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FIGHTING THE CABAL OF CORRUPTION


BY: KAYODE OLUWA  
 Published January 29th, 2012

These are, indeed, trying times for our dear country, Nigeria; what with the palpable state of insecurity, profound and debilitating economic challenges, disquieting political uncertainties and rising social tensions. In all of these, however, there seems to be a general consensus that the twin issues of leadership ineptitude/failure and corruption remain at the root of Nigeria’s underdevelopment.

Corruption impacts negatively and wrecks havoc on the economy, as it constitutes a drain pipe (leakage) on the nation’s finances, leading to loss of revenues /funds that should have been otherwise utilized for productive and developmental purposes. Aside from its dire consequences on our National psyche, international image and reputation as a people, corruption dislocates the socio-economic system; distorts market forces and value creation, hinders free trade and fair competition, frustrates efforts at creating an enabling environment and a level playing field, stunts growth, kills innovation, stifles creativity, scares investors and entrepreneurs, reward destructive and unfair business practices, retards productivity, discourages knowledge, research and development and creates inequalities and poverty and, if not curbed, over time, can lead to economic bondage and social upheavals.

Against the foregoing backdrop, it is encouraging and re-assuring that there is now a growing awareness amongst Nigerians on the need to focus more attention and put on the front burner issues relating to the high level of corruption in the country, which seems to have been systematically, wittingly or unwittingly, institutionalised, ingrained and entrenched, especially in government circles/public sector. Specifically, the recent fuel subsidy removal imbroglio and the sound and bites emanating from the resultant protests have brought to the fore, more than ever before, the need to address the systemic and endemic corruption in the oil and gas industry. Arising from the startling and mind boggling revelations which came out from the debates on the pros and cons of removing subsidy, Nigerians have lamented and decried the level of sharp and unwholesome practices pervading the oil and gas industry, particularly with regards to the management of the petroleum support fund (PSF) scheme in the downstream sector, owing to the nefarious, obnoxious and dubious activities of a tiny clique of unscrupulous businessmen, oil marketers and oil  production companies, who have now come to be known and popularly referred to as the “subsidy cabal”.

The existence of this cabal, mafia, syndicate or cartel (whatever you choose to Call it), who seem to have been holding the government to ransom and feeding fat on the nation, should not be regarded as a myth, mirage, fallacy or figment of imagination, but a reality which has further been confirmed, overtly or covertly, by top government functionaries, including the ministers of petroleum and finance, as well as the governor of central Bank.

The fuel subsidy crisis and attendant debates have also thrown up a number of burning issues and , indeed, open a can of worms on the management (or mismanagement) of the nation’s oil resources/industry which has been turned into a cesspit of   corruption. First, is the lack of transparency, probity and accountability in the downstream and upstream operations of the oil sector by the subsidy cabal who, through various antics, intrigues and maneuverings have been exploiting the loopholes and inefficiencies in the system for profiteering and racketeering to the detriment of the national economy. Another issue that has resonated and elicited comments and condemnation by Nigerians, with regards to the subsidy payment regime, is the engagement of the cabal in a lot of financial manipulations, improprieties, malpractices and shady deals with a view to maximizing their obscene profits at the expense of the generality of Nigerians who are bearing the brunt of the fuel subsidy removal. The cabal has been able to perpetrate the financial frauds (scams) and sustain their exploitive tendencies and dubious practices of milking the nation by conspiring, colluding, conniving and collaborating with some unscrupulous government officials at the NNPC, PPPRA, DPR, customs, immigration, Naval and Maritime officials, among others. They have not only been deliberately and systematically thwarting, frustrating and sabotaging the laudable efforts and well-intentioned policies of the government but, through various manipulations of subsidy claims /reimbursements, have been stealing, embezzling and siphoning government /public funds, by way of over-invoicing, round tripping, variations, as well as inflated, non-performing and, in some cases, non-existent contracts, (or services/products not rendered or delivered)

