The Looting Republic of Nigeria

By Emmanuel Onwubiko
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President Muhammadu Buhari came into office for the second time after he served as a military junta’s ruler (1983/1985) and he rode on the popularity of the anti-corruption mantra to win with fifteen million votes as against the incumbent President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who was politically demarcated as someone whose administration tolerated corruption making him to net in 12 million votes.

The emergence of Muhammadu Buhari with a sing- song of waging relentless battles against corruption seems to have turned out as a blessing in disguise for news reporters concerned about development oriented genre of the news reportage because these sets of journalists now frequently stumbles on mind blowing accounts of how different categories of public officials’ right under the nose of President Buhari are engaged in the bonanza of looting.

The discovery of a culture of looting during this dispensation also enabled researchers to dig deeper into the recent history and the outcome of this simple calculation of cumulative past financial misdeeds has turned up a huge collection of tales of how different layers of public office holders have embarked on riotous bazaar of outright heist of public fund.

The naked culture of looting going on now and the others that went on during the immediate past political dispensation has given Nigeria a dirty name as the looting Republic of Nigeria.

There is therefore the urgency of the now to make it known to all and sundry around the world that Nigeria does not run a Republic of looters whereby certain classes of public officials have the operational licences to loot public resources and enjoy the immunity from prosecution simply because they are now on the right side of the corridors- of- power. These new sacred cows riding roughshod within the political power confines must be dealth with decisively in accordance with the legal frameworks specifying punitive measures for corrupt officials. The news coming out from the various government departments are however showing a nation whose political power wielders are busy amassing wealth whilst deceiving other gullible Nigerians with the empty propaganda of being commutted to fight corruption to a standstill. Corruption has wrestled government officials to the ground even as the referees that should rescue Nigeria from looters are catching looters selectively based on their political contacts.

There is the obvious reality that the Economic and financial crimes commission is practically selective and the operatives of this anti-graft agency seems to have some powerful presidency officials that dictate to them the targeted looters who should be brought to face the full wrath of the law whilst the favoured looters are shielded and afforded official protection and cover. A particular official in the Presidency has garnered the peculiar notoriety of featuring in almost all mindblowing corruption cases that have taken place under the current administration. This Presidency official is so influential that there was a time he spent few weeks at the Nigerian House in London for a medical tourism and allegedly blew away millions of Pounds off the coffers of the Embassy but the EFCC offivials are so scared that they don't want yo be associated with any move to either arrest or investigate this official. Indeed, the Spokesman of President Muhammadu Buhari was saddled with the duty of laundering his image out of that murky allegations that was reported by an online newspaper. In Nigeria corruptly enriched officials who were hitherto in the PDP are jumping ship into APC to get protection. A certain Senator whose Son is in EFCC'S net was seen the other day doing the dirty job for the Presidency against the Senate over the amendments to the order of next year's poll. He was working hard to get his heir apparent set free from the fraud allegations he wangled himself in.

Recently, from the South East of Nigeria alone, over one dozen former members of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) marked down for investigation over their roles in spending the presidential campaign fund of PDP were granted soft landing because they cross carpeted to APC. The APC's Presidential election campaign fund is beyond investigations.

The erstwhile powerful secretary to the government of the Federation was linked to series of scams in the alleged mismanagement of huge funds budgeted for relief materials in the Boko haram devastated North East of Nigeria, but this gentle man is walking the corridors of power and still wielding political influences.

A former PDP governor who is facing corruption charges was recently captured in photos circulated unabashedly in the media having elaborate dinner with the President and the next day in court the lead witness of EFCC against him disappeared and has since refused to reappear.

In the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, there are uninvestigated contract scandals running into $25billion but this sleazy story is being swept under the carpets. Try as they could the stench of corruption oozing out of NNPC is unprecedented.

As if these scandals are not enough, a serving minister was caught buying a choice housing assets in Abuja worth several hundreds of millions but when interviewed by whistle blowers he claimed to have collected bank mortgage to make this unpardonable purchase of an exotic mansion in a time when 100million Nigerian families can’t afford a good square meal per day.

The climate of looting is so pervasive to an extent that an agency like the Nigerian Refugees Commission was caught pants down pilfering donated food reliefs that Saudi Arabia sent to North East for the internally displaced persons. These donated foodstuffs were later sold in the open markets and not one person has faced the penalty of such a shameful crime.

Today, the looting train landed in the National Emergency Management Agency when it is being alleged that N19Billion meant for relief materials was stolen by the current management.

All of these lootings going on are only being revealed by the National Assembly because both the ICPC and EFCC are busy chasing allegedly corrupt members of the nation’s leading opposition PDP.

The House of Representatives has just mandated its Committee on Emergency and Disaster Preparedness to probe the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, over looted N19.4 billion relief materials funds for victims of disasters.

House of Representatives Committee on Works ordered the acting Rector of Federal School of Survey, Oyo, Surveyor Joshua Olushola Omilabu, to give adequate account of how N87.5 million spent on the construction of an administrative building in 2017.

The NEMA issue was based on a motion promoted by Benjamin Wayo, under matter of urgent public importance on the floor of the House.

The funds, according to the lawmakers, were for hunger intervention in the North East and food intervention across the country.

The lawmakers noted that the funds were illegally siphoned by officials of the agency through dubious award of contracts without delivering relief items to the victims.

Explaining the breakdown of the funds, while leading the debate on the motion, Wayo said the agency has received more than N10 billion from the 20 percent National Ecological Fund in the last one year.

Other funds on the radar of the lawmakers are the N5 billion for hunger intervention in the North East, about N2 billion for food intervention across the country and the N2.4 billion the Director General of the agency, Mustapha Maihaja, allegedly awarded to the companies he has interest in.

