Below is a transcript of a presentation of findings on the role of corruption in the utilization of recovered public funds entitled "World Bank, Looted Recovered Funds, and Public Accountability," delivered by Nigerian civil society leaders.
WORLD BANK, LOOTED RECOVERED FUNDS AND PUBLIC ACCOUNTABILITY
Ladies and gentlemen, we are glad to speak to you this beautiful morning on corruption from a different perspective. It is different in the sense that it involved practical efforts by a team of experts to unearth real issues of corruption in its raw, naked form.
The story of Nigeria cannot be complete without reference to corruption. Since independence in 1960, a country of 170 million people has been plagued with the cankerworm of corruption and ineptitude. The consequences are enormous; Life expectancy continues to nosedive, economic growth faces meltdown, and the democratic fabrics of the country pushed into a moral cesspit.
Most of her citizens remain the poorest of the poor, though a few of her elites live in opulence, some of which are traceable to illicit funds.There is indeed a symbiotic relationship between corruption, waste and underdevelopment. It is estimated that no fewer than $100billion may have been looted by government officials since the oil boom era of 1970s.
In the year 2004, the Nigerian authorities established the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC), after the new representative government realized that public funds had watered the wealth of several individuals. This came at a time that anti-corruption slogan and cliché had become a recurrent outcry across the world.
Since 2004, the civil rights movements in Africa’s largest democracy have increased the pressure on the government to meet the expectations of the Millennium Development Goals, (MDG) as espoused by States under the United Nations, (UN). However, these efforts have been undermined by corruption and ineptitude. Though, the government launched a massive campaign towards retrieving funds stolen earlier by the military dictators and their cronies that ruled and ruined the country for more than two decades, less was achieved. Much of the stolen funds and assets were lodged in Europe and America.
In the year 2004, the Federal Government under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in one swoop from Switzerland, recovered $505million from several other looted assets of late dictator, General Sanni Abacha, scattered across the world.Between 2004 and 2006, the government committed itself to financing of specific projects in line with the MDGs with the recovered funds. The government said the recovered funds would be reinvested in the essentials of life like Education, Health, Power and Road Construction. .
One of the critical condition attached to the repatriation of the recovered was the monitoring of its utilization by the World Bank. The Nigerian authorities also enunciated a development plan focusing on power, roads and water through its celebrated poverty reduction strategic paper. The slated four goals were: wealth creation, employment generation, poverty reduction and value reorientation. These goals were to be operationalized through the FGN’s NEEDS program.
Based on expectations of fund recovery, the Federal Government undertook financing of the agreed projects through domestic borrowing, owing to the delay in the release of the stolen funds. The objective of the 2004 budget was to meet the kernel principles of the MDG goals targeting the magic year 2015.
Some of the goals of the MDGs include eradicating extreme poverty & hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS,malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a global partnership for development. The World Bank thus was saddled with the responsibility of overseeing the project implementation. Given the diversity of the country, the projects were spread across the six geo-political zones.
THE CIVIL SOCIETY INVOLVEMENT IN THE PROJECT MONITOR
In 2017, Human and Environmental Development Agenda, (HEDA Resource Centre), in collaboration with some leading rights groups, Civil Society Network Against Corruption, (CSNAC), Journalists for Democratic Rights, (JODER), Value and Integrity Group and (PLAYYA) undertook the task of stock taking. How was the $505 million spent? Were the projects implemented and what were the gains, losses and shortcomings? Were the objectives enunciated in the implementation strategy achieved? What are the lessons learnt for possible future improvement?
For one thing, Nigeria has a rich culture of civil rights movement which became more vibrant during the repressive military regimes. The civil society indeed played a crucial role in the sack of the military governments of over 27 years and eventual installation of democratic governance in 1999. From 1999, the role of the civil society had shifted from mere criticism of the government to partnership and participation in the implementation of government policies in terms of playing the role of a monitor.
Article 13 of the UNCAC Convention states that ‘Each State Party shall take appropriate measures, within its means and in accordance with fundamental principles of its domestic law, to promote the active participation of individuals and groups outside the public sector, such as civil society, non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations, in the prevention of and the fight against corruption and to raise public awareness regarding the existence, causes and gravity of and the threat posed by corruption. This participation should be strengthened by such measures.”
OBJECTIVES OF INTERVENTION
- To ensure proper disbursement and implementation of public interest projects embarked upon by the government.
- To hold the government accountable to the people
- To provide an alternative and critical voice for the people on good governance and accountability.
- To mobilise public participation in the utilization of recovered looted funds;
- To expose the failure of past government officials to utilize previous recovered funds in accordance with agreed terms;
- To constructively engage the World Bank on its failure to perform an effective supervisory and monitoring role in the utilization of the returned loot of $505 million.
