Editorial: Buhari and Illicit Financial Flows

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The revelation by the global anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International (TI) that Nigeria loses not less than $17 billion annually through illicit financial flows was a damning appraisal of President Muhammadu Buhari’s pledge to bring corruption under control and another reminder, if at all any was needed, that Buhari’s efforts to combat rampant corruption have been an unmitigated failure. The Executive Director of TI and Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, told a meeting of his organization with its West Africa chapters in Abuja on Wednesday that the political and business elite have deprived Nigerians of their entitlements through corruption in procurement. Mai Gaskiya (Mr. Honesty) has long been the ascetic-looking Buhari’s nickname, and his personal reputation as a lone squeaky-clean man in a sea of corrupt politicians has survived his first term. The time has come for the president to demonstrate with deeds, his commitment to fight corruption. Nigeria needs an enlightened president whose mind cannot be corrupted, as an imperative for national survival.

Rafsanjani said: “Our countries experience enormous challenges with public procurement, political integrity, illicit financial outflows, migration and many others. In Nigeria alone, $17 billion is lost annually to illicit financial outflows. Procurement is said to be responsible for 70% of corruption proceeds. Detached political representation and unaccountable political and business elite have deprived Nigeria, and I believe most of the other African countries, of their development potential.” He specifically noted that the leaders perpetrating corruption in Nigeria and other African countries through procurement process on every sector have infiltrated the education sector, taking away fundamental rights of young boys and girls. Corruption in the educational system, TI said, undermines learning and reinforces illiteracy in Africa as 38% of African adults (some 153 million) are illiterates, meaning two-thirds of women are not able to help their children with homework due to illiteracy.

This cry from the heart by TI, though unsurprising, is unacceptable but comforting because the president might finally be nudged into waking up to the fact that under his watch, corruption is killing Nigeria. According to the UN panel report on illicit flows, Nigeria accounted for more than 30% of all illegal financial transactions in Africa. This blight on the toga of Nigeria is indeed lamentable, signposting as it does; the exportation of the corruption that abounds at home. Fundamentally, it is another pointer to the much vilified but unaddressed corruption in the country; and it is unfortunate that Nigeria keeps featuring among countries acknowledged for all the wrong reasons.

Although it is difficult to decipher the fiscal intricacies involved in illicit financial flows, the amount of $17 billion that is illegally siphoned from the country annually is simply mind-boggling, but more importantly, the prospect of Buhari making promises that have yielded nothing is heart-rending. Even more so, because, Nigeria as usual, is topping the table for illegal financial transactions in Africa. This indeed, is damning. This is a sad commentary on the administration’s predisposition to accountability. It is a clear demonstration of inept fiscal management, against the backdrop that not too long ago, the president, in flagrant violation of due process, suspended the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walters Onnoghen, accused of corruption.

These illegal funds technically described in the international market as “Illicit Financial Flows” are categorized as corrupt practices by government officials and private sector practitioners; consisting specifically of under-taxation, over-invoicing, fake billings and outright stealing and illegal exploitation of natural resources. These activities obviously require accomplices in developed countries whose leadership may be less concerned because these particular funds are not connected with drug trafficking and terrorism. By this circuitous rigmarole, however, the impression is given that Nigeria is a country of fraudsters with zero respect for accountability. Parenthetically, these illicit financial flows are the result of pervasive corruption which mutually reinforces each other in an unending vicious cycle. In fact, under Buhari, corruption has grown bold and ravenous that he has simply abandoned the fight; as if to say, if you cannot beat them, join them!

Corruption is criminal, inhumane and condemnable in all ramifications besides being a major cause of the country’s under-development; resulting in decrepit social infrastructure, dearth of health services, insufficient funding of education and a high crime rate. It is unacceptable to adduce any reason to justify corruption. As a people, however, it is necessary for Nigerians to task themselves about the cause of corruption. Why are people so materialistic that they wish to acquire everything in sight, including what they do not need? Why does the nation allow easy access to massive wealth by a few privileged persons, leading to a diminution of a sense of value, along with an ostentatious lifestyle that is insensitive to the misery of the masses? How does one reconcile the paradox of having the highest number of private jets in Africa, while most of the people live in abject poverty? What is the president’s policy for tackling the massive unemployment especially amongst the youths?

Above all, questions must be asked: what manner of man allows himself to be corrupted and to be consumed in greed? There are too many such greedy public officials and politicians who are headed to an unreachable island of illusory and material security. What goes on in the mind of such a person? Why is there a refusal to learn from greedy individuals from the past and present, who stashed funds in coded accounts in faraway countries but never got the benefit of spending them? Presidential apologists are quick to point to the many government agencies tasked with fighting corruption, but even Buhari himself has demonstrated with his endorsement of Kano State governor, Umar Ganduje that, the entire process has been jaundiced and enmeshed in so much noise with very little success. Ganduje was secretly filmed stuffing dollar bills into his robes – allegedly a large bribe in exchange for lucrative government contracts. Buhari was happy to appear in public with the governor, and went in person to endorse his campaign for re-election in Kano.

None of the many corruption cases initiated by the administration has ended in a conviction. A former secretary to the federation who allegedly diverted N270 million meant for people displaced by Boko Haram to accounts linked to him was only charged, two years after being indicted by the Senate. It took months of pressure from the press and parliament for him to be fired; he served as one of the leaders of the president’s reelection campaign in his home state of Adamawa. At least two ministers had petitions against them for misappropriation of funds as governors of Lagos and Rivers, the two biggest state economies. Last October, Former Edo state governor and APC national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, was served papers by a federal high court for fraud perpetuated in office; and was even interrogated by DSS for collecting bribes to subvert APC primaries nationwide. Transparency International said Nigeria had not moved in its latest corruption perception index.

In civilized countries, public officials and businesses are reprimanded and punished for involvement in corrupt practices abroad. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act strictly prohibits United States businesses from paying bribes and so-called “facilitation fees” anywhere in the world as part of the cost of doing business. But in Nigeria, the president can afford to release $1 billion from the country’s Excess Crude Account to fund the fight against Boko Haram in violation of extant statutes and procurement laws without bothering to question how the money will be spent. For all their hype on fighting corruption, this administration cannot point to any instances of success in investigation and prosecution of corruption offenders.

To address the movement of illicit money, the Economic Commission for Africa set up a Web Tracker to track, stop and return. Nigeria may indeed tap into the systems instituted by international agencies, but such efforts will be effective only if the president takes ownership of the issue and shows seriousness in his resolve to tackle corruption in the country. He should begin with the oil sector where he is the substantive Minister. The disclosure some time ago by Shell, that Nigeria lost a whopping $4.3 billion to oil thieves at an average rate of $2.3 billion annually, indicates that oil theft has reached alarming proportions and underscores the tragic nature of the problem. The nation’s leadership should enforce vigorously the extant laws against corruption. The only solution to Nigeria’s prevailing negative image is for the president to demonstrate with deeds, his commitment to fight corruption.