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Published On: Thu, Apr 17th, 2014

What corruption really is about

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JonathanNASIR EL-RUFAI ON FRIDAY

By Adejoh Idoko Momoh

Have you ever felt pain as much? A mother who says a prayer for her first born son ‘Go with God’ only too hopeful that he would pass his interview, get the job and they finally would be out of abject poverty; one moment she is hopeful, the next she is told to come identify the dead body of her young son. The family visiting Nigeria from the United States for a burial, they board a plane from Abuja’s airport and exactly 10 minutes before its descent into Lagos, it crashes; taking with it all lives onboard and property on ground. Perhaps, the greatest tragedy with Nigerians is that we have been abused so much that we have learnt to mask or ignore pain such that we live daily with the scenarios described above and are unbothered by them.

When we think of corruption in Nigeria, there are certain images that come to mind; Nigeria’s own evil genius who quietly stole $12.4bn Gulf War Oil Windfall earnings accrued to Nigeria between 1988 and 1994. His General counterpart whose loot -probably now in billions of dollars, we are still uncovering sixteen years after his death and might still uncover well into the next century. Then there are government officials, the likes of Dan Etete who reportedly with co-conspirators pocketed $1bn (N163bn) from the Malabu oil deal, or the NNPC that is alleged to have mismanaged and cannot account for $20bn (N3.6trillion). There is also Diezani Allison Madueke, Nigeria’s current oil minister who is under investigation for spending N10bn on a private jet and crew in the last two years alone. If Diezani’s private jet expense is confirmed, it would be surprising to learn how she is able to manage such expenditure considering that with her jumbo earning capacity of N32m annually, she would have to work for 313 years to earn N10bn.

Typically, we overlook the banks. Banks like First City Monument Bank, Wema, Access, Skye, First Bank of Nigeria, Sterling, Diamond, Zenith, Unity, Ecobank, Guaranty Trust Bank and Citibank who recently had senior personnel in State Security Services custody for allegedly aiding Aminu and Mustapha Lamido launder about N10bn through Adold Engineering Company Limited, or Keystone Bank for its alleged involvement in the Dan Etete case. Can an argument be made that these banks do not know these funds are laundered? Or is it simply one of getting deposits into your bank even when these funds are ordinarily supposed to be used to develop society? For these banks, is it about profits at any costs?

And then there is us: You. Me. Not challenging corrupt practices when we see them. When we walk into a supermarket, pick out a bar of Dettol soap that has N170 printed on the packet and then pay N250 for the same bar. The Nigerian activist who refuses to look at the fine print of his country’s budget and recommend ways spending can be cut and development provided. The Electricity distribution Company customer who is only too glad to pay a flat rate as opposed to getting the more efficient card meter. We often support corruption without knowing it. The main cause of corruption really is not bad governance, income inequality or political slogans like Seven Point or Transformation Agenda all these contribute to it, but it ultimately is made possible by the actions of enablers.

As regards transformation, there seems to be something I am not getting. How does the ‘transformational’ amount of $20bn get missing in a desperately poor country like Nigeria and it is not sufficient reason for a revolution? As it is, this sum is N1.09trillion lower than the N4.69trillion Nigeria has budgeted for the 2014 fiscal year. The sum would effectively pay all of Nigeria’s $10bn external debt and leave some $10bn that we can spend on critical infrastructure or lend to some smaller economy. It would effectively pay Nigeria’s N2.4trillion recurrent expenditure almost twice and would pay the N1.1trn the Nigerian government plans to direct towards all development related expenditure in 2014, three times over.

I have often met people who believe that corruption is inevitable and it must exist at some level. If you agree with this, know that transparency is the only vaccine against corruption. If we all make the conscious choice to expose corrupt practices wherever we find them, the menace would not dwell as freely as it does today. We should strive for knowledge, demand to know how our budgets work, what provisions it makes for struggling students in need of scholarships or meals and refreshments for some government agency that contributes nothing to the well-being of the nation. We should demand to know how our monies are stolen and how these gaps can be blocked because it is sure that once you have knowledge, you cannot un-have it.

In the end, it is not about how much is stolen; it is about what services the populace is deprived of due to corruption and theft. It is about the mother whose child dies in her arms because the hospital where he is admitted is ill equipped. It is about the Lagos State University student who spends over N1 million on university tuition for a 4 year degree and cannot get a job 4 years after he graduates. It is about the father whose son rides home at night from his convocation party and is shot by a police man in Abuja’s Apo district over some N20, N50 or relationship complexity. Or the expatriate who on his way from work is abducted by kidnappers who demand a ransom be paid before he is released. Whatever corruption is about for you, the Nigerian society pays too high a price for it.

Please follow me on twitter @Adejoh

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