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Battling Official Corruption In Nigeria By Michael Oluwagbemi

Nigeria truly is a country drowning in corruption – both unofficial and official. Unofficial corruption are easy to go after, it is the official one that will be really hard to crack. Enter Sample One, the well documented and misdirected tirade of outgoing Senate President David Mark against BudgIT #OpenNASSBudget Campaign.

There is no doubt in my mind that President Buhari is a patriot, and will not tolerate corruption. Buhari is as clean and straight as a whistle as they come in Nigeria. But if corruption as defined as “stealing” (something that is quite new to Nigeria after our five years of differentiating between stealing and corruption) is the main worry of Buhari, he will only be half way through the battle of his political life that is about to begin.

Nigeria truly is a country drowning in corruption – both unofficial and official. Unofficial corruption are easy to go after, it is the official one that will be really hard to crack. Enter Sample One, the well documented and misdirected tirade of outgoing Senate President David Mark against BudgIT #OpenNASSBudget Campaign.

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Official corruption is defined as sanctioned corruption; the type of corruption include in the body of laws that transfer unreasonable wealth to the ruling class, and should naturally lead to a revolution. This kind of corruption increased to extreme levels under the People Democratic Party led government since 1999 to date. To eliminate this kind of corruption is not only extremely difficult, it requires tact and deft and this is the main reason why Buhari better be ready to walk the talk. It is inevitable that Nigeria actually loses more to official corruption than the unofficial variant.

Aside from the fact that this method of taking from the public purse is actually legal and backed by law, it is also a given that a select few stand to benefit from them and they will fight tooth and nail to preserve their perch. This invariably ensures that official corruption is more difficult to eliminate than official corruption. Unfortunately for Nigeria, while unofficial corruption have led to losses of over 2 trillion naira in national revenue (a combination of dark accounts operated by government agencies and inflation of contracts sans kickbacks and commissions), official corruption is leading to a waste of over fifty percent of the already paltry sum of the national budget.

The source of these leakages are plenty, starting with the National Assembly budget where for some strange reasons, only 469 legislators consumes 3.33% of the budget in the past four years with very little results to show for it. Legislators have taken to awarding themselves largesse’s under the guise of constituency allowances, constituency projects and phony overheads even as the nation’s treasury bled! This process is of course blessed with an appropriation budget, but the fight to battle waste must start at the people’s house charged with the power of the purse for it to be meaningful. We do not need constituency offices if it costs this much; every legislator should be eligible to 2 civil service staff of their choice paid for by the head of service, alongside rent, and telephone line and electricity bill – all reimbursable.

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Furthermore, a well-known source of official corruption is the case of double dipping on non-salaried benefits. It is a well known facts that various public officers who collect furniture, housing and vehicle allowances continue to enjoy these largesse even while acquiring high retinue of aides and assistants that feed fat on the nation’s purse. All these essentially goes to the over bloated overhead budgets of the MDAs, that have incessantly increased even as the country is barely able to afford capital projects!

Indeed, during the previous administration the use of contracts to legitimize payoffs to friends and cronies was perfected ensuring official blessings for corruption. From subsidy payments to NIMASA security contracts to Tompolo, and OPC’s pipeline contracts -a lot of questionable deals are baked into the system that requires flagging and review. These contracts are either inflated or payoffs to cronies, and are found mostly in the energy sector. The NPDC Alliance deals with Atlantic Energy also deserves revocation, if the General is serious about tackling official corruption and saving Nigeria money. Speaking about suspicious transactions, the duty waiver regime in the Ministry of Trade and Investments should be closely scrutinized as the nation continues to lose substantial revenue from official sanctioned corruption in this agency to the detriment of the bottom-line.

Official corruption in Nigeria can also take the shape of constitutionally allowed corruption. This may be the case with the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) published emoluments for public officers that smacks of official corruption. The RMAFC plays ostrich with the low wage, high allowances and high travel reimbursements (in forms of duty tour allowance and escatodes) it offers public officers. This pay structure invariably encourages public officers to leave their duty post, waste public funds and seek alternative means to make ends meet. It is as such imperative to flatten the pay structure, boost base pay and eliminate allowances completely while transforming the travel/tour procedure of the government to a central journey booking and reimbursement regime open to public scrutiny.

The worst kind of overhead in the federal system today however remains training and scholarships, and it amounts to officially sanctioned corruption tied to the quest for escatodes as described above. The Federal Government is said to spend 100 billion naira on overseas scholarships alone, and probably equal amount on overseas training. If a quarter of this amount was spent on Nigerian universities, they could be quickly transformed to accommodate these journeying civil servants that feed fat on federal largesse. This waste is mind numbing and must stop quickly to bring sanity to the system.

When it is all said and done, the most shameful official corruption in Nigeria will have to be the insane pension we pay retired public officers – men and women who in addition to grabbing a large share of the collective franchise while in power, also seek to keep more for themselves in their dying years to the detriment of their grandchildren. According to BudgIT, Nigeria spent 2.3 billion naira on the emoluments of her former leaders and 2.6 billion naira on those of retired head of the civil service in 2014! These numbers for a handful of individuals is annoying!

The amount we pay ex-presidents, governors and heads of other arms of governments is only a tip of the iceberg. Nigeria can simply not afford to pay these sums, and an enabling constitutional amendment to limit pensions of retired public officers (especially disallowing double payments and payments for illegitimate sojourn in power) should be enacted. The country must explore alternative means for paying or engaging politicians to bring down the cost of governance which is simply too expensive to sustain. Centralized governance systems leveraging technology will also help bring much needed transparency to a system in need of one.

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