Monday, February 6, 2017

Can President Buhari Tame The Buccaneers?

By Paul Orie
Buccaneering in governance of Nigeria at different times has constituted a major draw back to the economic development of the country. Painfully organised slaughter by raiders of the National treasury against the nation and her people has pushed the national economy crashing to the ground, with the Nigerian degraded on daily.
The startling revelations by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC, coupled with the melodrama in Abuja and Lagos court rooms, have exposed the buccaneers who are mainly the shameless political class and their collaborators in the’ Federal Bureaucracy and parastatals. These are the personages who have deliberately plundered the economy in the most callous manner through official corruption, which is still alive, writhing and rendering Nigerians in agony.

The political class, later joined by the soldiers who criminally shot their ways to the seat of power in January 1966, in the name of rescuing Nigeria from social wreckage not only compounded this social malaice, but legitimised it. Late Major General James Oluleye, who was in the military cabinet, admitted sincerely in his book, Military Rule and Role- 1966 – 1979 that corruption was deeply rooted in the military, but ‘’we couldn’t do anything”. Politicians, especially key power holders have made politics the most lucrative business enterprise, thus attracting dubious elements to governance. It is baffling that corruption now thrives, growing  a wild plant and producing money bags who cannot use their brains to explore and exploit legitimate avenues to earn incomes.

With the absurdities going on since the end of the Nigeria Civil War, one keeps wondering, is this Nigeria that produced decent business tycoons who made fortunes without sucking government treasury dry. One readily remember Sir Louis Ojukwu of Nnewi, the late father of Emeka Odimegu Ojukwu, Chief Timothy Adeola Odutola of Ijebuland, who voluntarily handed over his vast school complex to the defunct Western State government without demanding compensation, and The Danta of Kano and several others to mention but a few. Today, we have Aliko Dangote, a serious investor whose business empire is creating wealth and jobs across Africa, he is worthy of emulation.

Nigeria can still proudly parade names of top politicians of first republic whose reputation remains undented with corrupt practices. They include Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Governor of Northern Region, Sir Tafawa Balewa, the first Prime Minister of Nigeria, Alhaji Ribadu, Defence minister of the First Republic, Dr. Akano Ibiam an excellent gentleman, one of earliest Medical Doctors of Igboland, Mallam Aminu Kano. None of these politicians left illegally acquired huge housing estates or humongous sums of money in their bank account for their children. We still have fine Civil Servants like Allison Ayida, late Peter Odumosu of Old West Region who left the Civil Service honourably.

Why do politicians continue to plunder the economy despite the seizure of their assets and clamping in prisons? First Military Regime seized their assets, Muritala/Obasanjo’ s regime seized several assets illegally acquired by politicians and military officers but all these  have not deterred the buccaneers. The scorched earth policy of General Muhammed Buhari of December 1983 to August 1985 as a military head of State instituted the Justice Uwaifo Commission of enquiry that found most of the public office holders guilty of corruption, thereby clamping them into prison. That was enough deterrent to halt larceny in national politics.

What is really wrong? Despite General Buhari’ s efforts then, corruption still thrives tenfold, primarily because the Ibrahim Gbadamosi Babangida’s regime truncated the crusade of  Buhari in the most unpatriotic manner. This action also pummelled the ethical Revolution started by the Shehu Shagari’s regime which Buhari came to revive with verve and intensity. Don’t forget Babangida’s regime in its quest to get legitimacy to rule or to shame General Buhari’ s Military regime also released politicians jailed by the Uwaifo’s Tribunal. The civilian administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo 1999 – 2007, saw the stunning acceleration of corruption with politicians and past military top brass elevating it to a high  art. Concerned about this Octopus called corruption, Chief Obasanjo’s regime established EFCC and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC.

He went further to retrieve due process that was entrenched in 1960 Constitution, aimed at checking corruption. The EFCC, though some criticised its activities in tracking corruption as  lopsided, but it recorded a huge success. However, corruption remained untamed with politicians, the banks, idle Nigerians continued to pillage the economy unhindered till 2015  President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office as a repentant democrat. Like a tornado, he has spread his anti corruption dragnet which has caught the culprits. It is indeed hard times for the Treasury Raiders who are working hard through the courts to exonerate themselves. What is really wrong? Can the ongoing arrests and court appearances of culprits provide a lasting solution? Mind you plundering the National economy was equally visible before independence and immediately after. Providing answers to the above questions, it is germane to draw  our attention to the Nigerian constitution which has spelt out how public funds should be disbursed. All these provisions have been in the constitution before and since independence.

