Monday, October 15, 2007

Fighting Corruption, With Sunshine!

Thursday, 26 August 2004
Corruption is unarguably the biggest obstacle and impediment to Nigeria’s advancement.

Fortunately, there are already many laws, agencies and branches of government set up to fight corruption, some of these laws were vigorously and rigorously enforced during the General Murtala Mohammed and Generals Buhari/Idiagbon administrations.

Currently, Nigeria have established more laws and agencies to fight corruption, than we had, say, twenty five years ago, it is debatable, whether we have accordingly, successfully chipped-away the scourge of corruption, more so, when compared with efforts and results of the past, it is the case, that some Nigerians have actually been insisting, corruption, in their view, have become more pervasive, if not endemic.

One of President Obasanjo’s administration’s cornerstones and major policy thrust, is the elimination of corruption from Nigerian life, in both public and private sectors, and in high and low rungs of our society; In this regard, his administration has established anti corruption crusade, with limited successes, such successes measured by the retrieval of monies looted by some Nigerian erstwhile political leaders, monies which were stashed overseas.
And failures measured in the arrogance and audacities with looters now flaunt ill-gotten wealth, and how such stolen public resources is frequently used to create further corruption, as the looters pay for their elections to public office, or pay for rigging as they become political godfathers, with evil ancillaries of political patronage in appointments and inflated contracts that are never executed by the beneficiaries, corruption therefore has more tentacles than the proverbial octopus.

The establishment of the Justice Akanbi administered Independent Corrupt Practices Commission ICPC, the Mallam Ribadu administered Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC and efforts at reforming the Nigeria Police, are good steps in the right direction… But in fighting corruption in Nigeria, is, in my view, that, good steps are not good enough! We must all do more! The government and the people of Nigeria must combat and tackle corruption head-on, this is particularly so, because, it is crucially important, we realize that every wonderful policy initiated in Nigeria, for Nigeria’s progress, development and advancement, have met their waterloos and oceans of failures, at the doorsteps of corruption and because of corruption.

Projects costs or prices, are routinely inflated because of corruption, projects that will improve the lives of all Nigerians tremendously, are routinely abandoned or neglected because of corruption, projects are poorly supervised, poorly completed, poorly executed, all because of corruption, because someone has been paid/bribed to look the other way. There are cases of egregious arbitrariness in policy formulation and implementation, as opposed to having set rules in place; Nigeria in our current democratic setting, ought to and must, enshrine and entrench the rule of law and due process, everyone must have access to information freely and easily, in the United States, free and easy access to information, enables citizens and civic groups, to engage in processes for the benefit of all, and despite the post September 11 terror related heightened sense of security, information relating to public interests, are still for the most part, available.

Some have said that artificial scarcities are created in Nigeria, because of corruption, scarcities of products that are in abundance in Nigeria, such as petroleum. Greedy persons prefer to import petrol, because they can over-invoice, because they can siphon public wealth through foreign currencies, during these unnecessary and phantom fuel importation exercises, the illogic or crooked thinking is therefore, why, fix the refineries to produce petrol locally, when importation is the tunnel to riches? Some unscrupulous NEPA officials are said to hoard transformers, purchased with public funds for public benefits, but only for such transformers to be sold, to home owners and area residents, who are routinely charged more than thirty thousand naira, as they are lied to, to the effect that the money they contribute is used to purchase transformers from private transformer seller companies! some NEPA officials could actually sabotage NEPA’s efficiency, just so, they continue to make money in this illegal way.

Corruption hydra-headedness and the resilience of those who heartlessly continue to practice it, at the expense of all Nigerians, is so, not because Nigeria does not have enough laws in the books, corruption endures, because enforcement is not as vigorous and rigorous as it ought to be. If we fought corruption, the way we need to, some of those angling for public offices in Nigeria, as they flaunt the monies looted from Nigeria’s public treasuries, would most probably be in maximum security prisons with hard labor.

