NIGERIA’S Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) announced last year that between 2007 and 2010, it recovered stolen assets nearly worth two (2) trillion Naira.
This teary figure of thefts will trench close to N4.7 trillion - equivalent to past year’s federal budget – if additional recoveries made in 2011 and 2012 are totalled up, considering that N1.7 trillion was stolen under Nigeria’s Oil Subsidy Subvention Scheme in the year 2011.
On these figures, Nigeria is direly miring in a theft pandemic of un-precedented proportions. For openers, no country of its size can survive this level of banditry, with its government officials living by plunder, and, with a middling and mostly poor 160 million plus population seething on edge.
According to Forbes magazine of last September the impact of stolen wealth in Nigeria is telling. ““The acquisition of private planes in Nigeria since civil rule began with General Olusegun Obasanjo as President in 1999 has been unprecedented,” said Forbes magazine. “Over 130 new private planes were acquired since 2007 at an average cost of $50 million per plane. Between March 2010 and March 2011, in just one year, Nigerians spent $225 million on private jets. But while a few dozen Nigerians are spending millions of dollars apiece for private jets, the poverty level in Nigeria is on the rise; with almost 100 million Nigerians, out of a total population of 170 million, living on less than one dollar a day.”
Paradoxically, along with Kenya, the Nigerian government was the early bird to sign on the first day – December 9, 2003 – in the city of Merida, Mexico, when the United Nations Convention against Corruption was laid on the table for countries’ voluntary signatures. Nigeria’s National Assembly later ratified it a year later, on December 14, 2004. By jumping ahead to sign and ratify, the Nigerian government flattered to deceive, by suggesting a readiness to stop stealing and start living up to the creed of its definition as “a government”.
But after well-nigh on ten years since signing the Merida Convention, Nigeria instead soared into stratospheric thefts, facilitated by “public officials”. For hardly had its signature ink dried than the government returned to its stealing ways. Now, whether by telepathy or conspiracy, no court of law in Nigeria has invoked the Merida Convention as its guiding, never mind governing principle. So, the Merida Convention seems officially deemed in Nigeria as mere rhetorical flourish – like an international law the Nigerian government only charily signed to fulfil all righteousness, without intending to obey its ban of official thievery.
Article 3 of the Merida Convention applies to all signing countries in the “prevention, investigation and prosecution of corruption, and to the freezing, seizure, confiscation and return of the proceeds of offences established in accordance with this Convention”. But pertaining “prevention” of corruption - as Merida Convention’s first injunction - Nigeria blithely ignores that, with no effective measure emplaced to stop thefts occurring in Nigeria’s government offices. In consequence, thefts and bribes in the 36 states of Nigeria now overwhelm the putatively under-staffed EFCC, as official thefts soared to dizzying levels in Nigeria, with entire sub-treasuries being shovelled away in incredible thefts.
“The situation in Nigeria is long past the happy hour. Nigerians pray for good Nigeria every day and this prayer translates into curses on their executioners because these do not want Nigeria to progress given how they are relentlessly raping her present and looting her future. It will soon be season for purgatory in Nigeria. When the hour comes, ignorance in leadership will not be acceptable in extenuation of damnation, and, this will be regardless of which ethnic group a criminal leader hails from,” Quansy Salako, an American resident, wrote on December 12, last year.
As instance of this counter-intuitive escalation of thefts, after signing the Merida Convention, Nigeria’s Police’ 32 billion Naira pension fund was entirely shovelled away last year by John Yakubu Yusufu, a former Director of the Police Pension Office. “His was let off by the Judge and fined N750, 000 (about $5,000). The rich irony of stealing from the Nigerian police aside, the opportunity cost of this grand larceny to the commonwealth and well-being is astounding”, said Tunji Lardner, a newspaper editor in Nigeria.
“I ran some numbers indexed against Nigeria’s 2012 national budget and came up with these figures. Yakubu’s haul is 536.89% of the budgetary allocation for the Ministry of Police affairs and 777.31% of the budget for the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), which in lay terms means that Mr. Yakubu can personally afford to run the Police Affairs Ministry and the ICPC for five and seven years respectively - two of the instruments of state expressly designed to uphold law and order and put criminals like Yakubu behind bars for a very long time. Equally stupefying is the fact that this one man (Yakubu) and his cronies stole the equivalent of 48.07 of the National budgetary allocation for Universal Basic Education, which means that perhaps half of Nigeria’s school age children running into the tens of millions could technically be denied an education because the system we have co-created allows and encourages people to steal from the commonwealth with no real fear of consequences”, Tunji Lardner added.
Indeed, in Nigeria, ten years since signing the Merida Convention, no concrete legal consequences follow official thefts. A former Edo state Governor, Mr. Lucky Igbinedion was just one of the two ex-Governors convicted so far, but whilst the other convict later received laudatory presidential amnesty with full pardon, Lucky Igbinedion was immediately let off with a slap on the wrist in 2008, equivalent to a judicial wink, added by a fine of a mere ₦3.5million, equivalent to 21,000 United States dollars, for an admitted indictment of 25 billion Naira fraud, equivalent to 167.5 million United States dollars.