A moment of thought will reveal that at the root of corruption rocking the oil sector, particularly the subsidy payment regime, which has led to the present debacle, include filthy lucre, immoral passion and personal greed by the businessmen and oil marketers to corruptly amass wealth and enrich themselves at all costs, which have tended to becloud their sense of decency and values (if they have any), all in a bid to make excessive ‘abnormal’ profits. By their zero-sum game of destructive business practices, unethical conducts and fraudulent actions, the businessmen, oil marketers as well as their cohorts and collaborators in the relevant government Agencies involved in the subsidy payment racketeering should not only be apprehended and charged for fraud, stealing, looting, embezzlement, but also economic sabotage and treason. The EFCC should accelerate the process and fast –track the pace of investigations and, if found culpable, all those involved should be brought to justice and dealt with in accordance with the extant laws of the country. This will serve as a deterrent and send a strong signal that the government is committed and determined, more that ever before, to tackle corruption in high places; and that there are no sacred cows or untouchables in the fight against corruption, no matter how highly placed or connected. This will also endear the government to the people and engender some measure of trust in the government, as part of the process of confidence building measures between the government and the people. The government must be steadfast, consistent and exhibit the political will, while avoiding double standards (no kid gloves or ego massaging), if the fight against corruption is to be maintained and sustained to its logical conclusion.

Furthermore, as part of the holistic reforms to curb the high level of systemic corruption and other challenges in the oil and gas industry, there is the need for effective regulatory /structural framework, process/procedural guidelines and supervisory/monitoring mechanisms to create a level playing field, and ensure free competition (deregulation), fair business practices, strict adherence to due linear process, openness, transparency, probity and accountability in the downstream, midstream and upstream operations. Accordingly, I wish to align myself with other well-meaning Nigerians to call for the swift passage of the petroleum industry Bill (PIB) into law by the National Assembly to facilitate the necessary reforms in the oil and gas industry. Also, there is the need to strengthen institutional reforms to ensure the effectiveness and independence of the Anti-corruption Agencies including the EFCC, ICPC as well as the Judiciary.

At this point, it is instructive to mention that there are three major sets of cabal in the infamous but thriving corruption industry in Nigeria, to wit,  the private sector, legislative arm and the executive arm (including the public sector) of the government. Apart from the cabal in the oil industry, there are other cabals in the private sector, e.g. cement/ commodities market, banking/financial sector services, Telecoms/communications, Aviation, Maritime etc. Another cabal of corruption, which we must begin to beam our radar and searchlight on (since we already know that the government is the principality of corruption and the father of all cabals), is the legislative arm of the government (the National Assembly). It is rather regrettable that a lot of corrupt practices that go on in the legislature either go undetected, unreported, under-reported or rarely discussed publicly. The point must be made that it is destructive to the economy, morally ludicrous and selfish, morally dishonest and defective, patently unethical and fraudulent, for members of the National Assembly to reward themselves with preposterous salaries, outrageous compensations, humongous benefits and huge/Jumbo allowances many times the annual wage of an average worker in the public service (in the guise of some phony constituency projects), while remaining insensitive to the plight and welfare of the workers who created the wealth and produced the resources being illegally appropriated and shared by members of the national Assembly. One of the major outcomes of the fuel subsidy debates is the need for governments at all levels-federal, state and local – to cut down on the cost of governance (including duplications, wastages, leakages, profligate spendings, obscene salaries and allowances of public office holders etc.) in order to enlist the understanding and support of the citizenry in the efforts at stemming the tide of corruption.

All said and done, the real issue in breaking the yoke of corruption is the gap between leaders- whether in public or private sectors – who are self-seekers and self serving and those with good conscience, morals, integrity, who are selfless and prepared to dedicate themselves to the common good of the society. Leaders who are ready to rise above visceral rewards, pecuniary benefits as well as parochial interests in order to promote fair business practices and good governance. The other side of the coin is that we, as citizens, must begin to exercise the necessary reality checks by holding our leaders accountable and being more demanding in ensuring good governance/service delivery.

Finally, for our fledging democracy to grow strong and flourish, and for us to achieve meaningful and sustainable economic growth and development, we all, as individual citizens, in our various spheres of influence and circles of concern, must be vigilant and actively involved in the concerted efforts to curb the quagmire and barrage of the stubborn cabal of corruption which is ravaging the socio-economic and political fabric of the nation.

 

Oluwa, president, Academy for Leadership and Change Management, wrote vide 4c Femi Okunnu Estate, Phase II, Lekki, Lagos. He can be reached on 08033233844 or oluwa95@yahoo.com.


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