What do we do now? Dr. Jibo Ibrahim and others have been telling us! Nigeria needs to and must fight corruption with sunshine laws…. The best way to fight corruption is to operate openly! Without compromising national security and safety, Nigerian governments at local, state and federal level, need to put more information in public domain, or at minimum, allow unfettered access to majority of transactions between governments and individuals, and or governments and companies.

Put in a different way, access to information, should be more readily available to individuals who seek them, for example, a citizen in Maiduguri, Enugu, Ibadan etc should have access to information as to who NNPC has contracts with or who the owner of a particular building is, since the building’s absentee landlord lives in New York, but the neighbors or citizens wants to make sure, the building is not financed by the crooked politician, with public treasury monies.

In the past, I have advocated a “Whistle-Blower Laws” a law that will enable Nigerians who discover and report incidents or cases of corruption to appropriate authorities for prosecution, receive rewards or percentage of the monies or resources thus recovered, as a result of the corruption be reported. In the United States, Whistle-Blower Law, have been instrumental in helping to resolve recent crises, particularly corruption and corporate wrong –doing in Enron, Global Crossing, WorldCom and others. The FBI, was also a recent recipient of testimonies by insiders/employees, who blew the whistle on in-house sloppiness and pre- September 11 inefficiencies.

The sunshine laws, is in addition to and an improvement of the Whistle-Blower Law, the reasoning, is that, whenever, sun or light is shined unto transactions, secrecy is removed, and it is difficult, if not impossible for corruption to thrive in the open sun-lit public view.
Nigeria must repeal laws that inhibit openness, Official Secret Laws and Public Officers Protection Act and such other laws that may still exist in Nigeria, that protect personalities, instead of public interests and national interests, must be expunged.

When there is open bidding for the supply of toilet papers by the ministry of defense, and there is public tender, everybody sees and knows when toilet or tissue papers are over priced! Again, if instead of retaining the services of one of the GSM telephone companies in Nigeria, a particular ministry, decides to hire a cleaning company, for its telephone services, it will become clear that something is amiss. It is public knowledge what a desktop computer costs in Nigeria, if there is open bidding and tender, no government ministry or agencies can attempt to pay more, or the attempt at greed, avarice or corruption, would be glaringly clear to all.

Openness with sunshine law, amounts to dealing in the literal sunlight, where there are no secrets! All Nigerians, including journalists, would have free access to information, and rumors and speculations would be a thing of the past. As facts, evidence are accessible.

There are current rumors/speculations regarding a South-South governor, who is said to frequent the United States, at least twice a month, his visits, especially coincides with the time of the month, when he receives the statutory revenue allocation to the state, where he is supposed to be governor, this governor of the erstwhile very progressive, oil-producing state, is reported to have landed properties in England and different parts of the US such as Houston, Dallas where he has siblings, unemployed siblings with mansions! This young governor is said to have started an auto assembly plant in South Africa! Does anyone possess specific information? Would a whistle-blow law encourage persons to come forward with more specificities that will enable us rout this governor and his corrupt and happy-go-lucky ways?

Freedom of Information Act, or sunshine laws, will be good for all Nigerians…. Public officials will no longer have to deal with false accusations, smear campaigns and all manners of speculations or character assassinations, and journalist would no longer be hindered in their thankless job of informing the public of facts, hard facts, and the best of all? Avenues for corruption would have been dramatically reduced to the barest minimum, shinning lights, the sunshine, will prevent most people from committing acts of corruption, as it is, most decent people do not urinate or defecate in public, and they are much less likely to do so, without the cover of darkness! Corruption brings the worst form of darkness, and openness is the antidote. And the sunshine laws will make most too shy to engage in unsavory activities. Let us beam the lights unto the shady characters in our midst, let us have more open dealings in Nigeria as the National Assembly must pass the Freedom of Information Bill into law. Access to public information is an absolute necessity.

Nigeria must enshrine sunshine laws; Nigeria should fight corruption with more sunshine.

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