million contract awarded to Signora Concepts Services Limited for the supply of specialized personal protective equipment.
Perhaps the biggest scandal to have hit Nigeria this year is the COVID-19 stimulus package that seems to have gone up in smoke, just like the Treasury did in April. The government promised that it would distribute the equivalent of $52 to 2.6 million vulnerable Nigerians to offset the financial impact of the COVID-19 lockdown. Sadiya Umar Farouq, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, said that the government used a database to identify poor Nigerians, but there are doubts whether such a register exists, or whether district leaders simply identified their family members and friends as beneficiaries.
Robbing the public purse at the cost of the poor
Added to all this, the Buhari administration has more than doubled Nigeria’s total debt since 2015, from $33 billion in December 2015 to $86.5 billion in May 2019. Dr Bongo Adi, the Director of Centre for Infrastructure Policy Regulation and Advancement (CIPRA) in the Lagos Business School, says that 10 percent of this figure is owed to China. He said that that Nigeria lacks the accountability, transparency and responsibility to repay the loans and that the country’s debt independent revenue is presently at 96%. This means that every naira that Nigerians earn, 96 kobo is used for loan repayment. Only 4 kobo revert into the treasury and the local economy.
Stories like these leave Nigerians wondering how and when the drama of corruption will end. Unending reports of corruption lead to the conclusion that the Buhari administration has lost the fight to corruption and that we are possibly still only scratching the surface of deep-seated corruption.
Commentator Olusola Babatunde Adegbite on reflected on the constant corruption allegations, saying that “the wickedness and avarice in the heart of the Nigerian political class and their cronies in public governance, is certain to be a study in political science classes for years to come.”
This is the audacity of corruption. It is when holders of public office acquire personal properties and jewellery with public money without any tinge of conscience. The audacity of corruption is when individuals loot the funds under their management to adopt a luxurious lifestyle without apology. It is when so much money is spent managing the lives of our public officers while the poor masses go hungry, and are abandoned and neglected.
How then can Nigerians look forward to 2023, when our political elites continue to engage in seemingly endless corruption? It is up to us to change the leadership deficit that has trolled the country since the start of Buhari’s administration.
This is the audacity of hope handed down by our forefathers that we can say: enough is enough. If we can do that, we may succeed in toppling corruption. We may finally be able to create a free and fair, egalitarian and corruption-free society, where accountability, transparency and responsibility are duties we owe to one another and to the country we call home. It is not a choice of service. It is the life we create, not for ourselves but for the benefit of all Nigerians.