- To promote Public Finance Management (PFM), framework including procurement reform agenda, within a sustainable economic reform program
- To help international and local partners on how best to provide an efficient support for reforms in Nigeria by identifying capital projects and encourage independent monitoring scheme
Our team conducted on the spot assessment of these projects that dot the five geo-political zones of Nigeria. This assessment was informed by the independent shadow report prepared by ANEEJ under the platform of Nigerian Network on Stolen Asset which indicted the worldbank of connivance and conspiracy in its report on the execution of the projects, and WorldBank's inability to grant FoI request of SERAP for details of the bank's monitoring exercise on the utilization of the looted funds. The method involved on-the-spot visit to the sites and inspection of the facilities, talking to contractors and locals; in some instances confidential information were obtained from inside government sources on the project execution strategy.
According to the NNSA shadow report, "This report hopes to reveal some specifics on inspected projects that were elided by the World Bank’s PEMFAR Draft Report". Our further review of the shadow report exposes more gory insight into the re-looting of the repatriated looted fund. The NNSA shadow report said further, "Just as the ultimate emphasis of the application of repatriated Abacha Loot should be its meaning for development and poverty eradication, so should reporting on the PEMFAR make the implementation of these goals visible rather than obscured by statistics. The World Bank Draft Report Field Trip Results by Sector gives exhaustive detail on the statistical results of the questionnaires with the result that visualisation of the projects in question becomes mired in slavish adherence to methodology. The report is, in other words, not very readable and fails to give insight into the challenges faced in the completion of the individual project. While this NNSA Shadow Report has chosen not to capture each and every detail contained in the PEMFAR monitoring exercise questionnaires, it has sought instead to give a clearer picture of development efforts on the ground". A clear indictment on the involvement and report of world bank.
- A practical, investigative approach was adopted. It involves on the spot assessment of Government projects in selected States spread across the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. Researchers visited the project sites, conducted interviews took pictures and examined the level of work done by the contractors.
- Researchers adopted random sampling of locals in the various sites visited. This included verbal questionnaire for contractors, government officials and end users.
- Researchers also adopted investigative reporting, by collecting relevant and sometimes confidential reports and on the spot information at the sites which enabled an informed opinion on the problems and prospects for effective management of allocated public funds.
- The researchers were guided by the obligation to protect sources of information and the confidentiality of tips provided especially by government and local sources.
On paper, the Governments initiative appears good. The idea was aimed at building legacy projects from funds recovered from corrupt public officials. It has several advantages.
Apart from committing the funds to specific projects, it demonstrated the zeal on the part of the authorities to ensure the recovered funds were tied to utilities that impact the lives of people.
However, these are our observations:
Our monitors visited 23 project locations under this monitoring exercise. These Projects are scattered across 5 geo-political zones of the country covering Rivers, Cross river, Imo, Anambra, Oyo,Ogun, Adamawa and Sokoto States.
On paper, the projects funded through the returned assets were commendable. The idea was aimed at building legacy projects from funds recovered from corrupt public officials. It has several advantages.
- Apart from committing the funds to specific projects, it demonstrated the zeal on the part of the authorities to ensure the recovered funds were tied to utilities which have a bound with the people. However, these are our observations.
- Some of the projects were conceived without prior and informed consent of beneficiaries in terms of needs assessment of the end users.
- Some of the projects were awarded without preference for due process and consideration for competence of the implementing interests.
- Many of the projects were not properly executed by the contractors.
- There was lackadaisical attitude on the part of the Government towards the effective implementation of the projects. This reflects in the lack of proper monitoring devices.
- The Government did not create the necessary monitoring process for the overall success of the projects ab initio and nothing was done even when it was obvious some of the projects were facing challenges.
- Communities and beneficiaries were not involved in project conception and implementation.
- Contractors handling the projects did not present risk assessment and risk mitigation strategy to the government before the contracts were awarded. There were also no corruption risk assessment conducted, a common practice among Nigerian contractors and the supervising authorities.
- Some of the projects were frivolous and sometimes non-existent or awarded in void.
- Some of the projects were awarded and rewarded without completion of first contract.
However, there are critical observations that may undermine the success of future projects. Our recommendations are as follows:
- There should be due process in the award of contracts by the concerned authorities. This should involve competence of the company, the contractor should provide striking examples of similar projects executed by the company.
- The authority should involve Non-Governmental organizations, who should be mandated to work with the relevant authorities in ensuring project monitoring.
- The authority should ascertain the place, city, town or local Government where the project is to be executed and ensure they are not phony.
- There should be strict adherence to standards by the contractors which include but not restricted to best practices in quality and service delivery.
- The Government should have a very strict time-line with verifiable milestones for the duration of the project implementation.
- Communities where projects are being implemented should be involved from project conception. These communities should provide an alternative feedback platform for the government.
- Contractors should be mandated to write periodic reports on project implementation stages including progress and challenges encountered.
We thank you for your time and wish you the best.
Comrade Olanrewaju Suraju, Civil Society Network Against Corruption, (CSNAC)
Sulaimon Arigbabu, Human and Environmental Development Agenda, (HEDA)
Wale Adeoye, Journalists for Democratic Rights (JODER)
'Sina Odugbemi, Value and Integrity Group (VIP)
Eze Alloysius, PLAYYA