It used to be tens of millions of naira and occasionally, hundreds of millions of naira and when a corruption incident amounting to a billion naira was mentioned, we were stunned, disgusted and spoke about it intensely for weeks. Now misappropriation of public funds in Nigeria is recorded in billions and trillions of naira such that cases involving mere millions no longer elicit media scrutiny or a shocked reaction from the public. The increase in the scale of corruption has been followed closely by an increase in our disillusionment as we are becoming numbed to the mind-boggling figures.
The mass protests that accompanied the removal of fuel subsidy in January this year led to the inauguration of probe panels such as the Farouk Lawan-led House of Representatives Committee examining the fuel subsidy regime, the Nuhu Ribadu-led Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force (PRSTF) on the management of the oil sector, and to a lesser extent hastened deliberations on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).
These panels have all unearthed fraud of epic proportions in the oil sector: N1.3trn ($6.8bn) lost to fuel subsidy fraud, N1trn ($6bn) per annum lost to oil theft (bunkering), opaque oil deals short-changing Nigeria of billions of dollars by marketers and International Oil Companies (IOCs) through gas price-fixing deals and non-payment of royalties and signature bonuses, and other such cases where billions of dollars are lost to various vested interests. This is in addition to monies stolen in Ministries Departments and Agencies most recently, the physical theft of N2.1bn ($14m) in newly printed notes from the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Corporation (NSPMC). The list is endless.
An editorial of The Punch newspaper estimates that over N5trn ($30bn) has been misappropriated since 2010. The global audit firm KPMG rates Nigeria as having the “highest value of fraud reported” in Africa, at N225bn ($1.5bn). Nigeria is rated as the 35th most corrupt country, according to the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). The figures and the reports are revealing as they are damning.
The initial shock at the scale of corruption is gradually giving way to a numbness and indifference. Many like me perhaps, have given up on using calculators to convert the billions of dollars to whatever currency equivalents just to grasp the full scale of funds lost. We’re gradually drifting to a comfortable zone of intentional ignorance convincing ourselves that the $6bn dollars lost to subsidy fraud or the hundreds of millions of dollars lost daily to oil bunkering are mere numbers. The reality though, gnaws relentlessly in one’s subconscious knowing that the judicious utilization of these monies could significantly improve the ailing education sector, health sector, transport infrastructure and the fortunes of the whole country, yet they are diverted by a few.
As the quality of our public services and infrastructure continues to deteriorate, we have become numbed by the scale of corruption and decay and instead find it easier to seek lesser alternatives. This translates to outsourcing education to private schools at home and education institutions abroad; outsourcing healthcare to private hospitals whose exorbitant charges barely merit the quality of services they provide, and… well, private jets litter Nigerian airports for those who can afford to escape the pot-hole ridden roads or the domestic airlines ably described as “flying coffins”.
The inescapable reality though, is we’ll eventually have to wake up from our reverie and realize that playing the ostrich is not sustainable as we postpone the inevitable. The mismanagement of public funds has direct bearing on our collapsing infrastructure, insecurity, deplorable standard of education, unemployment and a host of other ills which are all interconnected – none is isolated from the other. If funds in every sector are constantly frittered away, then the efficiency of public services and ability of regulatory agencies to regulate the private sector will be affected, resulting in collapsing infrastructure and poor services with barely any maintenance or sustenance.
Feigning indifference means we will individually continue to seek opportunities (legally, extra-legally or illegally) to fund our ability to bypass or “persevere” through the infrastructural decay in order to afford the prohibitive fees and fares in private schools, private hospitals and air travel, and to tolerate the barely mediocre and mostly poor services provided. Hence, the vicious cycle of corruption persists. Ignoring these issues for convenient alternatives doesn’t confer immunity on anyone from the problems therein either.
This reality of our collective vulnerability is constantly drummed into our psyches with the frequency of deadly air crashes notably the Dana Air crash, the air mishap which left Governor Suntai of Taraba mentally incapacitated and the most recent fatal crash which claimed the lives of Kaduna state governor, Patrick Yakowa, General Andrew Azazi, their aides and crew members. Clearly, air travel is no longer much safer than travelling on the treacherous Nigerian roads in dire need of repair.
At some point we will have to ensure our cynicism not only translates to indifference but to collective action towards these issues that affect our daily existence by demanding for accountability and judicious management of public funds. Could a fraction of the national energy spent for the better part of the last two months vigorously debating Chinua Achebe’s polarising personal memoirs on the 1960s Biafran war be channelled towards some of these problems? A starting point could be DEMANDING for some concrete action from the government based on recommendations of the Ribadu report (PDF).
Lest we forget the power of collective action, the fuel subsidy protests aka Occupy Nigeria yielded some results – it led to the probe panels which have unearthed and confirmed the scale and depth of corruption in Nigeria’s golden goose, the oil sector. It might be up to Nigerians again to ensure tangible action is taken on these reports and they are not left to gather dust as usual. How about starting with the Ribadu report? Surely it shouldn’t be problematic for the government to implement a report it commissioned…