As 2023 polls advances into its last ninety (90) days stretch before the 25 February and March 11 D-Day, issues around corruption and the like which had defined the last general elections, particularly in 2011 and 2019, are not occupying right and center in the campaign for next year’s general elections.
It is worth recalling that l had noted in a previous article published widely in the mass media in September, titled “Presidency 2023:A Contest Between Three ‘Sinners’?”, that all the presidential frontrunners, having served in public offices are alleged by most Nigerians to have been corrupt and therefore deemed as sinners by a generality of folks, but without proof as no court of law has convicted any of the eighteen (18) political party flag bearers.
And despite all the noise being made about fighting corruption by the incumbent government in the past seven and half (7+1/2) years of being in the saddle of governance from Aso Rock Villa, Abuja, a critical mass of Nigerians do not believe that anything good is coming from or can emanate out of the much vaunted anti corruption fight which as far as they are concerned has fizzled out.
Evidently, combating graft in our country is no longer a big deal as the rate of corruption in public service has increased exponentially in the current dispensation. This sorry situation is not only in the estimation of ordinary Nigerians, but also a position validated by prominent international graft monitoring and rating agencies such as Transparency International,TI.
In the corruption tracking organization’s perception index of corruption in Nigeria released in January of this year, Nigeria ranked 154 out of 180 countries in the world in the year 2021.
That indicates that the rating for our country has dipped by five (5) points from between 2020 to 2021,which simply means corruption has gone from bad to worse in Nigeria.
Given the grim statistics, it should be surprising to ordinary folks, but not to pundits that corruption is not a significant campaign talking point in 2023 polls? But it is what it is basically because Nigerians appear to have become accustomed to graft as the defining feature of public service.
And the relegation of corruption as a campaign issue is despite the fact that it has now been exposed that the monumental level of corruption in Nigeria is beyond what goes on in the ministries, departments and agencies, MDAs via contract splitting, padding and non-execution of contracts to outright dipping of filthy hands into the treasury of MDAs.
Take the case from the Ministry of Finance where the dismissed Accountant General of the Federation, AGF, Ahmed Idris, salted away N80 billion via fraudulent deductions by compromising the lntegrated Payroll and Personnel Information, IPPIS system which is supposed to be a bulwark against corruption. But he succeeded in stealing N16,000 monthly from every university lecturer enrolled in the salary payment system amounting to N80 billion before he was caught.
Also, consider the situation with the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC which has been revealed as a cesspit of corruption for multiple scavengers pretending to be contractors that have been stealing trillions of naira set aside for intervention in the delta region which is the bread basket of Nigeria that has been highly despoiled by oil/gas explorers.
The former managing director of the Interim Management Committee, IMC, of NDDC, Kemebradikumo Pondei was said to have misappropriated and therefore was asked to account for over N139 billion of the intervention agency’s funds missing between 2013 and 2018.
How can we forget the bilking of billions of naira in pension funds by Abdulrasheed Maina,who led the special task force set up by government to recover looted funds lost via mismanagement? He ended up looting fourteen (N14b) billion naira which is part of the pension funds that as chairman of the fraud prevention task force, he ought to have recovered for government.
And the case of looters re-looting what was thought to have been recovered is not peculiar to maladministration of pension funds.
That is as evidenced by the investigation and sacking of the former anti corruption tzar of this administration, lbrahim Magu, who as the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC got booted out following the report of the panel headed by former Appeal Court president, Justice Ayo Salami, that investigated corruption charges brought against him by the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.
The investigation, according
to the CableNewsOnline, found that Magu failed to remit N48 billion recovered from looters and abandoned 14 fraud cases involving N118 billion naira and $309 million.
AGF, Malami also recently stated in the mass media that about one trillion naira has been recovered by anti corruption agencies from treasury looters. And the recovered sum has been applied in poverty alleviation activities. I presume that it would be via programs of government such as provision of meals for school children and payment of stipends to the poorest of the poor in our country which are activities under the purview of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs.
Typical of the pervasiveness of corruption, which has eastern deep into the fabric of our society, the apparent poor service delivery of the humanitarian affairs and disaster management ministry with Sadiya Umar Farouq as minister has also come under close scrutiny with stunning discovery of elements of corruption oozing out of it.
