The scandals in Abuja

The scandals in Abuja

By Lasisi Olagunju

 

Some cabinet members went to Western Region premier, Samuel Ladoke Akintola, to complain about the corruption of one of their colleagues. They said the man was stealing their party’s funds and eating government money with reckless abandon. They said the gentleman’s impunity knew neither the fear of the law, nor of the party and the people. “He is even building two houses at the same time,” they rammed it in. Chief Akintola listened attentively to the complainants and their complaints. He then turned to the accused who was also seated right there.

 

“You heard that? They said you are building two houses at the same time; you are building one in Oyo; you are building another in Ibadan. You are the party’s treasurer; you are also in charge of the government’s finances. Can’t houses be built one after the other? (Ngbó, wón ní ò nkó’le méjì léèkan soso; ìkan l’Òyó, ìkan n’Bàdàn? Ìwo ni treasurer egbé; ìwo náà ni minister owó. Sé ilé ò seé kó ní’kòòkan ni?).” If that line of adjudication was strange to the complaint lodgers, Chief Akintola was still not done with them. He had some words for the accusers.

 

“Each of you is in charge of a ministry of government. If we flash a torch into your anus, won’t we see faeces?” He asked, looking straight into their eyes. They looked down. Then Akintola faced the leader of the accusers. “And you, but I know that you have just built a house in Ibadan for one of your mistresses (Ìwo, mo sebí o sèsè kó’lé fún àlè re kan n’Bàdàn ni). The accusers were shocked by their leader’s bent of justice. But they ought not to be shocked. The leader once said publicly that he was a master of equivocation. The premier didn’t release his guests without a warning to both sides to be sensitive to public sensibilities in their use of public funds.

 

Dr Omololu Olunloyo, a second republic governor of the old Oyo State, will be 89 years old this year. He once told me the significance of this year in his life but I am not permitted to say it – at least, not now. Where I come from, a man does not tell all he is told. Olunloyo also knows too much, perhaps that explains his ‘refusal’ to write his autobiography despite our prodding and pressure. But he told me stories, one of which is the Akintola story I just told above – although I have hidden the names of the accused and the accusers. I will tell yet another one from that former governor, especially now that the Federal Republic of Nigeria is enmeshed in an argument over whether or not it is permitted and legal in public service to officially move public money into private accounts.

 

Olunloyo was very close to Akintola. He was also very close to Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. One day, Balewa drew Olunloyo aside and told him his story of helplessness: “Doctor Olunloyo, this country is a country of thieves. As I sit here, my appointees managing the central bank are stealing money. If I move my seat from here to the CBN, right under my nose and supervision there, they will still steal money. Look, I just caught a thief, but they said I can’t prosecute him because of where he comes from – unless I catch at least one thief each from the other regions.”

 

If Vulture claims that it is not today that the rains started beating him, you think he is lying. Please, believe Vulture. The two cases above occurred in the early 1960s – that was some sixty-something years ago. And it wasn’t only the political class that was implicated. Even the wretched of the earth believe in fish eating fish to get fat.

 

In 1952/1953, seven years before independence, there was a commission of inquiry into the administration of Lagos Town Council. The commission found that “in hospitals, nurses require a fee from every in-patient before the prescribed medicine is given, and even the ward servants must have their ‘dash’ before bringing the bed-pan; it is known to be rife in the Police Motor Traffic Unit, which has unrivalled opportunities on account of the common practice of overloading vehicles; pay clerks make a deduction from the wages of daily paid staff; produce examiners exact a fee from the produce buyer for every bag that is graded and sealed; domestic servants pay a proportion of their wages to the senior of them, besides often having paid a lump sum to buy the job.” Can you see the class of those implicated in those findings? Ordinary workers. Public and private sector workers still do it; politicians do it; they buy and sell positions. Indeed, our political situation has always been like eighteenth century England when “it was taken for granted that the purpose for going into parliament or holding any public office was to make or repair a man’s personal fortune” (R. M. Jackson, 1958, page 345).

 

Above, you read about people buying public and private jobs in 1952/1953 Lagos. You would think 60 years of independence should be long enough for a people’s redemption to occur. But jobs are still being purchased in Nigeria of 2024. If anything has changed in our story over the last six decades, it is that the acorn of misdeeds of the past has grown to become an oak. The oak is that behemoth no one wraps their arms around to climb. The oak is igi osè in my part of the world. If you are Yoruba, you should be familiar with this incantation: Wón d’òyì k’ápá, apá ò k’ápá; wón d’òyì k’ósè apá ò k’ósè…). That is what corruption has become. The law is helpless before the powerful because no sane person looks into a deep well and jumps into it. It is our major gain in sixty years of flag independence. Our country is fully vaccinated against all virtues. Follow the variegated stories around Emefiele. Instead of retail stealing in the central bank, the CBN itself has been stolen – what we have there is ‘kòròfo ìsáná’ – a matchbox without matchsticks. Follow other recent scandals in Abuja. Instead of government ministers being content with stealing their ministries’ money “to build two houses simultaneously,” they are stealing the ministries. Yet, nothing happens to the plunderers because they are like human eyes – they come with divine immunity from intrusive fingers – Àánú ojú kìí jé kí wón t’owó b’ojú. They are also like rattle snakes –Ìbèrù ejò kìí jé kí wón te ejò mó’lè. Another incantation!

