By Simon Kolawole
Floods of depressing news have been gushing out in the last few days on the misuse and abuse of public funds in the last administration. Billions of dollars collected from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in the name of security. Billions of naira collected from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for the same purpose. Billions of naira doled out to pay for PDP’s publicity from security budget. This is to say nothing of the other billions and billions and billions scammed out of the system through many government agencies, at state and federal levels. That is why no matter how high the price of crude oil is, Nigeria remains a mess. There is a link, trust me. Expectedly, public debate about these revelations has been politicised by the supporters of President Muhammadu Buhari and former President Goodluck Jonathan. To Buhari’s fans, this is just another opportunity to get back at Jonathan in the second part of the post-election celebration. To Jonathan’s fans, the allegations are nothing but a “media trial” and the demonisation of the former president. The way public debate is designed in Nigeria, we are unfortunately destined to never see beyond our nose. Issues just have to be politicised, personalised and trivialised. In the end, we learn no lessons and make no amends — and remain retarded. As I read through the latest revelations and the reactions of Nigerians, six issues stood out for me.
I believe we all have to pay attention to them, no matter our emotions. Until we address them, I am convinced that we are going nowhere as a nation. The first is the amazing lack of a feeling of disgust on the part of those sympathetic to Jonathan despite the reported impunity. No matter how much love we have for the former president, there are certain things we should find appalling. We should never endorse reckless extra-budgetary disbursement of billions of dollars under the guise of being opposed to “media trial”. We just have to hate impunity with perfect hatred. Also, no matter how much we hate Jonathan, we should not jonathanise this issue. We are dealing with historical institutional weaknesses and abuses that made it possible for these things to happen in this first place, and if we limit the discourse to Jonathan, we will never see the bigger picture. We will never attack the root cause. We will never be able to fix our accountability processes that are so weak on transparency. We will abuse Jonathan very well and forget that this probably happened before him and will still happen after him. We will end up like the man who looks at himself in the mirror and forgets what he looks like immediately after. The second issue is that we must never disconnect the state of the nation from this mindless misuse of public funds. Our roads are not rough for no reason.
We are not groping in darkness for no reason. Our hospitals are not inhospitable for no reason. Our refineries are not running dry for no reason. We must begin to understand that our arrested development is proportionally related to the impunity with which public funds are abused and misused. For instance, the billions of dollars that came out of NNPC in the name of security should have gone into the federation account and shared by the three tiers of government in the first instance. That is the law. The third point is that we urgently need to reform the NNPC and the CBN. Why should the NNPC GMD be able to dispense so much money without any form of control? How can the CBN governor have the power to create and disburse special funds anyhow under the guise of “lender of last resort”? The CBN has had several intervention funds but it cannot sincerely say its purposes are being achieved. What has been happening is that all these morally bankrupt billionaires simply collect the concessionary loans of up to N50bn at 3% and place them at commercial banks for 15%. They thus reap cool returns on their deposits without sweat. What a heartless rip-off. Can the CBN which disbursed these funds claim to be unaware of the abuse going on? The fourth issue is that the Nigerian elite are incredibly wicked. Why do they hate this country so passionately? There is so much unemployment and poverty in the land, and the government comes up with policies of concessionary loans via intervention funds in order to stimulate economic growth. Imagine if these funds were properly utilised in agriculture and industry as intended. Imagine how many jobs would be created. Imagine how many millions of Nigerians would be pulled out of poverty.
Yet these crooks just collect the money and do nothing. This is wickedness of the highest quality. The fifth issue is the increasingly loud whinging about “media trial”. What exactly is media trial? And what is wrong with it? All over the world, the media report corruption allegations. It is not the job of journalists to prosecute or adjudicate, we all know that. Our job is to publish allegations at our disposal. If the prosecutors and the judges refuse to do their own jobs, why should the media be blamed for that? The New York Times and the UK Sunday Times, for instance, have published leaks from investigations in the FIFA saga, but that is all they can do. Prosecutors do the rest. So who should be blamed for judicial failure in Nigeria? The media? Oh please! The sixth point, which I consider as the real issue, is: why is it so easy for our leaders to have unfettered control over institutions and resources? You can blame Godwin Emefiele, the CBN governor, all you want, but why was it impossible for him to disobey a presidential order even if he did not agree with it? You can blame Sambo Dasuki, the former NSA, but you need to ask why one individual can be so powerful to demand and receive such enormous resources without restrain, without constrain. You can blame Jonathan till eternity, but how can one man have so much power to spend money without let or hindrance, without checks, without accountability?
For heaven’s sake, we learnt democracy from the Great Britain, our colonial masters, and borrowed our presidential system from the United States. Can PM David Cameron just direct the governor of the Bank of England to give even £1 to his security adviser outside parliament’s appropriation? Can President Barack Obama just ask the commissioner of Inland Revenue Service to disburse even a dime to Ted Turner, owner of CNN, for the Democratic Party’s media publicity? Where did we learn this perfidy from? Clearly, it is not just enough to reform the institutions; we also have to reform the brains of the Nigerian elite so that they can turn from their wicked ways. For all you care, all these abuses were also perpetrated under previous presidents. And that is the crux of the matter. Since we didn’t investigate security spending under them, we would never know the extent of the stench. My hunch is that these things have been going on for ages, and it is because Buhari decided to open Pandora’s Box that we are now having this discussion. Governors have gargantuan security votes which they do not account for, so they too misuse public funds unnoticed, unreported and unchallenged. That is why I think it is wrong to jonathanise this issue. It is a malignant Nigerian malaise that we must seize this opportunity to tackle. In my opinion, the real issue and challenge today is how to make sure these things do not happen again. Buhari’s supporters will say the president is an honest man who would not perpetuate this brigandage, but will Buhari be president forever? How do we make sure that whoever is president or governor will not have the power to spend public funds like a monarch? How can we make sure the CBN governor, the NNPC GMD and the NSA can disobey unlawful instructions from the president? If we are wise enough, that should be the focus of our debate. That is what can solve this debilitating disease of impunity. That is what can help lift us out of our misery. Decisively.