So, given the highlighted cases, corruption has more or less become a popular culture in Nigeria such that it appears not to be reprehensible any more that people entrusted with the responsibility to manage our assets for public good, brazenly engage in fraudulent practices in the management of the resources entrusted in their care.
That disposition stems from the fact that over the past few years, our fellow countrymen and women appear to have been numbed by the sheer size of corruption in the country, (which is very weighty and overwhelming) and they have therefore become sort of jinxed, jaded, attuned or accustomed to the culture of sleaze that is practically the norm rather than the exception in the polity.
Is it not astonishing that Nigerian senators have been regaled with ridiculous claims that termites ‘ate up’ vouchers containing expenditure of seventeen (N17) billion naira in National Social Insurance Trust Fund, NSITF as contained in 2018 audit report of the Office of the the Auditor General of the Government of the Federation, OAUGF?
In another instance in 2018, Nigerians were also assailed with the ludicrous claims that serpents also swallowed thirty six (N36m) million naira of Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board, JAMB funds in the vault. That is money paid by Nigerian youths to enable them sit for examinations that would qualify them to get admitted into universities.
Just as most Nigerians thought they had heard the worst of the phantasmagoric tales of corruption in the management of public assets by those entrusted to curate them, a couple of months ago, the beleaguered and long suffering masses were exposed to a pandora box of sleaze in the oil/gas sector.
This time it was from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC Ltd, that against the run of play or popular opinion granted Government Ekpemupolo, a.k.a. Tompolo’s company a contract for the security of oil/gas assets in the Niger Delta, which has turned out to be a major saving grace and turning point in the production and export of crude oil that is considered the lifeblood in the veins of our country and critical to the sustenance of its corporate existence.
It is heartening that when it matters most, a former militant has come to the rescue of Nigeria by shining the light on the dark recesses of the Niger Delta where our country’s oil wealth, which is our common patrimony, was being willfully stolen by a few nefarious ambassadors.
Without doubt, the oil/gas assets security contract is a positive reference point or model in government and host communities collaboration in the best interest of our country that should be replicated in other parts of Nigeria like Gombe and Zamfara states where natural resources like gold, bauxite, uranium, etc abound and organized criminals are having a field day stealing them.
Hitherto, it was estimated that as much as 80% of crude oil fed into the trans-forcados pipeline is stolen by crude oil thieves via illegal pipelines grafted into the main pipeline to the export terminal from which the product is siphoned into vessels and sold in the black market by organized crime syndicates. This is estimated in some quarters to amount to about $10 billion loss to the nation’s treasury which is about 50% on the average of Nigeria’s external reserves.
Arising from such criminal activities that undermined our country’s ability and capacity to meet her 1.9m barrels a day quota by the Organization Of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, resulting in the shortage of foreign exchange inflow with attendant consequences on the treasury and near insolvency of our country,the economy went into a tailspin as foreign exchange scarcity exacerbated the already high naira-dollar exchange rate.
But with the discovery and plugging of the illegal crude crude oil taps where nearly 437,000 barrels were said to have been stolen on a daily basis, the management of NNPC Ltd has stated that the nation is currently on track to meeting its OPEC quota and that would lead to improved foreign exchange inflow.
Hopefully the sanctity in oil/gas sector would be sustained so that the sunken naira exchange rate against other currencies can be on a rebound to shore up our sagging economy.
And perhaps a similar initiative of assigning individuals and organizations with vast knowledge of the local terrain the task of protecting our highly valuable assets or resources like gold, uranium, bauxite, etc, would be replicated in the northern parts of our country like Gombe and Zamfara states axis where they abound.
In addition to the existing no-fly-zone imposed over the skies in the natural metals rich zones by President Muhammadu Buhari earlier cited, a move to physically secure the minerals would save the nation further loss of income to those who are currently illegally mining and spiriting out of Nigeria our precious gemstones into Dubai, etc with aircrafts that can land and take off from short tracks.
In fact, it is amazing that all these aforementioned corrupt practices that amount to pillaging of our natural resources and the hemorrhaging of the country’s treasury that boil down to economic sabotage, which appear to be so unreal, therefore are what movies are made of in other climes, are happening in our country, yet Nigeria has not become a failed nation like Venezuela – an oil rich, but insolvent country.
