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 a meltdown and the democratic fabric of the country has been pushed into a moral cesspit.
Most of her citizens remain the poorest of the poor, though a few of her elite live in opulent wealth some of which are traced to illicit funds.
There is indeed a symbiotic relationship between corruption, waste and underdevelopment. It is estimated that no fewer than 100 billion dollars may have been looted by government officials since the oil boom era of the 1970s. It is noteworthy that since the country’s independence, only this government and few others have shown concerted efforts at fighting corruption and bringing culprits to book. This continues to fuel a regime of insolence and high-shouldered contempt for institutional frameworks against graft and mind-boggling looting of public treasury.
There have been cosmetic efforts at stemming the inglorious tide, but in many instances, corrupt officials are let off the hook. It is important to note that for a large part of Nigerian post colonial history, the military institutions that ruled the country had no framework for instilling fiscal (financial) discipline giving corrupt officials a blank cheque.
For 27 years that Nigeria was in the firm grip of military despotism, corruption was elevated to statecraft often backed up by brutal edicts that, in the case of the regime of General Sani Abacha (1995-1998), wore down transparency and condemned the entire country to the jackboots of one of the most ferocious dictatorships on the African continent.
In the year 1999, Nigeria returned to democratic rule after a long, tortuous and prolonged, thorny path, marred by state-sponsored murder, assassinations, brutal repression of dissent, a season of draconian laws, and worst of all, unabated array of blind-rage stealing of public funds.
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 slogans and cliché had become a recurrent outcry across the world. Nigeria also could not run away from the cry for change blowing across the globe that are yet to materialize, some of which were products of widespread reforms initiated by the United Nations (UN) and its relevant agencies.
For instance, as at November 29, 2013, the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) had been ratified by 169 state parties of which Nigeria is one. It means that anti-corruption has become a universal declaration.
The UNCAC also included a peer review mechanism which has been in place since 2009. On paper, the Nigerian authorities would be faced with no option than to address one of the country’s most insidious hydra-headed menace.
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 spelt out by 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 targeted, in one swoop, recovered funds totaling $505 million from late dictator, General Sanni Abacha. That year, the government undertook the financing of specific projects in line with the MDGs.
The government said the recovered funds would be reinvested in the essentials of life like Education, Health, Power and Road Construction. The stolen funds were largely kept in Switzerland.
The government felt the funds would boost the desire to actualise the Millennium Development Goals, (MDG) as set by the United Nations, (UN).
The World Bank was enlisted to play a key role in the project implementation process. 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 operationalised through the FGN’s NEEDS programme.
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 return of the funds was specifically linked to World Bank monitoring of the utilization in compliance with agreed terms and commitments. Given the diversity of the country, the projects were spread across the six geo-political zones.
It is however sad that the so much trust and respect reposed in the worldbank was grossly betrayed by its inability to monitor the utilization of the recovered funds. Rather, it was continued existence of corruption and official failure, contrary to agreement and promises in the allocation of those funds. Most sadly, the worldbank disappointingly not only failed to discover and report the spate of corruption that greeted the exercise, it further assisted government officials to misinform the public