Till date, there’s no official statement on whether the 25 billion Naira he made away with has been recovered. As a policy, accounting for recovered thefts has proved impossibly difficult for Nigerian government officials for any number of reasons. For example, there’s no straightforward financial account of the money recovered from Nigeria’s past head of state, General Sani Abacha, who stole $5 billion, equivalent to the annual budget of Nigeria’s federal government. “The money was likely re-stolen by the Obasanjo administration”, a canny foreign observer wryly rasped, after detecting no precise figure officially admitted as received by the Nigerian government which instead continually diverted attention by jousting endlessly with Swiss government on some alleged remainder sums, asserted by Nigeria, but denied by Switzerland, as the outstanding “Abacha loot” still cached in Swiss banks’ vaults.
This criminal culture of routine non-accountability suggests sheer shambles inside Nigeria’s government offices as much as it indicates an overarching fraudulence which already has robbed Nigerian officials of slenderest credibility for honesty. “The financial revenue Nigeria received for the whole of last year (2012) from the sale of crude oil is more than the total foreign aid the entire sub Saharan Africa received in that same year. So, where is the money? Where is the improvement in Nigeria?” asks British Prime Minister, David Cameron, in obvious exasperation at Davos on 23rd January this year.
“The educated ones are now the fools in Nigeria. They are dreaming. But go and read ‘This house has fallen” written years ago by a Jewish man who was opportune to go through Nigeria for some weeks. A country without laws is no longer standing. A country without infrastructure, non-functional power, no water, no road, no economic future, is a dead place. And your educated ones still can’t read the handwriting on the wall. You are fools!” howled a blogger, Nathaniel Okonkwo, on 19th January this year.
A few months ago at a Senate hearing, incorporation papers filed in 1998 by Malabu Oil Limited were officially declared stolen from inside Nigeria’s Company Registry – styled the Corporate Affairs Commission, entrusted by the Companies Act of 1990 to keep all charter papers of incorporated companies in perpetuity. Once that news broke, foreign banks took notice that in Nigeria it is possible to advance a loan to a Nigerian company which may later turn out to be non-existent.
“We talk about corruption as if it is the cause of our problems in Nigeria”, said Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan. “No - yes, we have corruption in this country; but the government has also been fighting corruption, and, we have discovered that most of the issues called corruption are not corruption. I remember the last meeting we had with the Chief Justice of the federation. This was when i tried to bring the heads of the three arms of government together to see how we will collectively suppress corruption. And of course, we analysed the cases in court and discovered that about 80 per cent of them are not corruption cases. Sometimes, the way we mention corruption makes it look like when indigenes of some villages in the Niger Delta blame the death of a person on the activities of witches or spirits.”
But in reality though, official fraudulence scuttles business confidence in Nigeria, even as Nigerians shrug and carry on in false courage as if nothing doing, despite that similar paper fraud had wiped out two-thirds of Nigerians’ investments in the country’s stock-market in 2008, matched then by alleged technical insolvency of half a dozen commercial banks which illegally trafficked their own shares to create a false market so as to bolster share prices even as their capital dwindled through internal thefts by their directors.
The Chief Executives of Oceanic and Intercontinental Bank(s) were arrested and indicted in court for personally fleecing 2 billion United States dollars, but since 2008, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has not accounted for recovery of the bankers’ stolen funds, claiming it wishes to preserve common law confidentiality of the legal fees the CBN paid its hired lawyers to pursue recovery, despite a judicial order issued by the High Court to the Central Bank to forthwith tender the account in court - such judicial order legally overriding any common law attorney-client privilege.
Demurring, and rather than render account to the court, the Central Bank chose to pay lawyers more legal fees to file an appeal for a non-disclosure injunction against any duty to account. Meantime, the Central Bank struggles to minimize the infamy of a whopping two billion Naira stolen away from its subsidiary security printing presses, early this year.
Such far-ranging murkiness beclouding Abacha’s loot, the Malabu Oil incorporation papers and Cecilia Ibru’s recovered stolen assets, together, only further worsen Nigeria’s image as a country governed by thieves. But who cares?
“As a people we must abhor corruption - the cancer that now afflicts all of us, which, if allowed to persist, will destroy us,” Ahmed Joda, a former federal permanent Secretary said warningly on 15th January, to show he cares even if most other Nigerian officials rather hug stealing as a way of life. “The examples of our present leadership to the younger generations - whether in the executive, legislature or the judiciary can only ruin us. As a people, we must make clear to our leaders that we can no longer tolerate their unbecoming conduct. We must not leave the situation unattended for street mobs to impose the solution.”
Well, Nigeria’s federal parliament also hollered mid last month to show it cared, as the House Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, noisily ordered all past EFCC Chairpersons to appear before a House Committee and account for all recovered assets. “Tambuwal’s directive is of course a no-brainer”, a British journalist quipped. “The duty to account correlates with official duty capacity which no past EFCC Chairperson has.”
By that token, it follows there are but odd chances of Nigerians ever getting value for tax money, for so long as a duty to render honest financial account to the taxed public is officially refused by Nigerian government officials, elected and appointed.
“Nigeria is a country perhaps,” a witty observer tartly mused.
……………..Seyi Olu Awofeso is a Legal Practitioner in Abuja