In my estimation it is a miracle and a testimony to the resilience of Nigeria as a country and Nigerians as incredibly tenacious people.
The pretense to fighting corruption by this government is particularly gutting because pundits aver that what has been documented and in the public domain as having been stolen from the public treasury in the past decade certainly makes the previous records of stealing by public servants pale into nothing. But l will not delve into that aspect in this intervention, as l only intend to focus on activities leading to next year’s election viz-a-viz 2019.
In comparison, at this stage of campaigns for general elections in the past, particularly in 2011, 2015 and 2019, accusations and counter accusations about the NNPC being the Automated Teller Machine, ATM of the government in power had filled the political space or attained stratospheric dimensions.
That unedifying experience that marked the electioneering processes of the past is currently not prevalent in the NNPC or any other MDAs that used to be the so-called cash cows of incumbent governments such as Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, Nigerian Maritime Administration Safety Agency, NlMASA, Nigerian Communications Corporation, NCC, etc.
It is commendable that the above listed public institutions now appear to be free of such perfidy in light of the fact that the ruling APC seems to have devised a less brazen method of funding its political campaigns without dipping hands into public treasury in the way that they did in the past.
Perhaps the high cost of procuring political office nomination forms by politicians which netted in a couple of billions of naira into the coffers of some of the political parties has helped.
Otherwise, a more ingenious method must have been introduced by the two main political parties, APC and PDP that have control of government at the center and subnational levels to raise funds for campaigns.
As for Labour Party, LP that is not in control of government at any level that could have generated funding for it, the only source of income available to it is largely from donations by party faithful, especially Nigerians in the diaspora.
In the case of New Nigeria National Party, NNPP whose source of funds is definitely not from government appointees, since its leader is currently not in government, its funding source has remained somewhat opaque and perhaps one of the reasons its campaign has not been as vibrant and dynamic as that of the other leading parties including LP which is getting a lot of diaspora funding.
So far, not even the resort to using the funds earmarked for the purchase of arms and ammunition for the military to effectively prosecute the war against terrorism and banditry, which is a crime that Goodluck Jonathan’s government was accused by the incumbent government of engaging in, (hence then National Security Adviser, NSA, Sambo Dasuki, was incarcerated for the better part of the first term of the outgoing government) has been an issue in the 2023 campaign.
It is rather fortuitous that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC has finally come out with political parties funding guidelines.
The amount of funds that can be applied by a candidate for presidential contest has been pegged at five (N5b) billion naira and governorship election is capped at one (N1b) billion naira.
Most importantly, the rule requires the parties to declare to INEC its sources of funds up to N50m from foreign sources.
To me, the rule is okay, but it does not go far enough as it does not require a candidate to disclose all sources of income, including funds sourced locally.
That could have enabled the tax authorities do their job better by identifying money bags and corporate bodies that might have been understating their net worth to cheat on tax payments.
Remarkably, all of the above listed errant and deviant behaviors of public office holders which approximate to corrupt practices that imperil our country and jeopardize the chances of the critical mass of Nigerians getting out of poverty trap, are not the issues driving 2023 polls.
Apparently, Nigerians are weary of hearing that APC presidential flag bearer, Asiwaju of Lagos, Bola Tinubu, has a vice grip on Lagos State and his alleged firm, Alpha Beta has been collecting tax on behalf of the government and helping himself to a huge chunk of it.
That is largely because the allegation has been resolved in court in his favor, as such the claim remains unsubstantiated and hackneyed.
Similarly, the wild allegations against the PDP candidate, Waziri Adamawa Atiku Abubakar that during the privatization of government corporations exercise under the watch of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, where he served as vice president, that he is corrupt or sold government assets to himself and his friends has also been unproven and therefore a mere conjecture in the fertile minds of the purveyors of such conspiracy theories.
That is also owed to the fact that, strictly speaking, Atiku Abubakar has no corruption conviction against him in Nigeria or anywhere abroad, period!
The same applies to LP candidate Mr Peter Obi who has not been found wanting with respect to dipping his hands in the treasury during his stewardship as a two-term governor of Anambra State.
And despite the claim in some quarters that Fidelity Bank where he has a personal stake is one of the three banks where he saved $50m each on behalf of the state government and that he is one of those recently exposed as having undisclosed offshore bank accounts in international safe havens, as revealed in the Panama Papers scandal, Obi was already a self-made billionaire retail goods trader before dabbling into politics.