The Treasury Single Account, now plugging all revenue leakages was introduced and spelt out by 1951 Mcpherson constitution. The Due process has been in the constitution since 1960.  Also, the public Procurement Act 2007 has been in existence since 2007, it is being amended at the National Assembly to strengthen it. The 1999 Constitution Section E stipulates stringent measures on appropriation of Public funds and as well explaining the roles of each accounting officers in the ministries and MDAs. For example, the section states that “all revenues or other monies raised or received by the Federation shall be paid into and form one consolidated Revenue Fund for the Federation”.

Further more, the section notes that “no money shall be withdrawn from the consolidated Revenue Fund or any other Public Fund of the Federation, except in the manner prescribed by the National assembly”. The constitution goes on to empower the Auditor-General of the Federation to audit persons or bodies established by law to collect and administer public monies. In this regard, the Auditor General or any person assigned by him, has “access to all books, records, returns and other documents relating to those accounts” For effective control of public funds and disbursement, all these provisions and others not mentioned here are elaborated in the inancial Regulations which all categories of Civil Servants regard as their Bible.

More over, this document spells out the roles of other accounting Officers such as the Account General of the Federation who monitor all payments and receipts and supervises the accounts of ministries, prepares annual financial Statement of the country. The Permanent Secretaries are also key financial officers who on the order of ministers investigate funds of their ministries. The above are various measures put in place at different points in the ministries to control public expenditure. The disclosures from the EFCC and the accounts of witnesses either for against the accused in the on-going cases in the courts, it is obvious that all these procedures were grossly abused. Also, it is evident that all accounting officers at stages of money withdrawals and disbursement of monies, the accounting officers where not duly involved in the scrutiny of relevant documents in compliance with the law.

Did they deliberately collude with the accused? The courts will answer this question. At this juncture, it is crystal clear that the Federal government’s approach of arresting, trying the culprits in law courts or compelling them to refund allegedly stolen money cannot eradicate corruption in our public life. The above analysis also answers all questions raised earlier. Curbing corruption should start at the points where monies are generated and paid into the government’s account and where withdrawals are made with proper scrutiny of all relevant documents and procedures taken by all accounting officers as spelt out in the constitution and Financial Regulation. The accomplishment of this offers a serious challenge to the presidency, the legislature, the judiciary, security agencies, the attorney General, Professor Itse Sagay’s Committee to ensure that all extant laws are applied religiously by all accounting officers in order to protect government money and property. These bodies mentioned in the preceding paragraph should then find out any observed loopholes in the laws especially the Financial Regulations and plug them, strengthened some weak or grey sections and amend them.

At this critical time that the president is working hard to eradicate corruption in our national life, it is instructive for the Civil Service to urgently return to the era when all monies generated or withdrawn were perused with those paying in money into the government treasury or withdrawing are made to fill and sign relevant documents based on the procedures enumerated in the Financial Regulations. Due process, TSA, 2007 Public Procurement Act and other veritable laws to check fraud are existing. The Auditors should also return to the years when they checked payment of salaries on monthly basis including auditing all departments in the ministries especially the stores and out station  departments. If these are rigidly adhered to, it will be easy to promptly detect any attempt to manipulate the laws and procedures regulating the collection of monies and their disbursement. With this, if there is proven cases of fraudulent act, culprits should be apprehended immediately disciplinary actions taken against them such as warning, queries, interdiction, suspension or dismissal depending on the weight of the offences. Such actions were complemented by publishing names of the offenders in the Federal! State gazette. The problem area lies on the blue chip culprits – the political appointees, ministers, director generals. This is where career civil servants should be bold, patriotic and be protected by the law.

Again, Professor Sagay’s Committee should be able to recommend safe guards to protect Civil Servants detecting fraudulent acts by politicians. Enough of the emasculation of Civil Servants. All these measures will save future regimes the burden, waste of time, energy and resources of setting up tribunals to investigate politicians or sending them to courts as we are currently witnessing. If all these regulations are practised to the letter, Buhari will defmitely lead us triumphantly to a corrupt free Nigeria, a legacy his successors will inherit and build upon.
*Paul Orie, is the Editor- In-Chief of West Coast Trader

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