For the past sixteen years, some of us have always insisted PDP is a tone deaf, arrogant and an incorrigible party that needs to be brought down to earth by the voters to gets its senses back. But going by the recent pronouncement of its outgoing leader and losing President Goodluck Jonathan at a recent summit held in the State House (we won’t complain about using government property for party business on his way out), the party is still very much in denial!
The diatribe ascribed to the President that defectors “will come back on empty stomach”, buttresses the view of his party as a “share the money” and national cake party. How else can a President that have the unique opportunity of using a loss to reprogram his party spare no thought for the good deeds that politics can achieve in the society i.e. service to country, mankind and defense of the downtrodden? In PDP’s mind, politics as usual did not end on March 28. I only pity the people of Rivers, Delta and Akwa Ibom states who may now have to bear the burden of revenue locusts that fill that party whose greed knows no end!
Speaking about greed, the recently released PwC report is nothing short of outstanding in terms of rapacious corruption. From the high level corruption that underlines the allocation of oil blocs to connected friends and party members (PwC didn’t get here) to the reporting of actual crude produced at the well (there is another audit waiting to happen here), to the shady and opaque oil lifting process used to allocate national resources to favorites, and the brazen looting of whatever is remitted to NNPC’s official account (which is where PwC focused), there is no doubt that perfidy is the middle name of the outgoing government! The best summary by my friend Feyi, can be seen in two parts 1 & 2 on his blog.
Every level of our government needs some thorough scrubbing starting with the revenue generating entities of the Federal Government (NNPC, the FIRS, the CBN, NPA, FAAN and the Customs). Between these entities, there is probably 95% of the national revenue. A lot of these entities require structural reforms that blend anti-corruption enforcement with replacing the “evil” workers embedded in them with capable outsiders to flush out the drag elements. A read of El-Rufai’s Accidental Public Servant will give the President-elect a background on this business of critical human capacity transplants, and replacement to stop corruption and inefficiencies.
The next phase of scrubbing will be the interior ministry and judicial apparatus which have the closest dealing with everyday citizens and which will be the public face of such campaign. People deal more with corrupt policemen, immigration agents, judges and court/prison officials and customs men on a daily basis than they do with any other public officer of their government. Hence, it is critical that the President-elect find men of his exact temperament and approach to corruption to pilot his zero tolerance to corruption campaign in the Ministries of Interior/Police, and Justice. Effective governance will have to weed out all low-level bribery and corruption with sting operations, secret shopping, whistle blowing and even more effective disciplinary actions while optimizing service delivery.
Lastly, the procurement apparatus of the government continues to be a leakage avenue. Projects are inflated, even when awarded they are never completed within budget and on schedule and the buying philosophy of the government is inefficient. Inaugurating the National Procurement Council is a first step, which the President-elect has promised, but electronic procurement methods including requalification and transparent bidding process must be introduced and enforced.
However, the reality of implementing these reforms and battling against institutionalized corruption is that the cabals that currently benefit will fight back and try to sabotage these efforts; subterfuge, blackmail, hostage taking and more so blowbacks to expose policy underbellies will be explored by them. This is where smart policy sequencing and alternative dispute resolution will come in handy.
For example, instead of going after NNPC big wigs on plain vanilla corruption, the penalties and terms of the Fiscal Responsibility Act for unbudgeted spending (easier to proof), and enforcement of extant tax laws on the big wigs (seeking explanation on the differential between their assets they own and taxes they pay) will go a long way to secure repayments, forfeitures and negotiated probation, jail terms and supervised home arrests instead of lengthy court cases that gets no where.
Indeed, a Truth and Restitution Commission that can be instrumental by prosecutors to nail fronts or aides of corrupt officials will allow these corrupt “accessories to crime” to negotiate a return of their loots to shorten the pain for a nation already traumatized. Even then, high profile looters must face full enforcement to pass the message loud and clear- that impunity will never go unpunished!
Beyond this though, given the depth of the rot at these revenue generating behemoths that have soon become laws to themselves, the new Buhari administration must consider the application of smart policies of sequencing to avoid these behemoths fighting back through the various booby traps and cartels they’ve set up over the years.
Case in point is the “subsidy” regime removal poison pill and the oil marketers or racketeers that seasonally hold the nation hostage through fuel scarcity. The Buhari administration is best served not discussing the immediate impact of fuel subsidy regime (which really should be a stop gap measure not a permanent policy as it has become), but should focus on fuel supply where the shoe pinches the consumer the most. The twin track policy effect of directly contracting global supplies backed with full faith and credit of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to ship 18-24 months supply to our major depots while we focus on turning around our local refining capacity will go a long way in quieting frayed nerves.
Once this system is perfected, since depot pricing will vary based on mix of products and location- and time, but remain close – the government can use the opportunity to get out of the business of price regulation and instead replace it with strong anti-gouging laws and enforcement towards the end of 18-24 months period. Since end marketers are business people, they will efficiently price the end user in or out of their retail stations, while the government puts pressure on them to stay within a reasonable profit margin. Smart investors sensing opportunity should also be empowered to import with necessary waivers in place to avoid high cost at the pumps during this period. Opening up the racket is good for Nigeria.
Another area where smart policy sequencing will do the incoming government a lot of favor is the potential booby-trap of amnesty payments for ex-militants (I say terrorists and criminals) in the Niger Delta, to the detriment of millions of residents of that region who are reduced to sideline cheerleaders as only a few benefit from the largesse. A quick passage of the Local Community Development Fund structure proposed in the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), that allocates 10% of all Petroleum Profit to Local Communities for development and payments to registered indigenes, will dilute the potential blowback of ceasing amnesty payments. The PIB as it is should probably be passed in bits and pieces as forensic auditing, booking of erring NNPC officials and realignment of what is left of it is done over 12-18 months.
When it is all said and done, President Buhari will only have himself to blame if the cabal fights back and wins. Failure is not an excuse, because there is a smart and stupid way to achieve reforms. His first test will be whom he appoints to his cabinet and how many; we need square pegs in square holes, and not a crowd fest. Government should return to its glory days of being effective at doing what we can’t do for ourselves for the generality of citizens without lording it over them. Our best days are ahead of us.