By the same token, Dr Musa Kwakwanso of NNPP, who has also served two terms as governor, minister and senator is also deemed to be unencumbered by corruption charges.
Although he was charged to court by the EFCC on allegations that he was involved in corrupt practices during his term as governor of Kano State, he too currently remains unencumbered by any corruption conviction, otherwise, he would not be on the ballot.
Given that Nigerians appear to have become used to or accepted corruption as part of the DNA of their country, it is understandable why it would be feckless for the malaise of corruption to be the driving force of the campaigns to win over the hearts and minds of the electorate by the demagogues as February 25 date for the presidential ballot and March 11 governorship polls draws closer.
Having said that, it is rather striking, stunning and scary at the same time that what would make or mar 2023 polls is the weaponization of fake news for political gain and violence by members of opposing political parties-particularly the traditional parties,APC,PDP and to a less extent, LP and NNPP.
Take for instance when the PDP launched its campaign in Uyo, Akwa lbom state capital.’Obi kekerenke’ was reported to have been the sing song in a corner of the venue.
Reportedly,Obidients were taunting PDP supporters.
Although it has been debunked as fake news,imagine the provocation it might have generated if it were to be the reality?
However,a real breach of peace occurred in Maiduguri,Borno state to the PDP and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar.
In the cause of campaigning in kano in the north, the APC presidential candidate Bola Tinubu was also reportedly harassed by opposition party members.
In like manner, Peter Obi and LP have also been victims of harassment by other party members in a couple of campaign locations.
Very concerning is the video footage in the social media that indicated that someone was even reportedly apprehended with a knife as he was standing in a path where Mr Obi was to pass through during one of the rallies.
Given how a flag bearer in Pakistan, Imran Khan who is the former prime minister was viciously attacked by a gunshot to his leg during a campaign rally as recent as 3rd November,the preachments to party members in Nigeria to tone down the rhetorics of hate and violence cannot be overemphasized.
It may also be recalled that in July this year,former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe died from gunshot wounds during a political campaign event.
Before then,in 2007 to be specific, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan was also assassinated after an election campaign activity.
With regards to physical clash between rival parties, l am yet to read or hear of facilities, but destruction of INEC’s assets nationwide has been legion.
As we advance towards 2023 general elections,it is unfortunate that about twenty four (24) precious Nigerian lives have been lost in deadly incidents of election violence.
That is as reportedly revealed by the National Security Adviser, NSA, Babagana Mongonu.
Hopefully, the 2023 electioneering process would not descend into the sort of orgy of violent destruction that happened in south-west Nigeria in the lbadan axis in the nascent stages of our practice of democratic governance tagged ‘operation wetie’-an euphemism for dousing political opponents with petrol before setting the fellow human being ablaze.
That barbaric act earned the zone the infamous epithet, Wild, Wild, West in the early 1960s.
Now,the authorities (government and non-governmental) charged with preventing violence amongst politicians to ensure that the conduct of peaceful campaigns are achieved in 2023 polls,must not only bark but bite in order to avoid what seems like a disaster waiting to happen,if the apparent violent tendencies of fanatical party supporters are not reined in.
The second and probably most potent and looming threat to 2023 polls which is fake news is even more risky to lovers of peace than the physical brawl that could be instigated via taunting by fanatical supporters earlier outlined.
That is because it is fake news owing to its ubiquitous nature that triggers and sustains violent clashes between party supporters.
Take for instance the fake letter purportedly written by INEC stating that APC candidate Tinubu is being investigated by the election regulatory agency based on the court report about Tinubu’s alleged indictment in Chicago, US court on narcotics charges.
Until INEC came out to disown the letter, the falsehood was gaining currency and who knows what type of reaction from APC supporters it could have triggered?
That is on top of the numerous trolls about Tinubu’s academic qualifications and questions about his ancestry which had been trending online.
Also, a trending video of the endorsement of LP candidate Obi by international celebrities from major parts of the world is another sort of fake news that is negatively affecting the 2023 polls.
It is amongst many other falsehoods promoting the candidacy of Obi and peddling of lies about the opposing candidates that have practically seized the social media space.
