PUBLIC LOOTERS IN PRIVATE SECTOR

By NBF News
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If over the years, Nigeria's economy was not making progress, it was never because no efforts were being made by successive government or those in the private sector were some kinds of saints in the stagnation of the economy. On the contrary and unknown to critical Nigerians, major part of our economic reverses was due to largescale corruption, looting and sabotage by those in the private sector. Unfortunately, those in the same private sector are ever loudest in condemning corruption in the country, ridiculously gaining in the process, undeserved acclamation in the media as guru, mogul or gnome.

With this distracted attention, economic criminals in the private sector get away with murder. Until, recently when largesale fraud and sharp practices were exposed in the financial sector monopolised virtually by private stake-holders, not many Nigerians ever knew. Thanks to Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the new governor of Central Bank.

Even then, sections of the media, with obvious vested interests, duplicity and complicity, still engaged in futile damage control in advocating for the bank criminals as victims of legitimate business between borrowers and lenders. God.

In any case, the scale of looting and corruption in the private sector was rightly highlighted not long ago by President Goodluck Jonathan. The man should be appreciated for his guts as that was the first time any Nigerian leader would give it to the criminals and hypocrites in the private sector. We can now hope for progress in the anti-corruption battle.

Jonathan was speaking at the Presidential retreat on implementation plan for Vision 20:2020 and public/private partnership framework for infrastructure development held at Abuja.

According to President Jonathan, '… greed, of which corruption is a part, is the main stumbling block that stems our growth. If people are greedy, they tend to inflate contracts. If people are greedy, even when they are in private sector, they tend to inflate the price. All these retard our development. 'It is not just the corruption that someone in government misappropriates funds. We use the world 'corruption' to describe some other people that I believe are the greatest part of our underdevelopment. For example, somebody in the private sector who is a contractor to government, somebody who is to provide services or execute contract which is supposed to cost government ten thousand naira; you will collaborate with government functionaries to increase the cost to thirty-thousand naira. And when you are cautioned, you will say you are a businessman, you are not corrupt…'

President Jonathan was being mild in limiting himself to this aspect of corruption in the private sector. Otherwise, he should get prepared for these economic suckers in the private sector. While some of them may be well-intentioned or even patriotic, most of them come charging at the emergence of new administrations in the country or when such administration(s) prepare the annual budget. Their sing song is '… input from the private sector.' When that occasion arises, Jonathan does not need to dismiss the economic good Samaritans entirely but equally, he (Jonathan) must be on his guard because the private sector are not necessarily altruistic.

They operate more as mafia or criminal gang of looter and economic saboteurs in the private sector. Before the structural adjustment programme under General Ibrahim Babangida, the major source of corruption in the country was the import licensing system which apart from making overnight millionaires (billionaires these days) of otherwise jobless fellows, also hindered manufacturers from accessing foreign exchange necessary for importing raw materials for their products. Or at least, so they claimed.

In its place, our economic experts suggested deregulation of the economy especially the foreign exchange content. Under President Obasanjo, these same experts suggested recapitalisation of the financial base of banks. On paper, these are forward-looking proposals that would enhance the economy. What happened?

In the midst of discussions, these economic experts sneaked in devaluation of the naira to make Nigerian manufactured goods cheaper for exports. By the way, if not granted audience by the government (in-successive governments) there were always accusations of not being consulted. Yet, after consultations, prior knowledge, of imminent government economic policies or changes in such policies as devaluation of the naira, was exploited by mapping up available foreign exchange, all in conspiracy with commercial bank executives. As the naira was devalued making one dollar the value of two naira, these corrupt elements in the private sector, specifically the banks, went celebrating by selling under the counter for five naira. Where a manufacturer or any end user bidded for fifty million dollars, these looters in the private sector were making cool one hundred and fifty million naira at the longest every week.

Sharing of such loot went down the line to make ordinary banker on the foreign exchange desk a drunken sailor in spending habit. The more the government stopped to match the under-counter unofficial price, the more devalued the naira became. These corrupt elements in the private sector turned round at best to blame government at best for allegedly implementing SAP poorly and the best for allegedly destroying the naira. Who for example were supposed to be beneficiaries of deregulation of the country's economy from state-controlled to private-sector driven? Who derailed the economy by colluding with bankers to inflate exchange rate by bargaining for any amount to siphon our foreign exchange out of the country? Private sector elements.

Yet, after making their billions fraudulently, these private sector looters still grandstand at public seminars, retreat, lectures, workshops, conferences moralising on corruption in the country. Who in the private sector prints naira notes in his bedroom? All of them made their billions from public treasury through manipulation of government policy and sabotage of our economy. How do we explain these looters in the private sector bragging that they established their multi-billion naira businesses without a kobo loan? And no law enforcement agency can move in to investigate? These are the disreputable elements in the financial sector, the very corrupt fellows patronised by governments which misrate them to serve on public probes or speak at so-called retreats.

How did the looters in the private sector operate under Obasanjo? Obviously with the best of intentions, Obasanjo tried to sanitise the capital to twenty five billion naira. Inevitably, many of the banks collapsed and died only for the vultures to descend on the carcasses. In moments of jubilation, the surviving banks, self-servingly, condemned the dead ones and hailed themselves to high heavens. Meanwhile, they perfected their plans to loot innocent depositors and potential shareholders. Each bank conned the public to buy shares at new rates while they (were) posting bogus profits. Foolishly, Nigerians invested their life-savings while others with political or economic influence took tens or scores of millions of naira to buy shares in those banks.

With such huge amount in the vaults, these looters in the private sector commenced announcing their new capital bases, in some cases over one hundred billion naira, more than four times the government stipulated twenty-five billion naira. They even defrauded the public with their purported expansion of branches beyond West Africa to Britain and the United States.

These looters and corrupt elements in the private sector are not public office holders. Yet, but for the national luck of having a courageous Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, we would never have known that billions of naira, costs of shares purchased by innocent Nigerias, had disappeared. As the new governor of Central Bank, the corruptions in the private sector became known to the public.

Shamelessly, these same elements still parade all over the place struggling for self-rehabilitation by sneaking into government social circuits. Meanwhile, some of the innocement victims of the banks scandal and fall in shares investment have died and are still dying of shockrelated illness like stroke.

By the way, accomplices of the looting in the private sector are Nigerian lawyers hiding under the convenient excuse of professional obligation to defend their clients. Otherwise, where is the justification for anybody, whatever his professional calling, to be advocating for any of the bank looters instead of allowing them to face the music for their criminal misdeeds?

Worse still, anytime cases of looting be it in the private (as we now know) or public sector, comes up lawyers are in the forefront demanding the head of the suspects, only to turn round later defending them. And that is for no small amount. Legal bills run into tens and scores of millions of naira.

What is the financial strength of a man paying his lawyer twenty or fifty million naira if not more? And for such people to be grandstanding on corruption in the country.