Wayo noted that the agency was the only federal agency that had an Air Ambulance, adding that the Ambulance had been turned into a commercial one without the financial proceeds remitted to government coffers.

The lawmaker explained that the mandate of NEMA was to coordinate the management of disasters across the country and to assist victims of such disasters, but added that in spite of the core mandate, several cases of disasters across the country had not been given necessary attention.

“The hunger issue in IDP camps in the Northeast; the farmers/herdsmen conflicts; fire disasters victims and many other such cases across the country have been neglected. “The agency has received more than N10 billion from the 20 per cent National Ecological Fund in the last one year, N5 billion for hunger intervention in the Northeast, about N2 billion for food intervention across the country,” the lawmaker said.

“These funds were illegally siphoned by officials of the agency through dubious award of contracts without delivering relief items to the victims.

The Director General of the agency also awards contracts to companies he has personal interests in, and has violated his approval limits by awarding contracts to a single firm without due process.

“Example, one company called Olam Nigeria Limited got a contract of N2.4 billion, which is against the agency’s approval limit as stated in Section 16 subsection 1 of the NEMA Act. It should be made clear that the section pegs the approval limit at just N30 million,” the lawmaker said.

He, however, said that the incapability of the NEMA DG to manage the affairs of the agency.

At the National Health Insurance Scheme, whereby the Executive Secretary Alhaji Yusuf was indicted for large scale alleged theft of public fund running to nearly N1Billion was reinstated back to his duty by President Buhari because he is from Katsina State.

The Securities and exchange commission isisn't spared of this desecration of the sanctity of financial records expected of institutions of governance. The head of that agency was recently kicked out by the Finance minister for alleged contracts procurement fraud.

To confirm the notorious status of Nigeria as the looting Republic, the Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), has listed 10 alleged corruption cases that can fetch the Federal Government not less than $74.5bn and N2.5trn if prosecuted.

The lawyer said without resolving these high-profile corruption cases in which the funds were trapped, it would seem that the Federal Government was chasing shadows in its anti-graft war.

Falana listed the 10 cases in a paper titled, “Promoting Transparency and Accountability in the Recovery of Stolen Assets in Nigeria: Proposals for Reforms,” which he delivered in Lagos at a seminar organized by a human rights advocacy group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, in collaboration with the Ford Foundation, USA.

Top on the list of the cases, Falana said, was the alleged diversion of $20.2bn from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

He said the details of the alleged fraud were captured in reports by the National Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative covering 1999-2012.

He said, “Convinced that the Federal Government was chasing shadows in the fight against corruption, I have had cause to petition the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to open the allegations of corruption which border on crimes against humanity. In the said petition, I alleged as follows:

“From five cycles of independent audit reports covering 1999-2012, the National Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative revealed that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, some oil companies and certain agencies of the Federal Government have withheld $20.2bn from the Federation Account.

“In 2006, the Central Bank of Nigeria removed $7bn from the nation’s external reserves and placed same as a deposit in 14 Nigerian banks. In 2008, the bank gave a bailout of N600bnn ($4bn) to the same banks. Up till now, the CBN has failed to recover the said sum of $11bn from the banks

“On September 6, 2016, the NNPC announced that arrangements had been concluded to recover the sum of $9.6bn in over-deducted tax benefits from joint venture partners on major capital projects and oil swap contracts. The NNPC is said to have recovered the said sum of $9.6bn but has not remitted same into the Federation Account.”

Falana who himself came under accusations of collusion and influence peddling within the EFCC also tasked the Federal Government to demand accountability on the over $4bn recovered out of “the estimated $5bn stolen by a former military ruler, the late Gen. Sani Abacha.”

“The office of the Accountant General should be asked to account for the recovered loot.. Furthermore, the moves to recover the remaining loot of about $800m are being frustrated by Swiss and United States governments,” the lawyer said..

Next on Falana ’s list was “the $470m contract awarded to ZTE (a Chinese company) in 2009 by the Federal Government for the construction of CCTV cameras in Abuja and lagos.

He asked, “Since the contract was not executed, what then has happened to the $470m?”

Finally, the human rights lawyer said the Attorney General of the Federation, ought to recover the sum of $13.9bn which telecommunication company, MTN “illegally transferred” out of Nigeria.

“The huge fund should be recovered while the economic saboteurs involved in the illicit transfer should be prosecuted,” Falana said.

But Falana should have called a spade by its name and acknowledged that there is a pervasive climate of corruption and a growing sophisticated culture of federal government's protection of corrupt officials.

Abdulrasheed Maina who has a big case of diversion and theft of pension fund but was sacked by immediate past administration was reinstated from the backdoors even as EFCC and DSS were busy throwing darts at each other on who did what in facilitating this brazen violation of the anti-graft law.

A little peep into the immediate past administration showed just how from one agency a whooping N62 billion at the National Social Insurance Trust Fund, a parastatal of the Ministry of Labour and Productivity was stolen.

But this government has dabbled into the arena of politics by setting up a nine-man panel to probe the diversion of the cash and bring the perpetrators to book. Why a ministerial panel rather let EFCC and ICPC do their statutory task?

Why should the panel, be established amd clothed with the duties of EFCC such as uncovering the roles played by the last Chairman of the board of the NSITF, Ngozi Olejeme, the ex-Managing Director of the fund, Alhaji Munir Abubakar, the four executive directors and two directors, who served under the chairmanship of the embattled woman to loot such humongous sum.

The National Broadcasting Commission also has an unresolved case of illegal payment of N2.5 billion to a private licenced digital signal provider which was allegedly shared amongst top officials of the ministry of information.

The truth is that this "Cash cow" called Looting Republic of Nigeria will die prematurely unless we take objective steps to bring all looters to justice irrespective of their political persuasions.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is the Head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and [email protected] ; ; .

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