Although these unwholesome acts may not be with the consent of mr Obi and his campaign council, l have had cause in the past to caution and reprimand Obidients-LP devoted supporters to thread with more caution in the article earlier referenced because their unwholesome practice of manipulating video or facts to promote their principal and disparage his opponents may hurt rather than help Obi.
The caution is simply underscored by the basic fact that sooner or later,fact checking would be conducted and the truth would prevail,thereafter voters may develop skepticism about Obi’s Integrity and candidacy.
Equally of concern is the mindset of some Obidients that,even when the political mathematics don’t add up,if Peter Obi is not declared the winner in the February 25,2023 contest after the balloting,it would be that he was rigged out.
Does that not suggest that the risk of having election deniers that intend to upend our democracy may be on the horizon?
Nursing and peddling such outrageous notion may lead to unnecessary and damning post election consequences, hence it is imperative that we should all be weaned of such incendiary thought process in order to nip in the bud,discard and eradicate such sense of denial from the minds of those that may be toying with it.
Since the internet and social media are unmanaged space, but they remain the most effective communication platforms, Nigerian authorities,particularly INEC and security agencies must workout a formula to rein in fake news purveyors either via persuasion,’moral-suation’ or sanction that should be fashioned or hashed out sooner than later.
The aforementioned pact between political parties,especially presidential candidates with civil society organizations compelling them not to engage in violence or rhetoric that could engender hatred between members of opposing political parties,should be replicated in the social media space.
As a matter of urgency,civil society organizations such as the one led by former military head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar and Bishop Hassan Matthew Kukah on non-violence by politicians should be expanded into the social media space or replicated.
The necessity and urgency of the intervention is underscored by the fact that fake news currently symbolizes, represents and embodies the greatest threat to peaceful elections next year as it has assumed the dimension of a ticking time bomb or can be said to be like a keg of gunpowder that our country is seating on, if the nefarious ambassadors are allowed to continue to ride roughshod with Nigerians with their reckless predilections with fake news as the 2023 polls draws nearer.
To be explicit,the potency of fake news is evident in the violence that led to Tutsi and Hutus self annihilation cauldron that boiled over in Rwanda in 1994 during which between 500 to 800 lives are believed to have been lost. So also is the post election violence that ensued between the supporters of Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta in the East African country, Kenya in 2007, which resulted in the death of 1300 Kenyans in the aftermath of the bloody confrontation.
It is worth pointing out that the aforementioned conflicts that had horrific and devastating consequences in the referenced countries were triggered by reckless and fake rhetorics in the mass media.
As opposed to abusing the massive opportunities offered by the social media to grow our nascent democracy as were the cases in Rwanda and Kenya,I would like to recommend that Nigerians take to heart the following recommendation by former US president Donald Trump’s ex chief of staff,General Kelly who made the remark about the qualities that Americans should look out for in choosing their political office holders including the president:
“We need to look infinitely harder at who we elect to any office in our land.
At the office seeker’s character,at their morals, at their ethical record,their integrity, their honesty,their flaws,what they have said about women and minorities,why they are asking to serve in public office in the first place,and only then consider the policies they espouse.”
In addition to General Kelly’s recommended value proposition or criteria for choosing whoever is aspiring for the office of the president of the USA,the sensitivity of public office seekers in Nigeria to ethnic and religious differences that have been magnified in the last decade should also be focused on,especially for those seeking to be president.
The ongoing consultations that non political,regional,ethnic and religious groups such as Arewa Consultative forum, Ohaneze Ndigbo and Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN are having with presidential standard bearers of the main political parties, as well as the efforts of media organizations like the ThisDay/AriseTv group in organizing town hall meetings to interrogate the policies and programs of the candidates that have agreed to participate,are quite encouraging.
Nevertheless, more needs to be done to eliminate the clear and present dangers of fake news in our body polity.
While the new rules to mitigate fake news are being processed or prepared,public office seekers in our beloved country and their supporters should make the substance of their manifestos their talking points and be careful not to throw caution to the winds by resorting to the use of fake news as a political weapon as we approach this very consequential process of recruiting those that would be our new leaders via 2023 polls.
-Magnus Onyibe, an entrepreneur, public policy analyst, author, development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA and a former commissioner in Delta State government, sent this piece from Lagos.
To continue with this conversation,pls visit www.magnum.ng