 

You saw a document that surfaced some days ago signed by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr Betta Edu. In that memo, Edu directed the Accountant General of the Federation to transfer the sum of N585,198,500.00 into a private account belonging to one Oniyelu Bridget. There was a national uproar. If you were part of the outrage, it means you no get job. Did you not see that the minister did not disown the document? With her full chest, she owned it and declared what she did as legal. She also did not forget to blame the leakage and the outrage on her enemies. She called them desperate persons implicated in an earlier scandal of N44.8bn in the National Social Investment Programme Agency (NSIPA). She said they wanted to “stain her integrity because she alerted the government on the ongoing N44.8 Billion fraud in NSIPA…” She was referring to the scandal that has led to the suspension of the National Coordinator and chief executive of the NSIPA, Mrs Halima Shehu, by President Bola Tinubu. There are reports that Halima moved that amount (N44.8 Billion) into some unusual accounts. We do not have the details. And, we have not heard her own defence direct from her mouth. But her own people plead her innocence; they are accusing her enemies of being behind her ordeal.

 

Then the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF), Dr Oluwatoyin Madein, weighed in on Saturday. She said although her office received the said request from Edu, it ignored it. She said she did not make the payment as instructed because the procedure was wrong.

 

The engine of Nigeria’s bureaucracy has broken down. The Yoruba would say if the short one is not wise, what about the tall one? Were civil servants in Edu’s ministry who presumably drafted the memo for her to sign not aware of the existence of the laws guiding the processing, movement and use of public funds? There is Nigeria’s Financial Regulations 2009. Its Chapter Seven, Section 713 states that “personal money shall in no circumstances be paid into a government bank account, nor shall any public money be paid into a private account.” If the civil servants didn’t know the law, you would think the person signing that half-a-billion naira memo would pause and check. Was there not a retreat shortly after the ministers were appointed? What were they taught at those opulent sessions?

 

Things are happening. We only know what our husbands allow us to know or what ‘accidentally’ leaks like the N44.8 billion suspension and the N585 million memo. The present Federal Government with its three branches is particularly audacious in doing the unthinkable. The unthinkable is what you calmly do when you know you’ve conquered the world.

 

We can dismiss all these and say they do not matter, that after all, no money is lost (yet). But that deadly, slithering being called snake has a way of climbing its way to the top of the raffia palm. Ninety-two-year-old British political scientist, Colin Leys, in 1965 wrote on the consequences of corruption, impunity and sleaze on the future of Africa. Writing in his ‘What is the Problem about Corruption?’ Leys argued that “If the top political elite of a country consumes its time and energy in trying to get rich by corrupt means, it is not likely that the (country’s) development plans will be fulfilled.” His prediction reeked of doom. About that time, Ronald Wraith and Edgar Simpkins published their book, ‘Corruption in Developing Countries’ (1963). They looked into practices in African countries, including Nigeria. They said they saw a “jungle of nepotism and temptation… a dangerous and tragic situation.” They described the landscape as “the scarlet thread of bribery and corruption.” They witnessed malfeasance flourishing “as luxuriantly as the bush and weeds which it so much resembles.” They saw the toxins of corruption “taking the goodness from the soil and suffocating the growth of plants which have been carefully and expensively bred and tended.” I suggest you read that metaphor of gloom again. If nothing fruitful grows today, it is because the earth was scorched yesterday.

 

The vaccine that will cure our political elite of greed has not been made. Lanrewaju Adepoju, a Yoruba performing poet who died recently, looked at a situation like this in the 1980s and declared that nothing overwhelmed a babaláwo more than being confronted with a bad case that permitted no remedial ritual. The Nigerian situation is pretty much like a terminal illness – or worse, like a carcass being mobbed by a pack of wolves and a wake of vultures. Everyone tears at it, exacting their share. And the predators are very bold and daring. Socialists and Marxists will blame this tragedy on the greed of capitalism and its lack of shame. English trade unionist, Thomas Dunning (1799-1873), quoted by Karl Marx in his three-volume work ‘Capital’ said “With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain 10 percent will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 percent certain will produce eagerness; 50 percent, positive audacity; 100 percent will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 percent, and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, nor a risk it will not run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged. If turbulence and strife will bring a profit, it will freely encourage both…” Just sit back and, like Akintola, take a long look at the accused and the accusers in the current scandal in Abuja. Look at the entire business architecture of government. Corruption is the only business that yields returns here. In 60 years plus, the Nigerian state has established itself as a crime scene. We all know that things can’t continue like this without the world coming to an end. But the questions are: Where is the face of the saviour? And who really is clean?

 

(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, 8 January, 2024)

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