11 Jun 2015

How President Buhari Can Tame Corruption - by Gbenga Osinaike

Many Nigerians are corrupt; but they love to hate corruption. It is the talk among the rich and the poor. It is a discussion past time for those in government and out of government. You hear comments like: Corruption is embedded in our system. It is our second nature. We are sold to corruption. It is the currency by which we trade. It is a hydra-headed monster.

People are passionate whenever they talk about this vice and make it sound as if it is one ethereal phenomenon.

I reckon that corruption is not a myth. It is a reality and it is human beings who are corrupt not some unseen elements. Why then is it difficult for us to tame this human monster? Many believe that we are still in this mess because we never had leaders who had the will to tackle it.

Rightly or wrongly, it is believed that this new government headed by Muhammadu Buhari will deal with the monster. He is believed to be Mr. Integrity; one who hates corruption with a passion.

Indeed, before he came to government this second time, so many stories were built around him. Whether the stories are true or not is another issue. But he is believed to have lived a Spartan life and never “loved to see the sight of money” (permit that usage, I just want to underscore a point that the man is perceived to be clean and will not have anything to do with corruption). This perception is largely deduced from his antecedent.

Well, it is not my prerogative to tell how holy the President is. But being holy in a corrupt environment is not the magic wand that drives away such evil. To some extent, the person of the leader matters and it could help stem a debilitating tide. But largely, when it comes to the issue of corruption, the President needs more than being chaste to deal with the issue.

First, it is important to note that punitive measures have not, to a great extent, stopped people from being corrupt. Countries where people are being beheaded, sent to jail and killed for one corrupt practice or the other have not stopped experiencing corruption. In Nigeria, people would rather go to jail as long as their loot is intact. We have seen cases of people who were jailed for corruption only for them to be celebrated when they come back from prison.

That goes to show that there is the need for a more practical approach to stemming the monster. Former President Goodluck Jonathan gave suggestions about putting structures in place. A good suggestion I think; but what kind of structure? I believe strongly that we should begin to look in the direction of building structures that will discourage people from corrupt practices.

The first step in taming corruption is getting the right people to work in strategic government establishments. No matter how good the intentions of President Buhari are, he can’t be everywhere. So, he needs the right people to work with.

The first step he took in appointing Mr. Femi Adesina, a former Managing Director of Sun Newspapers, as his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, is a great and courageous step. Adesina is not the kind of person that is given to loose talk. He is known for being thorough. His approach to issues is not beclouded with emotions. That to a large extent will save us from being fed with lies from government parlance.

Beyond this initial appointment, several other people will be appointed. If Buhari dances to political overtures and succumbs to pressure to put party people who have issues with integrity in key government positions, we may yet be having another era of bad governance. Somebody had commented cynically that we may be heading for part two of the PDP. Nigerians are already agitated and they are almost finding fault in the new government before its take off.

Aside from getting the right people in government, there is the need for certain bold and courageous decisions and structures to be put in place if the government is really serious about fighting corruption. Government has to conduct its business in a transparent atmosphere. We don’t need a new law. Existing laws and institutions that were created to fight corruption are there and should be followed.

But I will like to point out that the first step to take in ensuring there is less corruption in the award and execution of contracts is for government to make public whatever transactions it has with those who get its contracts. There are laws on procurement and award of contract which say these transactions should be made public.

For instance, if government wants to construct a road, the first step is to publish its call for bids in national newspapers and go through a public selection process. I’m aware of a Federal Government bulletin that publishes new contracts and calls for bids. But there should be a follow-up on this. The name of the person or company that wins the contract should be published and the contract awarded should be made public with all its terms.

Government can then take a step further to publish the amount of money paid to the contractor and also give a timeline for the execution of the contract which will also be made public. If I know for instance that Mr. A has been awarded a particular road to fix in my area and he has been given X amount of money to begin work on the road, I will not turn around to blame the government that the road is not being done. My attention will be on the man who got the contract and pressure will be on him to fix the road.

I dare say that all these laws are there for government to act on but it is not being practised because of some vested interests. Somebody gets a contract to fix a road and the officials awarding the contract already add their own percentage. The road costs N1m but they tell him to quote N10m. The excess N9m goes to the pockets of the officials in charge.

If the present government continues to accommodate this trend, we will keep sinking as a nation and may never get out of the woods.

One other area where corruption has assumed a second nature is the civil service. There are many Nigerians keeping two jobs. Some keep three. They have appointments with the Federal Government, with the state government and also with a private company. Many don’t even go to work in government offices yet they collect salaries. The corruption in the civil service stinks. There are too many “ghost workers” in this sector of the economy. There are also many dead and unproductive ministries. People who are long dead still “draw” salary from government.

This trend has to stop. One of the ways I think this could be tamed is for every government office to have an identification machine. The officials in the office upon resumption to work should thumb print on the machine and also do the same while leaving. The machine registers that such a person has fulfilled his official obligation for the day.

This machine should be connected to the pay servers and should be linked to appropriate authorities. At the end of the month, only those who have been certified to have fulfilled at least 90 per cent attendance in the office will be paid salary. By so doing, many of the “ghost workers” will have no hiding place. It is either they show up or forget about the ministry. As of today, there is nothing to track attendance and performance in offices apart from manual registers which are open to abuse.

On a general note, there should be a great deal of transparency in the way government is being run. I don’t think it is a bad idea if the public is being fed periodically on how money comes and goes out of government. If there is no secrecy in government, fighting corruption will be easy. But the problem in fighting corruption is that those who are at the vanguard of the fight are not sincere. But this new era promises to make a difference. Nigerians are waiting!

- Gbenga Osinaike is the publisher of Church Times Nigeria

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