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Corruption: Raging sleaze in Nigeria

Corruption: Raging sleaze in Nigeria

When Anti-corruption, non-profit Transparency International (TI) released its report on Nigeria two years ago, it was chest-beating for Jonathan’s administration as the account indicated that the country had faired better in its war against corruption.

According to the 2012 global Corruption Perception Index (CPI) report, Nigeria was ranked the 35th most corrupt country in the world by TI, having scored 27 out of a maximum 100 marks to occupy the 139th place out of the 176 countries surveyed in the report.

The CPI ranks countries and territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. A country or territory’s score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of 0 – 100, where 0 means that a country is perceived as highly corrupt and 100 means it is perceived as very clean.

In that ranking, Nigeria had moved up four places from its position of 143 out of the 183 nations surveyed by TI in 2011.  In 2010, the country was ranked 134 out of 178 surveyed nations, while it was placed 130 out of 180 nations in 2009.

Reacting to the ranking, officials ascribed the marginal improvement in the report to President Jonathan’s avowed commitment to fight corruption head-on.

Information Minister, Labaran Maku explained that the incumbent administration was taking steps to deal with corruption by employing systematic and institutional approaches that are gradual in yielding results.

He cited the efforts the government was making in prosecuting fraudsters implicated in the fuel subsidy scam, investigation into the pension fund scandal, the geometric audit of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), and curbing of graft in the supply of fertiliser and seedlings to farmers.
He recalled that when the president promised to curtail patronage in the oil and gas sector, thereby introducing deregulation of the sector, Nigerians became hysterical and shut down the proposal by “mobilising to oppose it.

“Government has continued to take decisive measures against defaulters in the fuel subsidy scam. There are so many issues involved in dealing with corruption. When you are systematic, deliberate reform goes deeper,” Maku said.

However, recent reports emanating from international community have taken the wind of sale of the minister’s claims.

The latest edition of The Economist,  the London based international magazine was critical of the Federal Government’s efforts to fight corruption, citing the recent case of the removal of Sanusi as the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

The paper said the sacking of Sanusi has reversed the recent progress the country has made, adding that the result has been a mini-crash in Nigeria’s financial markets and a grave setback to the country’s progress towards securing macroeconomic stability.

“News of Sanusi’s removal led to a slide in the naira, a sharp drop in the stock market and a temporary halt to bond trading. The announcement that Godwin Emefiele, an experienced banker would succeed him in June had done little to restore confidence.

“The sacking of the central bank governor would cause investors to flee from most places, but it is especially damaging in Nigeria” it said.

The magazine linked the removal of Sanusi to the allegations of missing money he leveled against the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

“A fortnight before his removal, Mr. Sanusi presented evidence to parliament that $20 billion had gone missing from the state oil company.  Such allegations are hardly new, but Mr. Sanusi had given them the authority of his office.  The timing of his suspension and vague justification suggests that he is being punished for acting as a responsible public servant.

“The consequences will be felt beyond Nigeria.  In Africa, it is the most populous country, and once revised estimates of GDP are published at the end of March, likely to be confirmed as the largest economy. So, its fortunes are central to opinion about Africa,” it added.

Contemporaneously, the Federal Government received a rap on the knuckle from the United States government for paying lip service to fighting corruption.

The United States government in its 2013 state department annual report on Nigeria released last week laid the blame on government for lack of transparency in its activities.

The report said, although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

“Massive, widespread, and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government and the security forces. The constitution provides immunity from civil and criminal prosecution for the president, vice president, governors, and deputy governors while in office,” it said.

According to the report, “The anti-corruption efforts of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and EFCC remained largely ineffectual. The ICPC holds broad authorities to prosecute all forms of corruption, whereas the EFCC is tasked with handling only financial crimes. Despite this wider mandate, the ICPC had achieved only 68 convictions since its inauguration in 2000,” it added.
The report was handy with instances:

“EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde, who took office in 2011, continued previous cases or brought new cases against 12 nationally prominent public officials. The EFCC faced several frustrating setbacks during the year. In January, the EFCC won the conviction of John Yakubu Yusuf for embezzling two billion naira ($12.6 million) from the Police Pension Fund, which carried with it a two-year prison sentence. The judge fined Yusuf N250,000, ($1,570) in lieu of prison time. The day following this judgment, the EFCC re-arrested Yusuf on the charge of failing to declare a N250 million ($1.57 million) bank account on his mandatory Declaration of Assets Form; Yusuf remained in custody pending trial at the end of the year.

In March, President Jonathan pardoned former Bayelsa State governor, Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha, who was convicted in 2008 for embezzling more than $10 million in state funds. While Alamieyeseigha served two years in prison and forfeited the property he held in the country, he was still wanted in the United Kingdom on money laundering charges, and another foreign government seized his assets. By granting him a pardon, President Jonathan paved the way for Alamieyeseigha to run for another elected office or to hold other appointed offices”.

The report continued: “Despite the arrest of several high-ranking officials by the EFCC, allegations continued that agency investigations targeted individuals who had fallen out of favour with the government, while those who were in favour continued their activities with impunity.

“In February 2012, the EFCC brought criminal charges against former governor of Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva for laundering almost five billion naira ($31.4 million) of funds belonging to Bayelsa State. In October 2012, the EFCC seized 48 properties worth approximately one billion naira ($6.3 million) allegedly belonging to Sylva in Abuja. Sylva was granted bail in January. The EFCC discovered still more evidence of Sylva’s money laundering activities, and after he refused to cooperate with the investigation, the EFCC arrested him again in May to bring new charges, raising the amount of money he was suspected of laundering to 6.46 billion naira ($40.6 million). The court held Sylva in custody for one month before granting him bail of 100 million naira ($628,000); the court refused his request to return his passports to travel to London with his wife”.

These not-withstanding, the Federal Government can still make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, in an effort to repair its damaged image.

According to The Economist,   President Jonathan must ensure that Sanusi’s allegations are investigated thoroughly and that a promised audit of oil finances is credible.

“Tellingly, although, Mr. Jonathan chose to suspend Mr. Sanusi on obscure grounds, he has supported Diezani Alison-Madueke, the oil minister and a close ally, in the face of more serious and concrete allegations against her ministry. Replacing her would send a strong signal that he was serious about fixing Nigeria’s oil industry.  It might also go some way to repairing the dents Mr. Jonathan has inflicted on Nigeria’s economy by his ill-judged manoeuvre against the central bank,” the magazine advised.

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