By Mofe O. Jeje
Given the latest corruption drama emanating from the monumental looting and diversion of public funds meant to pay workers’ salaries which is popularly called the Paris club refund; it has become apparent and more urgently so, that Nigeria cannot make progress without tackling the problem of endemic corruption which poverty, greed, weak institutions of government and a dysfunctional legal system have helped to enthrone.
When words and actions are not directed by a moral force, the war against corruption in Nigeria will continue to conduce into mockery and mere talks, which in turn dangerously breeds incentive that will continue to recruit criminal gangs to loot and plunder the treasury without impunity.
If not, how could we elect a President that was touted to have zero tolerance to corruption, and that is purposed to inject fear into the criminal political elites, but instead, they continue to, pillage and plunder our commonwealth, freely with bold impunity without shame nor fear of judgment. From north to south, east to west, and from one successive government to another, the problem continues to exacerbate with each successive government out-stealing the other.
Following from this premise, it is my intention to engagingly refocus the attention of Nigerian to what is not being said or intentionally being shielded away from them in the whole corruption drama of the Paris club refund.
Firstly, is the need to question the rationale behind the shoddy and hasty disbursement of the Paris Club refund. Regardless of its expected goal, it is disheartening to hear that the presidency had spent and released such a huge amount of money outside budget appropriations. Sadly, when allegations of diversion of parts of the over half a trillion naira Paris Club refund money emerged in early this February, sparking nationwide controversy, what is not being said was how the presidency was able to order and make payments that were not captured in the budget to receive the constitutionally required authorization of the National Assembly. This executive recklessness constitutes a breach and a violation of Chapter V, Part I, Section 8 (1) of the Nigerian constitution, which in point traded away transparency and accountability that laid the ground for reckless plundering of the Nigerian state.
The constitution is manifestly clear on how money transaction should be run in government. The presidency while trying to meet up its obligations with regards to its expenditure on the Paris Club refund, cannot literarily by-pass the constitutionally required authorization of the National Assembly without being accused of wrong doing which potentially is an impeachable offense. With the National Assembly uncharacteristically keeping quiet about the Paris Loan refund even though it was not captured in the budget, suggests a conspiracy and collusion against the Nigerian state.
How is Mr Saraki still sitting as the senate president with details of a complex web of questionable money transfers, which investigators say ended up in his pocket without being removed, and how is the presidency spending money that was not constitutionally authorized by the National Assembly without being questioned or challenged with impeachment? The silence of both institutions not to play their checks and balance role obviously strengthens the perception of a quid quo pro. So, given the circumstances that developed around this indifference, it is not in doubt to say that the money linked to the senate president Mr Saraki who is not a governor, may not be unconnected with the strange silence of the National Assembly which is acting like an institution whose silence has been bought to obstruct justice and stop any possibly genuine legislative enquiry into the Paris Club loan refund.
To worsen an already complicated corruption drama, the House of Representatives Committee on Ethics which embarked on a tour of the 36 states of the federation in its bid to investigate how governors spent the N19 billion Paris Club refunds, seized the opportunity provided by the situation to extort and make money from the governors.
Another issue to the corruption drama is the one that concerns the so-called consultants who claimed they negotiated the Paris Club deal. While the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) justifies the N19 billion it paid to the so-called consortium of consultants as being payment for their services in negotiating the Paris Club deal, finding shows, however, that the legal battles that gave judgement to the Nigerian states on the refund was long concluded before purported entrants of NGF’s so-called consultants into the Paris Club refund litigation. If the narrative of the NGF is anything to go by, then at what point were the services of the so-called consultants engaged by NGF and for how long? Also, when the services of the so-called consultants were contracted, were they mobilized or advanced with initial payment and how much? The answer to the resolution of this claim is for NGF to show Nigerians how much it had advanced the so-called consultants in payment at the time of signing contract to engage them.
Without presupposition, the claim by the NGF is a opportunistic because what was remaining at the material time judgment was given to the Nigerian states was the payment the court had affirmed in its judgements. So, as against what was being touted, the bulk of the job of accounts reconciliation of loan refunds was being done by the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation (OAGF), the Debt Management Office (DMO), the Ministry of Finance, financial advisers, and officials from each state.
Typical of every corruption case, all these wouldn’t have been possible without the active involvement of some personnel in the Nigerian banking system. As if there were no laid down procedures, the immediacy with which Access Bank converted Melrose General Services Company account from Business Account on 13th December 2016 to a Private Banking Group Platform on 14th December 2016 leaves much to be desired, particularly in terms of corporate governance. Another misnomer added to this folly is having some representatives of Melrose General Services Company, who hitherto, were obviously not on the mandate list of directors or signatories of the company’s business account, transact business on behalf of the company when the account was converted to private. Once an account was converted to private account from business account, it beats my imagination, to have representatives of a company transact business on the said private account. This is a signpost for distress induced malpractices and obviously portends danger for Nigerian banking system.
It is sad to note that despite bailout and the release of Paris club refunds which was meant to pay and ameliorate the suffering of Nigerian workers, most of the states are still defaulting in their financial obligations to their workers, with some states owing as far as 9 months of wages because the governors have used several phony consultants to divert the refunds made to States to pay their workers’ salaries.
While at the moment, there are frantic moves and clandestine activities to obscure the truth about this monumental looting, we demand Nigerians in their collective to join us, as we implore the ministry of finance to make public full details of payments made to the state governors.
Mr. Mofe O. Jeje writes from Commonwealth Information & Action Network (CIAN), in the United States.